Dáil debates

Tuesday, 28 November 2023

Neutrality: Motion [Private Members]


8:35 pm

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann: recognises:

— that Irish neutrality has served us well, allowing Ireland to play a constructive role in the world, contributing to nuclear non-proliferation, disarmament, humanitarianism, and peacekeeping missions; and

— the bravery and courage of Irish peacekeepers currently deployed around the world, and in particular those serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights;

notes that:

— the rejection by the Irish people of both the Nice I and Lisbon I referenda were informed in part by their concerns that those treaties of the European Union would diminish Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality;

— the response of the Irish Government to these concerns in advance of the subsequent Nice II referendum was outlined in the Seville Declaration on the Treaty of Nice, wherein the Government of Ireland made "a firm commitment to the people of Ireland, solemnized in this Declaration, that a referendum will be held in Ireland on the adoption of any such decision and on any future Treaty which would involve Ireland departing from its traditional policy of military neutrality";

— the Seville Declaration further reiterated "that the participation of contingents of the Irish Defence Forces in overseas operations, including those carried out under the European security and defence policy, requires (a) the authorisation of the operation by the Security Council or the General Assembly of the United Nations, (b) the agreement of the Irish Government and (c) the approval of Dáil Éireann, in accordance with Irish law";

— the response of the Irish Government to these concerns in advance of the subsequent Lisbon II referendum was outlined through the Irish Guarantee on the Lisbon Treaty, wherein through national declaration, Ireland reiterated "that the participation of contingents of the Irish Defence Forces in overseas operations, including those carried out under the European Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) requires (a) the authorisation of the operation by the Security Council or the General Assembly of the United Nations, (b) the agreement of the Irish Government, and (c) the approval of Dáil Éireann, in accordance with Irish law";

— the national declaration contained within the Irish Guarantee on the Lisbon Treaty further declared that Ireland would participate only in European Defence Agency projects or programmes "that contribute to enhancing the capabilities required for participation in UN-mandated missions for peace-keeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security, in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter";

— on 25th June, 2013, An Tánaiste, Micheál Martin TD, in a statement to the Dáil stated "It appears that Fine Gael is arguing that Ireland is failing in its European responsibilities and is allowing Russia and China to have a veto over our peacekeeping activities. This is nothing more than an out-of-touch ideological obsession on the part of Fine Gael which ignores the facts of Ireland's international standing";

— the Fianna Fáil 2020 General Election Manifesto stated under the heading "Fully maintain neutrality and the Triple Lock" that "Fianna Fáil reaffirms its commitment to the retention of the triple lock of UN mandate or authorisation, Government and Dáil approval, prior to committing Defence Forces personnel on overseas service. Ireland has correctly conferred primacy to the UN since joining in 1955, working with other UN members in supporting international action in areas such as disarmament, peacekeeping across its full spectrum, humanitarian/development actions and human rights implementation. We will fully maintain neutrality and the triple lock mechanism";

— the current Programme for Government: Our Shared Future commits this Government to "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";

— an IPSOS/MRBI poll of 15th April, 2022, showed two-thirds of voters did not want to see any change in neutrality "generally understood as...[requiring] a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution for Irish troops to be committed abroad"; and

— the Report of the Chair on the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy stated that "A considerable majority of those who spoke or wrote on this topic expressed the view that there is presently no public appetite for a change to the current position on neutrality";

further notes that:

— the Government is presiding over a worsening recruitment and retention crisis that is seeing more members leaving than are recruited to the Permanent Defence Forces on a yearly basis;

— there are currently 7,671 members of the Permanent Defence Forces, against an establishment figure of 9,600, and a Level of Ambition 2 (LOA2) contained in the Report of the Commission on the Future of the Defence Forces requirement of 11,500;

— arising from this worsening recruitment and retention crisis, the Naval Service can currently only put between one and two ships to sea to patrol and secure Irish waters;

— Ireland currently lacks the primary radar which is a pre-requisite to adequately monitoring activity in Irish skies;

— LOA2, as outlined within the Report of the Commission on the Future of the Defence Forces, required a need of investment of €246.5 million annually over ten years and that the Government fell short of this investment by €70 million in 2023, and will also fail to meet this target by €70 million in 2024; and

— the Government has decided to withdraw Irish Defence Forces participation from the UNDOF mission to the Golan Heights, to which Ireland has contributed over 2,700 troops within the past decade; and

calls on Government to:

— adequately fund the Defence Forces in 2024, to meet the minimum requirements outlined within LOA2 of the Report of the Commission on the Future of the Defence Forces;

— review the decision of Government to withdraw Irish participation in the UNDOF mission to the Golan Heights;

— establish a Citizens' Assembly tasked with agreeing a wording of a constitutional amendment to enshrine the principle of neutrality in the Constitution of Ireland;

— engage with EU institutions and member states with a view to recognising the integrity of neutral states within the EU treaties, should a constitutional amendment be carried;

— ensure that members of the Irish Defence Forces deployed on overseas missions do so with a mandate from the UN; and

— ensure that any proposed substantive change to Ireland's neutral status, particularly the removal of neutrality protections such as the so-called triple lock, be put directly before the Irish people through referendum.

Last week, the Tánaiste told the Dáil that he had instructed his officials to bring forward legislative proposals to abolish the triple lock neutrality protection without delay. The term "without delay" stuck with me because the Tánaiste does not use it often. In fact, whenever I ask him for updates on capital investment for the Defence Forces or the implementation of the working time directive or for other measures to be taken that might address the retention and recruitment crisis in the Defence Forces, I am met with excuse after excuse for each year that passes. Under the Tánaiste's watch, more people are leaving the Defence Forces than are joining, but he tells us nothing can be done quickly to address it.

It is not so for the core policy that underpins our neutrality and foreign policy. That can be waived without delay. Why? Perhaps one of the Ministers before us tonight will finally tell us what overseas mission or missions they are currently prevented from sending troops to that they want to send them to. What is the rush? Do they accept the Irish people have a right to know, especially as this move is happening at exactly the same time as the Government is withdrawing the Defence Forces from an important UN mandated peacekeeping mission? It is one for which our soldiers have earned high praise, in the Golan Heights in Syria. On the one hand, Irish soldiers are being withdrawn from a UN mission of value, not at the behest of the Russians or the Chinese, but at the Government's insistence and on the other hand, the Government wants to change the rules so that Irish soldiers can be sent on other missions - we do not know what they are - that do not have a UN mandate.

It is an entirely legitimate argument that we should abandon the triple lock protection. I fundamentally disagree with it, but people are entitled to make the argument. They are not entitled to mislead or pretend that such a move would not bring us beyond neutrality or that it would not allow a government to shift the premise of Irish foreign policy from conflict resolution to participation in conflict. How do we know? It is because Fine Gael told us. Twenty years ago, Fine Gael was upfront and stark about its intentions. It produced a document blatantly called Beyond Neutrality, which clearly set out the party's ambition to abandon Ireland's neutrality and independent foreign policy. Key to the proposal in the document was the abolition of the triple lock mechanism. As it happens, the proposals were quietly dropped, although some were later adopted by stealth. They were dropped for three reasons. First, it was clear that the Irish people vehemently opposed the trajectory. Second, Fianna Fáil at least presented some optics of principle. Fianna Fáil leaders were against it, including the Tánaiste who, while in opposition, called out the proposed move away from triple lock neutrality protection as "nothing more than an out-of-touch ideological obsession on the part of Fine Gael which ignores the facts of Ireland’s international standing". Third, the triple lock became a central guarantee to secure the support of Irish voters for the ratification of the Lisbon treaty in 2009. For a while at least, governments knew that any suggestion of removing this neutrality protection would be a gross betrayal of the mandate they had sought and secured in that vote.

Last week's speech by the Tánaiste could have been taken directly from the Fine Gael document of 2003. We are hearing the same old arguments that were made 20 years ago with the additional cynical cloak of manipulating recent events in Ukraine as a guise to implement a two decades-old Fine Gael policy. Interestingly, the Fine Gael document had a term for the approach of Micheál Martin's party. It said that the nod-and-wink approach of the Fianna Fáil Government on Partnership for Peace cannot be allowed to be a precedent to be followed. It is no surprise that the public is suspicious when we have a Government committed to hiding the reality of discussions at EU level on new security arrangements. The document also said that the underhand way of managing such an important aspect of Ireland's foreign policy cannot be allowed to continue. However, continue it did.

Twenty years later, Fianna Fáil under Micheál Martin has become indistinguishable from Fine Gael. It has adopted hook, line and sinker a Fine Gael foreign policy position it knows the Irish people do not support. In return, Fine Gael has adopted the Fianna Fáil nod-and-wink approach by bringing this motion forward together in the most underhand, duplicitous and dishonest manner imaginable. They pretend this is about sovereignty and standing up to the Russians when in fact this proposal is about undoing decades of neutrality and independent foreign policy. My appeal to the Government is for it to be upfront about what it is proposing and then honourable enough to let the people have their say.

Photo of Réada CroninRéada Cronin (Kildare North, Sinn Fein)
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I take this opportunity to welcome home the highly trained peacekeepers of the 122nd Infantry Battalion who returned from south Lebanon at the weekend. It was genuinely uplifting to see their families welcome them home. I wish them all the best as I do those of the 123rd Infantry Battalion who are rotating in at the most dangerous time for decades in the Middle East, while the EU gives full support to the slaughter of Palestinian people and smugly and brazenly continues to justify that mass slaughter as defence.

The Tánaiste's decision to tinker with and get rid of the triple lock is the wrong one. It is part of the Government's ambition to weaken and eventually jettison our neutrality. However, no matter how much tinkering the Tánaiste does, the majority of people are still intent on being militarily neutral because they know it is a strength and not a weakness. They know it is a value and not an embarrassment. If there are any changes to the triple lock, it must be the people who decide, not the Government and its hawkish supporters.

While we respect that our partners and allies are entitled to their opinions, we are mature and serious enough to keep our own stance and views. If one word signifies why Ireland needs to keep its independent voice and position on foreign policy, that word is "Gaza". By tinkering with the triple lock, the Government quietens that voice and dilutes our military neutrality. In short, it could turn our proud peacekeepers into active participants in a conflict, perhaps on the side of partners and allies who spent the past 50 days not only excusing and facilitating genocide, but arming it. The Tánaiste already got his answer from the Defence Forces when he withdrew our UNIFIL peacekeepers from the Golan Heights to prioritise his pet project of an EU battlegroup; only 35 signed up for it. What will it take for the Tánaiste to see that Irish soldiers, like the Irish people, want to keep the peace and do not want to fight other people's wars? Instead of pushing them into war, we need to resource them, pay them and value them so they can do the job they want and need to do, protecting our skies and cyberspace. I urge the Government to heed the majority on the triple lock and neutrality and work for them and not for anyone else.

This will need a referendum.

