Home > Dáil Éireann debate. Question 13, 49 – Naval service [13241/24, 13060/24].

[Oireachtas] Dáil Éireann debate. Question 13, 49 – Naval service [13241/24, 13060/24]. (21 Mar 2024)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/question/2024...

13. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Defence the number of sailings the Naval Service cancelled in the past 12 months due to staffing shortages. [13241/24]

Deputy Thomas Gould: Will the Tánaiste update the House on the number of sailings the Naval Service had to cancel the last 12 months due to staffing shortages?

Deputy Micheál Martin:  The Naval Service is the State's principal sea-going agency and is tasked with a variety of defence and other roles. The primary day-to-day tasking of the Naval Service is to provide a fishery protection service in accordance with the State's obligations as a member of the European Union. These patrols are carried out on a regular and frequent basis and are directed to all areas of Irish waters, as necessary.

The Naval Service has recently adopted a three-ship operational posture with two ships operational and another ship on stand-by. The decision to reduce the number of operational ships was made as a result of the previously acknowledged recruitment and retention difficulties in the Naval Service, in particular for specialist positions. This strategic decision has been taken to streamline operations, bolster existing capabilities and ensure optimal resource allocation in the Naval Service.

A total of 31 scheduled Naval Service patrol days have been cancelled in the last 12 months due to staffing issues. There have been no patrol days cancelled since the change in operational posture in August 2023

There is no easy fix to the current retention and recruitment challenges facing the Naval Service and the wider organisation, which are well documented, but the commitment, courage and excellence of our serving members is clear. This is part of our ongoing investment in our Defence Forces; in its people, infrastructure, capabilities and culture.

I was delighted to announce that the patrol duty allowance paid to Naval Service personnel will be doubled after ten days at sea. This measure took effect from 1 January 2024. I very much welcome this new measure, which provides greater clarity on the overall package available to our Naval Service personnel and potential recruits.

In addition to the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission on the Defence Forces, there are a number of initiatives currently under way to counter ongoing staffing challenges. As part of the Naval Service-specific recruitment campaign, there has been a Naval Service-specific advertising campaign. Ongoing general service recruitment, including for the Naval Service, remains open throughout the year. In 2023 a total of 68 personnel were inducted into the service. This comprised 57 general service recruits, five cadets, one re-enlisted personnel, one re-commissioned operations officer, one direct entry electrical engineering officer, one direct entry electrical artificer and two direct entry engine room artificers. In addition, proposals for direct entry competitions within the Naval Service have been progressed and implemented. In 2023 the Department engaged CPL Recruitment to provide external specialist recruitment expertise to validate and assess the Defence Forces current recruitment methods.

Deputy Thomas Gould:  Last month, the Irish Examiner reported that only one ship is currently available to patrol our 1 million sq. km exclusive economic zone. The newspaper also stated that a lack of expertise delayed the use of two smaller vessels, which arrived from New Zealand last May. These are unlikely to become operational until the winter, at the earliest. These two vessels cost €26 million. A decade ago, we had eight Naval Service ships patrolling a smaller area than we do today. We now have one, and as the Tánaiste said, possibly two, with a third on stand-by. To have 31 patrols cancelled last year is quite shocking. The Tánaiste has said that because of the reconfiguration there have been no cancellations this year. This reminds me of the housing targets. If the targets are so low, they will always be reached. Because of the reconfiguration, the Government is not cancelling patrols because it is not doing the patrols that should be done. In fairness, to have only two ships on the water sends a message to people who want to illegally fish and to drug barons who use Ireland as a place to land major supplies of drugs. Does the Tánaiste think they will be deterred by two ships? I do not think so.

Deputy Micheál Martin: They will be deterred by intelligence and proper co-ordination among various countries and agencies. This is what happened recently when a major intervention took place. The Defence Forces successfully landed on a ship and intervened to carry out the largest drugs seizure in the history of the State. Maritime surveillance is not solely carried out by Naval Service ships. We also have aircraft, namely, CN-235s and, now, C-295s. We are far greater aerial surveillance capability of our seas than we have ever had with these new C-295s that have been procured.

