Three ships captained by women first time in Navy's history

Three ships captained by women first time in Navy's history
Lieutenant Commanders Nessa Maloney (LE Ciara), Grace Fanning, (LE Riosin) and Clare Murphy (LE Niamh).

Women may only account for just 6.5% of the Naval Service but for the first time in its history, three of its ships - a third of the fleet - are being captained by female Lieutenant Commanders.

Nessa Maloney commands the LE Ciara, Grace Fanning is captain of the LE Roisin and Clare Murphy commands the LE Niamh.

Only the Army has a bigger percentage of female members, currently standing at 6.93%, while the Air Corps lags behind at just 4.5%.

The most senior officer in the Army is Colonel Maureen O'Brien, who is expected to climb the ranks even higher.

In the Air Corps the most senior women holds the rank of commandant.

Grace Fanning, 36, a Cork-born mother of a 13-month old girl, said she always wanted a career with a difference.

“The navy seemed exciting. I wanted a different life, something that was challenging and every day is different,” said Grace, who is also captain of the Defence Forces women's soccer team.

Claire, 38, who is originally from Carlow, had the advantage of knowing what life at sea was like before she joined up.

“I worked in the merchant navy with the Danish shipping company Maersk for three years. I was a third deck officer,” she said.

Prior to that she had joined the Naval Service Reserve, so a move to the permanent navy force was always a going to be a distinct possibility at some stage.

“Being a reservist I knew what I was letting myself in for,” she joked.

She pointed out that the work life balance was better in the naval service.

“When I was working with Maersk we were about three-and-a-half months at sea and then six to eight weeks off,” Claire said.

“When on patrol (with the naval service) we have four weeks away at sea and two weeks off,” Grace added.

The women also know that they will do a two-year rotation in their current roles and then spend two years doing onshore duties, which can at least help them with forward planning of their lives.

LE Eithne
LE Eithne

“I wouldn't recommend it (the navy) to all women. You need to want something different. It's tough, but very rewarding,” Claire said.

“Regardless of your gender you'll be judged on whether you can do a good job or not,” Grace added.

Grace does school talks encouraging young girls to consider the career.

“There's a perception it's not a job for females. But women should consider it. It's an adventurous job,” she said.

In 2015, then Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney, proposed to double the number of women serving in the Defence Forces.

In an effort to do this it was proposed to reduce physical standards for female applicants.

A gender advisor was also appointed to promote gender equality policies.

However, the figures have only marginally increased in the intervening four years and are still a long way off the 12% Mr Coveney envisaged.

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