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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: -1°C
Irish Defence Forces Irish Naval Service ships.

Two naval ships to be tied up as staffing crisis deepens in Irish Navy

News of the mothballing of the ships comes just a day before Minister for Defence Micheál Martin visits troops in Lebanon.

TWO MORE SHIPS are to be tied up at the Naval Base in Haulbowline as there are not enough sailors to man the vessels, The Journal has learned.

The Department of Defence (DOD) has confirmed that LE Róisín and LE Niamh will not go on patrol due to the crippling staffing retention and recruitment crisis in the Defence Forces.

The news comes just a day before Tánaiste and Minister for Defence and Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin visits Irish troops in Lebanon for the first time since he took over at the DOD.

Sources have said that the decision to mothball the ships was made last week at a high level meeting of defence civil servants and senior officers in the Defence Forces. 

Those sources also said that it is understood that the remaining members of the ships’ crews have yet to be told of the move.

Two new naval vessels are set to arrive from New Zealand in the coming months – it is not known if crews can be found to man those vessels. 

The tying up of the LÉ Roisin and the Niamh leaves four ships available to patrol. Their work includes inspections of fishing vessels, search and rescue and secretive drugs interdiction operations.  

The Department said that the continuing problem of staffing levels is to blame. 

“As a result of previously acknowledged recruitment and retention difficulties in the Naval Service, in particular for specialist positions, the Naval Service has concluded that the LE Roisin should be placed into operational reserve with effect from 31 January 2023 and that the LE Niamh should be placed into operational reserve on completion of its mid-life refit later this year.

“The withdrawal of the LE Roisin, together with the mid-life re-fit of LE Niamh, means that, with effect from 01 February 2023, the Naval Service will have four operational vessels,” the department said. 

In a substantial statement the DOD explained in detail the problems faced by the Naval Service.  

It said the decision to place both ships into “operational reserve” is aimed at “stabilising operational delivery and assisting in Naval Service regeneration”. 

This entails the “prioritisation of personnel training and development” of existing Naval Service members.

“The Naval Service is satisfied that, notwithstanding the withdrawal from operational duties of the LE Roisin, they will be able to fulfil their current maritime security and defence commitments including commitments provided for under the current Service Level Agreement (SLA) with the Sea Fisheries Protection Agency.

“The challenges around the issues of recruitment and retention have been identified for some time and a range of initiatives have been proposed and implemented with a view to addressing these challenges,” the DOD statement said. 

le-roisin-p-51-irish-naval-service-fisheries-protection-search-and-rescue-offshore-patrol-boat-baltimore-county-cork-ireland Alamy Stock Photo LÉ Roisin near Baltimore, west Cork. Alamy Stock Photo

Progress needed

The progress listed by the Department included rising pay rates and Military Service Allowance for junior ranks and cadets pay.

It also said a Sea-Going Service Commitment Scheme aimed at retaining experienced personnel and incentivising those personnel to undertake sea going duties was also initiated. 

The Department said a Naval Service Tax Credit, originally introduced in 2019 was recently extended for the 2023 tax year.

As previously reported by this website there is an ongoing problem with retaining the highly skilled position of engine room engineering staff with some leaving the service for well paid jobs in the cruise liner industry.

It has also been reported that a number of highly trained technicians had recently left the service together to take up posts in a factory in County Cork.

“Despite the introduction of these measures the recruitment and retention challenges persist.

“This is the case, in particular, for specialist positions in the Naval Service. It is the case that the current competitive jobs market is proving challenging across the elements of the public sector.

“The high standard of training provided by the Defence Forces makes its members ever more attractive to private sector employers,” the statement added. 

The Department said that “significant efforts” across a wide range of initiatives to reverse the trend of losing members. 

A spokesperson for the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (RACO) said that the blame for the crisis was in a lack of action in a number of key areas. 

“The tying up of a further two ships and moving to a four ship Navy is a direct consequence of an inability to attract and retain suitably qualified and experienced naval personnel.

“The only way we can make the Naval Service, and the wider Defence Forces an employer of choice once more is to tackle the glaring inadequacies in service conditions that exist.

“For the Navy, this means implementing the health and safety provisions of the Working Time Directive, fixing the inadequate pension arrangements which are a barrier to retention, and increasing the daily rate of patrol duty allowance to incentivise and reward seagoing operations.

“The Department of Defence and General Staff know that without these urgent measures, the organisation will continue to decline,” the spokesperson said.

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