Naval Service personnel have been thrown a financial lifeline in the form of a €10,000 loyalty payment, which it is hoped will stem the exodus of trained crew members.
Defence Minister Simon Coveney has announced extra money for personnel who sign up for four years' service and undertake two of those years on seagoing patrols.
Naval Service personnel normally undertake a two-year cycle of patrol duties followed by two years of shore duties. Under the terms of Mr Coveney's 'Sea Going Service Commitment Scheme' they will have to complete a minimum of 240 days on sea patrols during a two-year period to qualify for the payment, which will be provided in four six-monthly tranches of €2,500 and will cost up to €1.2m each year.
The payment will not apply to those with less than three years' service because they're not considered to be fully trained.
It is similar to a loyalty bonus given to air corps pilots a few years ago to ensure they signed up for a minimum period of service.
“This will give us certainty in our numbers and allow us to retain people,” Mr Coveney said.
Plans have also been drawn up to provide incentives to attract certain specialists into the naval service.
He said the Department of Public Expenditure has also agreed to this and the scheme will be aimed at signing up experienced engine room fitters, hull fitters, electricians, radar and radio technicians, and marine engineering officers.
The navy is critically short of many of these specialists and some patrols have recently been delayed going to sea because they weren't available.
Mr Coveney said exact details of the new initiatives will be discussed with the two military representative associations — Raco for officers and PDForra for enlisted personnel — when he meets them next Tuesday along with senior officials from the Department of Defence.
The Naval Service is supposed to have a minimum strength of 1,094, but latest figures show it stands at 899 and, with a no-deal Brexit looming, only five of its nine ships are currently operational.
“I'm not happy that we are where we are and we need to fix it,” he said.
Mr Coveney said he is hopeful the navy will have six ships operational when LÉ Roisin completes a major life-extension refit, likely to finish next February or March, and that all ships available “will be fully functional and fully crewed".