Just 35 Irish troops have volunteered for the new EU Battlegroup, less than two months before it is due to begin training.
The Government has committed a mechanised infantry company, numbering 182 personnel, to the Battlegroup which consist of 2,000 troops from nine EU countries.
There is concern among senior military officials of serious international embarrassment for Ireland if it cannot find enough Defence Forces personnel before the end of the year.
So far just 35 officers and enlisted personnel have volunteered, less than 20 per cent of the numbers required.
The German-led Battlegroup will act as rapid response force which, according to the Government, will be used “to stabilise a situation pending the deployment of a follow-on force”.
It will act in support of UN-authorised missions and will also be deployed to aid humanitarian crises and support existing peacekeeping missions that face heightened difficulties.
Ireland has contributed troops to previous Battlegroup iterations but these have never been deployed on active missions due to political disagreements between EU member states. The new form of Battlegroup is designed to be more easily deployable.
The Government decided early this year to withdraw Defence Forces troops from the Undof peacekeeping mission in the Golan Heights in Syria in order to free up personnel for the Battlegroup.
However, there has been little interest from members in volunteering, particularly enlisted personnel. This is believed to be chiefly down to the lack of any extra allowances for participation in the mission.
Unlike peacekeeper service, there is no extra pay for Battlegroup service. It is understood the Defence Forces General Staff requested allowances from the Department of Defence at the start of 2023 but none have been forthcoming.
A department spokeswoman said there have been significant discussions with military management about allowances.
Military sources said management will inevitably have to start mandatorily selecting troops to make up the shortfall. There is also hope an allowance system will be announced in the next few weeks, which may prompt more personnel to volunteer.
Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Seán Clancy alluded to the difficulties in a speech this week at the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers’ annual conference.
He said there “are a number of factors challenging our force-generation process” and that he has ordered commanders to be “innovative in how we consolidate and validate our training” in advance of deployment.
He said participation in the Battlegroup “warrants appropriate recognition and reward”.
Irish participation will last two years, the first of which will be spent training, including in Germany. As part of this, four major overseas military exercises are expected to take place.
For the duration of 2025, Irish Battlegroup troops will be on standby for deployment to trouble spots. They will be based in Ireland for most of this time, although they will be expected to deploy overseas on just a few days’ notice.