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'You have no mandate': Heated Dáil exchanges on plan to remove Triple Lock

Government has been accused of breaching the programme for government.

LAST UPDATE | Nov 23rd 2023, 1:00 PM

The Journal / YouTube

THERE WERE FRACTIOUS exchanges in the Dáil this afternoon as opposition TDs rounded on the government’s plan to draft legislation to remove Ireland’s ‘Triple Lock’ mechanism.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said removing the triple-lock mechanism for the deployment of Irish troops overseas would protect Ireland’s sovereignty from the veto power of China, Russia and the US.

The “triple lock” is a mechanism whereby troops can only be deployed by Ireland if there is a United Nations mandate, clearance from the Government and a vote in the Dáil.

During Leaders’ Questions, Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty challenged the government to hold a referendum on changing the triple lock. 

Doherty quoted back comments to Tánaiste and Defence Minister Micheál Martin that he said in the Dáil in 2013.

“The current policy works and it has complete popular legitimacy. There is no reason whatsoever to change it. Such a change will impress no one in Europe and it will contribute nothing to international peace.

“Instead of sniping at our neutrality. The government should acknowledge what we have achieved because of it and set out a policy to strengthen rather than to undermine it. Policy.” 

“Those are your words,” Doherty told Martin. 

He accused the Tánaiste of trying to undermine Ireland’s neutrality, something Martin roundly rejected. 

There were multiple interruptions from both sides of the House, with the Independent TD Catherine Connolly, who was sitting in for the Ceann Comhairle, having to intervene on numerous times, to tell TDs to stop sniping at one another across the chamber.

Breach of programme for government

Doherty went on to highlight that the Martin and the government has no mandate to dismantle the triple lock mechanism, pointing to the Programme for Government, which was signed up to by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party when taking power, that the triple lock would remain. 

The programme states: “The government will ensure that all overseas operations will be conducted in line with our position of military neutrality and will be subject to a triple lock of UN, Government and Dáil Éireann approval.”

In response, and in heated exchanges between Doherty and Martin, the Tánaiste said Seán Russell, an IRA chief of staff, collaborated with Nazi Germany to undermine De Valera’s neutrality.

“That is your history of your commitment to military neutrality. Those are facts,” said Martin who told the Dáil that Sinn Féin had erected a statue to Russell.

“There is no proposal and there will be no legislative proposal to come before this House to undermine a policy of military neutrality. We have made that crystal clear,” said Martin.

“We are not members of a military alliance. We are not joining NATO. There is no proposal to join NATO,” he added, stating that Doherty is being dishonest by suggesting that the government wants to participate in a European military framework. 

Under the constitution, Ireland cannot, without a constitutional referendum, participate in any EU common defence pact, Martin said.

“You seem to have a view that Russia should dictate our foreign policy,” Martin said to Doherty, stating that Russia’s veto at the UN Security Council can ultimately decide what foreign missions Irish troops take part in.

He said there is a paralysis in what the Security Council can achieve with the veto powers in place, which includes China and the US. 

Varadkar told Newstalk today that he has never been a fan of the triple-lock “nor has my party”.

He said the mechanism would generally only be used for peacekeeping missions, adding: “We’re not going to invade anyone, obviously, or get involved in anyone else’s wars”.

Varadkar said:

“The problem that arises is the UN resolution and as the Tanaiste pointed out the other day, the UN hasn’t approved a peacekeeping operation in 10 years now.

“That’s down to China and Russia in particular, but potentially even the United States, wielding the veto power.”

“So to me actually, it would be a vindication of our sovereignty, saying that we actually aren’t going to allow Russia or China or America or Britain or France to decide where we can’t send our troops.”

Asked if there was a danger of Ireland getting involved in conflicts of EU member states following the removal of the triple lock, Varadkar said:

“I think there’s a danger that we won’t be able to participate in any new peacekeeping operation if we continue to allow the veto power of those great powers that won a war 75 years ago, and have nuclear weapons, to decide where we can’t send our troops.

“The ideal outcome, and this is what I’ve been advocating for, is reform of the UN so that the Security Council works properly. But, you know, I wouldn’t be waiting around for that to happen.”

