Defence Minister Simon Coveney is to bring an emergency “suite of measures” to Cabinet by the end of July to try to stem the manpower crisis in the Naval Service which could see two more ships tied up by the end of the year.
It is expected the measures will include increased allowances for seamen and steps to make it a more attractive career for professionals such as marine engineers, who currently work in the private sector but who could be recruited by so-called direct entry.
Mr Coveney said he is “well aware of the pressures on the Naval Service” which tied up two vessels 13 months ago because it had insufficient crews to man them.
Theunderstands ever-declining general manpower levels and shortages of highly-skilled technical personnel are likely to lead to a further two ships being taken off operations if emergency action isn't taken.
“We have a real problem. It's something we need to address. Too many have left and not enough are coming in,” Mr Coveney said.
Apart from overall manpower levels falling to critical levels, he acknowledged that the navy is short of “certain specialties and skillsets".
“My job is to put solutions in place with the need for rapid recruitment in the Naval Service. This needs to happen very quickly,” he said. “The pressures [on manpower] are clearly there and I'm not denying them."
Mr Coveney also acknowledged he cannot wait for the special Commission of Defence to complete its report on the Defence Forces — expected in 2021 — and has “to respond to the immediate and significant pressure” the Naval Service is experiencing.
He also said as a result of Brexit, the UK and EU positions on fisheries are “a million miles apart” and there is a risk of a no deal on fisheries, or a new one, which could result in the need for further enforcement by the Naval Service.
“It is very important that the Naval Service is well-equipped. We have a sea surface ten times our land surface." He said the navy needs to be “crewed up” to carry out monitoring and enforcement of fishing regulations.
Mr Coveney acknowledged there are challenges in general manpower shortages across the entire Defence Forces and in particular in a number of specialist areas.
“There are challenges in terms of retention in the Defence Forces because of the quality of people [in it]. They have become targets [for headhunting] of the private sector. In some ways the Defence Forces have become a victim of their own success,” he said.
Highly-trained pilots are pursued by airlines such as Aer Lingus and Ryanair. Cruise liner companies seek out navy marine engineers.