Irish recruits join British Army in record numbers
IRISH recruits are joining the British Army in record numbers due to the combined impact of the recession, the peace process and the difficulty of gaining entry to the Irish Defence Forces.
The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have acted as a stimulus for young men eager to see action in uniform.
The numbers joining the British armed forces from the Republic have increased to over 150 a year, the highest recruitment rate since World War II.
While figures for 2012 are not yet available, military sources said they are certain to beat the 2011 record of 123 Irish citizens joining the British Army, Navy or Royal Air Force.
Warming Anglo-Irish relations is a significant factor, as well as the high regard and promotional opportunities for Irish recruits.
Another factor is the difficulty in joining the Irish Army, with an estimated 90 applications for every vacancy.
However, the decision by dissident Republicans to target Irish-born British soldiers home on leave is seen as a major worry.
As revealed in the Irish Independent last week, gardai foiled a plot by members of the Continuity IRA to murder a soldier on Christmas leave with his family in Limerick. He has now opted to remain in the UK.
Each year since 2005, the numbers joining the British Army from the Republic have increased.
The most popular choice is the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR). It is the last Irish infantry regiment 'of the line' and is based in Shropshire in England and Portadown in Co Armagh.
A section of the RIR forms part of the 16 Air Assault Brigade, the UK's rapid reaction force, and elements have been deployed to Afghanistan.
It has also served in Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, the Gulf and Iraq.
Precise numbers are not available, but it is estimated that upwards of 4,000 Irish citizens serve in the British forces.
One source said that recruits from the Republic are especially prized because most have a decent education and all want to make the military their career.
"It is no surprise that a significant number of non-commissioned officers are from Ireland," he said.
In 2006, just 12 months after British troops largely withdrew from patrolling the streets of Northern Ireland, recruits from the Republic already made up 4pc of recruitment there.
Meanwhile, overall numbers in British uniform are plummeting. Successive cuts aim to reduce the army to near-record lows, with greater emphasis on technology and mechanisation.
An overall breakdown of the British armed forces shows 95pc of those in uniform are UK nationals and 5pc are Irish, Commonwealth and other nationalities.