[Published by Stephen Collins on 11th Jan : http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/ireland-and-uk-agree-historic-defence-agreement-1.2062356]
A historic agreement on defence co-operation between Ireland and the UK will be signed by senior Ministers from the two countries later this month
The agreement will involve the Irish Army training British soldiers in peacekeeping operations as part of a wide-ranging deal involving closer co-operation between the two defence forces.
Another aspect of the agreement provides that the Irish Army will be provided, free of charge, with equipment that is surplus to the requirements of the British army.
A memorandum of understanding will be signed by Minister for Defence Simon Coveney and British defence secretaryMichael Fallon at a ceremony in Dublin before the end of the month.
Officials in Dublin and London have been working on the details of the agreement for more than a year and there has been close contact between senior officers of both defence forces about the kind of co-operation that would be mutually beneficial.
There is already considerable co-operation between the defence forces of Ireland and the UK, with Irish troops receiving specialist training with theBritish Army over the past two decades. Members of the elite Rangers corps in the Irish Army trained with the British in some of the most dangerous combat zones in the world to bring their skills up to the required level.
Co-operation between the two defence forces up to now has been on an ad-hoc basis but the memorandum will put it on a formal footing and will provide for greater co-operation in the future.
In February 2013 former minister for defence Alan Shatter said Ireland and Britain would send a joint deployment of troops to war-torn Mali. A joint taskforce of 18 British soldiers and eight from the Irish Army under the umbrella of the Royal Irish Regiment was dispatched.
Mr Shatter described the initiative as historic, saying it was yet another indication of the normalisation of relations between Ireland and the UK. “In that sense it is a historic step and provides a tangible manifestation of the very positive relations and mutual respect that now exists between our two countries.”
At the time it was speculated that the Mali operation would lead to further co-operation between Irish and British forces on UN-mandated missions.
While the British army is one of the best equipped and most experienced in the world in combat operations, it does not have the Irish Army’s experience in peacekeeping. One of the motivating factors behind the agreement is to provide the British with access to the peacekeeping expertise of the Irish defence forces.