Replacing navy ships with two smaller vessels ‘significant reduction in capability’

Two inshore patrol vessels purchased from New Zealand government to arrive next year

Replacing two Irish Naval Service ships with smaller inshore patrol vessels recently bought from the New Zealand Government represents a “significant reduction in capability” for the Defence Forces, a retired senior Naval Service captain has said.

Retired Captain David Barry, who served in several senior positions in the Naval Service over 40 years, said the new ships would be limited in what they could do.

Writing in a journal published by the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (Raco), he said the ships bought from New Zealand “will be the smallest commissioned vessels” operated by the Naval Service since its foundation.

Earlier this month the Naval Service decommissioned a third of its fleet, the Le Eithne, Le Orla and Le Ciara, which had a combined service of more than 100 years.


The two inshore patrol vessels are planned to replace the Le Orla and Le Ciara, while the Department of Defence is working to buy a multi-role vessel to replace the 80m flagship the Le Eithne.

The Government announced the purchase of the two second hand ships from the New Zealand Government in March for €26 million. The two ships are due to be delivered to Ireland next year. The ships will require fewer crew and will likely focus on carrying out patrols in the Irish Sea and along the east and southeast coast.

Mr Barry said there had been “a robust political debate in New Zealand about whether they were being withdrawn from service due to personnel shortages or their operational limitations”.

“While any new ships are welcome, replacing current ships with others that can only deploy in more limited areas, or for more limited times, or in more limited weather or to carry out more limited tasks is accepting a significant reduction in capability,” he said.

A ship that was “confined” to harbour by poor weather had “virtually zero capability”, but still had to have people staffing it, he said.

The difficulty in recent years in maintaining the strength of the Naval Service due to personnel leaving, meant its operation had become “dysfunctional”, he wrote.

Attracting and then retaining skilled personnel was the biggest challenge facing both the Naval Service and the wider Defence Forces, he said.

The journal article said part of the reason personnel were leaving the Naval Service was that being out at sea for long periods was “an antisocial activity” which impacted on family life.

It was sustainable if compensation, such as pay, job security and job satisfaction, was acceptable, he said. “When the Navy finds it cannot offer a reasonably acceptable lifestyle to its people, they will depart. That in turn exacerbates the problem in lifestyle for those remaining,” he said.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times