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Defence Forces (Ireland)


Defence Forces (Ireland)

Defence Forces
Óglaigh na hÉireann
Founded 1 October 1924
Service branches Army
Air Corps
Naval Service
Reserve Defence Forces
Headquarters Newbridge, County Kildare
Supreme Commander Michael D. Higgins (President of Ireland)
Minister for Defence Simon Coveney
Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Mark Mellett DSM[1]
Military age 18–24 (27 Naval Service)[2][3]
Available for
military service
1,179,125 males, age 15–49,
1,163,728 females, age 15–49
Fit for
military service
977,631 males, age 15–49,
965,900 females, age 15–49
Reaching military
age annually
Active personnel 9,500[5]
Reserve personnel 4,371[6]
Deployed personnel

497 troops, 13 missions
Largest deployments:[7]

Budget FY 2015 – ranked 67th
€885 million (FY2015)[8] ($1.13 billion)
Percent of GDP 0.39% (FY2015)

The military of Ireland, known as the Defence Forces (Irish: Fórsaí Cosanta,[9] officially styled Óglaigh na hÉireann)[10][11][Note 1] encompass the Army, Air Corps, Naval Service, and Reserve Defence Force.

The Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces is the President of Ireland.[12] All Defence Forces officers hold their commission from the President, but in practice the Minister for Defence acts on the President's behalf and reports to the Government of Ireland. The Minister for Defence is advised by the Council of Defence on the business of the Department of Defence.[13]


  • Role 1
  • History 2
  • Organisation 3
    • Army 3.1
    • Air Corps 3.2
    • Naval Service 3.3
  • Representative associations 4
  • Bases 5
  • See also 6
  • External links 7
  • Notes 8
  • Footnotes 9


The State has a long-standing policy of non-belligerence in armed conflicts that included neutrality in World War II. Ireland's military capabilities are relatively modest. However, the state has a long history of involvement in United Nations Peacekeeping operations. Functions of the Defence Forces include:

  • Preparation for the defence of the state against armed attack.
  • Assisting the Garda Síochána (police force), including the protection of the internal security of the state.
  • Peace-keeping, crisis management and humanitarian relief operations in support of the United Nations.
  • Policing the fisheries, in accordance with the state's obligations under European Union agreements.
  • Miscellaneous civil contingency duties requested by the Government such as search and rescue, air ambulance provision, providing secure air transport for ministers, assistance in the event of natural and other disasters, ensuring the maintenance of essential services, and assisting in dealing with oil pollution at sea.[14]


The Irish Defence Forces trace their origins to the Irish Volunteers founded in 1913. The Defence Forces official title, Óglaigh na hÉireann, is taken from the official Irish language title of the Irish Volunteers. The Defence Forces cap-badge, and the buttons that are worn on Service Dress no.1 uniforms are also from the Irish Volunteers.[15] The Defence Forces buttons still have the letters I V (Irish Volunteers) on them. Volunteers led by Patrick Pearse, took part in the 1916 Easter Rising.

After the rising the Volunteers gave allegiance to the First Dáil. At this time the Volunteers became known as the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The IRA waged a guerrilla campaign against British rule in Ireland between 1919 and 1921.

A truce brought hostilities to an end on 11 July 1921 and the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed on 6 December. The Provisional Government was then constituted on 14 January 1922. Many IRA men who fought in the War of Independence were dissatisfied with the Treaty and both Civil War or reoccupation by the British were possible.[16] In February 1922, the Provisional Government began to recruit volunteers into the new Irish National Army. The Irish Civil War began on 28 June 1922 between the Republican Anti-treaty IRA and the newly recruited pro-treaty National Army. The Civil War ended on 24 May 1923, Frank Aiken IRA Chief of Staff ordered IRA volunteers to dump arms and the new Irish Free State slipped into an uneasy peace.[16]

On 3 August 1923 the new state passed the "Defence Forces (Temporary Provisions) Act", raising "an armed force to be called Oglaigh na hEireann (hereinafter referred to as the Forces) consisting of such number of officers, non-commissioned officers, and men as may from time to time be provided by the Oireachtas."[17] The establishment of the Forces was on 1 October 1924.[16]

The state was officially neutral during World War II, but declared an official state of emergency on 2 September 1939 and the Army was mobilised. As the Emergency progressed, more and newer equipment was purchased for the rapidly expanding force from Britain and the United States as well as some manufactured at home. For the duration of the Emergency, Ireland, while formally neutral, tacitly supported the Allies in several ways.[18] German military personnel were interned in the Curragh along with the belligerent powers' servicemen, whereas Allied airmen and sailors who crashed in Ireland were very often repatriated, usually by secretly moving them across the border to Northern Ireland.[18] G2, the Army's intelligence section, played a vital role in the detection and arrest of German spies, such as Hermann Görtz.

