Irish Naval patrol ship captains are being forced to seek ‘volunteers’ to crew their vessels due to decreasing numbers available. The Irish Examiner has learned the Naval Service is desperately trying to crew a nine-ship fleet with numbers which cannot service seven.
A common practice is emerging where personnel, assigned to specific ships, are being asked to fill gaps on other ships which primarily conduct fishery patrols. And, despite the shortage, the Government is still pressing ahead with plans to purchase a new ultra-modern multi-role vessel (MRV) which could cost up to €200m.
Chronic shortages, however, exist in many sections of the Naval Service. According to the Defence Forces, the minimum number of personnel required to run the Naval Service is 1,044.
But the official and latest figures show a total of 974 which includes 195 personnel engaged in professional qualification (PQ) training who cannot serve at sea. They include recruits and officer cadets who are undergoing basic training, technical trainees, and Ordinary to Able Rate (OARs) trainees.
Furthermore, 65 personnel do not have sea-going appointments and are entirely land-based. The Irish Examiner also understands that the ordinance armaments section is running at 22% of its required manpower and one of the technical sections is as low as 18%.
Pdforra, the organisation which represents enlisted personnel in the Defence Forces, said it had become aware of the personnel shortages.
Its president Mark Keane said shortages were impacting on the work-life balance as the decreasing number, who remain, were plugging gaps as more and more highly-trained personnel are quitting the service for better pay and conditions in the private sector.
“We’ve had a leaky bucket for some time but now the bucket is truly empty,” said Mr Keane. “It means we’re having to do more with less.”
He said that some of the vacancies in technical sections could be filled if the Department of Defence announced ‘direct entry’ programmes.
However, the department is reportedly slow, under direct entry, to allow suitably qualified people from the private sector to take up jobs in the Defence Forces. Mr Keane said the root cause of shortages continues to be the poor level of pay and allowances for sailors.
He and others in the Naval Service have expressed fears there will be a further exodus of personnel as the overseas programme Operation Sophia has been axed.
Poorly-paid sailors had managed to receive better allowances when working on the migrant rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea.
He said if another exodus occurred on top of the normal annual level of premature resignations and retirements the Naval Service “couldn’t sustain it”.
“The whole issue is down to recruitment and retention which we have been highlighting for some time now. The Department of Defence has to act as a matter of urgency on these issues now,” Mr Keane said.
Pdforra and RACO, which represents officers in the Defence Forces, have both sent submissions to the Public Service Pay Commission (PSPC) on behalf of their members seeking better pay.
It is not expected the PSPC will report its findings until June, at the earliest.