Thursday, 5 February 2004

Ceisteanna (41)

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

37 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Defence the steps being taken to address the long periods that Naval Service personnel must spend at sea; the plans he has for a return to the two years on-two years off rotation for personnel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3296/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

As part of the modernisation process, in December 2000 I authorised a new organisation for the Naval Service which saw an increase in personnel numbers from 959 serving at that time to a new establishment of 1,144. There are currently 1,079 serving in the Naval Service.

The Naval Service endeavours to operate a planned approach to sea-shore rotation of personnel based on a two year period of commitment to sea-going duties followed by a two year period ashore subject to the exigencies of the service. However, where there are shortages of skilled personnel within the Naval Service, it may be necessary for personnel to carry out sea-going duties more frequently.

The reorganisation of the Naval Service was designed to ensure that when fully implemented all personnel would spend alternate periods of two years in a shore-based appointment followed by two years in a ship-based appointment. In this regard, I should point out that two years in a ship-based appointment does not imply that people spend two years at sea. On the other hand, some Naval personnel are keen to spend more time at sea and, where possible, they are catered for. Overall the broad range of strategies adopted by the Naval Service including continuous recruitment, direct entry officer schemes, direct entry and internal technician schemes, are all focused at achieving sufficient numbers of trained personnel so that the planned approach to sea-shore rotation, based on a two year cycle, is maintained. This helps to ensure that Naval Service personnel do not spend long periods at sea.

I am aware of the particular difficulties regarding the deployment of Naval Service personnel, especially engineering staff, engine room artificers and electrical artificers. The position with engine room artificers is that the number of such appointments in the Naval Service was increased from 76 to 85 following the reorganisation of the Naval Service.

A total of 75 engine room artificers are serving at present. The situation will continue to improve as significant numbers of trainee engine room artificers complete their training and come on stream over the next four years. A further 30 apprentices-trainee technicians are currently at various stages in the training process. They will all come on stream over the next four years and will both meet the current shortfall and replace any further wastage that may occur. The position with electrical artificers is that the number of such appointments in the Naval Service was increased from 42 to 48 following the reorganisation of the Naval Service. A total of 33 are serving at present. A further 25 are at various stages in the training process and will come on stream in the coming years.

Given the specialist nature of many of the additional positions, it was not possible to fill them all until such time as personnel had completed the necessary training. It was always accepted that it would take a number of years for all appointments to be filled by suitably qualified people.

While the increased number of specialist appointments could not all be filled instantly, thus creating some transitional short term difficulties, I am assured by the military authorities that the arrangements in place to provide suitably trained and qualified personnel should see an early improvement in the situation.

Question No. 38 answered with QuestionNo. 14.
Question No. 39 answered with QuestionNo. 34.