Fears Navy staffing crisis will worsen amid row over why ships are docked
Senior military officials are to meet with the Department of Defence on Friday amid fears the staffing crisis in the Navy will worsen before the end of the year.
A row over the ability of the Naval Service to man all its ships has engulfed the Government, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar appearing to be at odds with his Minister of State Paul Kehoe. Sources are now warning that "big decisions" will have to be taken about how to deal with the lack of staff from September onwards.
Mr Kehoe has admitted senior officers are facing "challenges" and will have to consider "a full range of options". That process will begin on Friday.
However, the Government is likely to come under attack in the Dáil today for its management of the Navy. A letter issued by Commander Mick Malone to all Naval Service personnel last month stated two ships, the LÉ Eithne and the LÉ Orla, had been docked due to a lack of manpower. He said the Navy would have to "cut our cloth to measure".
Over the weekend, Mr Kehoe said the vessels were merely tied up "for planned maintenance and repair".
This position seemed to be contradicted by Mr Varadkar, who is also the senior minister in the Department of Defence, yesterday when he said ships were docked due to staff shortages.
"As you know, the Navy has been short-staffed for quite some time. It's a feature across the economy at the moment as we approach full employment.
"Lots of people are finding it hard to get staff and the Navy is one of those areas," he said. Mr Varadkar then went on to quote Cmdr Malone's letter.
Adding to the confusion he claimed that "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".
A spokesperson later clarified that the Naval Service actually has nine vessels, one of which is in refit and two of which are "going into maintenance".
"Crews will be redeployed from these vessels so six will be fully crewed," the spokesperson said.
Senator Gerard Craughwell, a former member of the Defence Forces, said the mixed messages were "an indictment" of the Government's attitude to the Navy.
"The crisis is so deep at the moment and the level of knowledge so weak on the part of Government that we're at serious risk of damaging our ability to attract foreign direct investment," he said, adding that large companies need to know the security of the State is under control.
Mr Kehoe said dealing with the challenges including the safety of serving personnel "must remain a paramount concern".
He said a joint civil and military team will discuss the issues and plan ahead "to ensure we maximise operational outputs".
The two vessels will remain docked at least until the end of the summer period.