The State will send a fourth Naval Service ship to help rescue refugees in the Mediterranean later in the year irrespective of what parties are in government after the general election, Minister for Defence Simon Coveney has said.
“I suspect that, regardless of who is in government after the next election, we will be sending another ship to the Mediterranean in springtime.
“I don’t think this is party political and I think we are going to see more Naval Service involvement in these types of humanitarian operations.”
Mr Coveney was speaking at Cork County Council, where Mayor of Cork County Cllr John Paul O'Shea hosted a civic reception for Naval Service personnel.
Three Naval Service ships, the LÉ Eithne, the LÉ Niamh and the LÉ Samuel Beckett, rescued 8,631 refugees from the Mediterranean last year.
Mr Coveney said that sending Naval Service ships to the Mediterranean to assist with humanitarian rescue operations was a “big ask”, but the men and women of the Naval Service had responded superbly and acquitted themselves in exemplary fashion.
“When you consider the significance of this year 2016, 100 years after we had revolution on our streets, we now have probably the best record of any country on the planet for peacekeeping.
“It’s a fact that no other country in the world has unbroken peacekeeping as long as we have. That’s a transition we should be very proud of.
"One of the things I really wanted to do as a Minister was to ensure that the Naval Service and the Air Corps got involved in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions . . . and this was a really good opportunity [for] that."
Cllr John Paul O'Shea said that he was delighted to accord the council's highest honour, a civic reception, to the men and women who served on the three ships, as they had done both Cork and Ireland proud.
“The reality was that people were drowning on a daily basis in the most inhumane of circumstances . . . we can all only imagine what you endured and witnessed during that time . . . but because of your efforts, 8,631 people are alive today,” he said.
“You fulfilled every element of this mission to the highest standard and you have made Ireland proud.
“You have shown to the world the humanitarian and goodwilled nature that Ireland has - it is no surprise Ireland received such high praise from the UN after rescuing so many people.”
Captain of the LÉ Eithne, Commander Pearse O’Donnell, thanked Cork County Council for the honour.
He also expressed the gratitude of his fellow captains, Lt Commander Danny Wall of the LÉ Niamh and Lt Commander Tony Geraghty of the LÉ Samuel Beckett, who were both on fishery patrol.
“We came upon people in totally unseaworthy craft and we were in no doubt that their lives were in distress . . . if we were not there, or people like us were not there, those people would not have survived.
“We rescued them and treated them with the utmost respect.”
The commander paid tribute to the Defences Forces for their support, and he also thanked all those who had sent messages of support during the missions.