8:45 pm

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Is mór ag muintir na hÉireann ár neodracht. An tseachtain seo caite, d'fhógair an Tánaiste go bhfuil sé le laghdú a dhéanamh ar neodracht le deireadh a chur leis an nglas triarach atá againn leis an UN. Cuireann Sinn Féin ina choinne seo. Is láidreacht í ár neodracht agus ba chóir í a chosaint. The Irish people cherish our neutrality. It is a policy and principle that has enhanced our reputation. It has provided a platform for Ireland to promote peace, to resolve conflict and to pursue justice in international affairs. In a world that is growing more uncertain, more polarised and more dangerous, our neutrality is more important than ever.

Last week the Tánaiste announced his intention for the Government to remove the triple lock, a keystone of our military neutrality. This is a significant and regrettable U-turn by the leader of Fianna Fáil. When Fine Gael sought to undermine our neutrality, the Tánaiste rightly said that there was no reason whatsoever to change our policy on neutrality. Such a change, he said, would contribute nothing to international peace. Instead, he said that Fine Gael should acknowledge what we have achieved because of our neutrality and set out a policy to strengthen it rather than undermine it. The Tánaiste even said that the argument which claimed that the triple lock allowed certain members of the UN Security Council to have a veto on our peacekeeping activities was "nothing more than an out-of-touch ideological obsession". He said that it ignored the facts of Ireland's international standing. Those arguments that he made still remain valid. He should listen to his former self.

The position of the Tánaiste and Fianna Fáil has dramatically changed. There are no grounds whatsoever to undermine our neutrality and that is what he is planning to do by scrapping the triple lock. If the Tánaiste is to push down the accelerator and undermine Irish neutrality following his and his party's U-turn, he needs to come clean. He needs to tell the Irish people where he would deploy Irish troops that is not part of a UN peacekeeping mission. Maybe the Minister of State opposite me will answer that question but I expect that he will not because the Government does not want to show its real hand or real agenda here. The real problem with our defence policy is the fact that our Defence Forces are under-resourced and underpaid. This motion calls for the Government to enshrine neutrality in the Constitution, to refer any proposed changes on neutrality, including the triple lock, to the people in a referendum and most important, to adequately fund and support our Defence Forces, which serve us so well.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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As one of those who campaigned very strongly at the time against both the Nice treaty and later the Lisbon treaty, but in particular the Nice treaty, when the then Government passed the second attempt to pass it, when it produced the Seville declarations, or the triple lock as we now know it as, we said this was just trickery by the Government and those who wanted a "Yes" vote. We have been proven right. The Government waited and waited until this opportunity. We all knew at the time that it had no interest in ensuring neutrality was protected. It has voted down every attempt in this Chamber by myself and others to ensure neutrality would be endorsed by the Irish people in a referendum and included in our Constitution because it does not and never had an intention to uphold neutrality.

It is interesting that Micheál Martin, the man who announced the latest reversal, was in government at the time Fianna Fáil endorsed and joined the Partnership for Peace, a NATO organisation. It is very appropriate that NATO was on manoeuvres in Cork in recent days. There is a whole history of this with Fianna Fáil governments. We have heard what Fine Gael governments, and Fianna Fáil governments, have wanted to do since they have been in office. There has been a series of erosions of the standing of Ireland. I do not know what genius thought this was the time to undermine one of the key reasons we have such a standing in the world. We are respected around the world because we are seen as honest brokers and because we are seen as neutral. We are respected because of our peacekeepers around the world and the job they have done, yet some genius called Micheál Martin thinks it is appropriate now to start to unravel that neutrality and all the goodwill our neutrality has created throughout the world.

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I am wondering if the Minister of State will answer the straight question. Will he answer the simple question of what missions this Government wishes to involve the State in that it is not currently permitted to do? If we are going peacekeeping and we are not doing it with the UN, then who are we going peacekeeping with? Will the Minister of State answer that question? I suspect not. Perhaps he will surprise me. That question will be asked dozens upon dozens of times this evening and I do not think we will get any closer to a straight answer. We will get a great deal of things. We will get a great deal of partisan polemic, ostensibly high-minded but when it comes down to it with no real substance in it and no real meaning. We will get imagined concoctions of the foreign policies that a variety of Opposition parties have to try to distract from the fact that ultimately, the Minister of State and the Government will refuse to answer the question of what missions they intend to deploy Irish troops on outside of UN structures. What are they? I certainly have not gotten any clarity on that and I do not think the Government intends to provide it.

The fact is, we are a small State. We will never be a significant military power. The credibility we have internationally, which is well established and well proven by the fact that we recently occupied a prominent position on the Security Council, is because of our diplomatic weight, because we have preserved our status as a neutral state. Tugann sé cumhacht dúinn, i bhfad níos mó ná dá mbeadh muid páirteach in aon ghníomh míleata den saghas atá roinnt den Rialtas ag iarraidh go mbeimid ag déanamh.

If the Government is serious about supporting our Defence Forces, it should ensure they have the resources to fully participate in the missions they are already committed to, because they have been weakened in doing so, and ensure the welfare and decent pay and conditions of our Defence Forces, whether in Collins Barracks, Haulbowline, Lebanon or anywhere else for that matter. That is where our focus should be - on preserving our international status. There is no question in my mind that this act has undermined our neutrality and has undermined the basis on which Irish people voted in prior referendums, and the multiple commitments that were given by previous governments on this.

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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Arguably one of Ireland's greatest foreign policy achievements was the so-called Irish resolutions at the UN. These are widely recognised as having brought about the first nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Ireland was of course the first country to sign it. Frank Aiken, who was then Fianna Fáil's Minister for External Affairs, was under no illusion. He recognised and stated explicitly that it was our neutrality that was key to this. Our neutrality was not simply a side effect of a state that was a former colony. No; neutrality was at the forefront of a positive and constructive foreign affairs strategy. It is what allowed us to play the role of an honest broker for that treaty.

I always knew that Fine Gael was not keen on our neutrality. To be fair to it, it was always open about that. I have to say, however, that I thought Fianna Fáil at least was different when it came to the issue of neutrality, but I was wrong. When the Tánaiste previously said that he would defend the triple lock, I naively thought he would be true to his word but again, I was wrong. This effort to whittle down our neutrality through a thousand cuts is there for all to see. It is absolutely insulting to the intelligence of the Irish people to tell us that our eyes are lying to us. It is an insult to say that all the NATO partnerships that have been entered into are not part of a long-term project to get on board.

The Minister of State and the Tánaiste could have put this to a referendum if they wanted to do the decent thing. Instead, they are trying to smuggle through customs this effort to get us into this through the back door. A Sinn Féin government would look to enshrine our neutrality in the Constitution and to leverage our neutrality as part of a positive foreign policy which places peace and diplomacy at the forefront, rather than outsourcing our military decision-making to larger powers. Now is the time to strengthen our neutrality rather than abandon it.

Tá an chuma ar an scéal go bhfuil an Tánaiste náirithe mar gheall ar an bpolasaí neodrachta atá againn. Shíl mé go raibh Fianna Fáil agus an Tánaiste i bhfabhar an pholasaí neodrachais atá againn ach ón méid atá feicthe agam le roinnt míonna anuas, tá cuma iomlán difriúil ar an scéal. Tá neodrachas mar chuid lárnach agus mar chroílár an pholasaí ghnóthaí eachtracha atá againn sa Stát seo. Tá a fhios againn ar fad go gcreideann an pobal inár neodrachas. Fiú nuair a bhí na fóraim sin ar siúl ag an Rialtas agus an Tánaiste agus é ag dul chuig ceantair agus cathracha éagsúla, nuair a tháinig sé go Gaillimh agus nuair a chuaigh sé go Corcaigh bhí sé soiléir go raibh formhór na ndaoine i bhfabhar an pholasaí neodrachta atá againn. Feiceann muid fiú sna pobalbhreitheanna go bhfuil tacaíocht an phobail leis an neodrachas. Tá sé fíorthábhachtach go ndéanaimid é sin a chosaint. Tá agus bhí ról láidir againn go hidirnáisiúnta mar gheall ar an bpolasaí neodrachta atá againn. Tá sé sin feicthe againn sna Náisiúin Aontaithe fiú le gairid anuas. Mar a dúirt mo chomhghleacaí an Teachta Cronin, tá sé le feiceáil arís eile maidir leis an méid atá ag tarlú i nGaza nó sa Phalaistín faoi láthair cé chomh tábhachtach is atá sé go bhfuil guth láidir neodrach againn ag an staid seo. Ba chóir dúinn chuile shórt a dhéanamh chun é sin a chosaint.

8:55 pm

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
"agrees that:
— the Government reiterates Ireland's longstanding policy of military neutrality;

— Ireland's neutrality is characterised by non-membership of military alliances or common or mutual defence arrangements;

— the Government has no plans to join a military alliance or enter into a mutual defence arrangement so a referendum enshrining Ireland's neutrality is not necessary;

— Ireland's foreign policy is informed by an active approach towards peace support operations and crisis management;

— Ireland's contributions to conflict resolution and peacebuilding, and work for human rights and development, and our efforts to promote disarmament and the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, are internationally renowned;

— Ireland has a long and proud tradition of international engagement, including through participation in United Nations (UN) and UN-mandated, as well as European Union (EU)-led peacekeeping missions;

— members of Ireland's Defence Forces continue to contribute bravely to peacekeeping and crisis management efforts, particularly in the Middle East, as well as elsewhere in the world; and

— Ireland also supports a strong EU role in supporting the maintenance of international peace and security and engages actively in the European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy;
notes that:
— the Government convened a Consultative Forum on International Security Policy from 22nd-26th June, 2023, with a view to building public understanding and generating discussions on Ireland's foreign, security and defence policies;

— this report was recently submitted and published on 17th October;

— this report highlights the pride in Ireland's role in the world in peacekeeping and peacebuilding, as well as a broad consensus on the importance of continued international engagement; and

— this report also demonstrates a clear recognition that Ireland faces new and emerging threats, including in cyberspace and in the maritime domain, the value of working with EU and like-minded partners in these and other areas, and the need for investment in our Defence Forces;
recognises that:
— the multilateral system remains our strongest protection and the State's most important security asset;

— nevertheless, as a highly globalised country, Ireland cannot rely on our geographic isolation for our security, nor isolate ourselves from world events;

— the systemic challenges facing the UN Security Council, including the increased use of, and threat of the use of, the veto by Permanent Members of the Security Council, which directly impact on our role in international peacekeeping, oblige us to reconsider and change our existing legislation on the despatch of Defence Forces personnel overseas;

— any such legislative changes would reassert Ireland's sovereign decision-making processes, while safeguarding the essential link between international law and the UN Charter, in a manner which would allow us to respond to crisis situations with more agility;

— Ireland's policy of military neutrality is respected by our fellow European Member States and the protocols attached to the Lisbon Treaty continue to fully reflect this; and

— amending the Triple Lock legislation in relation to the deployment of our Defence Forces to peacekeeping missions will have no impact on this policy of military neutrality, and that no other EU Member State, including other neutral Member States, allow permanent Security Council members to bind their hands in the way that the Triple Lock effectively does for Ireland; and
further agrees that the Government:
— is committed to supporting the global multilateral system, to vocally defending international law, particularly international humanitarian law, and human rights;

— will continue to contribute actively to peacebuilding efforts internationally, building on and reflecting our own experience on this island, including through the new Peace and Stability Unit in the Department of Foreign Affairs;

— is committed to the positive transformation of our Defence Forces into a modern, agile military force, capable of responding to increasingly complex security threats, with investment in its people, infrastructure, capabilities and culture, through the High-Level Action Plan to progress the recommendations of the Commission on the Defence Forces, the associated Detailed Implementation Plan and the Strategic Framework for the Transformation of the Defence Forces;

— will continue to broaden and deepen our engagement with international partners in a manner consistent with our policy of military neutrality, whether through the EU's Common Security and Defence Policy or NATO's Partnership for Peace, which we have been a member of since 1999, particularly in tackling new and emerging threats in the cyber, hybrid or maritime domains; and

— will also work on our national security arrangements and ensure they are fit for purpose in an increasingly complex and unpredictable world, including through the delivery of a National Security Strategy that will set out the threat environment and the systems and structures to address these.".

