Newly purchased navy ship won’t be deployed until staff numbers increase

Staffing issues mean Naval Service can deploy just two of eight vessels for patrols, with one left on standby

The operational deployment of one of the newly purchased naval ships from New Zealand is on hold until the Naval Service is able to recruit additional sailors.

LÉ Aoibhinn and LÉ Gobnait were purchased second hand from the New Zealand Government in 2022 before undergoing a refurbishment programme. The Aoibhinn was put to sea off Co Cork for the first time on Monday as part of its “initial operating capability” process.

According to the Naval Service, which will soon officially change its name to the Irish Navy, this process will allow the ship’s crew “to develop the skills and knowledge to safely operate a new type of ship in the Irish navy fleet”.

The 55-metre, 340-tonne vessels are significantly smaller than existing Irish naval ships, over half of which are tied up due to manpower shortages. The new ships will have a crew of 20 and will mainly operate in the Irish Sea. Unlike the larger Irish ships, they will not have a main gun.


Members of the New Zealand Naval Reserve are in Ireland assisting their Irish counterparts in familiarising themselves with the ships.

Once the initial operating capability process is complete, the Aoibhinn will go through a “full operational capability” process to ensure the ship “can complete the full range of military taskings required for it to commence Maritime Defence and Security Operations”, a Naval Service spokesman said. This is expected to happen later this year.

The timeline for beginning the deployment process for the Gobnait is less clear. It will only happen after the completion of the Aoibhinn’s full operational capability process. Deployment is subject to “continued and increased recruitment into the Naval Service and a stabilisation in personnel numbers serving”, the Naval Service said.

The current strength of the naval service is 722, far below its establishment strength of 1,094. Last year, 68 Naval Service personnel were recruited, but 95 left.

At an Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee hearing on Thursday, secretary general of the Department of Defence Jacqui McCrum said recruitment efforts, including raising pay and allowances, have started to yield “green shoots”.

In the first three months of the year, 31 personnel were recruited and just 14 left, she said.

However, the committee was told that staffing issues mean the Naval Service can currently deploy just two of its eight vessels for patrols, with one left on standby.

Ms McCrum confirmed to Sinn Féin’s Brian Stanley that there was a period in which it was only possible to send one ship on patrol, and she said the Department and Defence Forces were “very concerned about that”.

Independent TD Verona Murphy said Ireland’s reputation is being “rubbished” due the shrinking size of the Defence Forces, which is “haemorrhaging staff”.

As part of its recruitment effort, the Naval Service will dock LÉ William Butler Yeats at Sir John Rogerson’s Quay in Dublin on Saturday and Sunday. The ship will be open to the public and naval officers will be available to provide information on careers and education opportunities in the Naval Service.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times