Tánaiste Micheál Martin has announced plans to scrap the Triple Lock which prevents Ireland deploying troops overseas without UN approval.
In a wide-ranging speech, which also included commitments to greater international military co-operation and domestic security, Mr Martin said he wants Ireland to be able to respond to crises without waiting for approval from the UN Security Council, which has not authorised a new peacekeeping mission since 2014.
Under the Triple Lock system, 12 or more Defence Forces troops cannot be deployed on an active overseas mission without approval from the Dáil, the Government and authorisation from the UN.
The system is seen by many as a cornerstone of Irish military neutrality. However, according to Mr Martin, it hands the five permanent members of the Security Council “a veto over our national sovereign decision to deploy troops to peacekeeping missions as we see fit”.
As it stands, the US, UK, Russia, China and France effectively have a veto over any UN deployment, meaning many proposed missions never get out of the planning stages.
Mr Martin said he has instructed the Department of Defence to prepare legislation removing the requirement for UN approval.
It is one of a number of significant changes to Irish foreign and military policy and follows commitments from the Government to increase defence spending by 50 per cent and support Ukraine’s military in its fight against Russia’s invasion.
The proposal immediately drew criticism from Sinn Féin Foreign Affairs spokesman Matt Carthy on Wednesday who called it a “fundamental shift in Ireland’s foreign policy” which would “radically undermine Irish neutrality”.
People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy called the move a “naked attempt to further erode Irish military neutrality” while Independent TD Catherine Connolly called on the Tánaiste to “consider his position”.
The abolition of the Triple Lock would allow Ireland to take part in missions organised by other bodies such as the EU or African Union, Mr Martin said. Ireland could also directly assist a country which is requesting assistance from the international community.
Ireland can, and does, take part in EU- and Nato-led peacekeeping missions but only if they have received a UN mandate.
Mr Martin said even if future missions are not be mandated by the Security Council, “they will of course remain fully consistent with the principles of the UN Charter and international law”.
“By making this change in the future, we would be removing the veto power of Security Council members over Ireland’s engagement, while safeguarding the essential link with international law and good governance,” he told the Dáil.
Possible amendments to the Triple Lock were one of the main topics of discussion at the Government’s recent Consultative Forum on International Security Policy.
Mr Martin said the forum showed there are “other options on how to allow agility and responsiveness while ensuring our actions comply with the highest standards of international law.”
The Tánaiste also sharply criticised the Security Council’s ability to reach consensus on international crises. The Council has not even issued a statement on Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, “never mind agreed on a resolution”, he said.
It took six weeks for the council to agree on a resolution calling for “humanitarian pauses” in the violence in Gaza and Israel and it has never formally placed the violations of human rights law in Ethiopia on its agenda, he said.
Regarding military co-operation, Mr Martin said Ireland cannot rely on neutrality or its geographic location to protect it against modern threats, such as the cyberattack which crippled the HSE in 2021.
He noted Irish military co-operation with Nato and the EU through various projects such as Partnership for Peace, Permanent Structured Cooperation (Pesco) and, most recently, the EU Critical Seabed Infrastructure Protection (CSIP).
“But we should go further and do more,” the Tánaiste said, without offering specifics.
However, the Government has no intention of taking steps towards Nato membership or altering our policy of military neutrality, he said. “That is simply not on the agenda.”
On the domestic front, the Tánaiste announced the establishment of a National Security Authority which will be responsible for issuing security clearances for officials and the protection of EU classified information.
Ireland has long lacked a formal security clearance apparatus, which in some cases has caused problems with the sharing of classified EU information.
He also committed to delivering a National Security Strategy in the coming months. which “will lay out the threat environment and clearly set out the systems and structures required to address these.” Work began on the strategy four years ago and its release has been repeatedly delayed.
Lastly, Mr Martin announced the development of a maritime security strategy, along with the required resources and legislation. This will focus in particular on subsea infrastructure, a growing concern for EU nations in the wake of several apparent attacks on undersea pipelines since 2022.