Call to protect Defence Forces from online radicalisation

Sinn Féin warns of right-wing disinformation and urges greater military role for women

Defence Forces personnel should receive "digital literacy" training to prevent them being radicalised online, Sinn Féin has told the Commission on the Defence Forces.

In its submission, the party points to the radicalisation of members of the US military who took part in the storming of the Capitol on January 6th as an example of how personnel can be influenced by disinformation.

The danger that disinformation poses to military organisations has been recognised by several Scandinavian countries, said the submission issued by TDs John Brady and Sorcha Clark.

“We need to be clear that the commitment, loyalty and integrity of the Irish Defence Forces is without question, and a matter of clear and enduring record,” it said.


Online activity

However, the weaponisation of online communication is a “new form of warfare” and Defence Forces personnel must be trained and prepared to counter this challenge, it said.

Military sources say radicalisation of members is not a pressing concern for senior officers, but that a small number of soldiers have been spoken to about their online activity in recent years.

It said initial reports showed military members played an outsized role in the US Capitol attack.

Prior to US president Joe Biden’s inauguration, more than a dozen military personnel were relieved of duty by the FBI for security reasons, it said.

The weaponisation of the online space has been adopted by right-wing groups in recent years, particularly in Europe, Sinn Féin said.

‘Security threat’

Gardaí say right-wing groups have been organising in Ireland and engaging in systematic disinformation campaigns, some of which was evidenced in the recent anti-lockdown protests, it said. "This poses a potential internal security threat to the State."

Other recommendations from Sinn Féin include the expansion of the role of the Reserve Defence Forces and increased efforts to encourage women to join the military.

Just 7 per cent of Defence Forces members are women and, between 2015 and 2019, just 33 women enlisted and remained in the military, it said.

Consideration should be given to shortening international deployments from six to three months to make them more “family friendly” and breast-feeding facilities should be introduced, it said.

A Defence Forces spokesman said recruits are briefed on social media policy during training and that serving members are required to maintain an apolitical stance. “Any personnel in breach of this are subject to disciplinary action in accordance with military law.”

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times