THE number of Irish recruits joining the British Army has almost halved in the space of 12 months, as British forces end combat operations, and dissident republicans target recruits.
New UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) figures obtained by the Irish Independent reveal that just 70 Irish citizens joined the British Army in 2012.
That contrasts with 123 Irish citizens opting to join British forces in 2011 and represents a 44pc decline in the space of just 12 months.
The decline comes as a major surprise given that 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.
Military analysts warned that a number of factors may be responsible for the decline -- including the end of British combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Other factors include the downsizing of British armed forces and the end of the recession in Ireland.
However, there is concern that the deliberate targeting of Irish recruits to the British Army by dissident republicans may also have been a factor in the decline.
Last Christmas, gardai foiled a plot by dissident republicans to target a Limerick-born soldier serving with the British 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 movements would be around the mid-west.
And last January, the Continuity IRA directly threatened all Irish citizens serving with Britain's armed forces.
Since then, British 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.
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 Defence Forces recruitment restrictions.