In September 1946 the Naval Service was established as Ireland's maritime force and as a permanent component of the Defence Forces.

Ireland became a member of the United Nations in 1955. The first contribution to peacekeeping was in 1958 when Army officers were assigned to the United Nations Observer Group in Lebanon (UNOGIL). Since 1958 the Defence Forces have had a continuous presence on peace support operations. The first armed peacekeeping mission was to the Operation des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC) in 1960.

During the period of "The Troubles", from 1969 to 1998, before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the Irish Defence Forces entered into a 30 year long period of internal security operations in Aid to the Civil Power (ATCP), protecting the institutions of the state, against subversion and terrorism of paramilitary organisations, operating from both inside and outside the state. Troops were deployed for duty to the border areas and new border military posts were established, and in 1973 new permanent border units were established. In 1974, troops were deployed to maximum security prisons in Portlaoise and Limerick where IRA prisoners were detained. In 1976 armed troops were deployed to all major post offices during a three month national bank strike. In 1978 Cash in Transit (CIT) escorts were established to protect large cash movements throughout the state. This continued until 2014. ATCP operations continue today but not to the same degree or intensity, due to the IRA cease fire, decommissioning, and subsequent implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

The Defence Forces have been continuously on armed UN missions—except between May 1974 to May 1978 but did retain overseas unarmed observer missions during this period. In October 2009, a memorial to Irish personnel who served as United Nations peacekeepers was unveiled in the town of Fermoy. It records that there was a total of ninety Irish fatalities while on active service with the UN until that date.[19] The Central Bank of Ireland had the Government put in place contingency plans to provide armed Defence Force security for major Irish banks over public order fears if a cash shortage was triggered at the height of the 2008/2009 financial crisis.[20]


The Defence Forces consist of a Permanent Defence Force (PDF) which is a standing force and provides the main capability for military operations, and a Reserve Defence Force (RDF)[21] which to support the PDF if necessary. The RDF is consist of the First Line Reserve and a Second Line Reserve. The First Line Reserve comprises former members of the Permanent Defence Force and the Second Line Reserve comprises an Army Reserve and a Naval Service Reserve.[22]

The Defence Forces are organised under the Chief of Staff (currently (VADM Mark Mellett, a Naval Officer), supported by Deputy Chief of Staff Operations (currently Maj Gen Kieran Brennan, an Army officer), and the Deputy Chief of Staff Support.

The Defence Forces are organised into three service branches, the Army, Naval Service, and Air Corps.


An Irish Army Cavalry Corps Scorpion Light Tank during a parade in Dublin

The Irish Army has 8,500 active personnel,[23] and 4,000 in the Army Reserve. Up to late 2012 the army had three brigades: the 1 Southern, 2 Eastern and 4 Western. However, at 2 pm on 30 November 2012 the 4 Western Brigade stood down at its HQ Custume Barracks, Athlone. The state is now divided into two Brigade areas for administrative and operational reasons, with the former 4 Western Brigade split between the other two brigades, and in each area there is an Infantry brigade.

In addition to the Brigades Structure, there is also a Defence Forces Training Centre (DFTC), a Logistic Base in the Curragh. In the case of Corps which support the Infantry, a Corps Director and staff are provided to co-ordinate the purchase of specialised equipment, the execution of specialised training, etc.

The two brigade structure envisages distinct operational areas of responsibility for each of the brigades. The 1st Brigade has primary responsibility for operational tasks in the southern region, the 2nd for operational tasks in the eastern and western regions. Practical operational considerations dictate the requirement to outline operational areas of responsibility. The brigade structure is based on strengthened combat and combat support elements and streamlined combat service support elements.

The Army has nine specialist Corps, each designated as either combat, combat support or combat service support. These are the Infantry Corps, Artillery Corps, Cavalry Corps, Engineer Corps, Ordnance Corps, Medical Corps, Transport Corps, Military Police Corps, Communications and Information Services Corps.

