A former officer in the Royal Irish Regiment says dissident republicans have failed to discourage over 200 Irish citizens from joining HM Forces in the past two years.
The Ministry of Defence has confirmed to the News Letter that 236 Irish citizens have joined the forces between 2013 and 2015.
The intake levels are understood to have recently been boosted by the fact that several Irish soldiers have been decorated for their bravery while serving with British forces.
Former RIR captain Doug Beattie, now a UUP MLA, said: “The soaring number of Republic of Ireland recruits to the British Army is of no surprise to me and it is not out of the ordinary.
“In fact when I deployed with the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment to Afghanistan in 2010/11 over 10% of its number came from south of the border.
“Many of the officers are from south of the border from as far as Cork and the soldiers come from all quarters of Ireland. They make good soldiers and great colleagues.”
Irish service in the British Army has always been high, he said; the army of the Duke of Wellington – himself a Dubliner – was over a third Irish.
“It is clear for many in the Irish Republic serving with the British Army gives them the opportunity for adventure, travel and a diversity in careers.
“From infantryman to medic, mechanic to pilot, they are in every trade the British military has to offer.”
He added: “The threat from dissident republicans or the attempt to discredit the British military in the eyes of those who live in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic has failed and I will continue to welcome recruitment of Irishmen and women into the British military.”
Some of the recent Irish recruits were accepted for training or deployment at the military academy Sandhurst. And it is understood that Irish-born soldiers boast one of the highest rates of NCO promotions within British forces.
In 2011, Irish and Commonwealth nationals accounted for 5% of Britain’s overall recruitment figures.
HM Forces do not actively pursue Irish citizens in their recruitment, however citizens from the Republic are free to apply and be accepted to serve.
In 2013 the Republic of Ireland officially pardoned thousands of Irish citizens it had previously classed as “deserters” for going to fight Hitler with British forces in WWII. The south had remained neutral from 1939 to 1945. When they returned home they were barred from holding state jobs, lost pension rights and faced discrimination.
Over the weekend, Republican Sinn Féin issued a press release saying Irish people who joined the British Army were “traitors to Ireland”.