Naval Service should take part in UN and EU missions, ex-officers’ group says

Government’s defence Green Paper criticised for being ‘land-centred’

Irish Naval Service patrol ships should participate in UN- and EU-sponsored “international maritime security” missions, according to the Irish Maritime Forum.

The State’s fleet should also be expanded to match the size of New Zealand’s navy, given that Ireland’s maritime zone has expanded from 410,000sq km to 1 million sq km – more than 12 times the island’s land area, the forum says in a submission to Government.

The forum, comprising former naval officers and mariners, says the Government’s defence White Paper should redress the imbalance between the Army and Naval Service to reflect the fact that 92 per cent of Ireland is “under water” with “several trillion euro” in natural resource assets, ranging from hydocarbons to fish to wind and wave energy.

Commenting on the recently-published Green Paper on defence, the forum says it is “depressingly clear” that “land-centred thinking is dominant” in its drafting.


The forum says the Naval Service area of operations has “grown exponentially” since the publication of the Government’s last White Paper on defence in 2000.

Fish catch
"Ireland's fisheries and sovereign maritime zone are more than 12 times the land area of Ireland," it says, and it quotes a Marine Institute estimate of total available fish catch off Ireland valued at €1.18 billion.

“As our fisheries are a shared resource with our EU partners there is the potential for conflict between fishermen competing for dwindling resources. Indeed, Irish fishermen’s organisations contend that Ireland’s take from this shared resource is a mere €0.19 billion, leaving the remaining almost €1 billion worth of fish to be harvested by our European partners,” it says.

The “potential for conflict” is also a factor as offshore hydrocarbon assets are exploited, the forum states. It quotes a Department of Energy estimate that the Atlantic margin has the potential to yield €10 billion in oil and gas. Climate change is also an issue, it says.

UN missions
It notes the success of Irish policy in supporting UN military missions, but says that there has been no deployment, despite requests, of Naval assets to such missions.

“Such a commitment, which would normally be short-term, would confirm Ireland’s recognition of its international obligations as a maritime nation by helping to keep open sea lines of communication, ensuring supply chain security,” it says.

It notes that the Naval Service has no mine hunting or sweeping capacity and no submarine detection ability. However, the two new €49 million ships on order from Britain will be capable of handling drones or “unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles” and robotic submersibles.

Among the forum’s recommendations are a renaming of the service to the “Irish Navy”, and senior and continuous naval representation on State working groups preparing the White Paper.

The forum compares New Zealand’s tally of 11 naval ships with Ireland’s eight, and New Zealand’s 1,910 regular personnel and 331 reservists with the 1,000 personnel in the Irish Naval Service.

New Zealand is not responsible, as Ireland is, for controlling “a significant portion of the Atlantic approaches to Europe”, the forum notes.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times