Navy struggles to crew patrols: A dangerous vulnerability

Any discussion around Irish neutrality is rendered meaningless by the incapacity of our under-resourced but willing Defence Forces. They are so run down that even domestic obligations may be beyond their reach.

Any active international involvement certainly is. So much so that an ally in a time of need might wonder where the Irish were; just as Custer’s fate was sealed at Little Big Horn, all of 143 years ago, because Benteen and Reno chose not to offer meaningful help, our allies might be underwhelmed by any support we might offer.

The challenges hollowing out the army are well documented. That situation now extends to our navy where sea patrols, mainly involving fishery protection, must rely on “volunteer” crew.

The Naval Service runs a nine-vessel fleet but can barely man seven. As Brexit unfolds it would not be surprising if fisheries became a contentious but relatively low-key policing issue.

Despite that our navy, through no fault of its own, may be unequal to that challenge. Brexit may stir the embers of terrorism too, a prospect made more likely by the absence of a powerful deterrent.

This weakness, this vulnerability is wrong on so many levels but most of all because it suggests that we believe that in a crisis we can rely on others to do what we should do ourselves. Sadly, in a polarising world it is likely we may eventually discover the real cost of this foolish indulgence. We must quickly rebuild the capabilities of our Defence Forces.

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