IRELAND'S elite military unit, the Army Ranger Wing, has increased in strength by almost one-third.
The move allows the Rangers to expand their roles overseas and at home as well as prepare for fresh tasks in line with international developments. The 30pc increase in numbers pushes the overall strength of the Wing to well over a hundred, although the military are reluctant to state an exact figure.
A greater role for the secretive unit was sanctioned by the Government as part of the re-organisation of the Defence Forces, which led to a reduction from three to two brigades and the controversial closure of barracks.
But it has not been publicly disclosed until now.
Rangers are deployed overseas, either integrated into contingents on peacekeeping or peace-enforcement missions or providing close-in protection for senior Irish officers assigned to top posts in sensitive areas. At the moment, the Rangers are serving in missions in Africa and the Balkans, while in southern Lebanon they form a small protection team for the deputy force commander of the United Nations mission at its Naqoura headquarters, Brigadier General Pat Phelan.
At home, the continuing terrorist activities of dissident republican factions have ensured that the Rangers have a role to play in countering that threat.
A senior officer told the Irish Independent that his team had a good working relationship with the gardai's elite anti-terror squad, the Emergency Response Unit, despite perceived rivalries in the past.
The increase in numbers has been introduced in tandem with a review of recruitment and selection methods.
Potential candidates for the Ranger Wing must now undergo a five-module course, lasting a total of 34 weeks.
But the Wing has yet to acquire a female member.
"We have never had a woman apply to join," a senior officer explained. "Maybe there is a perception that they might not be welcome here but that is certainly not true".