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North and South of Ireland fighting the Taliban together

Soldiers from the South are joining colleagues from Northern Ireland to fight the Taliban.

Up to 70 men from the Republic, 33 of them with Irish passports, are serving side-by-side with men from traditional loyalist areas.

Among the longest serving Southern soldiers in the Royal Irish is Dubliner Ken Fox (46) who signed up almost 30 years ago. Limited prospects in a pre-Celtic Tiger Republic forced Major Fox to England in search of work, where he followed his uncle into the Army.

“Once you were in England, some people went for regular employment but I followed family into the British Army. My uncle had served 22 years in the Irish Rangers.”

The father-of-one, whose family is still in Dublin, added: “The strange thing was when I joined there were three Foxs in one battalion, one from the North and two from the South.

“So there were loads of Southern Irish people and I think there had been, even though people haven’t recognised it in the past. I think it’s more open now.

“Attitudes have changed from the bad old days.

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“When I used to bounce around the Creggan and the Bogside you certainly wouldn’t have mentioned you were from down South.”

Although he served during the height of the Troubles, Major Fox said he was never the victim of sectarianism, bigotry or discrimination.

“It’s a level playing field for everybody in this battalion. If you work hard and you choose to achieve you will get there. The limitations are people’s own limitations and the commitment people put in themselves.

“Not everybody wants to give it their all and people naturally reach an intellectual level or their level of commitment. Other things also stop them, like their wives get fed up and so they decide to leave.

“There is no bigotry. When you are about 19 or 20 you may get the odd thing said but that’s more just chatting about the Twelfth or something, and that wouldn’t be against you.”

Joining the Irish Army was never a consideration for Major Fox.

“The Irish Army is changing. It is becoming more professional but we are a step change ahead of the Irish Army.

“Apart from the opportunities, there are educational opportunities, the countries you can go and see, the British Army is significantly different than the Irish Army.”

A more recent recruit from the Republic is 31-year-old Joseph Coyne from Kildare.

Sgt Coyne said: “I joined the British Army because my brother joined the Royal Irish in 1996. We come from a strong Irish Army background.

“All my uncles and father were in the Irish Army.

“There’s obviously the ‘slagging and messing, but I’ve never come across anything that serious and I’ve never experienced any discrimination,” he said.

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