Why does the King have a veto over Irish soldiers?

Under Irish law, His Majesty the King of England has a veto over where and when Irish troops are deployed internationally. This may not have been the intent of those who drafted the Irish “triple lock” mechanism, but it is its effect.

What is the triple lock? Well, just like it sounds, it requires three tests to be met before Irish soldiers can be sent anywhere: First, the Government must approve it. Second, the Oireachtas must vote on it. And third, the United Nations Security Council or General Assembly (but in practice, the security council) must have either authorized it or requested it.

In effect, this gives a veto to Charles III over the deployment of Irish soldiers anywhere in the world since the Security Council cannot approve anything without the consent of the King’s Ministers. A veto over the deployment of Irish troops is also held by the Presidents of the United States, the Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China, and the Republic of France. Individually, any one of these states, with their veto at the UN Security Council, can prevent Irish troops from leaving Irish soil.

The Triple Lock is often thought of, in Ireland, as being tied to our neutrality. That is entirely false: The two issues are separate. The only thing that the triple lock does is to hand decision making power over the deployment of Irish troops to foreign governments. The Irish Government could retain that power for itself, and at the same time remain completely and entirely neutral.

The practical consequences of the Triple Lock are seen in the Sudanese situation that arose suddenly last week. A country like Ireland might wish to be entirely neutral in foreign conflicts, but have on occasion interests that call for military deployments in order to protect. In this case, the interest is the lives and safety of Irish citizens living in Sudan. Ireland has no desire to intervene in the war in Sudan, but has a compelling interest in protecting its embassy and the lives of those Irish people trying to get out of the country. If that requires the dispatch of 100 or 200 soldiers to speed up operations, why on earth do we need the approval of the UN Security Council? It is an entirely self-imposed limitation on our ability to defend our own interests.

Those who approve of the triple lock tend to do so for the very reason that it limits the choices an Irish Government can make: They fear that without it, the Irish Government might decide to take part in EU missions that lack UN approval, putting Irish Troops in places where powerful countries like Russia and China might prefer there to be no troops at all. But as reasoning goes, this is deeply flawed: Those who hold to that position are effectively arguing that they trust the Russians and the Chinese (or the British) to set Irish policy more than they trust the Irish people themselves. It is an argument against independence, rather than an argument for neutrality. The Irish Government, after all, can be changed and replaced at an election, by Irish voters. That is not true of China, or any of the other five permanent members of the security council.

It is entirely possible to remove the triple lock and at the same time retain a policy of military neutrality: Indeed, it would probably make us more neutral, and more independent. No other neutral country has a policy where a foreign power has a veto over the deployment of its troops: Not Switzerland, not Mexico, not Austria, not Japan. Japan, for example, has a constitutional amendment (imposed after World War Two) in which it forever renounces the right to wage war, or to take part in wars. It still maintains a standing Army (self-defence force) of over 150,000 men, and reserves the right to deploy its troops anywhere in the world if needed to defend Japanese citizens.

Neutrality is simply a policy of not taking sides in foreign wars. It does not require that a veto be given to others over the deployment of Irish troops. It is beyond time that the Triple Lock was abandoned.

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