Troops delayed in returning from UN deployment in Lebanon may not be able to see their families for another two weeks after touching down on Irish soil, as it's likely they'll be forced to self-isolate in military barracks.
The Defence Forces press office said it can't rule out such a scenario after confirming that troops flying out to replace them will also have two weeks' less time with their families, because they will be brought into military barracks for self-isolation prior to their departure.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a logistical nightmare for the Defence Forces trying to rotate troops on a number of foreign missions, the largest being the UNIFIL deployment of 380 troops in Lebanon.
Extracting the troops became a serious issue after the UN announced on April 5 that they were suspending the rotation of all troops until June 30.
The Irish contingent currently serving in the Lebanon was supposed to return home a month ago but had been unable do so following the UN directive.
However, in the meantime, following lengthy talks between UN headquarters, senior Irish military management, the Department of Defence and Department of Foreign Affairs, the UN has decided to provide a partial exemption for Ireland.
It is now expected that half the troops serving in Lebanon will return home in late June, with the other half coming back in early July. Confirmation of the exact dates are expected shortly.
It is as yet unclear if they will have to operate more flights than normal to rotate the troops by providing social spacing on aircraft, or will a derogation be allowed.
Meanwhile, it is still not clear when former military personnel who had applied to rejoin the Defence Forces will actually be back in uniform.
Many had decided to rejoin primarily to help out with the Covid-19 crisis, but as the lockdown eases some are wondering if there is any point.
In total 651 former members of the Defence Forces applied to rejoin.
The Defence Forces said 614 were former enlisted personnel. Of those 502 were deemed to be eligible to rejoin by senior military management.
In addition, a further 37 former officers also applied and 24 of them were deemed to be eligible. However, two of them have since withdrawn their applications.
Concerns are being raised that more former personnel may follow suit as the delay in bringing them back continues. The Defence Forces press office couldn't say when any of the eligible personnel would be back in uniform. The Covid-19 crisis is making it more difficult to set up medicals, which are needed to ensure those rejoining are fit for duty.
The Defence Forces had already been planning to mount a major recruitment drive to bring back experienced personnel, but this was speeded up because of the pandemic. Those being earmarked for a return to duty were being offered a three-year contract.
Meanwhile, the LÉ William Butler Yeats today finished Covid-19 testing at Sir John Rogerson's Quay, Dublin and will return to routine security operations at sea.
This completes the Naval Service's use of ships for testing, which started on March 15, in support of the HSE in Dublin and Galway. Over the last nine weeks, Naval Service Ships have helped conduct almost 6,000 tests.
The army will continue to help with testing at the Aviva Stadium.