Varadkar and Kehoe differ on reasons for docking Naval ships
‘The navy has been short staffed for quite some time. It’s a feature across the economy’
A file image of the LE Eithne: a letter sent by Cmdr Mick Malone to all Naval Service personnel claimed it and LE Orla would remain tied up until crew numbers improved. Photograph: Irish Defence Forces
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar appeared to contradict Minister of State Paul Kehoe’s insistence that two Naval Service ships were taken out of service last week for routine maintenance rather than crew shortages.
Speaking at Dublin Castle on Monday the Taoiseach said: “rather than spreading the crews over seven ships they are now going to fully staff and fully equip five, and the other two are going to maintenance.”
Mr Varadkar said: “I just had a briefing on that this morning. As you know, the navy has been short staffed for quite some time. . . Lots of people are finding it hard to get staff and the navy is one of those areas.”
The relevant naval officer who provided the briefing had, the Taoiseach said: “described it as ‘cutting the cloth to fit the measure’, that’s what’s going to be done.
When it was put to him this suggested Mr Kehoe had been inaccurate in the way he described the situation over the weekend, the Taoiseach replied: “I don’t think so. I think both put together, both are true.”
The reference to staff shortages in the navy appeared to contradict comments from the Minister of State with responsibility for Defence Mr Kehoe described media reports that the LE Eithne and the LE Orla were taken off patrol duty as a result of crew shortages as “inaccurate reporting”.
On Monday Mr Kehoe sought to clarify these comments, saying he had not been “let down” by the Taoiseach’s reference to staff shortages. “He’s [the Taoiseach} is right when he says that there are shortages.”
Mr Kehoe told RTÉ on Monday that he met the general staff of the navy last week and it was “made very clear that we are dealing with challenges, but both of these ships, LE Orla and LE Eithne, were in for routine maintenance.”
“By placing both ships in operational reserve capacity and routine maintenance the flag officer has given the naval service the ability to move personnel from these vessels to other ships,” Mr Kehoe said.
The Irish Times reported at the weekend Mr Kehoe said he had “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,” he said, when asked about crew shortages at a commissioning ceremony at Naval Base HQ at Haulbowline.
The report in The Irish Times was based on 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.