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Taoiseach has ‘absolute confidence’ in Kehoe after navy ship claims

Kehoe became embroiled in confusion over the weekend when he said two vessels were docked for maintenance reasons and not for staff shortages.

Minister of State Paul Kehoe found himself embroiled in controversy over navy ships being taken out of operation.
Minister of State Paul Kehoe found himself embroiled in controversy over navy ships being taken out of operation.
Image: Leah Farrell

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said he has “absolute confidence” in his junior minister Paul Kehoe after a controversy involving three navy ships being withdrawn from service. 

Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe became embroiled in confusion over the weekend when he said two vessels were docked for maintenance reasons and not for staff shortages. 

Members of the Defence Forces had previously said the vessels were docked because they did not have enough staff to operate the ships. 

However, speaking to reporters, Varadkar appeared to contradict Kehoe stating that “rather than spreading the crews over seven ships they are now going to fully staff and fully equip five, and the other two are going to maintenance”.

The Taoiseach added that “with current staffing levels it is unlikely they can be brought back into service”.

Then yesterday, Varadkar acknowledged that three Irish naval vessels are in operational reserve or undergoing maintenance.

Matters moved on again today when The Irish Examiner reported that two decorated former senior Naval Service officers, former Commander Eugene Ryan and former Captain James Robinson, had called on Kehoe to resign.

In response to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin asking if he had confidence in Kehoe, Varadkar said: 

I have absolute, total and full confidence in Deputy Kehoe as Minister with Responsibility for Defence. He has held the post for seven years, initially as Minister of State and more recently as Minister with Responsibility for Defence. Nobody in this House knows more about military matters or understands defence given his seven years experience.

Martin said the Taoiseach “tried to rescue the Minister of State and sounded a bit like President Trump when he said that two opposites were actually the same thing”.

“The Taoiseach said that rather than spreading the crews over seven ships they were going to fully staff and equip five.”

Martin said what Kehoe said about the maintenance of the ships was “inaccurate reporting”. 

He added: 

I understand he was quite adamant with the media and trenchantly argued this. Commodore Malone was very clear in his letter when he said: ‘I have taken the decision the Naval Service now needs to cut our cloth to measure and take an operational pause to allow us to consolidate and regenerate.’
The Minister of State’s behaviour has angered the Naval community.

Martin said the army and the Naval Service had “lost all confidence” in Kehoe. 

“The military now question his competence,” Martin added.

Varadkar told the Dáil today that under Kehoe’s stewardship, much reform had taken place to tackle various problems. 

“Everyone in Government, including the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, acknowledges that we have a real and severe challenge on recruitment and retention in our Defence Forces. It is not unique to the Defence Forces. At a time of full employment when there are so many opportunities in the private sector, many parts of the public sector struggles to recruit, as are many parts of the private sector,” he added.

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