Sinn Féin spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Matt Carthy TD, has accused the government of proposing the abolishment of the Triple-Lock neutrality protection in the most underhand, duplicitous and dishonest manner imaginable.
The Cavan-Monaghan TD said that arguments put forward by the Tánaiste came straight from the Fine Gael policy document ‘Beyond Neutrality’ published twenty 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”.
Teachta Carthy again asserted that the proposal should be put to the people in a referendum and that government should state where it intends to send troops without a UN mandate.
He accused the government of underinvesting in the Defence Forces, withdrawing Irish troops from an important UN mission, while undermining a core element of Ireland’s neutrality and independent foreign policy.
You can find Teachta Carthy’s opening and closing addresses from Sinn Féin’s motion on neutrality in the Dáil last night below:
“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 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.
“Not so for the core policy that underpins our neutrality and foreign policy. That can be waived ‘without delay’.
Where do government want to send troops?
“Why is that? 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.
“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, for which our soldiers have earned high praise, in the Golan Heights in Syria.
“So, on the one hand, Irish soldiers are being withdrawn from a UN mission of value, not at the behest of the Russians or Chinese, but at the Government’s insistence. On the other hand, the Government wants to change the rules so that Irish soldiers can be sent on other missions – without telling us 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”.
“Thirdly, 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.
Two-decade old Fine Gael policy
“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, 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 that it be upfront about what it is proposing and then honourable enough to let the people have their say”.
During his closing address, Teachta Carthy challenged the suggestion that this move is about sovereignty.
“Our neutrality is not just our greatest protection and defence; it is also our greatest tool 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!
Russia, Russia Russia
“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 they want to go? 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.
“If the Government wants to send troops abroad without a UN mandate, if it wants to undermine the very basis of Irish neutrality, it should at least be honest and upfront and say what that entails.
Investment in Defence Forces
“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 that by €70 million, with their 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. 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.
“A core point about foreign policy is that when governments make decisions, sometimes they 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 remind Ministers that this house was never consulted on the role of the Irish Defence Forces in the UNDOF peacekeeping mission in the Golan Heights, in Syria. My guess is that the vast majority of TDs 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 counter-motion.
“That decision to withdraw was not at the behest of the Russians or the Chinese; it was 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”.