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The LÉ Róisín returning to Cork Harbour.
retention crisis

Irish Navy to use crew from tied-up ship to fill gaps while Ireland partakes in Med mission

The LÉ William Butler Yeats is set to sail to participate in Operation Irini, an EU mission to prevent arms smuggling into war torn Libya.

THE IRISH NAVY is to use the crew from one of their tied-up ships to fill the staffing gaps on two ships so they can keep patrols going as a vessel is dispatched to the Mediterranean.

The LÉ William Butler Yeats is set to sail to participate in Operation Irini, an EU mission to prevent arms smuggling into war torn Libya, in six weeks. 

Sources have told The Journal that the staffing levels are so grave in the naval base in Haulbowline, Co Cork that the crew of the LÉ James Joyce will be placed onboard the LÉ George Bernard Shaw and LÉ Samuel Beckett to maintain patrols.

The Joyce is currently undergoing refurbishment work and it is understood from those sources that the plan is to delay the ship’s return to service so its crew can help keep the Shaw and the Beckett at sea. 

This will leave the navy with just two ships to patrol Irish waters. 

Sources have said that the Naval Service has been making difficult decisions to maintain the fleet – balancing the deployment of ships against its level of staffing. 

cobh-cork-ireland-04th-june-2022-cruise-ship-amadea-enters-cork-harbour-at-roches-point-behind-the-haulbowline-naval-base-as-seen-from-cobh-cork-ireland-credit-david-creedon-alamy-live-ne Naval ships tied up inside the naval base basin on haulbowline as the cruise ship Amadea passes Roches Point, Cork Harbour. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The most up to date Naval Service strength, revealed earlier this month, was 744 personnel -  falling well short of the required membership of 1,094.

In January, The Journal revealed that two ships, the LE Róisín and LE Niamh, were to be tied up due to the crippling staffing retention and recruitment crisis in the Defence Forces.

Sources have said that the deployment under Operation Irini has been welcomed by crews. 

It is understood that there will be a slight increase in pay for the members involved as they will be paid a special allowance as it is an EU mission.

Operation Irini is a European naval operation headquartered in Rome – it is tasked with managing the flow of arms into the war torn north African country.

In 2014, Libya split in two as rival administrations, based in the east and the west of the country, battled each other for supremacy. 

Much of the recent fighting has been centred around the city of Tripoli and involves a diverse number of militias and rebel groups.

The fall of the Gaddafi regime in 2011 has led to a number of civil wars. 

In an attempt to combat this problem and bring stability to the region, the EU and UN initiated Operation Irini.

A small team of Irish Defence Forces personnel are already working in Rome on the mission – drawn from the naval service and Air Corps. 

Recently, The Journal visited them and spoke to them about their work which is centred around intelligence work and putting together operations to search ships.

Dáil Debate

The recent Dáil debate saw some opposition TDs raising issues around whether the Irish would be working with the libyan Coastguard. 

Speaking in the Dáil, TD Gary Gannon that the Libyan organisation had been accused of human rights breaches. 

Tánaiste and Minister for Defence Micheál Martin had said that it is “not intended” that Naval Service personnel will engage with the organisation when deployed to Operation Irini.

Sources have said that Operation Irini is operating in an area in which the migrant boats are not crossing. 

Those sources explained that aircraft are used to monitor the western part of Libya while ships are employed off the eastern coast. 

The Department of Defence confirmed the limiting of naval service vessels to facilitate Operation Irini.

“In advance of this approval, Military Management examined the anticipated impact on operational capability at home of maintaining a naval vessel in the Mediterranean.   

“The Defence Forces advise that the Naval Service patrol plan can accommodate the deployment to Operation Irini. 

“The Naval Service have confirmed that they will maintain a patrol plan which will have two ships on domestic patrols for 61 per cent of the deployment period and one ship for the remaining 39 per cent of the time,” the department said.

The Department spokesperson explained that the Government “recognises the operational challenges of having only 1-2 vessels available for domestic duties”.

But said that the deployment would have a “potential benefits of participation in this mission to the recruitment and retention crisis”. 

“Participation in this mission has been identified by the Naval Service as one of the immediate actions that could potentially assist in aiding their recruitment and retention efforts,” the spokesperson said. 

A Defence Forces spokesperson said: “The Defence Forces does not comment on operational matters or deployments of naval assets for security reasons.”

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