Ireland should not rush into changing the so-called triple-lock protocol which determines the peace keeping missions the Defence Forces get involved in, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney has said.
The triple-lock commits the State to only sanction a mission abroad involving the Army if it has approval from three bodies – the UN Security Council, the Government and the Oireachtas.
The mechanism has come in for strong criticism from some Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. They have cited the fact that Russia is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and has the power to veto any mission.
Asked for his view on the triple-lock on Tuesday, Mr Coveney said: “That’s not a big priority for me I have to say. I have yet to see an example of where Ireland has been prevented from sending troops to a part of the world where it wants to make a peace-keeping intervention in the Mediterranean, Mali or elsewhere.
“Having said that there is theoretically a problem here, that is true, because any one of the permanent five members of the security council can veto a mandate for peacekeeping operations which could be a problem for Ireland,” he said.
“It’s a theoretical problem. I don’t think we have to rush into changing that, there are bigger priorities at the moment.”
Mr Coveney was speaking at Collins Barracks where he attended a commissioning ceremony for Defence Forces Cadets as Army officers.
Some 38 cadets were commissioned as Irish army officers, in addition to six members of the Maltese army, who trained with them in the Curragh.
A further 24 non-commissioned officers (sergeants and corporals) also received their commissions as officers (lieutenants and captains). This cohort of newly-promoted officers have a combined service of 409 years and a total of 79 missions overseas in countries such as Kosovo, Bosnia, Chad, Mali, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Syria.
Among the former NCOs were the first husband and wife to be commissioned together as officers in the army on the same day – Captain Philip Cole and Lieutenant Valerie Cole.
Addressing the new officers, Mr Coveney said that they were being commissioned at a time of great change in Europe with renewed focus on security.
Expanding on that issue afterwards, Mr Coveney said the State was reassessing its security. He referred to the Commission on the Defence Forces, which spent 13 months looking at the capacity, numbers, resourcing, culture, training and structure of the Army.
He said it had presented a very strong set of recommendations for change and modernisation of the Defence Forces.
“That report - in the context of war in the heart of Europe and a very fundamental rethink of security and defence issues across the EU - means we are in a period of change,” he said.
“I don’t think we should rush into that. I will be bringing a memo to government in June in response to the commission. It will be the most significant programme for change for the Defence Forces that we have seen in my lifetime.
“It’s going to be challenging for the Government because it does not come without a significant increase in expenditure.”
Mr Coveney said that Ireland was already part of PESCO, the European security cooperation body and would become more involved in future. “We can expect recommendations in that space in the coming weeks or months.”
He said that Ireland had pushed for tougher sanctions against Russia and he welcomed proposed sanctions announced by the European Commission. He said Ireland would have liked these to go further, particularly in relation to oil.
“We want to make sure the deterrent is as strong as we can possibly make it to send a signal to the Kremlin to stop this madness in Ukraine,” he said.
He said he expected Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy to emphasise the brutality in parts of Ukraine that were occupied by Russian forces when he addresses the Joint Houses of the Oireachtas by video link on Wednesday.
“My conversation with the Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba earlier this week was very sobering,” said Mr Coveney.
“He was very graphic in terms of what has happened, murder rape, brutality and torture of civilians in Bucha. The big fear is we are going to see more scenes like that in towns that Russian troops have been driven out of.”