It is feared new emergency measures to bolster manpower levels in the Naval Service will take several more weeks than initially anticipated by Defence Minister Simon Coveney, meaning they won't stave off the tying-up of more ships.
It has emerged it could take several weeks of discussions between the Departments of Defence and Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) to iron out the measures, which are likely to include increased patrol allowances and incentives to attract technical experts into the service from the private sector.
A spokesman for Mr Coveney issued the following statement: “Retention and recruitment in the Defence Forces remains the Minister's highest priority.
To that end, at its meeting last Tuesday the Cabinet discussed the matter.
It was decided that the Departments of Defence and Public Expenditure would work closely in the coming weeks with a view to bringing a proposal to the next full Cabinet meeting.”
Meanwhile, Minister for Expenditure and Reform, Michael McGrath, said he and Mr Coveney have had a number of discussions about the serious challenges faced by the Naval Service.
“We’ll continue to consider any further steps open to the government to assist the navy in a manner that respects, and is consistent with, the current Public Service Stability Agreement, bearing in mind our intention to commence preliminary discussions in the autumn on the possibility of a successor pay agreement,” Mr McGrath said.
He added he intends to visit the naval base shortly to hear directly of the challenges faced by the service.
The navy is short one-fifth of the personnel it requires and the manpower crisis forced it to tie up two ships 14 months ago.
Projections given to the Irish Examiner, which Mr Coveney has not denied, suggest one if not two further ships will have to be tied up within the next couple of months due to ever-depleting manpower numbers.
The navy is critically short of experts in certain sections such as marine engineers and electricians.
To compound the problem, ongoing training is now recommencing as Covid-19 restrictions ease, and a large number of personnel will have to come off sea duty to continue studies in the maritime college.
In addition, recruit classes may have to be smaller because of social spacing restrictions.
PDForra, which represents enlisted personnel, said it is "surprised and disappointed that measures have not been expedited to stem the outflow from the Defence Forces."
It's general secretary, Ger Guinan, said there is "potential for further halting of sailing orders on more ships".
RACO general secretary Conor King said while it is "disappointing" that these measures were not announced by the end of July as expected, the association 'remains hopeful Mr Coveney "will make good on his strong commitments to boost retention and value the unique service and sacrifice of Defence Forces' personnel and their families, before the situation deteriorates any further".
However, he maintained both ministers "seem to have forgotten" about the Government’s High Level Implementation Plan, published by DPER and the Department of Defence on July 4, 2019.
“DPER has the lead on project one, which was to review pay structures, and committed to commence implementation of review findings by July, 4 2020. This has not occurred,” Comdt King said.