Consultative Forum: Report states ‘consensus’ for triple lock removal

The report on the Consultative Forum on Security Policy has stated that there is a consensus for removal of the ‘triple lock’ on the deployment of members of the Defence Forces in foreign conflicts.

The triple lock is a mechanism that sets out the conditions under which more than 12 members of the Defence Forces may participate in overseas peace support operations.

For the Defence Forces to take part in an operation overseas, the operation must be: mandated by the United Nations; approved by the Government; and approved by Dáil Éireann by means of a resolution.

This has led to a rethink of Irish foreign policy from Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin TD, who has stated that this needs to be reformed given the veto power of the Russian Federation on the UN Security Council.

The report, authored by chair of the Consultative Forum on Security Policy, Louise Richardson, in October 2023, has received less coverage than the Consultative Forum itself, in spite of the stand out recommendation that maintaining a policy of military nonalignment along with active political engagement in global forums will “continue to pose a challenge for Irish governments and diplomats, as will the need to balance a values-based foreign policy with taking seriously the security concerns and responsibilities of our partners”.

The Consultative Forum garnered the opinions of experts in diplomacy and international relations, including academics, diplomats, and politicians. The forum, when it took place in June 2023, was subject to intense debate in the political sphere, with opposition figures speculating that this was to be a ruse for engaging Ireland in military alliances.

Neutrality/NATO membership

Proponents of the forum, including Tánaiste Micheál Martin TD, have cited that security policy has been reviewed in most countries with a traditional policy of neutrality, including Sweden and Finland – both of which have applied to join NATO – and Switzerland, which has imposed sanctions on Russia in light of the escalation in 2022 of the war in Ukraine.

The Tánaiste has been a proponent of “examining” the State’s security and foreign policy and has stated that Ireland is “militarily neutral”, but not “politically neutral”. Neutrality, rather than being underpinned in Bunreacht na hÉireann or in law, is a convention which was adopted during The Emergency when then-Taoiseach Éamon de Valera adopted a neutral policy during World War II.

The report acknowledges this move by de Valera as having been driven by a desire to avoid the invasion of the State by either Britain or Germany as Ireland’s military was too weak to defend its territory.

The report, in its list of recommendations, states: “It is clear that there is a strong and emotive attachment in some quarters to the concept of neutrality as part of our national identity. The attachment, however, appears to be more to an abstraction than to a specific policy. The contributions to the forum made clear that the practice of neutrality has varied widely throughout the history of the State.”

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin TD said in May 2023 that there was “no hidden agenda at play” regarding the holding of the forum and said there was no “secret plan” by the Government to join NATO.

However, Martin has also latterly stated his belief that there should be no referendum required were a government to make the decision for Ireland to join the military alliance.

Such an accession is unlikely to take place under this government term, given that the Green Party is opposed to joining NATO, that the remainder of the Government’s term would likely not give it long enough to complete accession (a process which can take two years to complete), and that public support for neutrality is consistently high in opinion polls.

Nevertheless, opposition TDs have spoken of their support for a constitutional amendment which enshrines neutrality into Ireland’s foreign policy, with Sinn Féin’s foreign affairs spokesperson Matt Carthy TD having told eolas Magazine in October 2023 that it would be “very useful” if there was a definition outlined in Bunreacht na hÉireann of Ireland’s neutrality.

“That would guide future governments in terms of setting the parameters for our involvement, particularly in military cooperation,” Carthy said.

This sentiment is echoed in the report, which states that there is “no agreed definition of the term neutrality”. However, it argues that this is a conundrum which goes beyond Ireland, stating that there is “no agreed definition in international law either although most turn to the Hague Convention of 1907”.

Not covered in the Consultative Forum report was the fact that Ireland’s air defences are subject to a secret agreement with the British Royal Air Force, a fact which was only confirmed by Willie O’Dea TD, the Minister for Defence between 2004 and 2010, in July 2023.

While the report did specify that there are “clear indications of support for increased spending on defence”, exactly the scale of this prospective increase and what it would be spent on are less clear. Currently, the Defence Forces has a total of 7,764 active personnel and 1,706 in reserve. The Global Firepower Index states that Ireland’s military is the 90th ‘most powerful’ in the world.


The debate on neutrality has somewhat manifested itself as a red herring. The report itself states that Ireland’s involvement in allowing the United States Military to use Shannon Airport as a stopover for the Iraq War “does contradict most definitions of neutrality”, and emphasis that Ireland acted as a de facto belligerent in the Second World War.

Given that the reforms negotiated to the Nice Treaty following its initial rejection by Irish voters in 2001 were that Ireland’s neutrality was to be honoured and given the shifting political climate with the war in Ukraine, as well as Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, it is not unreasonable to examine the merits of the State’s foreign policy.

On 22 November 2023, Martin told the Dáil that “we cannot ignore the systemic challenges facing the UN Security Council”, suggesting that there is a need for removal of Russian veto power. In diplomatic affairs, this is a decision which will be made regardless of Ireland’s opinion on the matter.

Regardless of UN reform, joining a military alliance such as NATO is highly unlikely, as public opinion in Ireland is simply not supportive of the measure. Martin’s efforts to make fundamental changes to Ireland’s role in the world may be in vain as he approaches what is likely to be his final year as a cabinet minister in this government.

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