Irish Naval Service 'living on borrowed time' as 200 personnel have left in the last two years

Figures released by the Department of Defence show that as of December 31st last year, current personnel numbers in the Service stand at 876.
Irish Naval Service 'living on borrowed time' as 200 personnel have left in the last two years

Sarah Slater

More than 200 personnel have left the Irish Naval Service in the last two years.

Figures released by the Department of Defence show that as of December 31st last year, current personnel numbers in the Service stand at 876.

A minimum strength of personnel for the Service is recommended to be a minimum of 1,094 fully-trained personnel.

The Naval Service is the maritime component of the Defence Forces and is one of the three branches. Its base is in Haulbowline, Co Cork.

Though preceded by earlier maritime defence organisations, the Naval Service was formed in 1946. Since the 1970s a major role of the Naval Service has been the provision of fisheries protection in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Other roles include sea patrol, surveillance, and smuggling prevention. Occasionally the service undertakes longer missions in support of other elements of the Defence Forces, Irish peacekeepers serving with the United Nations, or humanitarian and trade missions.

A Department of Defence spokesperson refused to be drawn on how many personnel are currently on leave and that they did not have “information available” on what the largest number of personnel in the navy ever was.

The spokesperson said: “The Navy does not comment on the disposition of personnel for operational security reasons.”

When questioned about the recommended number of personnel the spokesperson added that the “establishment figure has varied since the foundation of the navy.”

The Department also revealed that there are nine naval ships in the service, but only six are operational while each ship is meant to carry out close to 160 days of patrol annually.

“Six are in operation, two in operational reserve and one in a midlife extension programme (MLEP),” the spokesperson revealed.

In 2019, the head of the Naval Service announced two ships, including the flagship LÉ Eithne, were being put into operational reserve until personnel could be found to adequately man them.

In the same year it was revealed that the Naval Service was operating with about a third of the required number of personnel needed to safely maintain its weapons.

There were only three armourers, but between nine and 12 is needed to service and maintain the heavy weapons aboard the fleet’s nine vessels.

'Living on borrowed time'

The Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (RACO) has said the Naval Service is “living on borrowed time”.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on defence Sorca Clarke criticised the dropping numbers of navy personnel as it is placing the safety of members at risk.

Deputy Clarke said: “It’s concerning to hear news of ships going to sea with skeleton crews of the bare minimum staff required in order to run the ships.

“This apparently has been the case for the last (number) of years with our six operational ships often having to cancel operations and patrols due to crew members being absent or sick.

“Our Naval Service is supposed to have a minimum number of 1,094 personnel serving at any one time. The emphasis there should be on the word ‘minimum’.

"This minimum is set to ensure that the crews won’t go down to a level where the safety, efficiency and functioning of the Naval Service is jeopardised.

Deputy Clare added: "High turnover rates are a problem throughout the Defence Forces which must be addressed. They are especially significant in the Naval Service but must be addressed right across the service branches."

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