The European Commission has received no formal notification to date that Irish fishery protection has been affected by Naval Service crew shortages writes Lorna Siggins
Three ships are currently tied up in port, and Paul Kehoe, Minister of State with special responsibility for Defence, has directed his officials and military management to meet on Friday to “fully explore all options to address the challenges in the Naval Service”.
Sources close to the European Commission said that the Commission had received no official information from Ireland indicating that the Naval Service is having crewing difficulties.
The EU has allocated over €37 million to Ireland between 2014 and 2020 to conduct control and enforcement as part of the EU Common Fisheries Policy.
Naval Service personnel and Sea Fisheries Protection Agency (SFPA) officers act as EU “community inspectors” in the Irish exclusive economic zone, with the aim of having two to three ships at sea at any one time.
Asked to comment on the impact on fishery protection of crewing shortages, the SFPA said that fishery patrol inspections by the Naval Service are “risk-based” with a greater focus on “quality of inspections rather than the quantity”.
The Department of Defence is continuing to maintain that three of the Naval Service’s fleet of nine ships are tied up for maintenance or refit, and are still in “operational reserve” during this period, in spite of statements to the contrary by the Taoiseach and by the Naval Service’s Commodore Michael Malone.
Commodore Malone stated in a Defence Force newsletter in June that 540 personnel had left the service in the past five years and he had decided “to place two ships in an operational reserve capacity”due to the staff shortages.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar initially agreed with Commodore Malone’s version of events, but told the Dáil on Tuesday that Mr Kehoe’s version was also accurate.
Two decorated former Naval Service officers - former Commander Eugene Ryan and former Captain James Robinson - called on Mr Kehoe this week to resign.
The department says that the LÉ Roisín is going through a “mid-life refit”, while the LÉ Eithne and LÉ Orla are “going through planned maintenance and their crews will be redeployed”.
“That means that three ships will be held in operational reserve or in maintenance and the remaining six vessels are fully operational, “the department says.
“The Government is fully mindful of the staffing and personnel issues that are facing the Naval Service,”it said, and this was why a meeting between department officials and military management would take place on Friday to “fully explore all options to address the challenges in the Naval Service”.
“The Government’s whole focus is returning the Naval Service to its full capacity,”it said.
The department said that the Naval Service still had 88 per cent of its establishment, as in 996 staff as of May 31st this year, compared to an establishment figure of 1,094 staff.
It said that there had been 165 departures since July 2018, with 22 personnel, or 13.33% of those that left, not having completed their induction training.
The crew shortages are now placing a question mark over the tender for a “multi-role” Navy ship, costed at around 200 million euro, which is included in the Government’s white paper. The ship is intended to replace the LÉ Eithne.
Three of Haulbowline’s nine ships have been built since 2014, making it the largest ever Naval Service fleet since 1946.
On October 3rd, 2018 Independent TD Seamus Healy called on Mr Kehoe to “scrap” plans for the multi-role vessel in the light of the “current position on pay and conditions of employment in the defence forces” and because it might be used in “aggressive military operations” in the Mediterranean. T
The Government is no longer providing a Naval Service ship for Mediterranean rescue.
“I do not believe we should scrap the project,” Mr Kehoe responded to Mr Healy.” This is a commitment from the Government. We will continue until tendering stage. When we get to that stage we will look at the resource envelope available to the Defence Forces. I make no apologies for equipping members of the Defence Forces with the very best equipment.”