Irish infantry are equipped with assault rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, hand grenades, and anti-tank weapons. Most weapons used by their defence forces follow NATO standards, and are purchased from abroad, with Ireland having a very limited arms industry. The Army has light armoured vehicles, with the primary vehicle being the MOWAG Piranha, armed with machine guns. The Army also use the FV101 Scorpion armoured reconnaissance vehicle, equipped with a 76mm low velocity gun and a 7.62mm machine gun. Its artillery capabilities consist of 120mm mortars and 105mm light guns.

The Army Ranger Wing are the special forces of Ireland. They are based at the Curragh Camp.

Air Corps

Irish Air Corps AgustaWestland AW139 helicopter

The Irish Air Corps is the air component of the Defence Forces. The Air Corps HQ is at Casement (Baldonnel) Aerodrome. The Air Corps is the smallest of the branches of the Defence Forces, with approximately 939 personnel, and its primary roles are defined as:

  1. Support of the Army
  2. Support of the Naval Service
  3. Aid to the Civil Power

There are two secondary roles:

  1. Aid to Civil Community
  2. Aid to Government departments

The Air Corps is tasked with the traditional air force role of defending Irish airspace however its capability to do so is severely limited. The Air Corps provide support to the Army and Naval Service, together with non-military air services such as air ambulance, VIP transport, and search and rescue (in support of Coast Guard search and rescue efforts). The Air Corps' helicopters are the only helicopters within the State capable of flying at night in mountain terrain using Night Vision Goggles.

The Air Corps' two CASA CN-235 maritime patrol aircraft[24] are equipped with detection systems and assist the Naval Service in patrolling Irish territorial waters and EEZ. These aircraft are also used for HALO (High-Altitude, Low-Opening) parachuting by the elite Army Ranger Wing. The Air Corps has six AgustaWestland AW139 utility helicopters capable of being armed with FN MAG machine guns. These advanced helicopters can be flown using night vision goggle and used in support of the ARW, Naval Service and Gardaí operations. Seven Pilatus PC-9 turboprop aircraft can be equipped with rocket pods and machine guns, and two Eurocopter EC135 light utility helicopters which can be used as sniper platforms by the Army Ranger Wing, are used for training pilots and air ambulance missions. There are also a number of auxiliary aircraft.

Naval Service

Irish Naval Service vessel LÉ Eithne

The Naval Service maintains a complement of about 1,144 personnel, and is tasked with patrolling Irish territorial waters as well as the Irish Conservation Box a large area of sea in which fishing is restricted to preserve numbers. The Naval Service is tasked with enforcing this EU protected area and thus serves the EU as well as Ireland.[25] The Naval Service, together with the Air Corps and Customs, have intercepted a number of vessels carrying narcotics to and from Ireland.[26]

The Naval Service has eight offshore patrol vessels which are operated in support of the service's main roles, inflatable seagoing craft, and training vessels. The Naval Service maintains highly trained armed boarding parties that can seize a vessel if necessary, and a special unit of frogmen called the Naval Service Diving Section (NSDS). While the Naval Service does not have any heavy warships, all of the naval vessels have enough firepower to enforce their policing roles.

The primary role is defined as "National Security", with secondary roles which include:[25]

  1. Fishery Protection
  2. Aid to the Civil Power
  3. Drug Interdiction
  4. Maritime Safety
  5. Diving Operations
  6. Pollution Control
  7. Overseas Mission Support

Representative associations

The interests of members of the Defence Forces are represented by a number of representative associations similar to trade unions.

Commissioned Officers of the Permanent Defence Forces are represented by RACO (Representative Association of Commissioned Officers).[27]

Rank-and-file members of the Permanent Defence Forces are represented by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) protest against the government's handling of the Irish financial crisis. The Department of Defence warned that Defence Forces members could not take part in or sponsor any "public agitation", and that PDFORRA had "no express permission" for members to take part in the protests.[28]

All ranks of the Reserve Defence Forces are represented by RDFRA.[29]


Ceremony at Cathal Brugha Barracks in Dublin

The Defence Forces operate a number of bases:

Name Location
Defence Forces Headquarters (DFHQ) Newbridge
Aiken Barracks Dundalk
Casement Aerodrome Baldonnel
Cathal Brugha Barracks Rathmines
Collins Barracks Cork
Coolmoney Camp Glen of Imaal
Custume Barracks Athlone
Curragh Camp Curragh
Dún Úi Mhaolíosa Galway
Finner Camp Ballyshannon
Gormanston Camp Gormanston
Haulbowline Naval Base Cork Harbour
Kilbride Camp Kilbride, County Wicklow
Lynch Camp Kilworth
McKee Barracks Dublin
Sarsfield Barracks Limerick
St Bricín's Military Hospital Dublin
Stephens Barracks Kilkenny

