Belfast Telegraph

Number of Irish recruits joining British Army stable again following dissident republican death threats

By Ralph Riegel

The number of Irish recruits joining the British Army has stabilised after a dramatic decline following threats levelled by dissident republicans.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) had seen the number of Irish citizens joining the Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy halved in the space of just 12 months following threats to one Royal Irish Regiment recruit from Limerick just days before he was due home on leave.

However, the latest estimates indicate that around 70 Irish recruits joined Britain's armed forces in 2013 - roughly the same recruitment level as in 2012.

An official recruitment figure is not yet available.

In 2012, 70 Irish citizens joined the Army which contrasts with 123 Irish citizens from the Republic opting to join in 2011. That represented a 44% decline in the space of just 12 months.

MoD sources stressed there were many factors involved in the fluctuation of recruitment numbers, ranging from the scaling down of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to the recession in the Republic and perceived threats from dissidents.

Army recruitment in the Republic has been increasing, year on year, since 2007.

The recruitment of Irish citizens into Britain's army, navy and air force reached its highest level since World War II over the past decade.

There was concern that the deliberate targeting of Irish recruits in the UK's Army by dissident republicans may also have been a factor in the decline.

In December 2012, gardai foiled a plot by dissidents to target a Limerick-born soldier serving with the Army while he was home on leave.

The man had been befriended on Facebook by a dissident republican who pretended to be an Irish resident interested in military matters.

In fact, the person was attempting to confirm when the soldier would be home on leave and what his precise movements would be.

In January 2013, the Continuity IRA directly threatened all Irish citizens serving with Britain's armed forces.

The CIRA threat was read out at the annual Sean South commemoration in Limerick.

It warned: "We have seen from recent years that in this city of Limerick that Irishmen are considering a career in the British Army - the same British Army that holds six of our counties.

"Whether they are motivated by financial reasons or a sense of adventurism, we take this opportunity to say that the moment you don a British uniform, you become a legitimate target for the IRA."

Since then, Army security officials have briefed all Irish recruits about personal safety issues.

It is understood that serving soldiers have been warned not to flag their travel plans in advance and to exercise caution over their movements while at home.

Over the past decade, Irish citizens have joined Britain's armed forces in increasing numbers, many frustrated at the inability to pursue a military career at home due to Irish defence forces' recruitment restrictions. The Irish army receives 90 applications on average for every vacant recruitment slot.

Warming Anglo-Irish relations were also credited for the trend, together with the high esteem and promotional opportunities offered to Irish recruits who want to make the military their career.

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