An Army Ranger Wing operator on an exercise in the Curragh recently. Irish Defence Forces

Govt plans to review 'Triple Lock' system and how foreign missions for Ranger Wing are approved

The issue of deploying the Army Ranger Wing to protect a diplomatic mission in Kyiv is seen an example why the legislation change is needed.

THE GOVERNMENT is considering new legislation this year that could allow Irish special forces to be dispatched on foreign missions. 

It has emerged that reviews of the so-called ‘Triple Lock’ system and a 70-year-old piece of legislation which prevents the deployment of the Army Ranger Wing (ARW) are both on the table this year. 

The Triple Lock system is a policy measure whereby there needs to be separate approval by the Government, the Dáil and a UN Resolution to mandate a mission in order to send more than 12 Irish troops abroad.

A major stumbling block to send Irish troops abroad, at present, is the need for a UN resolution on a matter. However, it is a given that in most situations, such a resolution would be vetoed by Russia or China. 

A change to the Triple Lock system was mooted by then Minister for Defence and Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney in November, and it has now been included in a Government policy document.

It comes as sources have confirmed to The Journal that a recent plan to send the Army Ranger unit to Kyiv to protect diplomats at the Irish embassy was halted. 

It also understood that the State discussed the issue with An Garda Síochána, but that there was no commitment to send a Garda team to the embassy. 

Issues have arisen in the past, as previously reported by The Journal, around the use of the elite Army Ranger Wing to protect Irish dignataries such as Simon Coveney and then Taoiseach Micheál Martin when they travelled to Ukraine. 

This is understood to have followed an interpretation of the law contained in Section Three of Defence Act 1954.

That meant that the ARW could only be sent with the approval of a resolution in the Dáíl.

Sources say the problem with such a system is that the ARW may be required to travel rapidly on a rescue mission, which would be slowed by the requirement for Dáil approval.

A recent decision not to send the ARW to Kyiv caused some frustration in the military and the ARW.

It is understood that a dedicated team within the ARW are tasked with close protection duties. An ARW team was sent to Lebanon with Micheál Martin last year but this was cleared as it was a visit to Irish troops on a UN peacekeeping mission in south Lebanon.

Protecting Irish ambassador

Discussions were also understood to be at an advanced stage with in the military to send a team to protect the Irish ambassador in Kyiv. 

Now the Department of Defence (DOD), in a ministerial briefing document, have said that they intend to find a legislative fix for the issue.

In the document, published in December, there is a section which outlines the key 2023 goals of the DOD’s legislative branch.

One of the brief entries states: “Consider ammendments to the Defence Act 1954 for the purpose of allowing Ministerial approved ARW (armed) deployment overseas.

“Bring forward proposals on a review of the triple lock system.”

Security sources have said that Fine Gael side in particular are anxious to progress the Triple Lock review, but that Minister for Defence Micheál Martin may not have full support from his Fianna Fáil colleagues on the issue.

52166441127_c47acd3fa0_o Army Ranger Wing operators during a recent exercise. Irish Defence Forces Irish Defence Forces

It is understood that Fianna Fáil favours a more cautious approach by first holding a Citizen’s Assembly on the issue of neutrality.

Independent TD Cathal Berry, a former senior military officer in the ARW, said that the need for the legislative change is critical.

He believes that a system whereby the Government can approve the deployment could be the difference between a successful rescue mission and a failure. 

“This isn’t just for the ARW but any military unit. If you have the consent of the home nation then there should be nothing blocking a deployment of Irish personnel,” he said.

“The issue with the UN Security Resolution is the influence of Russia and China who can veto it and therefore veto an Irish Government foreign policy. 

“I would say that a UN Security Council resolution would aid a decision but if there wasn’t one in place you could take that in to consideration. But it should not be a binary choice.

“If you look at a scenario where there is a hostage rescue situation abroad or even in international waters can we send someone out to conduct a hostage rescue operation – this is the problem with the way it is at present.” 

Berry said he supports the deployment of the ARW to Kyiv, adding that the need for protection has been proven on a number of occasions when the city came under Russian bombardment.

Working Time Directive

Lieutenant Colonel Conor King of the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (RACO) also said his colleagues’ view was that the legislation needs to change.   

“Amendments to the Defence Act are a policy issue, but we cannot hide behind legislation as a reason not to do our job.  If the language is not fit for purpose, change it,” he said. 

Elsewhere, under the heading of ‘strategic human resources’, the document mentions that the Government wishes to introduce the European Working Time Directive (WTD). 

This is a directive last updated in 2008 that sets out the rights of employees to a limit on the working week to a maximum of 48 hours.

An Garda Síochána has introduced the measure and RACO and PDFORRA have been campaigning for the measure to be introduced in the Defence Forces. 

“We are seeing a similar approach to the implementation of the Working Time Directive, where the Department is relying on legislation written 50 years.

“Our members have been hugely disappointed by the manner in which the Department has sought to avoid any agreement with their employees which would codify working time and enshrine protections and compensation for hours worked in excess of working time limits,” King said. 

He also criticised the Defence Forces and the DOD for “seeking to exempt all DF operations and training from these health and safety rules”.

He said that a failure to implement the WTD would be “be devastating for morale, work life balance, recruitment, and retention within the Defence Forces”. 

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