10,000 apply for 400 Defence Forces openings
Military keen to modernise with efforts to recruit more women and ethnic minorities
Nearly 10,000 people have applied for just 400 new jobs in the Defence Forces, the Sunday Independent has learned.
The Department of Defence has been swamped with applications for permanent and reserve forces positions in the army and navy.
Applications closed last week for the second major recruitment drive by the Defence Forces. In 2012, 10,460 people applied for 600 posts in the army and navy.
In this drive, a total of 9,441 have applied for 400 jobs so it will be even harder to get selected this time round.
Defence Minister Alan Shatter sanctioned the new posts in order to ensure that the army, navy and air corps maintains its "objective strength" of 9,500 personnel as the Defence Forces engages in its largest-ever multinational peacekeeping operations in 14 countries around the world.
But such has been the interest in the two recruitment drives that the State could have totally replaced its complement twice over with new recruits wanting the army and navy life.
The new posts are also intended to fill the gap as the number dropped to 9,200 personnel in January.
But the military also wants to modernise the force in keeping with Ireland's changing demographics and is putting a particular emphasis on recruiting more women and people of different ethnic backgrounds, a spokesman said. While there are more than 550 serving female members, they represent just 6.5 per cent of the entire Defence Forces, while ethnic minorities are even less represented.
But for recent recruit Aisling Byrne, 21, from Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, they were preaching to the converted.
The former karate champion, who has 18 Irish, nine world rankings and one world title under her black belt, knew from the age of 13 that she was destined for a career in the military, even though she amassed enough points in her Leaving Cert exams to be offered a place studying law at DCU.
Despite the exciting opportunities and financial rewards of a career in the legal profession, she regarded it as a second career choice and was delighted when her application to join the army during the last recruitment drive in 2012 was accepted.
"It suited me down to the ground," she said.
"I'm an active, practical person and I much prefer doing something with my hands instead of sitting at a desk all day," she said.
"During Transition Year I decided that this is what I wanted to do."
She was speaking to the Sunday Independent just minutes after getting off a convoy back from a 24-hour survival training course in the Glen of Imaal in the Wicklow Mountains.
"They taught us how to skin animals for food without getting sick and how to build a shelter using just sticks and stones," she said.
As the only female recruit in her platoon to complete her training as a second-star private last month, Ms Byrne is now eagerly anticipating her ongoing training as a third-star private attached to the 1 Mechanised Company based at the Defence Forces' training centre at the Curragh camp in Co Kildare. Only once that leg of her training is complete in May will she become a fully-fledged soldier.
Along with participating in live-fire tactical training, including launching grenades and taking part in arms drills and "fancy ways of holding weapons", the company, formerly known as B Company, 3rd Battalion, routinely takes part in security duties and escorting cash-in-transit drivers.
But it's the chance to serve overseas that helps motivate Ms Byrne through the gruelling training period.
"There's nothing easy about becoming a soldier," she said.
"There is danger but I have no problem with it.
"It can take up to two or three years to get properly trained but I'm really hoping to get posted to Lebanon or Syria," she said.