How elite Irish soldiers are earning €20k-a-month as Middle East 'minders'
Ex-members of Ireland's Defence Forces are earning up to €20,000 a month as private 'minders' for wealthy businessmen in Middle East combat zones.
They are drawn by the huge money to be made in troubled locations such as Iraq.
They can find work as personal bodyguards - or as part of a protection unit - for convoys travelling through high-risk areas.
Former members of the elite Army Ranger Wing (ARW) are particularly in demand and operate with other highly trained ex-soldiers from around the world.
They usually work for private military companies (PMCs), which hold contracts with either businesses or government organisations.
Sources confirmed there was "a soaring demand" for personal bodyguards in what are dubbed "key hotspots" in the Middle East.
With most Western countries increasingly reluctant to commit troops to regions carrying the risk of high casualty rates, trained military personnel are in increasing demand by PMCs.
These companies are willing to offer lucrative contracts to recruit the right people.
Former members of the Irish Army Ranger Wing are a close fit for the type of skills required.
While some of its work is shrouded in secrecy, the ARW is specially trained in hostage rescue operations, close protection and intelligence gathering, referred to as its "black role".
Well placed Army sources say the most experienced operators - in the more dangerous operations - can make up to €5,000 a week operating as a military mercenary. They stress that money is the "one and only reason" these jobs are taken up.
The amount each person is paid depends on the "threat level" involved.
"It only suits a certain demographic," one source told the Sunday Independent.
"If you have a mortgage and couple of kids, it probably doesn't suit going off to these places, despite the Premier League type of wages on offer.
"If you're a younger guy who's single, it might be more attractive.
"These organisations pay very well, but generally you're living on a base in the middle of nowhere, and you necessarily just can't leave when you want to."
Sources said one of the main concerns of those involved is not having proper military back-up if a convoy comes under fire.
Former soldiers are also concerned at having to work alongside individuals who have not had their level of training.
Many companies in the Middle East don't want to rely on local military contractors - there is a risk they may be affiliated with a particular faction that is in conflict with their interests.
Ireland's Army Ranger Wing officers are front-line responders for the State if there is a serious terrorist threat.
The training required is high intensity, and the military personnel involved are regarded as among the fittest and best motivated members of the Defence Forces, capable of operating under extreme pressure.
The ARW first became involved as a unit in peace enforcement missions overseas in Somalia in 1994. Members have since served on missions in locations such as East Timor, Liberia and Chad.
Sources said some former ex-bomb disposal officers are also working for the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS).
The UNMAS works to reduce the threat of mines, improvised explosive devices and other explosive remnants of conflict.
"However, if you're operating in a critical threat level environment, you can earn a lot of money," said one source.
"They could be earning up to €10,000 a month.
"There is plenty of work for any ex-soldier with the right in-demand skills."