The Irish Times view on the Naval Service: a grubby exercise

Paul Kehoe owes apologies to senior figures in the Defence Forces

Minister of State with special responsibility for Defence Paul Kehoe owes apologies to the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Mark Mellet, and to the flag officer of the Naval Service, Comdr Mick Malone, because of denials that the withdrawal of Naval vessels from service were caused by staff shortages. During this political solo run, the Chief of Staff was drawn into political controversy; the Naval Service Comdr was publicly contradicted and the media was accused of "inaccurate reporting".

Fianna Fáil has charged Kehoe with engaging in "spin and deflection" while its spokesman on defence, Jack Chambers, will raise the issues in the Dáil this week.

Aware of the potential for causing further aggravation to Defence Forces personnel – already unhappy because pay claims have not been addressed – Taoiseach and Minister for Defence Leo Varadkar cut his floundering colleague loose. Briefed on the situation, the Taoiseach confirmed that a shortage of personnel meant that available crew would be allocated to a smaller number of ships. The LÉ Eithne and the LÉ Orla would go into maintenance.

The production by politicians of "alternative facts" undermines trust and damages democracy. The practice, regarded with alarm and dismay during the Brexit campaign and at White House briefings, became a regular feature of political discourse. But not here. Not yet. At some stage in their careers, most Irish politicians dissemble under pressure. But accusing the media of "fake news" and producing "alternative facts" is a new and unwelcome development.

The loss of 540 staff over five years, coupled with reductions in allowances and cuts in basic pay, has placed great stress on the Naval Service. Following a review of manpower, it was decided to remove two of its nine ships from active service.

When this development was reported, quoting from a document circulated by Comdr Malone, it was repeatedly denied by Kehoe who insisted no ships were tied up because of manpower issues. It was a grubby exercise.