The Naval Service manpower crisis is worsening and the service has haemorrhaged a large number of experienced NCOs (non-commissioned officers), who are the backbone of the force.
Figures obtained by the Irish Examiner show the navy is operating way below its designated minimum strength and that there are shortages in many ranks.
The establishment figure for the Naval Service, which is a minimum agreed by successive governments, should be 1,094 personnel. Instead, it is currently at 928.
The most acute shortages are at NCO level. The establishment number for them is 509, but there are only 376.
Many of these are specialists and the shortage of them, in particular in some sectors, is worrying senior navy officers, because if any more of them leave, it will result in further ships being tied up.
The situation has become so acute that one electrician section in the naval service is only operating at 5% of its designated manpower strength
Last June, the flag officer commanding the Naval Service, Commodore Michael Malone, was forced to take two ships off operations because he didn’t have the crews to man them.
There should be 226 petty officers, but there are only 153 currently.
In the lower ranks, there are also gaps. There are 123 at leading seaman rank, whereas there should be 180. Meanwhile, there are 369 able seaman, but there should be 402.
There are 14 officer cadets under training and 100 enlisted men and women in recruit training.
In general, the navy isn’t short of officers. However, one commander has recently tendered his resignation, which came as a major shock to many of his colleagues, who saw him as a very career-orientated person, who was likely to climb all the way up the ranks to become its most senior officer.
There is a shortage, however, of lieutenants. There should be 81, but they only number 46.
Since the navy was forced to tie-up the coastal patrol vessel LÉ Orla and the flagship, LÉ Eithne, nearly 50 personnel have left.
Many of them were highly trained and got out of the service before the age of retirement.
Some were so determined to leave that they paid up to €20,000 for their discharge
Servicemen who have acquired technical training from the Defence Forces are required to pay a ‘penalty’ if they leave before they have fulfilled a certain number of years of a contract.
PDForra, the association that represents 6,800 enlisted personnel in the Army, Naval Service, and Air Corps, has highlighted the dwindling manpower crisis for a considerable time.
PDForra president, Mark Keane, who works for the Naval Service, said the latest figures do not surprise him.
He said that burnout was mounting among his members, because they were having to undertake ever-increasing levels of duty within the Naval Service to plug existing manpower gaps.
“PDForra, for our part, have submitted a number of claims seeking increases in patrol duty allowance and increases in military service allowance, which we hope, in turn, will stem the outflow from the Naval Service,” Mr Keane said.
The Irish Examiner understands Naval Service commanders are reviewing manpower levels on a quarterly basis to see if any more ships may have to be taken off operations.