Defence Forces' capabilities 'not good enough for a sovereign state,' says TD

Independent TD and former Army Ranger Dr Cathal Berry's comments come after three Russian-registered ships were spotted off the west coast
Defence Forces' capabilities 'not good enough for a sovereign state,' says TD

Vivienne Clarke

The Defence Forces' lack of capability to shadow Russian ships off the Irish coast is “simply not good enough for a sovereign state,” according to Independent TD for Kildare South and former Army Ranger, Dr Cathal Berry.

His comments come after images were shared of Russian-registered ships spotted off the Irish coast over the past week.

The three ships – the Umka, the Bakhtemir and the Fortuna – caused alarm among defence officials when they were spotted engaging in unusual manoeuvres off the coast of Galway, in the vicinity of a new subsea communications cable. It is understood that the vessels were equipped with technology capable of interfering with subsea cables.

“This is the big issue really, that Ireland has very little capability to counter what's happening off our west coast,” Dr Berry told Newstalk Breakfast.

“We couldn't even put a naval ship out there over the weekend because of the current problem in Haulbowline in Cork.

“Normal practice is if you have a sensitive convoy moving through your economic waters, you would put out at least one of your naval ships to shadow that convoy.

“Unfortunately, Ireland had no capability - from a crewing shortage point of view - to deploy a ship, so we had to rely on the Air Corps.

“They can put up an aircraft for a number of hours at a time and monitor the situation, but there's no substitute for having a naval ship on station.”

After the aircraft was deployed by the Air Corps, the Defence Forces released a statement on Sunday confirming the vessels had left the State's exclusive economic zone.

However, Dr Berry said the matter also highlights the State's unique position of having no sonar capability.

“Ireland has absolutely no sovereign underwater capability whatsoever. Not only can we not intervene in relation to what's happening below the waves, but we can't even see below the waves.

“We don't have any vessels with a sonar capability, which makes us unique in the European Union.

“We're an island nation, we have a responsibility for over 15 per cent of EU waters. It's just completely unacceptable that three commercial Russian vessels, in a time of war, can move down the west coast of our country and loiter in and around our territorial waters.

“They were no more than 13 nautical miles off the coast of Kerry, and that's simply just not good enough for a sovereign state,” Dr Berry said.

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