I am glad to have the opportunity to address this important topic and move the Government’s countermotion. I will first clarify what Ireland’s policy of military neutrality is. Second, I will recall the findings of the recently published report of the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy. Finally, I will set out the proposals made by the Tánaiste last week in the Dáil in relation to the triple lock.

It is important that discussions on matters as important and sensitive as these proceed from a basis of fact, which is why I begin by defining our current policy. Ireland’s policy of military neutrality as practised by successive governments over many decades means Ireland does not participate in military alliances or common or mutual defence arrangements. Let me be very clear on this: the Government has no plans to alter this policy. I as Minister of State value and hold dear our neutrality and would not undermine it. It goes without saying that military neutrality does not mean that we wish to or can isolate ourselves from the challenging security environment we find ourselves in today. Nor does it mean we can ignore our responsibilities towards our citizens or international partners.

The changed geopolitical context and wider threat environment in Europe calls for a serious consideration of the State’s approach to international security issues. It was in this context that the Tánaiste convened the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy, which took place in June. The forum discussed these issues in a wider foreign policy context, including Ireland’s work to protect the rules-based international order and the lessons learned from our UN Security Council membership.

The chairperson of the forum, Professor Louise Richardson, recently submitted a report which provides an overview of these discussions and the public consultation. Professor Richardson’s report is clear that there is a strong degree of consensus on many aspects of Ireland’s international engagement. This is important. It is too easy to highlight divisions, encourage polarisation and play politics with foreign, security and defence policy issues. It is too easy and, in the context of recent events, all too dangerous.

Across the world, including in Ireland, instances of hate speech, disinformation, Islamophobia and antisemitism have been increasing, especially online. We have seen clearly how that can spill over with deadly effect. In that context, it is positive to note we are all in agreement that Ireland should continue to be active in the maintenance of international peace and security by supporting the global multilateral system with the UN Charter at its heart and by continuing to vocally defend international law, particularly international humanitarian law, and human rights.

Nobody can question the pride we take as Irish people all over the world in our role in international peacekeeping, or the fact that there is a palpable desire to sustain and build on Ireland's role on the global stage. There is also a recognition that we face new and emerging threats, including in the areas of cyber and maritime security. Furthermore, there was a clear consensus in favour of greater investment in the Defence Forces. The Government is deeply committed to the positive transformation of our Defence Forces into a modern, agile military force capable of responding to increasingly complex security threats.

It was in this context that the Tánaiste addressed the ongoing work to transform the Defence Forces through the detailed implementation plan for the Report of the Commission on the Defence Forces, which was published last week. The plan sets out the steps being taken towards a once-in-a-generation transformation of the Defence Forces through a commitment to move to level of ambition 2, with a commensurate increase in the Department budget from €1.1 billion to €1.5 billion, in 2022 prices, by 2028. This is part of our ongoing investment in our Defence Forces and its people, infrastructure, capabilities and culture.

The Tánaiste also addressed a range of measures relating to our national security arrangements, including a commitment by the Government to deliver a national security strategy in the coming months. It is clear to me that this renewed focus on our core national security interests has rapidly become essential in an increasingly complex and contested world.

In the view of the Government, the motion does not serve to enhance the proactive international role we all wish to see Ireland play in such complex situations. While ostensibly supportive of our international engagement, the motion would in fact serve to curtail Ireland’s efforts to contribute to international peace and security, rather than in any way enhance them.

In particular, the Government has a real concern about the proposal to hold a referendum enshrining neutrality in the Constitution. We do not believe this would be an appropriate or responsible course of action. Military neutrality has been a deliberate policy choice on the part of successive governments since the Second World War. As we have repeatedly set out, the Government has no intention to alter this policy. That does not mean we cannot and should not continue to discuss our international security policy and the choices we face.

We need to look honestly at the challenges to our international engagement. It is the Government’s clear view that we cannot ignore the systemic challenges facing the UN Security Council. In many of the worst crises internationally, where rapid, impartial and decisive international action is desperately needed, the council is unwilling or unable to act.

To recall the current position in Irish legislation, the dispatch of contingents of the Defence Forces for overseas peace support operations may only take place where: the deployment is approved by the Government; is approved by Dáil resolution, if the proposed deployment is more than 12 personnel; and the operation in question is mandated or authorised by the UN. This triple lock system effectively gives a veto to the five permanent members of the Security Council over our national sovereign decision to deploy troops on peacekeeping missions as we see fit. Why would we wish to curtail our own independent decision-making? Whose interests does this serve?

During last week’s Dáil debate on the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy, the Tánaiste stated it would make sense to amend our legislation in a manner that would allow us to respond to crisis situations with more agility and would ensure that, in making these important decisions, we are not surrendering our sovereignty. Work on the preparation of those legislative proposals will commence immediately with a view to proposals being brought to the Government in due course. Of course, any legislative proposals will remain fully consistent with the principles of the UN Charter and international law. They will also be debated and approved by the Dáil and Seanad, thus providing the Oireachtas with ample opportunity to debate this important initiative.

Not only does the motion put forward by Sinn Féin fail to adequately address the challenging international security context in which we now operate, it also erroneously equates any amendment to the triple lock with a change to the long-standing policy of military neutrality which this Government has been clear that it has no intention of altering.

As the Tánaiste said last week, that is simply not on the agenda.

It is also abundantly clear that Ireland’s policy of military neutrality is respected by our fellow member states, and the protocols attached to the Lisbon treaty continue to fully reflect this. This House needs no reminder of the increasingly volatile and challenging times in which we find ourselves. We have had ample opportunity in this House to debate the impact of Russia’s appalling invasion of Ukraine and the dreadful situation in the Middle East. In the face of these and all other challenges to global peace and security, Ireland’s commitment to multilateralism - the rules- based international order - with the UN Charter at its core is the cornerstone of our foreign policy. This will remain our strong and consistent message throughout this and all crises.

It is in recognition of this complexity that the Government now presents proposals for change. We simply cannot afford to isolate ourselves or ignore our responsibilities towards either our own citizens, our fellow EU member states or other friendly partners. Instead of opening a serious discussion about the threat environment and our capabilities, I am concerned that the motion before us simply attempts to reduce these conversations to a political debate. That is the context in which the Government opposes the motion.

The Government’s countermotion reiterates our support for Ireland’s long-standing policy of military neutrality, our commitment to continuing international engagement and the ongoing positive transformation of the Defence Forces. At the same time, it reflects our desire for a modern, fit-for-purpose foreign, security and defence policy in keeping with the challenges we face today. In that light, I call on this House to support the countermotion.

9:05 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Next is Deputy Quinlivan, who will share time with Deputies Patricia Ryan, Mythen, Paul Donnelly, and Stanley.

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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We will have two minutes each. The neutrality of the Irish State has served us and the globe very well. Our neutrality is the most fundamental part of our foreign policy and a key aspect of that are the checks and triple-lock system imposed on our Defence Forces's ability to operate outside of the State. The Tánaiste is attempting to undo this. He is attempting to radically change our approach to foreign policy for the worse. In opposition, he stated that the triple lock was a necessary. Last week, however, stated that he wanted to do away with it. He was right then, and he is wrong now. The Irish Defence Forces are respected across the globe. Both state actors and non-state actors respect them. We have tragically lost members of our Defence Forces to both types of group, but they are generally able to operate where aligned troops would not be able to do so. Our neutrality and the checks and balances that constrain our ability to deploy those troops abroad aids our forces in the delivery of humanitarian missions from Lebanon to Africa. Changing this would be a grave mistake that would undermine their ability to operate where others cannot.

We are all used to Fianna Fáil breaking its election promises. We are used to its members speaking out of both sides of their mouths. As such, it is no surprise to see the leader of Fianna Fáil go back so blatantly on the commitments made in the party's 2020 general election manifesto regarding the triple-lock system. Last week, the Tánaiste said the triple lock needs to be ended, but his party's most recent manifesto said something different. Fianna Fáil reaffirmed its commitment to the retention of the triple lock of the UN mandate and authorisation and Government and Dáil approval prior to committing Defence Forces' personnel to overseas service. I campaigned against both the Nice and Lisbon treaties on foot of my concerns about Ireland's neutrality being eroded. Under the Seville Declaration, we were promised it would be protected. However, the Tánaiste is seeking to undo that. Guarantees were offered to ensure that the treaties would pass the second time around, and now the leader of Fianna Fáil, following a vote at the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis of 2022, has committed to removing this mechanism that has served us so well in the past.

Photo of Patricia RyanPatricia Ryan (Kildare South, Sinn Fein)
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This Government's stated intention to legislate to remove the triple lock and the protection it affords the members of our Defence Forces beggars belief. Since 1958, Ireland's Defence Forces have proudly fulfilled a peacekeeping role. They have had a proud, unbroken peacekeeping service record, from the Congo to Kosovo to Mali and elsewhere. At present, Defence Forces personnel are serving with UNIFIL in Lebanon and UNDOF in the Golan Heights. All members of the Defence Forces were committed and proud to serve as peacekeepers, backed by the Irish people and, crucially, a United Nations mandate. However, the Minister of State and the Government seem hell-bent on tearing up that proud peacekeeping record, upending Irish neutrality and turning our peacekeepers into conflict participants. Without the UN peacekeeping mandate, God alone knows where our troops could end up. Perhaps the Minister of State could enlighten us. Perhaps the Tánaiste, if he was here, would enlighten us.

