Training of rogue Libyan forces by ex-Irish soldiers ‘deeply shocking’, Tánaiste says

Department of Enterprise to investigate alleged breaches of UN and EU sanctions after Irish Times investigation detailed activites of Offaly-based firm

The Government has opened an investigation into alleged breaches of UN sanctions by an Irish company run by former Defence Forces soldiers which provided military training to a brigade fighting for Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Micheál Martin has called the revelations – first detailed in an investigation published by The Irish Times on Wednesday – “deeply shocking”, saying that they cause “reputational damage to Ireland and our Defence Forces”.

A spokesman for Mr Martin said the Tánaiste has spoken to Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lieut Gen Seán Clancy “to outline his deep concern at the matters alleged in this report, which need to be examined further”.

He confirmed that the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has opened an investigation into the allegations, as the relevant competent authority for possible breaches of sanctions. “This investigation is at an early stage and all avenues will be pursued,” the spokesman said.


Mr Martin has also asked his officials to examine the strengthening of legislation to regulate the activities of former and serving Defence Forces personnel in countries subject to UN or EU sanctions.

“No Irish citizen should knowingly be involved in activities that breach these sanctions, least of all former members of the Irish Defence Forces,” the spokesman said. “The high level of training and proficiency gained by members of the Defence Forces should never be used in circumstances such as those found in eastern Libya, nor for supporting the forces of Khalifa Haftar.”

The Offaly-based company Irish Training Solutions, which was founded by former Irish soldiers, recruited departing and former members of the Army Ranger Wing and Defence Forces to train part of Haftar’s 166 Infantry Brigade into a special forces unit.

The situation runs counter to the efforts of the Government, which last year deployed a naval ship to help international efforts to enforce the arms embargo.

Senior Irish military officers became aware of the involvement of departing soldiers in the Libyan training last year.

Significantly concerned about reputational damage to the Defence Forces from the training, they reissued an existing regulation banning personnel from engaging in private security work and circulated the regulation to all commanders. The order was reissued on the direction of Lieut Gen Clancy, the Defence Forces chief of staff.

Military intelligence and An Garda Síochána were alerted and began their own investigations to determine whether military or civilian law had been breached. The Garda said it engaged with the Defence Forces “as part of a process of understanding the facts” and that “engagements are ongoing”.

The training took place last year in the part of eastern Libya controlled by Haftar, who is backed by Russian Wagner mercenaries, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, as a challenger to the UN-recognised government in Tripoli.

Irish trainers, including a Defence Forces member who then not yet been discharged, were flown to Haftar-controlled Benghazi to work as contractors training his 166 Infantry Brigade, according to photographs, documents and the accounts of multiple people familiar with the situation who spoke to The Irish Times.

The training involved teaching sniping, close-quarter combat and room entry among other skills, according to a former soldier who took part.

Irish Training Solutions also brought in equipment such as helmets and body armour for the training, according to several sources familiar with the situation. The UN arms embargo prohibits the provision of military-related material.

Danny Cluskey, a co-owner of Irish Training Solutions and former soldier, wore the patches of his former unit, the Army Ranger Wing, on his combat fatigues while conducting the training, according to photographs.

“I have nothing to say about it,” said Cluskey (58), whose company is based in Clara, Co Offaly, when contacted by The Irish Times. He declined to answer detailed questions put to him.

The other directors of Irish Training Solutions did not respond to repeated requests for comment last month or explain how the provision of such training was not in breach of the UN arms embargo.

The company did not respond to queries delivered to their office premises in Clara on Tuesday.

Photographs of the training show men wearing the Irish tricolour, the logo of Irish Training Solutions and the occasional badge of the Libyan 166 Infantry Brigade as they pose in the training grounds. The photographs show men aiming machine guns, firing weapons in an outdoor range and practising the armed storming of an aircraft.

UN experts have issued multiple reports blaming the involvement of private military contractors and international powers seeking to shape the future of Libya for dragging out the country’s conflict and disorder.

“The Defence Forces is always disappointed if its former members act in a way that is at odds with our ethos and values,” a spokesman for the Defence Forces said.

Also on Wednesday, Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan, chair of Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, described the revelations as “very disturbing”.

“Reports that former Irish soldiers are engaged in Libya are a matter of grave concern,” the former minister for justice and foreign affairs said.

He said although no criminal offence appears to have been committed, the matter “undoubtedly places the position of the Defence Forces in a position of some reputational damage”.

“I would urge the Department of Defence, Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to get together and see what kind of sanctions can be imposed on a practice and behaviour that is certainly not in keeping with the Irish Defence Forces ethos.”

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times