Government parties likely to differ on defence review

Coalition parties at odds on United Nations role in Irish military missions abroad

Well-placed Government sources said Minister for Defence Alan Shatter would bring a Green Paper on defence to Cabinet next Tuesday, the first official step in the review of defence policy. Photograph: Eric Luke

Well-placed Government sources said Minister for Defence Alan Shatter would bring a Green Paper on defence to Cabinet next Tuesday, the first official step in the review of defence policy. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

The Government is set to embark on a formal review of its defence policy, a process with potential for friction between Fine Gael and Labour over the role of the United Nations in Irish military missions.

Well-placed Government sources said Minister for Defence Alan Shatter would bring a Green Paper on defence to Cabinet next Tuesday, the first official step in the policy review. A Green Paper is essentially a detailed discussion document, leading later to firm policy proposals in a White paper.

One of the prime items to be tackled in the Green Paper is the “triple lock” under which the Defence Forces cannot deploy large missions abroad without the approval of the Government, the Dáil and a UN mandate.


Divisions
The divisions within the Coalition on this front are recognised by senior sources within the Government.

Although Fine Gael campaigned in the 2011 election to remove the triple lock, Labour took precisely the opposite view and argued in the final phase of the campaign that an overall majority for Fine Gael would undermine Irish neutrality.

The looming Cabinet discussion is therefore sensitive. While the 2011 programme for government is silent on the matter of the triple lock, it now falls to the two Coalition parties to decide whether to retain, recast or scrap it.

In its election manifesto, Fine Gael said the triple lock must be modified to allow Ireland participate in peacekeeping missions. Labour’s manifesto said it was committed to retaining each element of the mechanism.

Fine Gael said at that time that the failure of the UN Security Council to pass a resolution should not prevent Ireland from taking part in EU humanitarian and overseas missions. “We believe that Irish troops should be capable at short notice, if requested, to assist in emergency relief efforts at times of humanitarian crises.”

The Green Paper is believed to tease out such issues. Among the questions to be settled is whether powers such as Russia or China, whose foreign policy can be glaringly at odds with Ireland’s, wield an indirect but improper influence over Irish policy if they veto security council resolutions.

Any veto of a resolution by either of these countries – or from any other member of the security council – is sufficient to block the Defence Forces from joining missions abroad even if the Government and the Dáil have expressly given the go-ahead for participation.


EU-led missions
The imminent debate over the triple lock feeds into discussion over Ireland’s participation in EU-led military missions. It is only if an EU mission is deployed under a UN mandate that Ireland can consider joining.

For example, Ireland was unable to take part in the EU peacekeeping force deployed to Macedonia because the force was not mandated through a UN resolution, even though it had UN and EU support.

By instinct at least, Fine Gael is enthusiastic about becoming fully involved in the development of a new European security system. The party’s 2011 manifesto argued for the power to join such a system “and influence it on our terms”.

This included seeking the right to opt in and out of aspects of a mutual defence and security system on a case-by-case basis.

Labour’s manifesto called for reform of the procedures and structures of the security council, including recognition of the EU’s international standing. It argued against Ireland participating in international mutual defence alliances in line with a policy of “positive neutrality”.