Our neutrality is our strength. That is recognised the world over. The triple lock is at the core of this, and any attempt to undermine or change the triple lock must be strongly resisted. In fact, the Minister of State might benefit from some mature recollection at this point. When in opposition, the Tánaiste stated that the triple lock was a necessity. What changed his mind in the meantime? Maybe the Minister of State could tell us that. It is blindingly obvious that not only has this Government abandoned our neutrality, it has effectively abandoned our Defence Forces. Chronic underinvestment has meant that they are underfunded, under-resourced and definitely underpaid. It is time to call a halt on the Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil agenda to undermine our Defence Forces and our neutrality. It is time for a Sinn Féin Government that will properly fund our Defence Forces in order that they can continue our proud peacekeeping participation record and other vital protective duties on behalf of the Irish people.

I call on this House to reject the Government's shameful attempts to undermine Ireland's neutrality, to keep our peacekeepers as peacekeepers and to fully support Sinn Féin's motion to properly fund and resource our Defence Forces.

Photo of Johnny MythenJohnny Mythen (Wexford, Sinn Fein)
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Irish neutrality is and will be undermined by the removal of the triple lock and the changing of legislation on the dispatch of Defence Forces personnel overseas. The Government's language and U-turn on military neutrality do not keep faith with the Seville Declaration, which states that for Ireland to participate in any military operations overseas it must have authorisation by the UN Security Council or General Assembly, the agreement of the Irish Government and the approval of Dáil Éireann. These three stipulations are the very foundation that gives Ireland and the Irish people their unique neutral identity, their credibility in the world and the belief that we shape things around diplomacy. Our neutrality fortifies our participation in peacekeeping missions. More importantly, it is woven into the fabric of our sovereignty as an independent nation.

We have listened to the Government's arguments about removing the triple lock. It cited the recent cyberattack by the Russian criminal gang on the HSE as one of the rational reasons to opt out of the triple lock, when, in fact, the HSE's IT system is antiquated, has not been upgraded and has been the subject of underinvestment for the past 20 years. The Government says the world is evolving in a different direction. This was always the way. There will always be tensions in different parts of the world. As a result, we must cherish and protect our neutrality and keep it intact. The voice of the people must always be present and not be drowned out by the thunder of militarisation, the lobbyists for lethal weapons and the lucrative arms industry.

Irish troops on peacekeeping missions are respected the world over. To allow our troops to be deployed as conflict participants will make both Ireland and themselves a target for the countries they will be sent to fight against. It will automatically tarnish our reputation as a well-respected peacekeeping force. In fact, it is the longest unbroken record of any nation in the world. It would have repercussions for all the members of our diaspora who are living in many countries abroad. It will have the potential to negatively affect any citizen travelling abroad on an Irish passport. We must ensure that any Irish Defence Forces or security personnel deployed on overseas missions have the full mandate from the United Nations.

We must trust and put our faith in the Irish people and give them the final say on neutrality by means of a referendum to enshrine the principle of Irish neutrality in our Constitution and never rely on any Government to make the decision in that regard. We must formally establish a citizens' assembly on the question of neutrality. Last but not least, we must pay a decent wage to the members of our Irish Defence Forces. It is a scandal to think that a substantial number of the members of our Defence Forces are on working family payments. A recent report from the Commission on the Future of the Defence Forces has declared that there is a need for €246 million of investment annually to bring them to a modern-day standard. No one has the right to diminish or deconstruct our neutrality, This can only be done with the full consent and will of the sovereign Irish people through a referendum. Please support this motion.

Photo of Paul DonnellyPaul Donnelly (Dublin West, Sinn Fein)
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I would like to claim that I wrote the following words, but I did not. These are the words of the Tánaiste, Deputy Micheál Martin, who stated:

It has been reported that the Government [is about to] publish a Green Paper prepared by ... Minister ... Shatter, which will propose that Ireland loosen[s] the triple lock [in relation to] overseas military engagements. This is happening just as the final countries are formally enacting the Lisbon measures which explicitly address[es] ... concerns on this matter. It appears that Fine Gael is arguing that Ireland is failing in its ... responsibilities and [that we are] allowing Russia and China to have a veto over our peacekeeping activities. This is nothing more than an out-of-touch ideological obsession on the part of Fine Gael which ignores the facts of Ireland’s international standing. Few countries in the world are held anywhere near the esteem [that there is for] ... Ireland ... because of [how often we participate] in peacekeeping and the wonderful work of our soldiers and gardaí. [We do not enter these] missions ... easily but [we do] so wholeheartedly and with real impact. The current policy works ... it has complete popular legitimacy. There is no reason whatsoever to change it. [It 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 [it] ... [not] undermine it.

I ask people to listen to the words uttered by Deputy Micheál Martin, the flip-flop Tánaiste, last week. I wonder why he would make such a massive change in his policy. He should stand by his words from 2013.

9:15 pm

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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Our position on neutrality is long-held. It is cherished and valued by the Irish public. Neutrality has provided our State with credibility and impartiality to be a voice for peace and for de-escalation in cases of armed conflict. Any attempt to weaken our neutrality or drag Ireland towards a military alliance must be strongly opposed. I have not heard one convincing or valid argument for a change in the triple-lock system but I have heard bogus ones. For such a significant change to our neutrality policy, I would expect to be presented with substantial evidence that there is some sort of urgent problem - Russia's veto on the Security Council has been meekly suggested. However, as has already been said, in 2013, Deputy Micheál Martin stated that this argument was "An out-of-touch ideological obsession". He has done a somersault now that he is swanning around Europe. What changed the Tánaiste's mind since Fianna Fáil's manifesto in 2020 in which it said it would protect the triple lock on neutrality? Deputy Micheál Martin happened to be correct in 2013 and Fianna Fáil's position in 2020, on paper at least, was okay as well. Since then, he has done a somersault. Whenever this matter is raised by militarists and the elite in this State, I am always suspicious of the motivation of those who propose ending neutrality. We all know it will not be the sons and daughters of the elite sent out to the front line to fight in conflicts. It will always be the working class who are sent to the front lines.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, in pushing this, have lied to the public during debates. I recall them. I took part in the referendum campaigns relating to the Nice and Lisbon treaties. We were told not to worry about neutrality, that we were scaremongering and that the triple-lock system would protect us. That convinced a lot of people. If those opposite recall, the Government of the day had to make two runs to get those referendums through. Saying that we did not have to worry about neutrality is what convinced many Irish people to back the referendums. Now, it says they are being fooled. The Government is prepared to tell the Irish people tonight that it has fooled them. That is why we need an amendment to enshrine neutrality in our Constitution.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I welcome this debate and thank the Sinn Féin Deputies for tabling a comprehensive motion involving a number of important issues which this House should debate. In truth, it should not be up to the Opposition to use scarce Private Members' time. There should be an open-ended debate on fundamental issues like this, which the Government should facilitate by setting out a clear position paper that we can debate.

The motion before the House contains a number of parts. I wish to deal with each of them. One is the current status of our Permanent Defence Force in the context of numbers, morale and equipment. The report of the Commission on the Defence Forces sets out how starkly inadequate our defence provision is. Our national defence capacity is hopelessly inadequate. The number of serving personnel, which is well beyond even the inadequate number set out as the objective, is stretched beyond limit. We have no ability to monitor our airspace or the seas in our exclusive economic zone. We depend, amazingly, on the British Royal Air Force to tell us if our airspace is entered by unauthorised aircraft. Should we want to track any such unauthorised aircraft, we simply do not have the means to do so. I made the point last week that I believe this situation was not only recognised but was to be addressed by the Government. That is what I understood to be the response of the Government to the commission, namely, that we need, fundamentally, to resource our Defence Forces, upgrade pay, allowances and equipment and provide for all the things the commission set out, such as a radar system and proper supports like sonar for our sea-going vessels. Yet, as I pointed out last week, the increase in the defence allocation in the budget was 1%. The core element of the defence allocation, on page 36 of the document circulated on the day of the budget, shows that, in sub-programme A, defence policy and support, military capacities and operational outputs - the core spending of the Department on the military - is to rise from €915.362 million next year to €920.712 million. That is a 1%, or €5 million, increase. It is a joke. The Government is not serious about giving capacity to our Defence Forces, proper wages, the allowances personnel need or a radar system. It takes forever to do anything. It has been five years since the two replacements for the CASA aircraft were ordered. My understanding is that one is yet to arrive. The Taj Mahal was built quicker than we can get basic equipment for our military. It is shocking.

The other issue raised by the motion, on which most of the speakers tonight have focused, is the sudden and surprising announcement by the Tánaiste to this House last week about the abandonment of the long-standing triple-lock arrangement for the deployment of Irish military personnel overseas. While the Tánaiste's announcement surprised us, the reason behind it has since become clear. In a reply to a parliamentary question tabled by Deputy McNamara, the Tánaiste confirmed that any deployment of Defence Forces personnel as part of the battle group will be subject to the requirements of the triple lock. The participation of our Defence Forces in the soon the German-led battle group that is soon to be stood up next year and in 2025 is an important plank in the Government's defence policy. While the training and preparation of the Irish contingent will take place largely here in Ireland, Irish troops cannot be deployed with this battle group - the new main focus of the Government in defence policy - without a UN mandate under the triple lock, which is legally binding. It knows it is highly unlikely to be received. Rather than deal with that issue, it will abolish the triple lock. That is if the required number of Irish troops to make up the battle group, approximately 182, is achieved, which is proving problematic.

In the reply to our colleague, Deputy McNamara, the Tánaiste confirmed that it may be necessary to use mandatory selection if volunteer numbers for this battle group are not reached. This is unacceptable, but it explains the timing of the Tánaiste's announcement. The triple lock requiring the approval of the Government, the Dáil and the UN before any Defence Forces' personnel can be sent on overseas service has served us well. UN authorisation under the Act can be by either a Security Council or a General Assembly vote. There are difficulties in that regard, which we know. I have acknowledged how imperfect a body the UN is; it needs significant reform. We all acknowledge that. A UN mandate is the sort of endorsement that is a real protection for Ireland and Irish Defence Forces personnel. In an increasingly polarised world, having the safeguard of the agreement of the only legitimate international institution truly representative of global opinion is important. Altering a sound and well-tested procedure in order to address an immediate requirement of the policy of the current Government is a bad decision.

It is a decision that will have a long-term, perhaps permanent, impact on how we deploy our Defence Forces and, more importantly, on how our forces are viewed by the rest of the world.

If we simply become an actor in consort with others in a polarised world, then all of the goodwill we have built up through our peacekeeping will be undermined. A third element of the motion calls for Ireland to engage with the EU institutions and member states with a view to recognising the integrity of neutral states within the EU treaties. Again, this is an important issue that merits proper debate. The EU does not have a common foreign policy. The debate on Gaza has starkly laid that bare. The vote of member states in the United Nations General Assembly shows there is a profound divergence of views. The Common Foreign and Security Policy, CFSP, is the EU's foreign policy framework. However, decisions under that CFSP system are made at the EU Council of Ministers by unanimity, with a limited role for the European Parliament. We have established the external action service and the High Representative, but there are now voices calling for an end to the requirement of unanimity. This is ostensibly to deal with the serial blockers of decisions, for example, Hungary, but it is a most serious move which I oppose. Can you imagine if the qualified majority vote at EU Council tied our position on the issue of Gaza? I think the Irish people would be scandalised.

