Insufficient staff to operate Naval Service Reserve's new armed motor launches 

Insufficient staff to operate Naval Service Reserve's new armed motor launches 

Naval Service Reserve recruits at the Naval Base Haulbowline, Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

A €2.6m contract has been awarded to build four new multi-purpose motor launches, with capacity for machine guns, for the Naval Service Reserve (NSR).

However, concerns have been raised as to how they'll be crewed as the force has just 116 personnel, when it's supposed to have a minimum of 200.

The contract has been awarded by the Department of Defence to FM Marine Services Ltd, a family-operated company based at Valentia Island, Co Kerry.

The boatyard is expected to deliver all four 14m motor launches to the NSR by the end of 2024 and they're likely to be based in the ports of Dublin, Cork, Waterford, and Foynes/ Limerick.

They'll be used primarily for armed port security and coastal patrol operations and it's expected the first will be commissioned next Spring.

The NSR is badly in need of the new launches. It was equipped with patrol boats previously, but lack of government investment saw them deteriorate so badly they were all rendered useless. The last one was tied up four years ago.

The new launches will have bunks for six personnel and will be capable of carrying an additional 12 passengers. They'll be designed to allow them to be fitted with two general-purpose machine guns and act as platforms for navy diving operations.

However, the NSR will be stretched to man them when they arrive because its numbers have seriously depleted in recent years, as they have the permanent Naval Service.

A scandal

Senator Michael McDowell recently told the Seanad it's “a scandal” that the government has “deliberately run down” the reserves to such an extent they are “a shadow of themselves". 

The NSR is currently short 84 personnel, while the Army Reserve, supposed to have a minimum number of 3,869 personnel, has shrunk to around a third of that to 1,368.

While these are the official numbers, the correct figures are far lower, according to Neil Richardson, general secretary of the Reserve Defence Forces' Representative Association (RDFRA). He said a number of those on the books are not turning up for ongoing exercises and training duties.

It's anticipated, however, that the government will shortly announce a major recruitment drive for the NSR in the hope of bolstering its numbers.

On January 19 last, the Irish Examiner asked Defence Minister Simon Coveney, for an update on the provision of the new NSR vessels and progress in acquiring two New Zealand warships for Naval Service patrols in the Irish Sea.

He was also asked about progress in acquiring a multi-role vessel (MRV) for the navy, which could cost up to €200m. Mr Coveney has, to date, failed to reply to any of these queries.

The Irish Examiner understands that significant progress is being made in buying the two New Zealand ships, both 'Lake Class' 55m (180ft) inshore patrol vessels, which need a crew strength of 25, compared to most Naval Service ships that require around 45.

But it is as yet unclear what is happening with the MRV.

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