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Defence Forces

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 30 September 2021

Thursday, 30 September 2021

Questions (91)

Cormac Devlin


91. Deputy Cormac Devlin asked the Minister for Defence if Dún Laoghaire will continue to be twinned with a Naval Service vessel in the event of the LÉ Eithne being permanently decommissioned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47144/21]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Defence)

Before the summer recess, the Minister may recall that I raised the issue of Dún Laoghaire Harbour continuing to be twinned with a naval vessel should the LÉ Eithne be decommissioned. My colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith, mentioned the independent Commission on the Defence Forces, which the Minister said was established in December 2020 and was due to report by the end of the year. Does that timeline still stand? What are the prospects of a vessel continuing to be twinned with Dún Laoghaire Harbour?

Never let it be said that the Deputy was not speaking for Dún Laoghaire. He requested in a previous parliamentary question that the replacement of the LÉ Eithne would be twinned with Dún Laoghaire. I reiterate that I cannot make a commitment on this matter now but will bear it in mind when those decisions are made.

The Deputy will be aware that official celebrations marking the Naval Service's 75th anniversary began in Dún Laoghaire Harbour, where the LÉ Samuel Beckett berthed overnight and departed the harbour heralded by a 21-gun salute. I was fortunate enough to be able to mark this important anniversary with the Naval Service in both Dublin and Cork earlier in September. I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate and commend the Naval Service personnel for their dedication and excellence during the month on which the 75th anniversary falls.

I am satisfied that the Naval Service continues to maintain and further develop its strong connection with the harbour and the local community today and into the future. There is a long-standing and ongoing tradition of Naval Service ships using Dún Laoghaire pier and harbour, both for shelter and shore leave. The Naval Service will also make use of the harbour for training by the Naval Service Reserve. The flagship, LÉ Eithne, is twinned with Dún Laoghaire as a part of the Naval Service fleet adopted ports. The commissioning ceremony of LÉ James Joyce took place in Dún Laoghaire in 2015, and the freedom of entry to the county was bestowed on the Naval Service by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in 2017 in recognition of its work in the Mediterranean humanitarian crisis.

The connection between Dún Laoghaire Harbour and the Naval Service is an important and strong one that continues to be fostered on an ongoing basis. That will be factored into the considerations to which the Deputy referred.

I thank the Minister very much for those remarks, particularly about the connection between Dún Laoghaire Harbour and the Naval Service. That is a connection we want to maintain, as I am sure he can appreciate. I am also glad that he raised the 75th anniversary of our Naval Service. It is important to acknowledge the great work undertaken by our Naval Service and the wider Defence Forces.

The Minister mentioned Operation Pontus in the Mediterranean, for which the LÉ Eithne and the Naval Service were awarded freedom of entry to the county, and how the EU awarded our Defence Forces in 2015 for their work. It is important to recognise the thousands of lives our Naval Service and Defence Forces have saved, particularly in the Mediterranean. Can the Minister outline the current scope of operations being undertaken by our Defence Forces in that region at present?

We have Defence Forces officers in headquarters in respect of the ongoing EU-led operation in the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, we do not have the capacity to send a ship abroad right now, either on a humanitarian mission for a sustained period or to be part of EU operations in the Mediterranean. That is because we have had recruitment and retention issues in the Naval Service, which Members will be aware of because I have talked on the record about it many times. We need to address those issues and we are setting about doing so.

As a result, however, we need to focus the assets and crews we have on those ships for fisheries protection and the other security work they do in Irish waters. In the not too distant future, however, I hope to be in a position to ensure that at all times, we have the option to be able to send a ship abroad on a humanitarian, peacekeeping or peace enforcement mission. The three arms of the Defence Forces, namely, the Air Corps, the Naval Service and the Army, should all have opportunities overseas. That should be part of a career in the Defence Forces, should people choose it.

While we are on the subject of the Defence Forces, I thank the Minister for meeting with the Women of Honour group and those women who are currently serving in our Defence Forces, and for his actions and statements on behalf of the Government for instigating an independent investigation.

I pay tribute to those brave women who have stepped forward to speak out about their own experiences, and to the fantastic work done by Katie Hannon of RTÉ, and, indeed, Dr. Tom Clonan and others, in uncovering these types of issues. The Minister might inform the House when the investigation is due to begin.

The next question will deal with this issue in more detail. As I said earlier, however, we are taking this issue seriously. I want to acknowledge the courage of the women in the Women of Honour group, and the many women currently serving in the Defence Forces, who came forward and spoke with me in the way they did in the context of their experiences. I want to give reassurance to those women that, one, I believe them, and, two, we are going to act with them to ensure that we set up a comprehensive and independent review process that can report back to me, and, ultimately, to Government, on how we respond appropriately to ensure some of the experiences that have been highlighted to me are not experienced by people who join the Defence Forces in the future.