Taoiseach has ‘full confidence’ in Kehoe after navy service claims

Varadkar defends Kehoe as FF leader claims military had ‘lost all confidence’ in him

Minster of State for Defence Paul Kehoe. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

Minster of State for Defence Paul Kehoe. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told the Dáil he has “absolute, total and full confidence” in Minster of State for Defence Paul Kehoe in the ongoing controversy about the Naval Service.

“There is nobody in this House who knows more about defence given that he has seven years’ experience,” Mr Varadkar said when questioned by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

Mr Martin said the Army and the Naval Service had “lost all confidence” in Mr Kehoe as he asked the Taoiseach if he had confidence in his Minister of State.

“The military now question his competence,” Mr Martin added. He said the Minister had directly contradicted Commander of the Naval Service Commodore Michael Malone who made the decision to keep two vessels in dock because of the lack of staff to operate them.

Mr Kehoe was “trenchant” in his remarks to the media that the vessels were in for maintenance, not staff shortages and the Taoiseach then attempted to rescue the Minister, Mr Martin said.

“You sounded a bit like President Trump trying to say that two opposites meant the same thing,” in reference to Mr Varadkar’s comments about both maintenance and staffing levels were involved in the vessels being confined to dock.

The Cork South-Central TD added that on Wednesday there were just three Naval Service ships at sea and for an island nation the Naval Service staffing was “sub-optimal”.

The Taoiseach said Mr Kehoe’s comments were based on a briefing he received at naval headquarters in Haulbowline, in Cork, which senior Naval Service officers also attended.

Defending the Minister the Taoiseach said that during Mr Kehoe’s tenure there had been major investment in ships, equipment, on the development of barracks and on recruitment, which had previously been suspended.

He added that military personnel were serving in a number of missions abroad.

The Taoiseach said that recruitment was an issue across the entire public sector and in the private sector because the economy was doing well.

He pointed to the restoration of full pay before the end of next year, for everyone earning less than €70,000. There was €10 million on the table to increase military allowances and they were reviewing pay levels for military specialists in high demand across the public and private sector.