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Ex-soldiers ‘undermining’ Ireland’s reputation over Libya training, says Martin

Irish soldiers training troops in regimes subject to international sanctions is an “absolutely unacceptable” undermining of Ireland’s reputation, the Tánaiste has said.

It has been reported that departing and former members of the Defence Forces, including from the elite Army Ranger Wing, provided training to a Libyan military group in alleged breaches of UN and EU sanctions.

Micheál Martin said it was “unthinkable” that former or serving Defence Forces members would support such organisations.

Cadet commissioning ceremony
Cadets hold the Bible during the commissioning ceremony. Photo: Niall Carson/PA.

He said: “What has transpired is unacceptable and is something that undermines the reputation of our country and is totally against the values of our country and our Defence Forces.”

Mr Martin said he has asked his officials to look at legislative options to strengthen the law and penalties for anyone who is found to have engaged in illegal activity for regimes that are subject to sanctions.

Asked if he had been informed by the Chief of Staff about the army rangers’ involvement in Libya prior to the Irish Times report, Mr Martin said: “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.

Cadet commissioning ceremony
Cadets salute during the commissioning ceremony. Photo: Niall Carson/PA.

“But I think we have received a more comprehensive account of what seemingly has transpired.

“The gardaí are now investigating this, and it is important that we have a thorough investigation into it and also that we review our own processes.”

He said it should be “crystal clear” that the Defence Forces are not training people to later engage with someone like Khalifa Haftar, commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army, adding: “That’s not what the mission is.”

He said retired Defence Forces members and gardaí had other options “within understood norms”, for example in general security.

Mr Martin, who is Minister for Defence, made the comments to reporters at the commissioning ceremony of the 99th cadet class at the Defence Forces Training Centre in The Curragh, Co Kildare.

Cadet commissioning ceremony
The commissioning ceremony of the 99th cadet class. (Photo: Niall Carson/PA.

Over the last 18 months, the 42 cadets have completed numerous military, tactical, physical and academic challenges.

The class is comprised of Army Cadets, Air Corps Cadets, Ordnance Cadets, Engineer Cadets, Equitation Cadets and one cadet from the Armed Forces of Malta.

In an effort to boost recruitment numbers, Mr Martin said the Government was committing more resources and implementing quality of life improvements such as increased starting pay, an extension of free private medical care and expanding allowances.

Asked if an increased deployment of 30 further members to Lebanon was reflective of heightened concern, the Tánaiste said it came from a recommendation by the military leadership.

Mr Martin said it was a “tense” and “challenging” situation and added: “Nonetheless, our Defence Forces are satisfied that everything that is being done to protect our members is being undertaken.”

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