I support, as I have done formally on behalf of the Labour Party, the idea of a referendum to enshrine neutrality into our Constitution. I ask the Minister of State not come in here and read a script, decide that this is the policy and then the Government can bulldoze it through because it has the numbers. This is a profound issue for the Irish people, and I desperately ask that the Government listen to all of the voices, create as much of a consensus as it can on this issue and not simply drive a position through.

9:25 pm

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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I thank Sinn Féin for bringing forward this motion. At its most basic, removal of the triple lock would make it easier for Irish troops to be deployed on military operations overseas. While some might think that is a good thing, I certainly do not. In practice, it means the State could send military personnel overseas on missions not mandated by the UN, since the clause that has served us so well for decades will have been removed. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have not clarified which potential missions currently restricted by the triple lock have motivated their move to end the current conditions. The question has already been asked several times, but I reiterate it: what are the missions the Government would like to see Irish troops take part in? Are they EU missions? To date, all of the missions on which Irish personnel have served have been UN mandated. The continuous presence of the blue helmets of Irish troops overseas is one of the great proud traditions in my constituency. Army personnel taking part in those missions is something people find great strength in. Are the missions about which I am asking led by the US, the UK or perhaps just those that are opposed by Russia? We do not know. Clarity is needed to explain this move and the implications it might have. Has the Government considered training forces from other countries if this is deemed appropriate? In that context, I refer to the provision of rifle training for Ukrainian snipers. That significantly breached our neutrality when it happened. We need answers in respect of all of these unknowns. Because the State is not mandated to interfere in this way, the public should not be either misled or led down a garden path. Deployment to train forces from another country might in the past have been deemed an act of war.

The purpose of the UN mandate for Ireland, which Fine Gael wishes to remove as part of the triple lock, is to ground us in international peace and collective security and ensure that we do not get dragged into great power conflicts. That is probably more relevant now than it has been at any time in our history. Without such a mandate, governments hold all of the power when it comes to military action. It is quite frankly hard to trust a Government which has been defined by so many inaccuracies in its own statements regarding the triple lock.

The Tánaiste's comments on the triple lock when the previous Government was in power have been well documented this evening. A couple of months ago, the leader of the Green Party, Deputy Eamon Ryan, said that the triple lock has served us well to this point. Yet, we still have legislation about to come before us that says different. The vague nature of the intentions of the move worsens our concerns when it comes to the justification for these actions. At present, the plan seems like an erosion of our neutrality. How could it not be? Why would we trust that it is otherwise? It is precisely our position and adherence to neutrality that gives us legitimacy on the world stage. The world urgently needs voices calling for and countries working towards de-escalation, demilitarisation and disarmament rather than towards the opposite. Ireland's colonial and postcolonial experiences resulting in the promotion of self determination, anti-imperialism and anti-militarism have defined our contributions to peace at international level from the outset.

The Government speaks of preserving Irish sovereignty by removing the triple lock. However, when it comes to acting unilaterally on an international stage, such as recognising the state of Palestine and Israel's imposition of an apartheid state, it shies away from being brave and uses the justification of waiting to act in consort with others. The electorate deserves a say in this matter. The Government has not been mandated to decide what Irish sovereignty should look like. That is an important point. The Government has no mandate. Whether you agree or disagree on this, it represents a significant change in policy and direction. There is no mandate. The programme for Government does not talk of removing the triple lock. Fianna Fáil did not campaign on removing the triple lock in the most recent election campaign. There is no mandate from the Irish people for this significant change. To do this without putting it to a referendum or campaigning on it prior to the next general election goes against the nature of the democratic mandate we have when we form Governments. It should be for people to decide.

This all comes from a consultative forum, which was stacked with speakers who can only be described as pro-NATO. I do not believe in a NATO like approach to military partnerships, and the Irish people clearly do not either. Frank Aiken believed that using soft power rather than militarism was an important way for Ireland, as a neutral country, to play a role on the world stage. Every time we have spoken about neutrality or the triple lock in the Chamber over the past year, I have purposely used the Frank Aiken example. Parties can have relatively proud traditions for which they stood in the past. They should have pride in that. Moves like these undermine those traditions.

In 1957, Frank Aiken told the UN General Assembly:

... like many of our fellow Members here, we are a young State, but a people with a proud and ancient history ... [It] is as such a country that we speak here today in the hope that our profound conviction, born of long experience of tragic frustration, may carry weight with this Assembly.

I agree with Frank Aiken when he said that this remains the way forward in the context of Ireland's place on the international stage. Aiken was against the notion of Ireland taking part in anything like NATO. He was renowned at the UN for never caving in to pressure from the British or the Americans. Ireland's role as a neutral country when it comes to UN interaction is a virtuous one. It was Ireland's neutrality that enabled this vitally important, independent and bloody maverick position we fought hard for. The current programme for Government commits this Government to ensuring that all overseas operations will be conducted in line with our position of military neutrality and will be subject to the triple lock of UN, Government and Dáil approval. To take that away without a referendum or without making it an election issue and putting it before the people is an abandonment of that mandate. Meanwhile, these calls take place when our Defence Forces are in crisis and struggling to recruit people. This crisis and the struggle to retain staff are only worsening. The Naval Service can only put one or two ships to sea to patrol and secure Irish waters. This is not to mention the missions we would potentially have to undertake abroad. There is no coherent plan in these codes. They are dangerous in their ambiguity. If this point needs to be argued, let it be put to the people by means of a referendum or as an election issue. It should not be forced through now in the absence of a mandate.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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I move amendment 1 to amendment No. 1:

To insert the following after "systems and structures to address these":

"calls on the Government to: — introduce a Bill for a referendum to insert Irish neutrality and a policy of non-membership of military alliances and not allowing its territory to be used by other states to transport war material or personnel to third countries for the purpose of war or other armed conflict into the Constitution; and

— close Shannon Airport to United States (US) military and US military contracted aircraft, including troop carriers".

There is a conscious campaign on the part of the political establishment in this country, in particular the Government, to undermine what is left of Ireland's neutrality. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael want to get rid of what is left of our neutrality in order to openly align Ireland with the US-led NATO and with the process of militarisation of the European Union. That is the agenda of the Government.

It is a bad time to be pushing such an agenda when the whole world can see what the Government's commitment to democracy, human rights and humanitarianism looks like in light of what is happening in Gaza and the fact that Genocide Joe Biden has cheered that on and Ursula von der Leyen gave it the green light. These are imperialist power blocs serving their own interests – the interests of their capitalist classes – just as the blocs of Russia and China do for theirs.

When we say that the agenda here is to undermine neutrality, we have mock outrage from the Government and some political commentators, who treat us as wild-eyed conspiracy loons for having such a notion. Last week during Leaders’ Questions, Micheál Martin did a great line in outrage and said that no one had ever suggested getting rid of neutrality and asked what we were talking about. In March 2022, Micheál Martin, then the Taoiseach and now the Tánaiste, said that neutrality was a “policy issue that can change at any time” and that we would not need a referendum to get rid of it. Fast forward to June 2022 and Micheál Martin, still the Taoiseach, told us that Ireland needed to reflect on our military neutrality. He has consistently said that we need to reflect on Ireland’s military non-alignment and military neutrality and that we are not politically neutral. One can find similar quotes from Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney. It is clear that, when Putin’s imperialist invasion of Ukraine started, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil thought it was their opportunity to ditch the political straitjacket of the triple lock and neutrality and align Ireland openly with the western military and imperialist bloc. That was the plan. It came up against public opinion, a large majority of which continues stubbornly to defend neutrality in the face of all the exhortations from the politicians and political commentators for a “reasonable debate”, to be a “mature country” and so on.

So, the strategy switched from a full frontal attack on neutrality to undermining and tearing it up from below through deeds and then having the consultative forum with a definite plan in advance to recommend getting rid of the triple lock. The Government moved to sign Ireland up to the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a NATO alliance that meets in NATO’s headquarters and in which Ireland has participated time and again, and involve Ireland in sending military assistance, albeit supposedly only paying for the non-lethal parts, and in militarily training soldiers involved in a war. This is the second part of the plan.

Multiple political commentators ridiculed those of us who said that the consultative forum was a ready up and that it had a definite plan. Mr. Pat Leahy had a whole bunch of pieces saying, “Ha, ha, ha, where is this attack on neutrality?” Well, here it comes. The only fig leaf provided for it is in the consultative forum. In the text of the forum’s report, Professor Louise Richardson wrote: "While there was not a consensus on this point, the preponderance of views, especially among the experts and practitioners, is that it is time for a reconsideration of the Triple Lock as it is no longer fit for purpose." The forum did its job. A completely stacked forum came out in favour of getting rid of the triple lock and the Government was then able to say that there had been a process and now it would move on. Where was the citizens’ assembly that Micheál Martin promised us? He said that we were going to have a citizens’ assembly and a proper debate. Was the problem the citizens in that assembly? The Government had to get rid of them because they were not going to go along with getting rid of the triple lock and neutrality. Instead, the Government had this sham process and an outrageous attempt behind the backs of the people to undermine and get rid of the triple lock.

Next the Government says that the triple lock has nothing to do with neutrality and asks us what we are talking about. On 18 December 2013, Micheál Martin stated that the triple lock was “at the core of our neutrality.” He was absolutely right.

There is no mandate whatsoever for this. Fianna Fáil did not campaign on it. Nor did Fine Gael or the Green Party. The programme for Government reads: "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."

What is this about? The Government refuses to answer which sorts of mission it is in favour of sending Irish troops abroad for. In the Tánaiste’s speech to the Dáil last week and his opinion piece in the Business Post, he said that we would get rid of the triple lock, but not to worry, as any "deployment of Defence Forces personnel abroad will always be within the parameters of international law and the UN Charter". That does not make any sense. I am not sure if the Minister of State or Micheál Martin understands, but under the UN Charter, there are two legal ways the Government can send troops abroad – self-defence, which is provided for under Bunreacht na hÉireann and in which situation there is no need for the triple lock to be activated, and peacekeeping authorised by the UN Security Council. Anything within the UN Charter comes within the triple lock.

The Tánaiste went into more detail and suggested that regional organisations, for example, the African Union, the European Union, etc., could send troops abroad. Article 53 of the UN Charter is clear, in that no enforcement action shall be taken under regional arrangements or by regional agencies without the authorisation of the Security Council. In other words, the requirement of the triple lock would be met.

What is this about? It is about operations like Iraq. If it were not for the triple lock, Irish soldiers could have been sent to Iraq in a war for oil, profit and US imperialism.

9:35 pm

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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I do not trust Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the Green Party on the issue of Irish foreign policy and steering clear of military alliances. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people at the very least and perhaps more than 1 million. They were fought for the prestige of US imperialism and, in the case of Iraq, oil. They were not fought to keep the world safe from weapons of mass destruction. There were no weapons of mass destruction.

