Government denies split as Kehoe faces anger of Naval Service
Defence Forces insists two ships docked due to lack of staff while Minister cites maintenance
Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe said there would be ‘huge challenges’ with staffing in the Naval Service throughout the year. Photograph: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie
The Government is insisting there is no division between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe on the issue of naval ships being docked, despite apparently differing statements between the pair.
Mr Kehoe has insisted two Naval Service vessels are docked for maintenance and not because the service does not have the personnel to man them.
This followed statements from those within the Defence Forces that cited staff shortages for the decision to dock the LÉ Eithne and the LÉ Orla.
Referring to the assertions of staffing shortages and the need for repairs, Mr Varadkar said: “Put both together, they are both true”.
He said the Defence Forces was “cutting its cloth to suit the measure”.
A spokesman for Mr Kehoe said it was the Minister’s position that there were staffing shortages in the Defence Forces, but that such shortages were not the cause of the ships being taken out of service last week.
He also insisted there was no difference between Mr Varadkar and Mr Kehoe.
Speaking after the Taoiseach, Mr Kehoe said he was “not being let down by Leo Varadkar”, and said he had been told by the Defence Forces “that these two ships were in for routine maintenance”.
“The strength of the navy is below strength at the moment,” he told RTÉ. “It is on 88 per cent. I have always stated, and I am being totally honest and upfront over the last number of months, that the Naval Service does have issues in around of personnel.”
The Wexford TD said there would be “huge challenges” with staffing throughout the year.
A spokeswoman for the Taoiseach later said: “The Irish Naval Service has nine vessels; one of which is in refit and two are going into maintenance. Crew will be redeployed from these vessels so six vessels will be fully crewed. It is never the case that all nine vessels would be at sea at the same time.
“As both the Taoiseach and Minister Kehoe have pointed out, the staff shortages in the Naval Service are well recognised; that is one of the reasons the Government announced a €10 million package for our Defence Forces last week.”
Military sources said Mr Kehoe’s assertion that the ships were withdrawn for routine maintenance had been met by widespread anger across the Defence Forces, particularly among Naval Service personnel. “He has thrown [Navy Flag Officer Cmdr Michael] Malone under the bus. He has basically implied he’s a liar. And he knows Malone or [Vice-Admiral Mark] Mellett can’t answer back,” a senior Naval officer said on Monday.
Mr Kehoe “is not the man for the job”, another military source said.
“In the past criticism for Paul Kehoe was exclusively of his performance. But now there’s a question mark over his character as well as his competence, which is a far more serious thing.
“You expect that your superiors would behave with integrity at all times. So when the person in charge is deliberately trying to blame his military who he knows cannot really contest it in the public domain . . . he’s going into a boxing ring and punching someone who is blindfolded and has their hands tied behind their back.”
Mr Kehoe was attacking the integrity of Cmdr Malone, and using Vice-Admiral Mellett “to back up his ridiculous position”, he said.
“It’s an insult to the people in the Naval Service who know what is going on. It’s rubbing salt in people’s wounds. He’s effectively blaming the flag officer for spreading false information. It’s Donald Trump, fake news stuff.”
“Fine Gael has lost the military vote completely,” he said. “Fine Gael is supposed to be the party for people who get up early in the morning. Nobody gets up earlier than a soldier or sailor.”