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Naval Service missed 31 scheduled patrol days in past year because of lack of staff

Tánaiste insists other countries are experiencing same recruitment difficulties

The Naval Service missed 31 scheduled patrol days in the past year because of a shortage of personnel.

Operations were reconfigured last August to have two ships on patrol and another on standby as a means of dealing with staffing difficulties. Yet problems persist in having sufficient crews to patrol, with only one ship available on numerous occasions.

Recruitment and retention of personnel has been a major challenge across the Defence Forces, but most visible in the Naval Service which a decade ago had eight vessels in operation. It currently has extra difficulty in filling specialist positions.

Tánaiste and Minister for Defence Micheál Martin has stressed that with such shortages “we are no different to other international militaries who, in a competitive labour market, are also experiencing similar difficulties”.


Last year 68 personnel joined the service, but the level of crisis was demonstrated last month when just one ship was active. It was unavailable to participate in a large drugs search off the west Cork coast because it was taking part in St Patrick’s Day festivities in Dún Laoghaire.

Mr Martin confirmed in the Dáil that 31 days of scheduled patrols were cancelled in the last 12 months due to staffing issues. “There have been no patrol days cancelled since the change in operational posture in August 2023,” he said.

Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould described the 31 days of cancellations as “quite shocking”, and said with reconfiguration “the Government is not cancelling patrols because it is not doing the patrols that should be done”.

He added that “to have only two ships on the water sends a message to people who want to illegally fish and to drug barons who use Ireland as a place to land major supplies of drugs”, echoing concerns about the increasing use of Ireland’s coastline to smuggle drugs into Europe.

The Tánaiste said, however, that deterrence was through “intelligence and proper co-ordination among various countries and agencies”, as he referred to the largest drugs seizure in the State’s history last month when €33 million in crystal meth was found on board a ship.

As part of efforts to retain staff the mandatory retirement age has been increased to 60 and maximum recruitment age to 39. A specialist agency has been appointed to recruit globally for certain key Naval Service roles and the patrol duty allowance has been doubled after 10 days at sea from a minimum of €64.27 to €128.54. Salary improvements have also been made, with starting pay of €38,016 for the rank of private or able seaman; €47,245 for graduate and €41,962 for school-leaver cadets.

Meanwhile more than 120 Defence Forces personnel will return to Ireland on Friday following a six-month deployment in Syria. The troops, from the 68th Infantry Group, were part of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) and are the last Defence Forces personnel to deploy as part of this peacekeeping mission after 10 years of service in the area.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times