Examiner.ie - Navy 'will be forced to tie up two patrol vessels' over staffing crisis - 08 Oct 22

Navy 'will be forced to tie up two patrol vessels' over staffing crisis

The Naval Service will be forced to tie up two large patrol vessels and mothball two smaller ships it purchased from New Zealand if immediate steps are not taken to recruit fully-trained engine room specialists to crew them.

At present, highly trained Engine Room Articifiers (ERAs) — technicians who are vital to keeping the ships running — are operating at 41% of their minimal strength, while the Navy's electricians' branch is at operating at just 32%.

Projections of a further exodus of such experts from the Naval Service have prompted warnings that the LÉ Roisin and LÉ Niamh could be tied up in 2023 and/or 2024. Such highly-trained specialists are extremely thin on the ground in Ireland and to plug the gaps the Navy may have to source them in Europe.

The figures also suggest it will be very difficult to provide ERAs to crew the two smaller New Zealand patrol ships due to arrive next year.

PDForra conference

This latest staffing crisis facing the navy and the likelihood that further ships will be tied up dominated discussions at the annual PDForra conference in Co Donegal.

One delegate said: “The ERAs are crippled. They're at the cliff edge and going to collapse.” 

One ERA who left the services this week tweeted that he is proud to have served the navy for 10 years, but is taking up a nine-to-five job instead.

The navy should have a minimum strength of 1,094 personnel. It currently has 821, but this will drop below 800 before the end of the year as 30 people are awaiting to be discharged from the service.

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney acknowledged “recruitment and retention remains an ongoing and key challenge” across the Defence Forces.

He told the Irish Examiner that if outsourcing is required to keep the ships afloat “so be it.” 

Air Corps

The Air Corps is also critically short of technicians, which has already led to outsourcing of ‘heavy maintenance’ to a foreign company. Further outsourcing is expected as some technician sections are at third of the minimum number of personnel they require.

Mr Coveney said he is looking at introducing a range of measures to increase recruitment and improve retention.

He admitted that the current numbers in the Defence Forces are not sustainable and said he is developing g a raft of measures to address this, including better pay and conditions and improved equipment.

Mr Coveney is proposing to raise the minimum figure for the Defence Forces to 11,000 personnel and wants to achieve this by 2028. He also wants to increase the Reserve Defence Forces by 3,000 personnel.