Population: 4.1 million (1.0 million under 18)
Government Armed Forces: 10,500
Compulsary Recruitment Age: no conscription
Voluntary Recruitment Age: 17; 16 as apprentices
Voting Age: 18
Optional Protocol: ratified 18 November 2002
Other Treaties: GC AP I, GC AP II, CRC, ILO 138, ILO 182, ICC

The minimum voluntary recruitment age was 17, but under-18s serving in the armed forces were unlikely to be deployed in hostilities because of training requirements.


National recruitment legislation and practice

The constitution and a series of Defence Acts from 1954 to 1993 provided the basis for the Irish Defence Forces. Compulsory military service and conscription had never existed in Ireland, and recruitment to the Irish Defence Forces (made up of a Permanent Defence Force and a Reserve Defence Force) was entirely voluntary. Defence Forces Regulations and Administrative Instructions stated that enlistment in any branch of the Irish Defence Force could take place at the age of 17. Cadets entering the Permanent Defence Force for year-long intensive training leading to a commission as a junior officer also had to be 17. The Defence Forces Administrative Instructions explicitly barred the overseas service of any member of the armed forces under the age of 18. Following enlistment, most 17-year-old recruits underwent a six-month period of "essential core basic training" before actively assuming military duties in the Permanent Defence Force. Consequently, the government emphasized that "the possibility of a person who has not attained the age of 18 being exposed to any 'hostile' incident is virtually negligible". According to the government, "the only theoretical situation where a person who has not attained the age of 18 could be exposed to 'hostilities' would be where hostilities had broken out and were occurring within the State's own jurisdiction". In February 2007 it was reported that there were more than 300 17-year-olds in the Reserve Defence Force, although mandatory training requirements in the second year of their service meant that they were not permitted to take part in any actual operations until they were at least 18 or 19. Members of the Reserve Defence Force were expressly prohibited from participation in civil power back-up operations and were also prohibited from taking part in any international operations. All those seeking entry to any branch of the Irish Defence Forces who were under 18 were required to have the written consent of their parent or guardian prior to enlistment, and to have had a personal interview. An estimated 22 per cent of personnel entering the Irish Defence Forces were younger than 18 in recent years; of those, fewer than 45 per cent were reportedly still under 18 at the conclusion of their basic training.1

Military training and military schools

Irish military regulations allowed 16-year-olds to be recruited as "apprentices", receiving special training for three or four years at both military and civilian technological colleges. They were completely prohibited from performing any military duties, and would normally be 19 or 20 by the time they completed their studies and gained their qualification. Only then would they assume active military duties including possible deployment abroad. In current practice, the minimum entry age for apprentices was generally 17, comparable with the age of ordinary enlistment in the Irish Defence Forces.2

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR):

Ireland contributed 500,000 in 2005 to the UN Development Programme's Disarmament, Demobilisation, Reintegration and Repatriation Trust Fund for Liberia, supporting work with both adult and child ex-combatants.3


In preparing its 2006 Initial Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on implementation of the Optional Protocol, the government consulted with a wide range of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and statutory bodies and included some of the views expressed in the consultation in its report to the Committee. Among concerns identified in the process was the exclusion of those members of the Irish Defence Forces under the age of 18 from the investigative mandate of the Ombudsman for Children and the need for specific training of refugee determination personnel on issues relating to child ex-combatants.4

A community-based Child and Adolescent Mental Heath Service, established by the Irish Health Service Executive, organized multidisciplinary teams of health professionals, social workers and speech and language therapists, prepared to "treat psychiatric and psychological manifestations associated with traumatic experiences such as those experienced in armed conflict and children are referred to these services where necessary".5

At a February 2007 ministerial meeting in Paris, Ireland and 58 other states endorsed the Paris Commitments to protect children from unlawful recruitment or use by armed forces or armed groups and the Paris Principles and guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups. The documents reaffirmed international standards and operational principles for protecting and assisting child soldiers and followed a wide-ranging global consultation jointly sponsored by the French government and UNICEF.

1 Initial report of Ireland to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on the Optional Protocol, UN Doc. CRC/C/OPAC/IRL/1, 5 February 2007.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Information from the Irish ambassador to the United Kingdom, September 2007.


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