The prospect of a 'no deal Brexit' was among the key arguments used by Defence Minister Simon Coveney in securing extra remuneration for naval service personnel.
They'll be needed more than ever if “tensions arise” over fisheries, Mr Coveney told the.
The minister said part of the argument he put to Cabinet colleagues for a €10,000 'loyalty bonus' was the “added sense of urgency” surrounding the need to protect our fishing resources in the event of a hard Brexit.
The Irish South & West Fisheries Organisation (ISWFO) recently said it is extremely concerned that in the event of such a scenario, many EU-registered trawlers would be forced out of British waters and would descend in such huge numbers on Irish waters that it could obliterate our stocks of fish.
Mr Coveney, also Minister for Foreign Affairs, said fisheries is “arguably the most difficult issue to resolve” in the EU/British divorce talks.
He said these talks are now entering “a very pressurised period”.
“We need to have contingency plans in place if the talks break down," he said.
Mr Coveney reiterated there will be no sell-out of fisheries in order to get an overall deal on trade.
“A no deal on fisheries could cause huge tensions at sea. That's why the naval service needs to be geared up for that. The naval service plays a really important role in managing fishing and we need to see it done in an orderly way,” Mr Coveney said.
Mr Coveney also acknowledged fears expressed by ISWFO. Its chief executive, Patrick Murphy, said he's concerned the manpower crisis in the naval service, which has led to a number of ships being tied up and unable to go to sea, meant it would be unable to protect Irish fishing grounds in the event of a potential “onslaught” of foreign vessels entering them after a hard Brexit.
Mr Coveney admitted there could well be a “displacement issue” if EU-registered vessels had to move out of British-controlled waters and they would be likely “to move next door".
“The Irish South & West Fisheries Organisation and other fishing organisations do have legitimate concerns, and I get that," he said.
Mr Coveney said the EU wants to stay united in its approach to talks with Boris Johnson's government in order to get a resolution.
The €10,000 bonus will be paid to sailors who agree to commit to carry out a minimum of 240 days on sea patrols during a two-year period, which will cost the exchequer up to €1.2m each year.
Sailors normally undertake a rota of two years of sea-going duties followed by two years onshore duties. Mr Coveney acknowledged that some will be entering their two-years cycle of onshore duties, but urged them to commit to the scheme now, even though they will have to wait to get the cash bonus.
He said this was vital to “give certainty” on numbers going forward so that ships will be properly crewed.
Shortages of specialists are also to be addressed by attracting them in from the private sector. The naval service can apply a new structure whereby those with huge experience will be appointed on higher wage scales than previously allowed.