My priority as Minister with Responsibility for Defence is to ensure that the operational capability of the Defence Forces is maintained to the greatest extent possible so as to enable the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service to carry out their roles as assigned by Government.
The most significant investment of recent years by the Defence Organisation has been on the procurement of the new Off-Shore Patrol Vessels for the Naval Service. This programme has seen the delivery of three new naval Service vessels since 2014. The LÉ Samuel Beckett was commissioned in May 2014, LÉ James Joyce was commissioned in September 2015 and LÉ William Butler Yeats was commissioned into service in October 2016.
In June 2016, a contract for an additional sister ship was agreed, bringing investment in the new ships programme to some €250 million since 2010. The fourth ship, to be named LÉ George Bernard Shaw, is scheduled for delivery later this year.
The requirement for this fourth ship is regarded as urgent and expedient given the age of the older remaining ships in the fleet, LÉ Orla, LÉ Ciara and LÉ Eithne all of which are over thirty years of age.
This additional ship will allow the Naval Service meet its patrol day targets with due cognisance to the significant additional operational requirements for the Naval fleet in the Mediterranean Sea.
The White Paper provides for the replacement of the current Naval Service flagship LÉ Eithne with a multi role vessel (MRV). It is the Government’s intent that this new vessel will provide a flexible and adaptive capability for a wide range of maritime tasks, both at home and overseas.
The acquisition of a modern vessel will ensure that the operational capabilities of the Naval Service, as the State’s principal seagoing agency, are maintained to the greatest extent and takes account of the overall policy approach in the White Paper on Defence.
Planning has commenced on this project and it is intended to hold a public tender competition in due course to cover the supply of the MRV. The design and configuration of the vessel, including the approach to helicopter flight operations, will be considered as part of the planning process. This procurement is, of course, subject to the availability of funding within the overall Defence capital funding envelope. The cost of the MRV will only be known once the tender competition is concluded.