Naval Service gets first female patrol ship commander


THE NAVAL Service is due to appoint the first female commander of a patrol ship in the history of the State.

Lieut Cdr Roberta O'Brien, from the Glen of Aherlow, Co Tipperary, will take command of the LE Aisling at a changeover ceremony in early November.

She is currently serving ashore at Naval headquarters in Haulbowline, Cork, where 17 men and two women graduated as ordinary seamen at a passing-out parade yesterday.

Lieut Cdr O'Brien, who is in her early 30s, was commissioned in 1997 as one of the first two female cadets, along with Dubliner Orlaith O'Farrell. Both subsequently graduated from NUI Galway in 2000, having completed a general science degree as part of their training.

Ms O'Brien joined the Naval Service after leaving school and holds a county championship medal in camogie. She cited her interest in sport as one of the main reasons for applying to join the Defence Forces.

She served as navigator on board one of the Naval Service's most ambitious overseas voyages - the three-month 25,000-nautical mile voyage by the LE Niamh to Asia in spring 2002.

The first female command comes just four years after Britain's Royal Navy appointed its first woman to take charge of a ship. Lieut Charlotte Atkinson was approved as commanding officer of the HMS Brecon in 2004.

The British Women's Royal Naval Service was formed during the first World War, disbanded, and reformed during the second World War. Its members were only permitted to serve at sea from 1990, a decision which prompted demonstrations by naval wives.

Earlier this week, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan announced that a plan to purchase three ships to replace existing vessels was being delayed.

The Department of Defence confirmed yesterday that the tender procedure for the vessels had already been initiated, but this was subject to final funding approval next year.

The new vessels are intended to replace the LE Aisling, LE Emer and LE Aoife, which have a 30-year lifespan. The department said that it was inevitable that this lifespan would have to be extended.