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Óglaigh na hÉireann
Defence Forces
Oglaigh na heireann.png
Óglaigh na hÉireann's Emblem
Service branches Army
Naval Service
Air Corps
Commander-in-Chief President Mary McAleese
Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea, TD
Óglaigh na hÉireann's Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Dermot Earley
Available for
military service
977,092 males, age 15–49,
978,465 (2005 est.) [1] females, age 15–49
Fit for
military service
814,768 males, age 15–49,
813,981 (2005 est.) females, age 15–49
Reaching military
age annually
Active personnel 9,981[1]
Reserve personnel 12,348[2]
Budget FY 2008 - ranked 59th
USD $1.56 billion (FY00/08)
Percent of GDP 0.7% (FY00/07)

The Defence Forces (Irish: Óglaigh na hÉireann[3]) encompass the army, navy, air corps and reserve forces of Ireland. The President of Ireland is the formal Supreme Commander of the Defense Forces, but in practice they answer to the Irish Government via the Minister for Defence. Óglaigh na hÉireann consist of the:



Ireland's favourable geographical location, on the north-west border of the European Union, makes any external threat or future invasion unlikely. The state has a long-standing policy of non-belligerence in armed conflicts that included neutrality in World War II. For these reasons, the Republic's military capacity is relatively modest. However, the state has a long history of involvement in United Nations peace-keeping 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.
Óglaigh na hÉireann officer's cap badge.


The Defence Forces trace their origins to the Irish Volunteers founded in 1913. This organisation was succeeded in 1919 by the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the guerrilla organisation that fought the Anglo-Irish War against the government of the United Kingdom which is more popularly known as the War of Independence. Shortly after the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, the IRA was officially succeeded by the modern Defence Forces. The Irish title Óglaigh na hÉireann, that had previously been used by both the Irish Volunteers and the IRA, was kept by the Defence Forces.


Today approximately 8,500 men and women serve in the Irish Army[6] (13,000 in the army reserve). The country is divided into three areas for administrative and operational reasons, 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 and a number of special establishments such as the Equitation School, Army Bands, and the Army Ranger Wing. In the case of Corps which support the Infantry, a Corps Director and staff are provided to coordinate the purchase of specialised equipment, the execution of specialised training, etc.

The three brigade group structure envisages distinct operational areas of responsibility for each of the brigades. One has primary responsibility for operational tasks in the border area, the second for operational tasks in the greater Dublin and Leinster area and the third for operational tasks in Munster and part of the Connacht area. Practical operational considerations dictate the requirement to outline operational areas of responsibility. The brigade group structure is based on strengthened combat and combat support elements and streamlined combat service support elements.

Air Corps

At present the Irish Air Corps is unable to fulfill the role of an air force in defending Irish airspace. This has been removed from its remit as has SAR (search and rescue) which is carried out by An Garda Cósta na hÉireann (Irish Coast Guard) using Sikorsky helicopters. This effort is part of the Department Of Transport. However the Air Corps fulfills many other important roles required by the State. 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.

The primary roles of the Air Corps are now defined as:

  1. In support of the Army
  2. In support of the Naval Service
  3. In aid to the Civil Power

There are two secondary roles:

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

The Air Corps' two maritime patrol aircraft[7] are equipped with state of the art detection systems and assist the Naval Service in policing Irish territorial waters. The Air Corps has been instrumental in many of the successful interceptions at sea. These aircraft are also used for HALO (High-Altitude, Low-Opening) parachuting by the elite Army Ranger Wing.

Naval Service

Irish Naval Service seamen

Life in Ireland

The Naval Service maintains a complement of about 1,144 personnel, and is tasked with policing Irish territorial waters as well as the Irish Conservation Box - a large area of sea in which fishing is restricted in order to preserve numbers. The Naval Service is tasked with enforcing this EU protected area and thus serves the EU as well as Ireland.[8]

The Naval Service, together with the Air Corps and Coast Guard, have intercepted a number of vessels carrying narcotics to and from Ireland. The Naval Service maintains highly trained armed boarding parties that can seize a vessel if necessary. While the Service does not operate any heavy warships, all of the naval vessels are armed with enough fire-power to enforce their policing roles.

The Navy has eight offshore patrol vessels which are operated in support of the service's main roles. The primary role is defined as "National Security", with secondary roles which include:[8]

  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

Distinguished from the Irish Coast Guard

The Naval Service should be distinguished from the Irish Coast Guard (IRCG) (Irish: Garda Cósta na hÉireann), which is a civilian search-and-rescue Maritime Safety and pollution control agency, without military powers and enforcement powers restricted for the time being to some full time officers with warrants. The IRCG is a division of the Department of Transport.

Trade union representation

Rank-and-file members of the Defence Forces are represented by the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association (PDFORRA) trade union. PDFORRA is affiliated to the Irish Conference of Professional and Service Associations (ICPSA) and to the European Organisation of Military Associations (EUROMIL). In 2009, members of PDFORRA took part in the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) protest against the government's handling of the 2008–09 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.[9]

See also

External links


  1. ^ Irish Times - Numbers in Defence Forces hit 40-year low - November 25, 2009
  2. ^ - RDF Homepage - Establishment
  3. ^ This Irish-language name is not a literal translaton, and derives its origins from the Irish Volunteers. A literal translation of Defence Forces of Ireland that is attested in some Irish-language literature is Fórsaí Cosanta na hÉireann.
  4. ^ The Permanent Defence Forces (of Ireland) are the standing branches of the Defence Forces, and are sometimes referred to as the PDF or Permanent Forces.
  5. ^ The Reserve Defence Forces (of Ireland) are sometimes referred to as the RDF, Reserve Forces or Reserves.
  6. ^ - Army homepage
  7. ^ The two maritime patrol aircraft are CASA CN-235; see the table at Irish Air Corps#Aircraft for more information.
  8. ^ a b (official IDF website) Naval Service Roles
  9. ^ "Talks under way to avert strikes". The Sunday Business Post. 2009-02-22. Retrieved 2009-02-23.  


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