See also

External links

  • – Official website
  • Official Defence Forces magazine


  1. ^ Óglaigh na hÉireann derives its origins from the Irish Volunteers. Whilst the Irish for Defence Forces is Fórsaí Cosanta, as Ó Cearúil (1999) points out, the Defence Forces are officially styled Óglaigh na hÉireann. Fórsaí Cosanta is used in other contexts (e.g. Rialacháin Fhórsaí Cosanta'’ is Defence Force Regulations’') as well as having a defined meaning in legislation.


  1. ^ "New Chief of Staff Appointed to Defence Forces". 29 September 2015. Retrieved 29 September 2015. 
  2. ^ "Irish Defence Forces - Recruitment". Retrieved 16 June 2014. 
  3. ^ "Bid to raise age limit for joining defence forces rejected". Irish Daily Star. 22 February 2013. 
  4. ^ "CIA - World Fact Book - Military : Ireland". Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Dáil Éireann - 18/Sep/2014 Written Answers Nos. 23-33". Retrieved 23 December 2014. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ Government Budget Report - Expenditure Allocations 2015-17 (PDF) (Report). Department of Finance. Retrieved 24 December 2014. 
  9. ^ "Defence Forces Act, 1937", Acts of the Oireachtas, ...cialluíonn an abairt 'na Fórsaí Cosanta' na Fórsaí agus an Cúltaca. (...the expression 'the Defence Forces' means the Forces and the Reserve.) 
  10. ^ Defence Act, 1954, It shall be lawful for the Government to raise, train, equip, arm, pay and maintain defence forces to be called and known as Óglaigh na hÉireann or (in English) the Defence Forces. 
  11. ^ Micheál Ó Cearúil (1999), Bunreacht na hÉireann: a study of the Irish text (PDF), Dublin: Stationery Office, p. 189, 'The Defence Forces' are officially styled by the Army itself as 'Óglaigh na hÉireann' in Irish, as against 'na Fórsaí Cosanta'. 
  12. ^ "Official site - Roles of the President". Áras an Uachtaráin. Retrieved 23 December 2014. 
  13. ^ "Statute Book - Ministers And Secretaries Act, 1924". Retrieved 23 December 2014. the Minister for Defence [...] shall be assisted by a Council of Defence 
  14. ^ "What We Do". Retrieved 23 February 2014. 
  15. ^ A Pictorial History of Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Defence Forces of Ireland (PDF). Booklet (Irish Defence Forces). 2012. p. 15.  
  16. ^ a b c "Defence Forces History (official)". Retrieved 24 December 2014. 
  17. ^ "Number 30/1923: DEFENCE FORCES (TEMPORARY PROVISIONS) ACT, 1923". Retrieved 23 December 2014. 
  18. ^ a b Fanning, R., 1983, Independent Ireland, Dublin: Helicon, Ltd.., pp 124–25
  19. ^ English, Eoin. "Memorial honours Irish soldiers who died on UN duty". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 17 March 2011. 
  20. ^ "Get army ready to protect banks: Central Bank’s warning to Taoiseach during crisis". Irish Independent. 28 November 2014. 
  21. ^ "Defence Forces - Info Centre - How we are organised". Defence Forces. Retrieved 23 December 2014. 
  22. ^ "Defence Forces - Reserve". Retrieved 24 December 2014. 
  23. ^ "Defence Forces - Info Centre". Retrieved 23 December 2014. Today approximately 8,500 men and women serve in the Army 
  24. ^ The two maritime patrol aircraft are CASA CN-235; see the table at Air Corps (Ireland)#Aircraft for more information.
  25. ^ a b "Organisation - Naval Service - Defence Forces". Retrieved 23 December 2014. 
  26. ^
    • "Department of Defence – Drug Seizures". 
    • Juno McEnroe. "Navy tracking system to crack down on drugs smuggling". Irish Examiner. 
    • "Drug Offences". Citizen's Information Board. 
  27. ^ LtCdr Phil Watson. "Website of Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (RACO)". Retrieved 23 December 2014. 
  28. ^ "Talks under way to avert strikes".  
  29. ^ "Website of Reserve Defence Force Representative Associations". Retrieved 24 December 2014. 
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