Just 44 women joined Defence Forces last year despite new recruitment efforts

Annual report shows Reserve Defence Forces are at less than half establishment strength

The Defence Forces recruited just 44 women in 2021 despite running rolling recruitment campaigns for the Army and Naval Service throughout the year.

This includes 31 women recruited as enlisted personnel in the Army and Naval Service and just seven recruited as trainee officers.

The figures are contained in the annual report for the Defence Forces and Department of Defence which said slightly more than 7 per cent (598) of Defence Forces members are women.

Increasing the recruitment of women soldiers is considered a priority for military leadership. In its report in February 2022, the Commission on the Defence Forces recommended the Government set a target of at least 35 per cent women participation.


As of the start of this year, there were 8,468 personnel in the Permanent Defence Forces, 1,000 below its establishment strength. In response to the commission’s report, the Government has since committed to recruiting another 3,000 personnel to bring the organisation to a new establishment strength of 11,500.

There were 1,760 members of the Reserve Defence Forces, including just 271 in the first line reserve. This is less than half the reserve establishment of 4,069. Forty-one new reservists were recruited last year, of which four were women.

There has also been a focus on increasing numbers in the Army Ranger Wing (ARW) which have declined in recent years. The report said it “will take some time” to meet the goal on considerably increasingly ARW strength but that a good foundation had been laid.

The Department of Defence has launched a variety of re-enlistment schemes to attract former Defence Forces members back into the military to fill capability gaps. However, in many cases such applications were denied. There were 105 applicants to rejoin the enlisted ranks, of which 34 were ultimately recruited. There were four applications from former officers to rejoin during the year but only one was recommissioned.

Regarding equipment, the Army progressed the midlife refurbishment programme for its Mowag armoured personnel carriers which will extend the fleet’s life to 2030 and provide additional protection and firepower for soldiers, it said.

It also took possession of 28 armoured utility vehicles from the French company Centigon, with another four due for delivery this year.

“These vehicles will more than double the existing fleet and will provide a level of protected mobility between the levels of soft-skinned light transport and heavier armoured vehicles.”

The Defence Forces also received a wide range of transport vehicles, including 100 trucks, 15 motorbikes and 15 minibuses.

A midlife extension programme for the Naval Service vessel LÉ Róisín was completed last year and a similar programme for LÉ Niamh has begun.

About €16 million was spent on built infrastructure as part of the first Defence Forces five-year infrastructure programme. This programme will see about €145 million spent on new and existing military buildings during the period.

As part of its continuing programme of “barracks consolidation”, the Department of Defence sold Mitchell Barracks in Co Mayo last year for €600,000, with the funds being reinvested in the defence capital programme.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times