Fianna Fáil allowed US warplanes to refuel at Shannon. It started a process whereby Shannon became a de facto forward operating base for the US military. More than 3 million troops have passed through Shannon over the past 21 years. This has not just happened while Fianna Fáil has been in government, though. It has also happened while the late, unlamented Progressive Democrats, the Green Party, the Labour Party and, of course, Fine Gael have been in government.

What about Fine Gael? We are forever being told that Irish foreign policy needs to change now because circumstances have changed, but has Fine Gael’s policy changed that much? In 2003, Fine Gael produced a policy document that called for Ireland to sign up to a European defence structure. Enda Kenny said at the time that Europe was on the brink of mutual defence arrangements and Ireland should join and become one of the states shaping it.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael want to sharply increase defence spending and increase military co-operation with European powers and NATO. They deny that they want to take Ireland into full NATO membership, but they understand that Irish public opinion would not stand for that at this point in time. The abandonment of the triple lock is part and parcel of that whole agenda. The Irish people need to be given a say in the matter and I support the call for a referendum.

Photo of Peter FitzpatrickPeter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Independent)
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Ireland is one of five member states of the European Union that are not members of NATO. This country has a long-standing policy of military neutrality. It does not join miliary alliances or defence pacts or take part in international conflicts. With almost 10% of the Army deployed to the Middle East, Ireland’s substantial contribution to peacekeeping efforts in the region are unmatched by any other country.

The Government is preparing legislation to change the protocol around the future of deployment of the Defence Forces overseas, specifically the triple lock system, which refers to the three steps that have to be taken before more than 12 members of the Defence Forces can be sent abroad on any mission.

Admittedly, Ireland, a traditionally neutral country, faces new threats that were not considered at the time of its neutrality's establishment, prompting debate on modernising its long-held neutrality policy. For example, the international security environment has changed significantly over the past year. There has been blatant disregard for international law and Europe's collective security architecture, bringing war to the European Continent. Over the past few years, Ireland has been targeted by malign activity, including the large cyberattack on our health service during the pandemic. We need to start considering how better to defend ourselves against all sorts of hybrid threats. Consequently, it is clear from the outset that our neutral status does not entail a simple binary position but a complex, evolving and pragmatic foreign policy response to a rapidly changing world.

In scrapping the triple lock, Ireland will be able to respond quickly to crises around the world without having to gain approval from the UN Security Council. Much of this response will likely take place through a newly revamped EU battle group system, which is intended to act as the bloc's rapid-reaction force to deal with humanitarian crises. Ireland has committed 182 troops to the 2,000-strong German-led battle group. While this amendment would allow for more agile responses to crises, it is coming at a time when our own military is in crisis.

The manpower crisis within the Defence Forces has become acute. I raised this issue in February of this year. The military is in the grip of a staff retention crisis due to a mass exodus due to pay, pension and working conditions, and it is only getting worse. Numbers have dropped to a new low of just 7,764 personnel across the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps. Hundreds have resigned in the past year, including over 30 commissioned officers. For example, the Naval Service can only put one or two ships to sea to patrol and secure Irish waters. Ireland currently lacks primary radar, which is a prerequisite to adequately monitoring activity in Irish skies, and this month the Defence Forces struggled to find enough troops to deploy with the United Nations to Lebanon amid increasing violence in the region. Hezbollah militants have been firing rockets into Israel from the Irish area of operations, raising fears that Irish posts could be inadvertently hit in retaliatory attacks. A greater factor is the shortages; however, this is likely related to burnout due to worsening personnel shortages. Soldiers are being forced to go on overseas deployments far more regularly. This month, the vacant roles were filled through "mandatory selection", the term used for ordering troops to go on an overseas deployment. Some soldiers already in Lebanon as part of the current UNIFIL deployment may be asked to stay on.

Neutrality is an invaluable component of our foreign policy. It has given us a unique voice for peace in an increasingly unstable world. To protect and preserve it, however, we must invest in our Defence Forces and support their current transformation to vindicate our sovereign and militarily neutral status. The Government launched last year a refitting plan, including what was billed as the largest-ever budget rise, from €1.1 billion to €1.5 billion by 2028, to replace aged equipment, recruit personnel and better equip the country's armed forces. We are still experiencing staffing issues. We need strategic, consistent investment in our basic defences, as set out in the recent report of the Commission on the Defence Forces. Therefore, we need to have a serious and honest conversation about the international security policy options available and the implications of each of these, as well as examine ways we can learn from other European countries. However, this must be discussed and agreed upon via a citizens' assembly. Overall, we should adopt the highest level of ambition on investment in our Defence Forces to protect and preserve our neutrality.

9:45 pm

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Laois-Offaly, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important matter this evening. First, I would like to express my surprise over how the issues involving the changes to the triple lock were announced last week. The Tánaiste, in a lengthy speech to a virtually empty Dáil, confirmed one of the most significant and far-reaching changes to Irish foreign policy in almost 30 years. That could have been organised more substantively. To give the Tánaiste the benefit of the doubt, I believe he genuinely thinks his proposal is in Ireland's best interest. I do not agree with him, but at least he has laid his views on the table. The fact remains that what we are dealing with is the death rattle of neutrality as a meaningful concept. The announcements last week have set a process in motion that we will come to regret deeply. Neutrality in its present form has served us well, and we abandon it at our peril.

There is much to agree with in the motion but there is also much to disagree with, particularly its call to establish yet another citizens' assembly to look into the matter. To protect neutrality as a key component of our democracy, the last thing we need is the fake democracy of a so-called citizens' assembly. I agree, however, that any change of the magnitude proposed by the Tánaiste, particularly the removal of neutrality protections such as the triple lock, should be put directly to the people through a referendum.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The Tánaiste announced a consultative forum last week. He and his cabals of NGOs are getting away with so much, and he wants to set up another in the form of a citizens' assembly. Is citizens' assembly é an Teach seo. We are elected to a citizens' assembly. The Tánaiste is subverting democracy by trying to do what he is doing instead of backing up our Army.

I was here one Thursday evening some years ago when the Tánaiste came in here and slipped in and out. He changed his stance on the repeal of the eighth amendment, in spite of the fact that 90% of his party had voted to keep it. He undermined it fundamentally against his party's wishes. His party's wishes are very clear on neutrality. Most of his party's members I meet are totally opposed to this tinkering with our neutrality.

What happened last week in Kilworth is happening regularly. Our Army base there, an FCA base for years, was being used by soldiers from Ukraine and Ireland as part of a readiness operation for NATO. Just think about it. What is going on here? The Tánaiste is undermining the fundamental basis of our neutrality. The sooner he is out of office, the better for this country and his people.

We have been waiting for years to get support for soldiers. Morale is on the ground. As I said last week, the navy does great work but, God help us, it is so run down and depleted and has so few ships and personnel. When we question this, we are told everything is coming in the future. A €30 million fund has been announced. Last week the Minister said he was going to build boats, buy planes and do everything with the €30 million. However, all he wants is a smoke screen – smoke and daggers that he can dance around – and to prance around the world and European stages, telling the people how great he is. You would think he was the Messiah going around. He wants to be involved in wars, the WEF, the WHO and everything bar this Parliament, to which he is elected. He fought long enough to become Taoiseach. He was facing the prospect of being the only Fianna Fáil leader not to be Taoiseach but he crawled and gave away everything to the Greens. Now he wants to wreck our neutrality. The sooner this man is taken out of office, the better. I know he wants a job in Europe – it is probably lined up already. The sooner, the better.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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Almost every week here in the Dáil, a question over our neutrality is raised. It seems the Irish Government, including both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, are eating away at our neutrality, for whatever reason, I do not know. Our Defence Forces have been under-resourced for decades, leaving this country wide open to attack if we in any way play around with our neutrality, which has served us well. We should be using our neutrality in a far more positive way to create peace across the world, but instead we seem to want to stand by one country or another in conflict, closing the door for us to create peace, like other countries have done. Russian ships have hovered over our communications infrastructure at sea and we have stood idly by. Our Defence Forces' helicopters are flown up into the sky only for the doors to open and fall down to the ground. This tells you they are totally and utterly under-resourced.

The recent announcement by the Tánaiste to scrap the triple lock, which prevents more than 12 Irish troops from serving overseas without UN approval, faced strong, immediate criticism, particularly due to the triple lock's perceived importance in safeguarding Irish neutrality. The legislative basis for the triple lock dates back to 1960 but gained prominence in public discourse only around 2001. Initially conceived as a concrete reassurance device regarding the Nice treaty, it became a guardrail for neutrality. However, the Government argues that abolishing the triple lock allows Ireland to respond swiftly to global crises without relying on UN decisions. However, this approach risks severely compromising Irish sovereignty and could lead to the participation in aggressive military operations and the prospect of our sons and daughters being forced to go on military missions to fight in foreign wars.

Over the weekend the Business Postpublished an opinion piece by the Tánaiste and Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, on his decision to scrap the Irish triple lock, a fundamental element of Ireland's neutrality. Curiously the 1,100-word article failed to explain how Martin shifted from ardently supporting the triple lock in 2020 prior to the last election when he and his party pledged to protect it if elected. Martin's article implied that those supporting the triple lock were akin to supporters of the Chinese and Russian presidents, which is scandalous.

9:55 pm

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I thank Sinn Féin for bringing forward this very important motion this evening. I am very sad and sorry to see this proposal being brought forward by the Tánaiste, Micheál Martin. I cannot understand it. He is undermining all the good works of the Defence Forces and their peacekeeping efforts over the years when we were applauded. The triple lock has served us well and I cannot understand how this can be gone back on. Back in 2013 Fianna Fáil argued with Fine Gael when it wanted to do away with the triple lock. If we want to remain neutral, I cannot understand we have to remove the triple lock now.

As a young fellow, I remember listening to Raidió Éireann, when we had only radio, on different occasions to de Valera making the speech where Ireland wanted to remain neutral. I applaud him for that and for standing up to the English. He said we were oppressed for over 800 years and the British wanted us to go into the war. I applaud him for standing up to the might of the US and the UK at that time. This is very dangerous. No consideration is being given to the forces that we have at present because that was never in their contract. The Government will have to change their contract. As an employer, I know that if the contract is changed, it will have to pay people and get their agreement and understanding to do that, and the Government has not done that.

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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This change in legislation is to change Ireland's stance on neutrality. It will mean there is no longer a need for approval by the UN for a deployment of more than 12 members of the Defence Forces. This basically means getting rid of the triple lock system. Why fix something if it is not broken? This is not broken. It has worked in the past and it is working now.

