The triple lock, neutrality and sovereignty?

A major shift in foreign policy

Sir, – Ben Tonra refers to the triple lock as no more than a “phrase cooked up” in 2001 to spotlight the legal need for a UN mandate before Irish military personnel can be deployed abroad (“Will ditching the triple lock damage our neutrality or vindicate our sovereignty?”, Opinion & Analysis, News, December 5th).

This may be so, but, as Prof Tonra concedes, it does refer to a specific legal requirement and is shorthand rather than meaningless.

The removal of the UN element from the triple lock would represent a huge foreign policy shift, distancing Ireland from an international body that may be flawed but remains central to international peacekeeping. Arguably, the Irish Government would be undermining the UN at a critical time in its history. Yes, the Security Council and its permanent members are a problem (no news there), but the UN General Assembly is available as an alternative and can equally serve as the UN element of the triple lock.

Also, the long-term implications for Irish military neutrality cannot be disregarded. This change is not happening without context. As revealed in August, the Army is now weapons training Ukrainian military recruits.


How is helping to train an army at war compatible with Irish military neutrality? And, of course, Shannon Airport continues to be used routinely by the US military.

It is difficult not to feel Ireland’s long-standing anti-war foreign policy is being quietly eroded. The replacement of the UN element of the triple lock by, say, the EU will further strengthen this impression, bearing in mind that 22 EU member states are also in Nato and another, Sweden, has an application process under way. Moreover, the EU was never intended to be a military alliance of any sort, peacekeeping or otherwise. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, In his defence of the so-called “triple lock”, Dr Ray Murphy erroneously claims that the UN Security Council veto has been used most often by the United States (Opinion & Analysis, December 5th).

In fact, Russia has used it on by far the most occasions, 124 times since the establishment of the Security Council in 1946, compared to just 83 times by the United States.

He also protests that in the debate on the triple lock “it seems to be forgotten that [the veto] is extended to all five permanent members” including “the UK and France”. Neither the UK nor France have used the veto power since 1989 (Russia has used it 51 times since then). As our two nearest geographical neighbours, and in the case of France a fellow member of the European Union, their positions on great international questions are unlikely to differ radically from our own anytime soon.

In advancing this point, Prof Murphy has highlighted one of the nonsensical pillars on which the campaign to maintain the triple lock and our neutrality more generally is founded, namely that there is some kind of moral equivalence between the free democracies of the United States, the UK and France, and the gangster dictatorships in Russia and China.

It is beyond laughable for any serious person to argue that these two states should continue to have a greater say in the deployment of Irish troops abroad than the elected representatives of the Irish people in Dáil Éireann. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 3.

Sir, – Edward Horgan (Letters, December 4th) observes that Ukraine is a belligerent state in its war with Russia. He fails to acknowledge that Ukraine had no choice but to defend itself against a brutal and imperial aggressor. It is fighting for its survival. What then is the moral value of Ireland upholding its neutrality on this issue?

Mr Horgan refers to Nato wars of aggression against the background of the Irish Government’s undermining of the State’s neutrality, implying a gradual drift towards joining the military alliance. However, the abandonment of neutrality does not lead inevitably to the joining of a military alliance such as Nato. Ireland should be free to co-operate with Nato states on matters it deems appropriate, especially in relation to the present armed conflict in Ukraine.

Mr Horgan argues that our Government is abandoning its adherence to a “rules-based international order” with reference to the Government’s stated intention of scrapping the “triple lock” which prevents Ireland deploying troops abroad without approval from the United Nations. The Irish Government is now, supposedly, “in favour of joining the international law-breakers”. Such a judgement is unjustified, considering that permanent members of the UN Security Council have frequently acted in violation of international law and frustrated peacekeeping initiatives. The Russian Federation is very much a case in point. – Yours, etc,



Co Cork.

Sir, – It is hardly accurate to describe Ukraine as a “belligerent” because of its armed defence against an unprovoked Russian invasion of its land (Letters, November 4th).

Ukraine’s borders are not only internationally recognised but were also explicitly accepted by post Soviet Union Russia in the Budapest Accords of 1995. Would Ireland be a “belligerent” if it defended itself against an invasion by the UK via Northern Ireland?

Furthermore, Nato has not “illegally usurped the role of the UN ... (in) wars of aggression against Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq”. Nato’s operation in Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) was established by UN mandate in 2001. The basis for international engagement under Isaf was UN Security Council Resolution 1386.

Nato involvement in the Balkans (Kfor) was mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 1244 in 1999, aimed at maintaining a secure environment and freedom of movement for all persons living in Kosovo.

The March 2003 campaign against Iraq was conducted by a coalition of forces from different countries, some of which were Nato member countries and some were not. Nato as an organisation had no role in the decision to undertake the campaign or to conduct it.

Furthermore, removal of the triple lock only allows the Irish Government and parliament latitude to make decisions about overseas deployment of Irish troops without UN Security Council agreement and has no automatic effect on Irish neutrality.

It would, for example, allow deployment of more than the current limit of 12 soldiers to assist the repatriation of Irish citizens from trouble spots abroad, an operation which would have no impact on our neutrality. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Trust is a precious thing, and it is wrong when it is violated. Micheál Martin’s moves to abandon the Triple Lock is just such a violation of trust.

Many people who rejected the Nice Treaty in 2001 did so because of concerns that we would become involved militarily with the EU. We were assured by the Seville declaration that we would not, and this is the reason why many people subsequently voted Yes in 2002. Mr Martin’s actions are a betrayal of the trust of the Irish people, who have consistently shown their support for neutrality. We must be peacemakers, and not contribute to the polarisation of conflict. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – If we are going to have a mature debate about our neutrality, can we at least avoid placing our current neutral status on a pedestal? Our current neutral status is neither noble nor ignoble, honourable nor dishonourable. It simply reflects our desire not to have Irish troops engaged in foreign conflicts – no more and no less.

In his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas set out his criteria for a just war. Those advocating for neutrality, for all time and in all circumstances, must not accept the concept of a just war or, if they do accept the concept, expect others to participate in such a war while presumably they remain at home polishing their haloes. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Unionists, rejoice! A centenary after Irish independence, Sinn Féin wishes to see the UK government retain a veto over Irish military mobilisation. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin