A joint civil-military meeting is due to take place today at the direction of Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe, which will focus on “Naval Service capability and operations” according to his department.
Mr Kehoe has asked his officials and military representatives to “fully explore all options to address the challenges in the Naval Service” at the end of a fortnight during which Mr Kehoe and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar differed initially over why three ships are tied up.
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.
These two ships, the LÉ Eithne and LÉ Orla, are still in “operational reserve”, according to the department, while the LÉ Roisín is tied up for a mid-term refit.
Government policy is to maintain a nine-ship fleet – the largest ever in defence wing’s history – and the department says the Naval Service has 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.
Ordering a new multi-role vessel to replace the flagship, LÉ Eithne is provided for in the Government’s White Paper on Defence as part of a commitment to “ongoing renewal and replacement of naval vessels”, the department says.
The new vessel is a “very significant project”, the department says, but it is still “at the planning stage”.
“Accordingly, no public procurement competition tender documentation has issued to the market at this stage,” the department says.
“ As a longer-term project, it will involve a number of years to completion,” it says.
Minister Kehoe “has a particular focus at present on restoring the Naval Service to full personnel strength”, the department says.
During a Dáíl debate last month (June 13th) on defence forces remuneration, Mr Kehoe said it was “important that we continue to invest in training and equipment” in the military.
During the debate, former Independent TD Mick Wallace referred to National Development Plan capital investment of 541 million euro in defence between 2018-2022 and accused Mr Kehoe of “throwing money at things like new ships for the Naval Service”
A 200 million euro multi-role vessel has “less to do with the Naval Service being able to fulfil its day-to-day duties and much more to do with trying to impress our European colleagues in the Mediterranean”, Mr Wallace said during the debate.
“The multi-role vessel will be capable of carrying a battalion of soldiers along with landing craft. It will also have freight capacity for military vehicles. What in God's name do we need that for? The Minister of State would be better off paying the Defence Forces personnel,” Mr Wallace continued.
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.
“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,” Mr Kehoe said last October.