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Defence officials recommended scrapping LÉ Eithne to avoid repeat of ‘LÉ Aisling situation’ involving warlord

Ex-Naval Service ship LÉ Aisling had ended up in the hands of a Libyan warlord following sale at public auction

Defence officials advised that the former flagship of the Naval Service be scrapped amid fears of a repeat of the “LÉ Aisling situation”, when an ex-Naval Service ship ended up in the hands of a Libyan warlord.

The LÉ Eithne, which was decommissioned in 2022, was the last Irish naval vessel to be constructed in Ireland and was the fleet’s flagship.

Internal briefing documents on the vessel’s fate, drawn up for Tánaiste and Minister for Defence Micheál Martin, show officials argued against its sale at auction in light of what had transpired with the LÉ Aisling, warning it was “entirely possible” it could happen again.

The LÉ Aisling was sold by public auction for €110,000 in March 2017 to a Dutch shipbroker, which sold it a year later to a company in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for €473,000, which in turn almost immediately sold it to a company in Libya for €1.3 million.


The vessel, which was stripped of its weapons before being sold by Ireland, was the subject of a report by the United Nations Panel of Experts on Libya which found that the vessel had been disposed of to a Libyan “warlord”, Khalifa Haftar, which represented a breach of a UN arms embargo by the UAE company.

Once the vessel’s new role was reported, the Department of Defence argued it had no “trailing obligations” in relation to the former Naval Service ship, and that the resale of the ship was a matter for its purchaser.

However, the briefing note for Mr Martin makes clear that the controversy left a lasting impression on officials, who wrote: “You will recall the resulting adverse press coverage and criticism of how the Government handled the sale of the ship. There was also oral and written PQs [parliamentary questions] on the sale.”

They recommended that the Eithne, and two other vessels being decommissioned, not be sold at auction as “the State has no control … as to who will end up with the ship”.

“This would avoid a repeat of the LÉ Aisling situation,” they told the Tánaiste, adding that a repeat was “entirely possible”. The decision was ultimately taken to recycle the ship in an environmentally sound manner.

The advice was also against donating the vessel to a museum without necessary resources in place to provide for its upkeep, with “significant costs” possible in the future. “This is to avoid a situation where in the event of a mishap, the State is called upon to sort the mishap out, with the related negative fallout on the department,” officials said.

The documents show that despite several approaches from Cork County Council, Cork City Council, Limerick City and County Council and Dublin Port to use it as an attraction or maritime museum, all parties eventually withdrew – with Limerick CCC not replying to a request to submit a plan for the ship.

The document, released under the Freedom of Information Act, also shows consideration was given to sinking the ship as a diving attraction – and that the department was in contact with Bofors, the manufacturer of the ship’s 57mm gun, about selling it back to the firm due to its historical value as “the only gun of this type still in working condition”.

Officials noted that the Comptroller and Auditor General had advised that State assets should be disposed of via a sales process or auction, with the “asset register value” of the LÉ Eithne some €1.6 million. However, they warned that the market value would be “significantly below” this due to its poor condition.

The practice is for serviceable equipment other than weapons and ammunition to be disposed of to ensure best value for money, the officials said, but warned of the consequences due to what had happened to the LÉ Aisling.

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Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times