My priority as Minister with Responsibility for Defence is to ensure that the operational capability of the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service is maintained to the greatest extent possible so as to enable the Defence Forces to carry out their roles as assigned by Government both at home and overseas.
The acquisition of new equipment for the Defence Forces remains a clear focus for me. Future equipment priorities for the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service are being considered in the context of the White Paper on Defence as part of the capability development and equipment priorities planning process. The principal aim over the period of the White Paper will be to replace and upgrade, as required, existing capabilities in order to retain a flexible response for a wide range of operational requirements, including response to security risks and other emergencies, both at home and overseas.
The current capital allocation for Defence is €113 million for 2020, an increase of €7 million on National Development Plan 2019 allocation. The NDP - Project Ireland 2040 - provides financial allocations for a total of €541 million for Defence over the period 2018-2022. This level of capital funding will allow the Defence Organisation to undertake a programme of sustained equipment replacement and infrastructural development across the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service as identified and prioritised in the Defence White Paper and builds on the significant investment programme over recent years. However, in light of the unexpected level of expenditure linked to the Covid crisis this may be the subject of review.
The White Paper underpins the ongoing replacement of the Naval Service fleet. A significant investment over recent years has been on the procurement of new Off-Shore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) for the Naval Service. The fourth ship in the programme, LÉ George Bernard Shaw, was commissioned into service in May 2019 reflecting an investment by the Government of over €250 million in the new ships programme since 2010. The four ships are performing well in operational service. In addition, works on the mid life refit of LÉ Roisín are underway and this will be followed by mid life refit works on LÉ Niamh.
Further to the Off-Shore Patrol Vessels Project, the White Paper also provides for the replacement of the current Naval Service flagship LÉ Eithne with a multi role vessel (MRV). Planning is underway on this project and it is intended to hold a public tender competition to cover the supply of the MRV. As with the purchase of any major defence platform and complex project, it requires the finalisation of required capabilities to enable a specification of requirements to be defined before a tender competition can can go to the market and work is ongoing in this regard. In addition, the timing and scope of the project will be subject to the public funding available within the overall Defence capital funding envelope The cost of the MRV will only be known once a tender competition is concluded. It is important to note that while the MRV will operate as naval asset, its role is very much a whole of defence one with the capacity to contribute to the wider maritime domain.
I am satisfied that the Defence Forces have the necessary resources available to them, including a modern and effective range of equipment which is line with best international standards in order to fulfil all roles assigned to them by Government.
The Naval Service made a significant positive contribution to the Covid 19 crisis with its existing flotilla. It participated in Operation Fortitude in support of the Defence Forces response to Covid 19. It has supplied six ships, to support the interagency response to Covid 19 in Dublin, Cork and Galway.
The six ships were
- LÉ Samuel Beckett
- LÉ James Joyce
- LÉ William Butler Yeats
- LÉ George Bernard Shaw
- LÉ Niamh
- LÉ Eithne.