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The role of the Irish Defence Forces in response to Covid-19




The vital role of the Irish Defence Forces in response to the Covid-19 pandemic

In addition to providing ATCP to An Garda Síochána and participating in overseas operations, the Defence Forces (DF) continued to provide surge capacity to the Health Service Executive (HSE) throughout 2022 as part of the national response to COVID-19.

In March 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Joint Task Force (JTF) was established to coordinate the DF contribution to the whole-of-Government COVID-19 response. It has the authority to draw together, in a joint manner, the contribution of all of the elements of the DF – Army, Air Corps (AC), Naval Service (NS), Reserve, etc. The DF operation in contributing to the national effort was named Operation FORTITUDE.

The priority of the DF Joint Task Force from the beginning has been to provide support to the HSE, while retaining, at all times, a contingent capacity to provide other Aid to the Civil Authority supports.

Irish Defence Forces Personnel on hand through COVID-19 to support

The JTF co-ordinated all DF activity delivering support under five (5) main operational headings: Testing, Tracing, Quarantine, Vaccination and Logistics. Up to the end of December 2022, this effort required (also detailed in Table 3.5 below):

  • 124,195 DF deployed workdays (225, 889 committed workdays)
  • 25,453 vehicle movements
  • 79 Air Corps (AC) flights
  • 197 Naval Service (NS) ship days

COVID-19 Supports – Operational Outputs to 31 December 2022


Operational Heading DF Personnel Deployed DF Reserve Personnel* DF Personnel committed DF Vehicles Deployed AC Flights NS Ship Days
Testing Operations 55,229 1,213 109,054 10,658 55 197
Tracing Operations 10,083 0 19,414 285 0 0
Quarantine Operations 11,519 86 22,377 3,042 0 0
Vaccination Operations 19,919 42 39’588 5’706 23 0
Logistics Operations 27,445 988 35.456 5,762 1 0
TOTAL OPERATION FORTITUDE 124,195 2,329 225,889 25,453 79 197


* Included in ‘DF Personnel Deployed’ figures


In total, 55,229 DF deployed work days have been dedicated to Testing operations. Up to 53 DF personnel were deployed daily as swab testers across 17 national test centres. DF provided up to 80 marshals and logs support staff to support the administration of test centres and 55 Air Corp fixed wing flights were provided to transport COVID-19 test specimens abroad for analysis. DF supported National Ambulance Service (NAS) ‘Pop-Up’ testing teams and conducted up to 20,501 tests in residential care home facilities. DF support to national test centres ceased on 04 Mar 22.


In total, 10,083 DF deployed work days have been dedicated to Contact Tracing operations across the first four (4) waves of infection. Initially staffed by the 96th Cadet class and the DF School of Music. Follow on operations drew personnel from all Army Formations, the AC and the NS. Up to 30 contact tracing lines were maintained daily, 10 in each location in Stephens Barracks, Kilkenny (1 Bde), Finner Camp, Donegal (2 Bde) and the Eir Building in Dublin (DFTC and AC). DF Contact Tracing operations ceased on 19 Feb 22. AC provided 23 rotary wing flights to transport vaccines to the islands.


In total, 19,919 DF deployed work days have been dedicated to Vaccination operations. The Defence Forces deployed up to 53 personnel daily across 14 Centralised Vaccination Clinics in logistics support roles. DF Vaccinators were provided from Mar 21 to Feb 22. RDF personnel were deployed as vaccinators at Citywest Vaccination Clinic. DF Vaccination operations ceased on 27 May 22.


In total, 11,519 DF deployed work days were dedicated to Quarantine operations across eight (8) quarantine facilities, up to 9 points of entry into the state and escorting guest transportation.

Quarantine Operations ceased on 25 Sep 21.


In total, 27,445 DF deployed work days have been dedicated to logistics and other supports up to 31 December 2022, including:

  • 7,185 deployed work days were incurred providing patient transport services.
  • 3,424 deployed work days were incurred off loading, storage and distributing up to 4,000 tonnes of PPE.
  • Deployment of DF ambulances to support HSE / NAS, incurring 718 deployed work days and in excess of 165 DF Emergency Ambulance days.
  • Provision of tentage to COVID-19 Testing Centres, National Vaccination Centres and ‘Pop-Up’ testing teams. To date there have been in excess of 240 deployments of DF tentage. All tentage was returned to DF during 2022. 2,039 deployed work days and 557 vehicle movements were dedicated to Tentage operations.
  • Deployment of DF personnel in a logistics support role to 9 residential care home facilities incurred 2,263 deployed work days.
  • 1,193 deployed work days were incurred on other sundry tasks such as deployment of DF doctors and nurses in support of HSE, decontamination training, support to the HSE response to cyber-attack, and the provision of step down facilities.

Defence Forces Characteristics

The DF capabilities that had utility in the JTF in the national response to COVID-19; the ability to use planning capability and capacity, mission focus, logistical skill, disciplined perspective and practical work practices and the agility to apply them to a range of problems or tasks. This was evidenced in the resources the DF deployed across a range of Covid related services and in support of the HSE after the major Cyber-attack on their IT systems in 2021.

The Irish Defence Forces play a crucial role in the PANDEM-2 advisory board bringing their expertise and knowledge from their day-to-day work and in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, as outlined above, to the project. Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the European Commission stated in the early days (2020) of the pandemic that “the COVID-19 crisis will be a re-defining moment for our societies, for our economies – and for our security and defence policy. Health now is a security issue.” Undoubtedly this statement continues to ring true. The armed forces across EU Member States played a pivotal role in the fight against Coronavirus and the Irish DF are a prime example of these efforts and one that will lead to better preparedness, response and security.

References: European Defence: fighting Covid-19, preparing for the future (2020)

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