Twelve months after being forced to tie-up two ships due to manpower shortages, the Naval Service continues to haemorrhage personnel and may have to take another vessel off operational duties later this year.
Military sources have told the Irish Examiner that fears about tying up yet another ship “are well justified” due to a number of factors.
The current strength of the Naval Service has fallen to less than 880, whereas it should be 1,094.
Last June, a decision was made to take LÉ Orla and flagship LÉ Eithne off seagoing duties because of manpower shortages and health and safety concerns.
On-the-job training in the Naval Service was cancelled due to Covid-19 so that the Defence Forces could provide as much manpower as possible to help in the national emergency.
But, as lockdown measures continue to ease, training is returning and that means there will be fewer people available to man ships.
At any one time, there are up to 200 cadets, recruits, and technicians normally in full-time training.
In addition, even if the Navy was awash with recruits, social distancing regulations mean it will have to reduce recruit class numbers.
Normally there would be around 40 people in a recruit class, but sources have suggested that the maximum they would be able to take in at any one time would be 30. This means that they are unlikely to keep pace with the numbers continuing to leave.
Meanwhile, LÉ Roisin is currently undergoing a mid-life refit and LÉ Niamh is due to go into dock for similar work soon.
There is also a real possibility that the Government may commit a ship to a new EU mission in the Mediterranean Sea. Some Defence Forces personnel have been assigned to desk duties in Rome with the mission known as EU NAVFOR Irini.
Pressure may mount on the Government to become more involved in overseas missions as a result of getting a seat on the UN Security Council.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney recently commented that previous missions in the Mediterranean Sea were great for retention of personnel in the Naval Service.
The Defence Forces press office said that in line with national return-to-work guidelines some training courses have already resumed at the Naval College.
It added that 48 personnel have been discharged from the Naval Service so far this year.
PDForra president, Mark Keane, said the ongoing manpower crisis results from “a vicious cycle of the conditions not meeting the value of the work undertaken" by Naval Service personnel.
He said this is leading to more personnel discharging and placing greater strains on those left behind, leading to burnout.
“We have spoken to our members enduring increasing levels of stress burnout which will not let up until the recruitment challenges are tackled head-on. Central to attracting recruits is not having a remuneration package that reflects the difficult nature of the job we do,” Mr Keane said.