Micheál Martin warns ex-Defence Forces members against Wagner-style contracting

Tánaiste refuses to be drawn on whether he was warned by Defence Forces chief of staff about Libya training allegations before Irish Times broke news

The Irish State was not training members of Defence Forces so they would then use those skills to aid foreign “militias” or “regimes” that were subject to EU or United Nations sanctions, Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said.

He cited the activities of the Wagner Group, the Russian state-funded private military company, as an example of the damage that can be caused around the world when “militias, quasi-militias, are being trained by formerly conventional army or police”.

In the wake of revelations by The Irish Times that a company run by ex-Defence Forces members has trained a group in Libya, Mr Martin said domestic legislation would be tightened to make it “crystal clear” to serving and former members of the Defence Forces they cannot go abroad to aid militia groups.

However, Mr Martin declined to be drawn on whether Defence Forces chief of staff Lieut Gen Seán Clancy had informed him a company run by former members of the Defence Forces, including the Army Ranger Wing, was training the forces of Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar in an apparent breach of a United Nations arms embargo.


“There are various ways that our Defence Forces become aware of this, and how they thwart and disrupt this type of activity, some of which I would be privy to, but not in a position to disclose,” said Mr Martin, who is also Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence.

When pressed by The Irish Times again whether he was informed by Lieut Gen Clancy before the revelations emerged in this newspaper last month, Mr Martin replied: “I have to be careful what I say.”

Mr Martin made his comments when speaking to the media at the commissioning ceremony of the 99th Cadet Class at the Curragh, Co Kildare, on Wednesday. While Lieut Gen Clancy was in attendance for the ceremony, he did not make himself available for questions from the media.

From early 2023 Irish Training Solutions, run by former members of the elite Army Ranger Wing and Defence Forces, recruited departing and former Irish soldiers and flew them to Haftar-controlled Benghazi, where they worked as trainers alongside military veterans from other countries.

There they worked as contractors training the 166 Infantry Brigade of Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army, rivals to Libya’s UN-recognised government in Tripoli.

Danny Cluskey (58), a former soldier who co-owns Irish Training Solutions, was pictured posing on an armoured vehicle in Libya while wearing the shoulder flash and insignia of his former unit the Army Ranger Wing, as well as an Irish flag patch and his company’s logo.

While the Garda National Crime & Security Intelligence Service is reviewing the participation of Irish citizens in the training, sources said the review was yet to identify any Irish laws that may have been breached by those involved.

Furthermore, no national security threats had been identified, though sources stressed the review was continuing. It is only if that Garda review identifies possible criminal offences that a criminal investigation would commence, though no such investigation is currently under way.

Mr Martin said breaching sanctions was a criminal offence, adding he had asked his officials to examine how legislation could be introduced – or current legislation strengthened – to deter a repeat of what has apparently occurred with Irish men in Libya.

“I think what happened in Libya is absolutely unacceptable,” he said. “Because the bottom line is that area [and] rebel grouping is subject to EU sanctions and United Nations sanctions. And more generally ... these are offences, criminal offences, supporting regimes that are subject to UN and EU sanctions.”

He said the options now being explored “to strengthen the law, and potentially penalties” were intended to target “anybody who is found to have engaged in illegal activity in an area that’s subject to sanctions” or aiding or training groups or “a regime that is subject to sanctions”.

Mr Martin added that about 30 additional Defence Forces personnel, some of them Army Ranger Wing members, were being sent to bolster the force protection for the Irish deployment to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil). However, he believed every precaution had already been taken to increase the safety of Irish troops there as tensions increase in the Middle East, especially between Israel and Iran.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times