As of the end of August the strength of the of the Permanent Defence Force stood at 7,671, with 6,221 on the Army, 755 in the Naval Service and 695 in the Air Corps. The aim is for 11,500 by 2028. There was €1.23 billion allocated to defence in this year's budget. For many decades the Defence Forces have been protecting people and keeping peace. Ireland is looked at as a peacekeeping island. Through our neutrality we go out on peacekeeping missions. Why would the Government try to break something like that? It has worked in the past and is still working. Why not keep it the way it is as a triple lock system? I agree that funding needs to be spent on our Defence Forces as we have helicopters with doors flying off them. God forbid if we had to have any type of defence. We have nothing. I agree money needs to be spent on it but I do not agree with breaking up the triple lock system.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independents 4 Change)
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This is pretty clear and simple as far as I am concerned. The Irish people are proud of our history of neutrality and do not want that to change. It offers Ireland a unique place and voice internationally. It allows us to serve as neutral peacekeepers in conflict. It reflects our history as a former colony that rejects wars of aggression and domination. Poll after poll shows Irish people want no change in our neutrality. As of last year, two thirds of voters agreed with keeping neutrality and the triple lock. The initial rejections of the Nice and Lisbon treaties were dominated by fear that they would put Irish neutrality at risk from an expanded European military project. People do not want Irish men and women dying in foreign wars and the triple lock is a fundamental pillar stopping us from being dragged into them.

There has been a decades-long push by successive Governments to drag us closer and closer to US and NATO foreign policy. We see it in the shame that is the US use of Shannon Airport for its aggression, going back from now to America's wars in the Middle East. This is just another step in removing our history of resisting colonialism and empire. Ireland does not want any part in American foreign policy. Some 1 million civilians died in its illegal war in Iraq. More than 4.5 million people died and 38 million people were displaced in the Middle East as a result of the carnage the US released after 9/11. This information is according to the Watson Institute at Brown University. With the destruction of Libya, the terror raining down on Palestine over the past few weeks, and American bombs falling indiscriminately in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, we do not want any part of it.

This move away from the international consent of the UN and towards the US and NATO also ignores the state our Defence Forces have been left in by successive Governments. There are long-standing problems with pay and conditions for service members. There are shortages of staff and resources. A recent survey by the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers shows that more than one third of officers believe there should be industrial action on pay and that nearly half of young officers would leave without remuneration being resolved. The general secretary of that organisation said last year that three successive rounds of pay talks have seen their members marginalised and excluded. Our Naval Service can only keep one or two ships on patrol at any given time. Our Defence Forces are overstretched, underpaid and under-resourced. Our service members are not even paid enough to carry out the duties now, let alone go to die in foreign wars.

We know that Ireland wants no part in foreign wars. There is an overwhelming majority in support of neutrality. The only way to protect that is by enshrining it in our Constitution. Any change to laws undermining our neutrality should be put to the people. I thank Sinn Féin for introducing this motion. I support it and I support the People Before Profit amendment.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I thank Sinn Féin for this motion which follows on from a motion I introduced on 25 October. I do not disagree with anything Sinn Féin has set out in the motion, which gives the history back to the Lisbon treaty. It actually goes way back before that. With the Single European Act in 1987, because there were serious concerns about the erosion of our neutrality way back then, Ireland's long-established policy of military neutrality was lodged along with the Single European Act. In 1992 the Maastricht treaty specifically included that it "shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States". Jumping forward, the Seville Declaration was put into the Nice treaty to make sure that the treaty was passed on the second occasion. I canvassed on that and there were serious concerns on the ground over the erosion of our neutrality. That was followed then by the Lisbon treaty. Again, a guarantee was included to ensure that the people passed it and to show that the Government had listened.

Today's debate arises in the context of last week's limited discussion on the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy. It is to be noted that there was absolutely no mention of human rights. The whole discussion was framed within a very limited framework of a consultative forum on security policy. Fear was built into this and then we had panels of experts and practitioners. They are not my words; they are the words of the chair in the report which I am sure the Minister of State has read. In that report, she tells us a number of things. Arising from that, last week, hidden away in one paragraph of an eight- or nine-page speech, the Minister told us that we are going to get rid of the triple lock because it is holding us back and we are going to get rid of our long participation in the UN since 1955 and an unbroken peacekeeping record.

The Minister of State’s leader, the Tánaiste, in one little paragraph, tells us he is doing away with it. This followed on from a consultative forum that in no way represented the Irish people. Who told us this? The chair of the forum told us. To state the obvious, the people who participated in it do not represent the population. The chair put it a little more positively when she said it represents engaged citizens. In no way does it represent the people of the country, however, because, as she told us, it consists of experts and politicians.

Notwithstanding that, the chair, in her report, stated: “It was frequently expressed, and rarely contradicted, that there is currently no popular mandate in Ireland to abandon the policy of neutrality”. Of those who responded, 64% favoured keeping the current policy. The chair stated the forum was not set up to make policy recommendations to the Government and there was disagreement over the triple lock. Yet, the very thing on which there was no agreement is exactly the issue the Tánaiste picked up and took as a reflection that it needs to be changed.

There is something seriously wrong with the use of language here. The forum's report refers to a “prevailing view” and the “majority view” of the experts and practitioners and its chair tells us there was no consensus. I have absolutely no respect for the process behind that forum or the way the speakers or moderators were picked and I have little respect for the chairperson who drew up this report because it is not well written and it is self-serving. I will put the report down and out of the way because my anger rises when I realise what was done in that forum and how the Tánaiste is acting arising from it.

As regards Fianna Fáil, as set out in Sinn Féin’s motion and in many papers before this, Deputy Micheál Martin told us that he was never going to change the triple lock because it was a core part of neutrality. The triple lock is a trinity which requires the approval of the Dáil, the Government and the UN. That multilateralism, as represented by the UN, is the best way forward and the only way to proceed in the world.

There are amendments here from the Tánaiste that are truly shocking. He states that amending the triple lock in relation to the deployment of our Defence Forces will have no impact on the policy of military neutrality. Will the Minister of State tell me which statement from Micheál Martin reflects the truth? I am having great difficulty distinguishing the truth from lies or disinformation. The Government is very attached to talking about disinformation.

We have been told by the Tánaiste on many occasions that the triple lock is an integral part of neutrality. Then, we were told it is not anymore, but we are given no reasons. I have said repeatedly in the Dáil that if I have learned anything as a mother and a female, Independent TD, it is that we need our policy of neutrality to be active more than ever. More than ever, we need voices for peace in the world. There is no analysis whatsoever of the misuse of the veto by the US, nor indeed by the other permanent members of the UN Security Council.

It suited the Tánaiste and this Government to zone in on Russia, and we have all condemned the invasion of Ukraine, and its misuse of the veto. Yet, there is no mention of the US and no learning from the terrible slaughter in Iraq 20 years ago when propaganda and a tissue of lies from America and England led to the most appalling slaughter from which we are still recovering. Let us remember Guantanamo Bay, which Dr. Ní Aoláin visited lately. Twenty years later, there are still nearly 30 prisoners being held in detention without trial. That is just one minor but devastating consequence of the war in Iraq.

10:05 pm

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I am pleased to join Deputies for this important debate and I thank them for their contributions in the House. This is the third time in recent weeks that we are debating the issue of Irish neutrality and the outcome of the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy, realising one of the key aims of the forum, which was for us to have a more open and constructive debate on these issues.

What we need now is a more serious, sustained and informed discussion on our international security policies. I have noted during the debate that many speakers asked why we are discussing this issue now and what has changed. Many people quoted what was said in 2013. A lot has changed. When those comments were made in the past, the world was more peaceful. The deteriorating security situation in Europe, in particular following Russia’s illegal and unprovoked attack on Ukraine, has prompted a serious consideration of the State’s approach to foreign, security and defence issues. That is what has changed. I am amazed that Deputies made no reference to this issue. They quoted remarks made in 2013 and asked what has changed. Everybody in the world knows that things have changed. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has changed the political landscape not just in Europe but across the world. In light of that, it is only appropriate that we look at how that impacts us and any implications it has for us.

The Tánaiste has said that Ireland cannot rely on our geographic isolation for our security or isolate ourselves from world events. This does not mean, however, that the Government is using these events as a way of eroding or diluting Ireland’s neutrality, as some have claimed. In that context, I reiterate that there are no plans to alter Ireland’s policy of military neutrality. As practised by successive Governments over many years, this policy means that Ireland does not participate in military alliances or common or mutual defence arrangements. This policy will continue and the Government’s countermotion explicitly reaffirms this.

The current triple lock system effectively gives to 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. This effectively gives a veto to Russia, and possibly China, over decisions we want to make. Why would we wish to curtail our independent decision-making? Whose interests does this serve? Why do people want to give Russia a veto over Ireland’s foreign policy and where we deploy members of the Defence Forces? This question has not been dealt with by the Opposition. By making the changes we propose, we would remove the veto power of members of the Security Council over Ireland’s international engagement, while safeguarding the essential link with international law and good governance. Such a change would, we believe, permit us to continue Ireland’s peacekeeping record of which we are justifiably proud.

The Government’s countermotion also seeks to reinforce the important aspects of Ireland’s foreign policy which have shaped our international engagement for decades. Ireland has a long-standing commitment to contributing to international peace and security, as enshrined in the UN Charter. This means we take an active approach towards peace support operations and crisis management, contribute to conflict resolution and peacebuilding, work for human rights and development, and promote disarmament and the elimination of weapons of mass destruction.

Ireland also has a long and proud tradition of participation in UN and UN-mandated, EU-led and NATO-led peacekeeping missions. Moreover, Ireland supports a strong EU role in supporting the maintenance of international peace and security and engages actively in the European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy, including, since 2017, through the EU’s permanent structured co-operation, PESCO.

We also believe the multilateral system remains our strongest protection and the State’s most important security asset. However, Ireland’s commitment to a values-based foreign policy, multilateralism, and a policy of military neutrality does not insulate us from the harsh new security environment we find ourselves in today. Neutrality alone will not protect us from malign actors. We cannot afford to isolate ourselves, fail to protect our citizens and ignore our responsibilities towards our fellow EU member states or other friendly nations. Many of these themes came through strongly in the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy. As the Tánaiste previously commented, it was striking to see the degree of consensus on many of the most significant aspects of our foreign, security and defence policies at that forum.

Ireland’s commitment to a values-based foreign policy, multilateralism and a policy of military neutrality was never in question. Let me be clear about that.

Our contribution to both peacebuilding and peacekeeping has received global recognition. Such work is often grounded in our historical experience of conflict resolution on this island. Our partners, such as those who lead the peace process in Colombia welcome the lessons we can share from our past.

The courageous and dedicated role played by Irish women and men in UN peacekeeping missions, often in some of the most volatile security settings in the world, is an important part of our identity and one that inspires great pride in Irish people. The consultative forum offered us an opportunity to hear directly from some of those individuals and explore in more detail how exactly their work impacts on the lives of others. These important areas have been explicitly reaffirmed in the Government’s counter-motion.

