Work will start next year on building a new accommodation block at the naval service headquarters in Haulbowline Island, Cork, with the aim of bringing an end to the regular occurrence of up to 80 sailors sleeping on ships on their days off.
The lack of proper accommodation on the base and increasingly high rents has resulted in mainly young, poorly paid sailors sleeping on vessels during their downtime.
Paul Kehoe, the minister of state with responsibility for defence, has confirmed that €4.4m will be spent on upgrading a Victorian-era block on the Cobh side of the base to provide accommodation for around 70 sailors. He said construction would take a year to complete.
The news has been welcomed by PDForra, the association which represents 6,500 enlisted members of the Defence Forces.
Its president, Mark Keane, said it was very welcome as his association had been seeking proper accommodation for the sailors for several years.
Property in areas close to the base, such as Cobh, Passage West, and Carrigaline, is in very short supply, and rents are too high for the income the young sailors earn.
“It’s not a healthy thing to have them on board a ship during their time off,” Mr Keane said. “It isn’t good for their mental wellbeing, They need their privacy and this will give it to them. On the smaller ships in particular, cabins are very cramped. You could have upwards of six people sharing a cabin space.”
The stone-faced building to be refurbished, known as Block 8, was built by the British navy in 1822. It is a listed building so the work carried out will have to comply with heritage considerations laid down by Cork County Council.
The refurbishment is being undertaken as part of a five-year infrastructure development plan to upgrade military installations.
“I have previously indicated to both representative associations [PDForra and Representative Association of Commissioned Officers] the priority I attached to getting this project up and running,” Mr Kehoe said.
“This announcement confirms my previous assurances on this matter and paves the way to seeing this much-needed infrastructure in place in the coming months.”