He said the requirement for Oireachtas backing to send troops on missions would provide democratic authority.

Varadkar added: “And I don’t honestly believe any party in Ireland would wantonly send Irish troops into into a place of danger. We’ve never done that before and I don’t think that that will be done deliberately again.”

Security Council reform

Labour’s Ivana Bacik also criticised the government’s plans, stating that the focus should be on Security Council reform and not on Ireland changing its policy. 

She also pointed out that the report on the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy did not recommend the scrapping of the triple lock. 

The comments came after, Sinn Féin’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson Matt Carty said the government’s plan to remove what he called the state’s neutrality protection is “particularly dangerous”.

The Sinn Féin TD said the Triple Lock is the “foundation on which our current military neutrality is based” and has democratic legitimacy and was sold to the Irish public as “clear protection” to the country’s neutrality.

Carthy told RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland: “Therefore, I think it is particularly dangerous, for want of a better term, move on the part of government to simply announce [...] that government unilaterally intend to remove that Triple Lock neutrality protection that I think the Irish people value and I think the timing of it is particularly strange.”

He later said that the planned withdrawal of peace keeping forces in the Golan Heights in Syria, on the behest of Government and not the United Nations, is why he views the timing of the announcement as “strange”.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin in June recieved Cabinet approval for continued Defence Forces participation in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) until March or April next year.

The Irish Infantry Group will then withdraw from the UNDOF mission, which it has been a part of since June of 2013. The decision to withdraw was previously agreed by Government in March.

Carthy said that the role of the Irish Defence Forces has been noted internationally for the “bravery” and “constructive presence” they have in the region and said it was “bizarre” that the Government has planned to withdraw them.

Asked if Carthy believes it is reasonable for the government to allow the Security Council to veto the deployment of Irish troops, particularly after it took the group six weeks to call for humanitarian pauses in Gaza, Carthy said that the system gives “legitimacy” to the deployment of troops.

“The UN needs reform, I think that is something that we probably would all agree on,” Carthy said. He added he would not want anyone to have a veto on the decision to send Irish troops abroad.

He added: “I want to ensure that when we send our troops abroad, that they have a legitimacy, that they have credibility and that they are acting as they have always acted; In the best interests of Ireland, in the first instance, but also with a real and solid foundation in terms of what they are involved in.”

Speaking to programme later, Independent TD and former Defence Forces Army Ranger Cathal Berry, said: “I wouldn’t regard the triple lock as being a component of our neutrality at all. It depends on your perspective.”

Berry said the Oireachtas understands that the proposed legislation will look to extending a key to the “third lock” to more organisations such as the United Nations, European Union, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the African Union.

Berry added that there is the “possibility” that the legislation could go to a referendum, given the heightened public support for neutrality, but said the Oireachtas should be “prepared to use the parliament” – given it’s is made up of a representative democracy.

Speaking in the Dáil during a debate on the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy yesterday, which was hosted by government, Martin said he has “instructed officials in the Department of Defence to prepare legislative proposals without delay that would govern the future overseas deployments of our Defence Forces”.

He added that this could allow Ireland to despatch Defence Forces personnel to multilateral missions overseas where these are organised by a regional organisation such as the European Union or African Union, or where the host country is requesting such support from the international community.

Legislation to allow rescue missions

The current Triple Lock has eight exemptions, from deploying troops to a football match abroad to training other troops.

Berry said he would be in favour of the government choosing to extend those exemptions to include hostage rescue missions or close protection, bodyguard-type functions.

Carthy said he was also in favour of legislation to allow the Defence Forces to rescue Irish citizens abroad. 

Members of the Defence Forces’ Elite Ranger Wing have been deployed for this reason before, most recently in April when conflict broke out in Sudan. However, legislation is not currently in place to deploy more than 12 troops for these kinds of missions.

Berry said: “We had a kind of ridiculous situation last year for government ministers wants to travel to a war zone in Ukraine, and we couldn’t provide a legislative basis for a defense force to travel.”

He added that gardaí were eventually tasked with the job.

With reporting by Christina Finn

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