One further area of consensus that arose during the discussions was the need for greater investment and support in our Defence Forces. Many Members present today will agree with me that it is now essential that we see significant and wide-ranging changes for the Defence Forces and defence provision in Ireland. As Minister for Defence, the Tánaiste has set out his commitment to a positive transformation of our Defence Forces into a modern, agile military force, capable of responding to increasingly complex security threats. This commitment is borne out in the high-level action plan to progress the recommendations of the Commission on the Defence Forces. This plan commits the State to move to level of ambition 2, with a commensurate increase of the defence budget from €1.1 billion to €1.5 billion, in 2022 prices, by 2028. We have already seen progress made in this commitment through the increased spending in defence in 2023 and what is planned for 2024.

At last week’s debate on the the consultative forum, the Tánaiste presented his views on the need to review the process to replace the current triple lock which allows Security Council members like Russia to bind Ireland’s hands in its international engagement. The Government’s view is that the triple lock in its current form is no longer fit for purpose in deciding where Ireland will choose to play its part in the maintenance of international peace and security. We should not give any individual country, especially a country like Russia which has illegally invaded Ukraine, a veto over our policy. I would prefer this House and this Parliament to have the say over where we go or do not go, and not somebody in the Kremlin.

To those who argue that this is all part of a nefarious plan to do away with our neutrality by stealth, I would ask them to carefully consider the Tánaiste’s remarks. As he has very clearly said, any amendments we put in place will guarantee full compliance with the principles of the UN Charter and international law. I would also ask those who loudly criticise these proposals to consider why they believe officeholders in the Kremlin are more equipped or better placed to have the last word on the international engagement of Ireland’s peacekeepers.

The motion put forward by Sinn Féin also purports to initiate legislation for the purpose of holding a referendum enshrining neutrality in the Constitution. As Deputies will be aware, there are already several provisions in the Constitution that underpin Ireland's foreign and security policy framework.

10:15 pm

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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The Government is pushing the boat out every day on that.

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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In particular, this is covered in Article 29 which establishes the framework within which Ireland conducts its international relations. Article 29.1 reads: "Ireland affirms its devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation amongst nations founded on international justice and morality." Article 29.2 confirms that Ireland adheres to the principle of the peaceful settlement of international disputes. That is already in our Constitution. Article 29.4.9 states and sets out that the "State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence pursuant to Article 42 of the Treaty on European Union where that common defence would include [this] State."

Indeed, the protocols attaching to the Lisbon treaty also specifically recognise Ireland’s policy of military neutrality, stating, inter alia, "The Lisbon Treaty does not affect or prejudice Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality ". As the Tánaiste outlined last week, the Department of Defence will prepare draft legislation to give effect to these issues arising from the forum and these will be debated in both Houses of the Oireachtas prior to adoption, ensuring parliamentary and full oversight. As I said at the start, debates on this important issue are welcome, as we will work together to ensure Ireland’s security in the face of new and emerging threats, and our wider contribution to international peace and security. For the reasons set out above, I call on the House to support the Government’s counter-motion.

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin Bay South, Sinn Fein)
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We have a long and proud tradition of supporting the United Nations peacekeeping missions. Ireland is the only state to have continuous deployment on UN and UN-mandated peace operations since 1958. We should be immensely proud of that commitment to peace and stability. We should stand fully opposed to any attempts to undermine our highly respected standing on the international stage. Where we are known as a voice for peace and justice, we should be developing our soft power and our diplomatic corps, and developing and enhancing our neutrality.

While Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and the Green Party may be happy to chip away at our neutrality, it is clear that the Irish people stand firmly opposed to it. Irish people stand firmly supportive of Irish neutrality. I would be happy to hear these parties, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party, outline where they see Irish troops being sent. If not on a UN peacekeeping mission, where will the Irish go? Will it be off to prop up some NATO intervention? Should Irish men and women be sent off to put their lives on the line to fulfil the militarist agenda? This is an agenda which is being pushed so hard by a growing element within the EU. The EU has shown itself repeatedly to be happy to do business with rogue states such as apartheid Israel, which shows no respect for international law. This is a state which does not even hide the brutal crimes it commits. This is a state which murders thousands of children in the Gaza Strip yet this Government is telling us that we should send Irish troops to conflict zones selected by the EU.

We should be standing firmly by our commitment to United Nations peacekeeping missions and not be following the militarist line. Ireland must come to the fore in the EU and pull it back to a line of peace, justice and respect.

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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The Tánaiste, Deputy Martin, is not renowned for his speed and action on any issues but the triple lock is to be dropped without delay, we are told. Strangely, he only said last November that he did not believe in removing it. Thankfully, opinion polls suggest that Irish people get it and treasure our heritage as a neutral country. When it has been tested by EU treaties in the past, those treaties have been rejected until assurances have been given that neutrality would remain. Now, this Government wants to bin those assurances despite their own manifesto commitments to neutrality and the triple lock.

The world needs more honest brokers like a neutral Ireland. We have never been a coloniser, have never invaded another country and are respected as peacekeepers and peacemakers. We have experienced conflict and division on our own island and have practical experience of building peace. This has allowed us to do vital work, including nuclear non-proliferation, disarmament and humanitarianism.

The Good Friday Agreement and the peace process is a positive example to all those seeking an end to intractable conflicts. Being neutral does not mean we refuse to choose a side; it means we choose the side of human rights, of peace, and not with those who would wage war on innocent civilians.

It is not good enough that the Government would use the Irish Defence Forces as a political bargaining chip when they have singularly failed to address the very serious problem in retention and recruitment that the Army, the Naval Service and Air Corps have been experiencing for decades now.

The Defence Forces are now 2,000 members under what it considered the most basic requirement and 4,000 under what they should be to be fully operational. We are struggling to fulfil our obligations to current UN missions. We should not diminish our status as UN peacekeepers. Any change to Ireland’s neutral status, particularly the removal of the triple lock, has to go to a referendum.

Photo of Martin BrowneMartin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein)
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There is no doubt that many people here and across the country were stunned last week when the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs announced his intention to abolish the triple lock. I am sure that many of the Tánaiste's own party members were also shocked at the revelation, given that the Fianna Fáil 2020 general election manifesto gave a commitment to fully maintaining our neutrality and the triple lock. There are some, and the Tánaiste is a case in point, who seek to dismiss the concerns we have raised about this decision and the reasons for our opposition to this move. When I speak about opposition to this move, I am speaking in light of the commitment to the triple lock as outlined in the National Declaration contained within the Irish guarantee in the Lisbon treaty; the Seville Declaration in the Treaty of Nice ahead of the Nice 2 referendum; and the programme for Government.

Yet the Tánaiste effectively believes our neutrality poses such a weakness that his views should override those obligations and commitments to the people of this country. The gradual shift away from our neutrality is something we in Sinn Féin have warned about. The announcement made in this House last week saw that shift ramp up a level, with the Tánaiste beginning his attempt to ram through a fundamental shift in Irish foreign policy and a further lurch in the direction of Fine Gael on the part of Fianna Fáil. The Minister appears to now consider our neutrality a weakness, given his current intentions to undermine it. If he wants to pursue his goal of undermining our neutrality, he should put it to the people in a referendum and let the people decide.

Neutrality is not a weakness; it is our strength. Any weakness is evident in our Government and its commitment to adequately fund our Defence Forces. This underfunding and under-resourcing needs to be addressed to allow Ireland to continue to participate in UN peacekeeping missions, to defend and monitor our skies and seas and to protect Ireland from the real threats we face, including cyberattacks.

10:25 pm

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I acknowledge the presence of Roger Cole of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance. I had not seen him earlier. Roger and the PANA group have a very proud record of defending Irish neutrality.

The Minister of State said we cannot rely on our geographic isolation for our security. Nobody is suggesting that or, to my mind, has ever suggested it. Our neutrality is not just our greatest protection and defence; it is also our greatest weapon, to use that term, in being able to play a positive and constructive role in the world. Being neutral does not mean that we are better than anybody else but it means we are best-placed to do particular things, and we have had a proud record of doing those things. The triple lock underpins that. Regardless of whatever circumstances have changed, one circumstance has not changed. When Micheál Martin said the triple lock was a core component of Irish neutrality, he was right and he cannot walk away from that. The only argument it seems the Department has handed the Minister of State tonight is Russia, Russia, Russia. Did he ask the Department at all where Russia is preventing us from sending soldiers to that we want to go? Has he asked that question? If he has not, I suggest that he has come in here and read a prepared statement without any notion as to what it precisely means.

The Minister of State talks about valuing the UN Charter. The UN Charter is very clear. You cannot send troops abroad without a UN mandate. That is why it is called the UN Charter. If the Government wants to send troops abroad without a UN mandate, if it wants to change the law, if it wants to undermine the very basis of Irish neutrality, it should at least be honest and upfront and say that. The very fact that the Tánaiste has had to say that he might make it mandatory for Irish troops to serve in EU battle groups if they do not volunteer to do so just shows how out of scope and out of touch he is with our Defence Forces and with the wishes of the Irish people. Level of ambition 2 in the Report of the Commission on the Defence Forces sets out very clearly what is required in capital investment. This year, the Government undershot by €70 million, with our budget for next year also undershot by €70 million; hardly the sign of a Government intent on building up our Defence Forces. Nineteen months ago, the report of the commission on the future of the Defence Forces identified the implementation of the working time directive as the priority issue in order to address the retention and recruitment crisis within the Defence Forces. Where are we? It is still not implemented. This is not about supporting our Defence Forces, and the language in the Government's countermotion pretending that it is supporting them rings very hollow.

Here is the core point about foreign policy: when governments make decisions on foreign policy, they are not like decisions on domestic issues. They cannot be simply turned off on a whim. Sometimes decisions are so profound that they can have implications for years to come. That is particularly the case when it comes to participation in conflicts. One wrong decision by one Minister or one Government could destroy decades of proud Irish tradition in respect of neutrality in an instant.

That is why we need a framework within the Constitution that sets out the basis on which Governments can operate in respect of international conflicts. In our view, that framework should be based solely on the premise of being a force for conflict resolution as opposed to conflict participation. That is why we are willing to put that to the people and let them decide. That would set the parameters by which future Governments would operate. If a Government decided to be upfront and honest and say, "We want to send our troops somewhere outside the scope of that", it could go back to the people and seek their support. My guess, however, is that the Irish people have made their views very clear.

As for all the talk about sovereignty and the sovereign decisions of this House, I would hazard a guess that if all Members of this House were asked what we thought of the role of the Irish Defence Forces in the UNDOF peacekeeping mission in the Golan Heights, in Syria, the vast majority would say we are incredibly proud of that legacy. That legacy is coming to an end because of a decision by the Government to withdraw troops, and it is an absolute shame and a scandal. It is also a shame and a scandal that the Government did not even refer to that in its countermotion. That is not at the behest of the Russians or the Chinese; it is at the behest of a failed Fianna Fáil Party that is in government overseeing the decimation of our Defence Forces and now seeking to destroy what is left of Irish neutrality.

Amendment to amendment put.

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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The division on PBP-Solidarity's amendment to the Tánaiste's amendment is postponed until the weekly division time tomorrow evening.