Minister denies Naval Service ships sidelined due to staff shortage

LE Eithne and LE Orla out of service for routine maintenance, says Paul Kehoe

Two Naval Service ships were taken out of service last week for routine maintenance and not because of crew shortages, Minister of State with special responsibility for Defence Paul Kehoe has insisted.

Media reports last week, including a report in The Irish Times, that the LE Eithne and the LE Orla were taken off patrol duty due to crew shortages were “inaccurate reporting”, he declared.

"I got a very extensive briefing from the flag officer commanding the Naval Service, Cmdr Mick Malone, this morning and there are no ships currently tied up because of manpower issues.

"There are ships tied up because of routine maintenance and that was inaccurate reporting last week," said Mr Kehoe when asked about crew shortages at a commissioning ceremony at Naval Base HQ at Haulbowline.

However, the report in The Irish Times was based upon a letter sent by Cmdr Malone to all Naval Service personnel, where he said the LE Eithne and the LE Orla would remain tied up until crew numbers improve.

‘Extraordinary burden’

The loss of 540 crew over the past five years had placed an “extraordinary burden on those who have remained” with the service operating its ships since September at reduced manning levels, it went on.

The decision followed a review, including conversations with crew who had told him about the pressure they now face operating nine ships with “an establishment for 6½”.

“Therefore I have taken the decision the Naval Service now needs to cut our cloth to measure and take an operational pause to allow us to consolidate and regenerate,” said Cmdr Malone in the letter.

“This will be achieved by placing two ships, the LE Eithne and the LE Orla, in an operational reserve capacity until adequate numbers of sufficiently qualified and experienced personnel are available.”

Asset ‘consolidation’

The Defence Forces press office also confirmed in a statement to a number of media outlets at the time that the decision to tie up the LE Eithne and the LE Orla was due to crew shortages.

“The flag officer commanding the Naval Service is currently managing the consolidation of Naval Service assets,” said the press office in its statement.

“This is due to ongoing personnel challenges and to Óglaigh na hÉireann’s commitment to valuing our personnel, their welfare and safety.

“Military authorities continue to examine all recommendations and options with the aim of maximising the effectiveness of the maritime defence and security operations carried out by the Naval Service.”

Resources would be consolidated and redistributed by the Naval Service to ensure that it could “to robustly man its assets”, adding that all ships remained as fully commissioned equipment.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times