Written answers

Thursday, 21 March 2024

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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29. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his views on the optimum number and type of naval vessels for the Naval Service; when he expects the Naval Service to acquire a multi-role vessel to replace the L.E. Éithne; the progress made in ensuring that double crews are available for all vessels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9156/24]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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My priority as Minister for Defence is to ensure that the operational capability of the Defence Forces, including the Naval Service, is maintained and developed. This is to enable the Defence Forces to carry out the roles assigned by Government. Equipment priorities for the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service are considered in the context of the established capability development and Equipment Development Planning (EDP) processes.

Further additions to the EDP are currently under consideration, including in the context of the Government’s decision to move to a higher level of ambition, known as Level of Ambition 2 (LOA2), and in light of specific recommendations associated with a move to LOA2, made in the report of the Commission on the Defence Forces.

The move to LOA2 includes the recommendation for an accelerated programme of naval vessel replacements, to ensure a balanced fleet of nine modern ships is reached by early in the next decade. This recommendation by the Commission of the Defence Forces as the optimum number of vessels for the Naval Service to deliver LOA2 has been accepted by Government.

The Naval Service Vessel Renewal and Replacement Programme includes radar and other equipment upgrades along with the replacement of Naval Service Reserve motor launches. The programme of works for the midlife refit and upgrade of LÉ Róisín has been completed, while works are ongoing on LÉ Niamh.

Marine Advisors have been appointed to support the procurement of a multi-role vessel to replace the now decommissioned flagship, LÉ Eithne, with work underway that will inform a public tender competition in line with the Public Spending code in due course. Two Inshore Patrol Vessels have been purchased from the New Zealand Government to replace the decommissioned LÉ Orla and LÉ Ciara and were delivered to Cork in 2023. They are expected to become operational later in 2024, following a programme of work, crew familiarisation and training.

In addition to achieving a balanced fleet of 9 vessels by 2028, the move to LOA2 also provides that all modern vessels be double crewed to ensure each vessel spends a minimum of 220 days at sea per year, to be phased in over the course of the vessel replacement programme. There are a number of initiatives currently underway to counter ongoing staffing challenges in the Naval Service, including:

  • A new Patrol Duty allowance, introduced 1 January 2024, replaces the previous Patrol Duty Allowance and Sea Going Allowance. It will be payable to all personnel serving aboard a ship on duty and will see the doubling of the Patrol Duty Allowance after ten days at sea in a calendar year. For enlisted personnel this will result in an increase in the allowance paid from €64.27 per day to €128.54 per day; for officers there will be an increase from €64.67 per day to 129.24 per day.
  • As part of the Naval Service specific recruitment campaign, phase 3 of a Naval Service recruitment advertisement was launched recently.
  • There is ongoing recruitment of general service recruits, cadets and specialists.
  • Psychometric testing for Naval Service General Service recruitment was paused in 2023, on a pilot basis, for six months. The Defence Forces have advised that a pause of a further 6 months is warranted to allow for a fair determination on whether the pause was positive or negative.
  • In an effort to remove all potential obstacles to recruiting and retaining personnel, the Government has agreed to increase the maximum retirement age for Permanent Defence Force personnel to 60. This has facilitated an increase in the maximum recruitment age to 39 for those roles with a current recruitment age below 39 years. The measure will take effect from 29 March 2024 and will apply to General Service Recruits, Cadets, and certain specialists.
  • A further increase in the retirement age to 62 years will be made when relevant enabling primary legislation is introduced by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
  • In 2023, the Department engaged external specialist recruitment expertise to re-evaluate the Defence Forces current recruitment methods. Given the particular and critical issues presenting in the Naval Service, it concentrated its initial efforts there. The resulting recommendations will be progressed.
  • A sea going naval personnel tax credit has been further extended into the 2024 tax year.
  • There has also been significant progress on pay. Current pay rates, including Military Service Allowance, for the ranks of Private 3 Star/Able Seaman, in their first three years of service start at €38,016 in Year 1, rising to €39,413 in Year 2, and €40,700 in Year 3 of service.
  • A graduate cadet on commissioning starts on a payscale, which includes Military Service Allowance from €47,245 depending on the type of appointment. A school leaver cadet starts at €41,962 whilst in full-time third level education.
I am satisfied that these measures together with those outlined in the Detailed Implementation Plan for the Report of the Commission on the Defence Forces and the Strategic Framework for the Transformation of the Defence Forces will ensure the Naval Service is equipped and staffed appropriately in order to fulfil all roles assigned to them by Government.


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