Graham Clifford: IRA attitude to Irish serving in British military belongs in 1913
Published 09/01/2013 | 17:00
When faced with the notice 'we are still NOT accepting any NEW applications for general service' on the Irish Defence Forces' website, young men and women across Ireland faced a difficult dilemma.
Would they sit and wait for the recruitment drive to begin again? How long would that take? By the time the economy picked up and the Army could resume recruitment, would they be too old to be considered for a position?
There were other options of course – options that would keep them in the country.
They could draw unemployment benefit or, if they were really fortunate, take on a job that they had never wanted and a life that belonged to someone else.
Or they could travel north of the Border to recruitment centres in Coleraine, Enniskillen or Belfast and apply to join the British defence forces.
The 'recruitment freeze' in the Irish Defence Forces has recently been lifted, but still opportunities are few.
It should come as no surprise, even to dissident Republicans, that the number of young Irish people joining the British army is on the increase.
Last year at least 150 signed up, the highest annual recruitment rate from the Republic since World War Two.
It's estimated that upwards of 4,000 Irish citizens now serve in the British army.
In the eyes of dissident Republicans they are seen as 4,000 "legitimate targets".
"We have seen . . . that in this city of Limerick 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," said a statement from the Continuity IRA, read at the graveside of Sean South in Limerick last weekend.
If one closed their eyes in that graveyard it would have been entirely possible to convince oneself that the year was 1913.
Republican sentiments could have been found on every street corner in Limerick, Big Jim Larkin was fighting the bosses in Dublin and James Connolly founded the Irish Citizen Army.
But even in 1913 such threats would have been considered outlandish and immoral. One of the country's most revered Republicans, Connolly, even served for the British army.
Indeed as a young teen he falsified records so he could enlist and he served in Ireland with the army for nearly seven years.
Had the Continuity IRA been in existence then he would have been on their hit list and his eventual contribution to the Independence struggle might never have transpired.
I spoke with Felix O'Mahony from Tipperary, who's serving in the British army. He told me that he's proud of his career choice and explained the rational benefits of joining the British defence forces.
"I see the whole thing as much more than a career, it's a lifestyle. It gives guaranteed employment for 12 years and if you want to carry on and fit the criteria that could be 22 years.
"I really notice an awful lot more Irish people serving nowadays, you hear the accents everywhere and they come from all four corners of the country."
He told me that all his life he wanted to become a soldier. As a child he'd don fake fatigues and fight the invisible enemies with his loyal plastic gun.
The likes of Felix didn't join the British army to make a political statement, to pay homage to Her Majesty or to stick two fingers up at Irish Republicanism.
They did it because their options were severely limited and if they wanted to enter the profession they'd always yearned to be in and earn a living that way then signing up for the British army made sense.
Delivering the CIRA statement, Michael Kiely told the 60 people present in Limerick on Sunday: "The lessons of Irish history teach us that as long as the British presence remains in Ireland, there will always be those who oppose it by whatever means necessary."
This is 2013, history remains in the past as do the views of those who are consumed by such hatred and bitterness.