The growing manpower crisis in the Defence Forces has left the naval service unable to confirm if it can bring two tied-up ships back into operational service this year.
In an unprecedented move last June, it was forced to bring LÉ Eithne and LÉ Orla off routine patrols because it did not have the manpower to run all of the nine-strong fleet.
It was decided at the time to disperse their crews to other vessels and take the opportunity to bring them in for routine maintenance.
It had been hoped that in the meantime the manpower situation might ease, but military sources have indicated this has not happened.
When asked by the Irish Examiner if the two ships would remain tied up for the duration of 2020, the Defence Forces press office replied:
The ships are being maintained to ensure they can be brought back into service in the event of a national emergency.
The Defence Forces press office said some personnel were undergoing technical training and will fill certain vacant posts when they qualify.
The press office added that the naval service also continues to actively recruit through the general recruitment campaign and direct entry competitions in an effort to address this shortfall of personnel.
More enlisted personnel could leave this year because they become eligible for pensions after 21 and 31 years service.
Fianna Fáil’s spokesman on defence, Jack Chambers, said the likelihood that the naval service will be unable to put the ships back on patrol this year showed the Government’s “dismissive approach to the retention crisis”.
He said Fine Gael’s legacy in defence will be the record numbers leaving, the collapse in morale, the suspension of the air ambulance service, and ships indefinitely docked.
Mr Chamber said his party “will set out an ambitious and implementable plan to turnaround defence policy for the people who serve”.