The issue of drug smuggling is an interagency matter. The operation I referred to earlier, which I commend everyone on, involved the Defence Forces, the Army Rangers, the navy and the Air Corps. It also involved working with An Garda Síochána, the Revenue Commissioners and other countries. This is how we catch the drug smugglers. The Revenue Commissioners are also involved in patrolling coastlines along with the navy and the Garda Síochána. That is the key way to deal with drug interdiction.

Deputy Thomas Gould: We have seen the Naval Service do some excellent work, considering the resources available to it. The service needs to be commended on the work it does. I was told recently by a person on the ground that a ship left port without the required manning levels and health and safety measures in place. I do not want to say who told me this but they firmly believed the ship should not have left port. Manning levels on ships are a critical issue now. This is coming from somebody on the ground. We have a crisis in the Naval Service. I acknowledge that some work has been done but we are nowhere near where we need to be. I welcome the €300 million being spent on the purchase of a new ship but we cannot man the ships we have at present. We are spending hundreds of millions of euro on new ships but do not have the naval personnel. This is a crisis and it needs to be dealt with as such.

Deputy Micheál Martin: There is no argument but that we have a recruitment crisis in the Naval Service. I am very clear on that. That is why we have taken a range of actions since I became Minister with responsibility for the Naval Service, including bringing in CPL to look at the recruitment processes.

Moreover, the navy has hired a specialist agency for the specialists required to man ships. We have doubled the patrol duty allowance. We have initiated other improvements, including starting pay, which is now much more comparable to other starting roles in the public service or even in the private sector. Cadets coming out of their leaving certificate who do 18 months are up to €41,000; if they come out of college and do 18 months, following commissioning they are earning €47,000. Therefore, the starting rates in the Defence Forces are very competitive now. That is not highlighted to the degree it should, perhaps. But overall we have an issue. That is why we enhanced the retirement ages in order that people can stay on until 60 years and eventually 62 years when the legislation is passed. That will all help retention. We have a major issue with recruitment. I am very focused on that issue and will continue to be.


Dáil Éireann debate. Question 49 – Naval service [13060/24].

49. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Defence the operational status of the Naval Service fleet, that is, its deployment readiness, staffing levels, the fitting out of recently acquired vessels from New Zealand; the details of the process for acquiring a multi-role vessel; the status of current recruitment plans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13060/24]

Tánaiste and Minister for Defence: I thank Deputy Farrell for raising these matters, across three main areas of Operations, Procurement and Recruitment/Retention.

Our Naval Service is tasked with a variety of defence and other roles, including a fishery protection service and a number of other tasks including drug interdiction, search and rescue, and maritime defence and security operations.

The Naval Service is currently operating a three ship model, with two ships operational and another ship on standby. The decision to reduce the number of operational ships was made as a result of the previously acknowledged difficulties in the Naval Service, in particular for specialist positions. This strategic decision was taken in order to streamline operations, bolster existing capabilities, and ensure optimal resource allocation in the Naval Service.

Two Inshore Patrol Vessels bought from the New Zealand Navy are currently undergoing a comprehensive programme of works, including crew familiarisation and training prior to the vessels becoming operational this year.

In terms of the process for acquiring a multi-role vessel, work is underway that will inform a public tender competition. A Prior Information Notice was published in the Official Journal of the European Union in January advising the market of my Department's intention to run a tender competition to procure a multi role vessel.

With regard to staffing, as of 31 January, the strength of the Naval Service was 732 personnel. The Government has previously acknowledged the current staffing difficulties in the Defence Forces and, in particular, in the Naval Service. In this context there are a number of recruitment initiatives currently underway. In terms of Naval Service recruitment,

• phase 3 of a Naval Service specific recruitment campaign, launched in the last week of January,

• specific advertising for specialist recruitment is placed in industry specific publications and websites by the Defence Forces, and

• specialist external expertise was recently engaged to validate and advise on recruitment processes, with a particular focus on the Naval Service, and

At the Defence Forces level, in addition to ongoing General Service recruitment, recruitment of Cadets and Direct Entry specialists will continue throughout this year.

I am satisfied that notwithstanding current challenges being experienced, the Naval Service continues to carry out the roles assigned by Government, including fishery protection and maritime security operations.

Item Type
Dail Debates
Publication Type
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Crime prevention
21 March 2024

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