Jamming the ‘Triple lock’?: Minority government and Irish military missions abroad


With the new government already having suffered its first defeat, we are clearly not in a period of politics as usual in the Oireachtas. This raises the question of whether Ireland’s ‘Triple Lock’ on overseas deployments will take on greater significance in the new Dáil.

The ‘Triple Lock’ which entered the political lexicon during the Nice Treaty debates refers to the need for a UN resolution, a Government decision and Dáil vote before deploying Irish troops abroad on peacekeeping missions. In previous years, a Government and Dáíl acting in unison could be taken as given but as Wednesday’s vote showed this is clearly not the case anymore.

Irish defence policy has traditionally been a quiet backwater governed by a combination of consensus and neglect, but several of the parties and groupings in the new Dáil have a long record of criticising Ireland’s involvement in regional defence cooperation be it Partnership for Peace or the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy.

Sinn Féin and the AAA/PBPA with 29 TDs between them form a significant bloc likely to oppose any future deployment. Adding in left independents like Joan Collins, Clare Daly, Mick Wallace, Tommy Broughan and Seamus Healy this number rises to 34 the Green Party, with its long tradition of peace activism is another possibility.

The Social Democrats don’t, as far as I can tell, have a public position on security and defence.

Of the right independents outside the government it’s difficult to tell what way they are likely to vote. God knows what the Healy-Rae’s would do but for the rest we’ll just have to wait and see.

On the other side, one would expect the 58 government TDs to support any decision to deploy. Similarly Labour’s 7 TDs would likely support the motion. Even with Fianna Fáil abstaining, the numbers would be there to support the government.

The ‘Triple Lock’ will likely open as freely in this Dáil as in the past.

It’s an open question whether this calculus would change if Irish troops abroad suffered significant casualties during this Dáil term but it’s difficult to envisage either Labour or Fianna Fáil seeking to make political capital out of such a tragedy.

2 thoughts on “Jamming the ‘Triple lock’?: Minority government and Irish military missions abroad

  1. The ‘triple lock’ is a political fudge, and like all political fudges it is unsustainable over the long view. It was initially formalised by the PDs and Fianna Fail in the early 2000s as a device to counteract nationalist Sinn Fein, and other anti-EU integration neo-marxist and right-wing isolationist extremist elements, skillful deployment of the ‘neutrality’ question as a tactic in successive referendums on EU Treaties since the 1990s, With the victory of this disparate coalition in the first Nice referendum, in which concerns about neutrality were shown to have again weighed heavily with the electorate, the then government desperately needed to clarify its policy position to swing the vote in favour of Nice in a second referendum

    As an election ‘framing ‘ device, neutrality appears to perform a similar function for a wide variety of left and right-leaning political forces to that of our strong Catholicism and traditional allegience to ‘Rome’ in earlier periods of Irish Independence. it confers a national sense of a distinctive identity and, let’s face it, an opportunity to declaim moral superiority over all and sundry and especially the ‘hard’ power forces of Western imperialism etc.. In its various guises over a century, since the irish electorate reacted against British attempts to impose conscription in Ireland in 1917 during WWI, our particularised notion of ‘neutrality’ in international conflict situations has evolved to form part of our national cultural perception of ourselves.

    As in all such things, there are good sides and bad sides to it. Politically, it’s another fine mess we’ve got ourselves into. We struggle to square our status as a ‘small neutral nation’ ,preaching peace to all men, within the chaotic environment of 21st century international relations, and our institutional obligations to the EU, and the UN, to assist with peace-keeping, peace-making and conflict prevention.

    Our Government representatives have a long tradition of saying one thing when addressing an international audience of their peers and quite another when speaking at home.’Home’ was never much of a problem since most people paid scant attention anyway to what was happening in an executive-dominated parliament in the periods between elections. As you rightly point out, in this current parliament, and in the context of a move towards a consensus-driven mode of ‘new politics’ in which parliament has a much stronger role than heretofore, it’s harder to maintain a triple lock-type fudges.

    My own guess is that there is little likelihood of any such decision coming before the present Dail. And if it does, Fianna Fail will likely find a way to support a Giovernment amendment to any motion emanating from the fractured self-styled left opposition factions. Indeed, the dust may be blown off that old 2014 White Paper on the organisation of our Defence Forces, and the need for a broader debate in our civil society about how we should define our ‘neutrality’ etc. Of itself, that might be no end of a good thing.

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