Sunday November 28 2010
The Defence Forces is to clamp down on serving soldiers using their military skills to work for private security firms while on leave.
The move comes after a lengthy investigation by military police into activities by serving soldiers in the Seychelles who worked on security contracts for the local government, which is hard pressed to deal with a Somali piracy problem.
An eight-month investigation was carried out by military police, aided by officers from G-2 military intelligence and the Army's legal branch, into a variety of claims about the soldiers, which first surfaced last March.
These included unfounded allegations that soldiers were involved in buying illegal arms in South Africa while they worked for Irish security firms in the Seychelles, some of them run by ex-Defence Forces officers.
The report has now gone to Defence Minister Tony Killeen and concerns allegations against five personnel, two of them serving soldiers and three former soldiers.
The Sunday Independent has learned the investigation has concluded that:
It found no evidence to support claims that Defence Forces equipment was used in any activities;
There was no evidence of any illegal arms purchases or sales;
No Defence Forces regulations were breached by the soldiers involved.
The conclusions mean that no disciplinary action will be taken against any of the serving soldiers, who effectively worked for another government as security officials while on 'harvest leave' or a career break from the Defence Forces.
That leave may be taken at the discretion of the military authorities if the purpose is "for domestic responsibilities, further education, or travel abroad", according to the Defence Forces.
But in the case of off-duty employment, "which is likely to prove detrimental to the best interests of the service, measures may be taken to terminate or limit the scope of such employment".
After the outcome of the investigation, however, Chief of Staff Lt Gen Sean McCann was sufficiently alarmed to update policy on off-duty employment.
It is understood he has decided that because of the specialist training required for certain military employments, "it may not be compatible with service in the Defence Forces for such training and skills to be employed outside of the Defence Forces.
"In this context he has updated Defence Forces policy on off-duty employment to provide, inter alia, that certain DF personnel cannot undertake off-duty employment that utilises the military training they acquire as part of their service in the Defence Forces."
The restrictions are understood to apply to highly-trained personnel, such as communications and intelligence specialists, members of the Army Ranger Wing, bomb disposal experts, and others who receive specialist training.
During the investigation the chief of staff and Mr Killeen received letters from the Seychelles chief of defence and their minister for foreign affairs indicating that any arms purchased for their state forces was fully legitimate and were in use by authorised Seychelles personnel.
The report said that the letters confirmed that the Irish Defence Forces personnel "only provided and facilitated lawful services for the government of the Seychelles and in doing so made a significant contribution to the welfare and safety of the country".
The letters also indicated that the character of Irish personnel who assisted in training their state police force was "of the highest order".
The claims that serving Irish soldiers were working in the Seychelles and involved in various activities were first made by a Clare businessman and taken up by MEP Joe Higgins and by Sinn Fein's Martin Ferris in the Dail.
Local Seychelles media claimed private security contracts, some of which went to Irish firms, were worth €25m.
Irish citizens have had an increasing involvement in the Seychelles in recent years, offering expertise on their economy, security matters, training of civil servants and advice on combatting Somali pirates.
- Don Lavery Exclusive