The Naval Service is the State's principal sea-going agency and is tasked with a variety of defence and other roles. The primary day to day tasking of the Naval Service is to provide a fishery protection service in accordance with the State's obligations as a member of the European Union. The Naval Service is tasked with patrolling all Irish waters from the shoreline to the outer limits of Ireland's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). These patrols are carried out on a regular and frequent basis and are directed to all areas of Irish waters as necessary.
On any given patrol day the Naval Service can carry out a number of taskings on behalf of other State Agencies such as the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, An Garda Síochána and the Customs Service of the Revenue Commissioners.
Naval Service patrols are complemented by assistance provided by the Air Corps. The Air Corps’ Maritime Squadron carries out aerial surveillance within the Irish EEZ using the two CASA maritime patrol aircraft.
The Government has acknowledged the recruitment and retention issues in the Defence Forces that are resulting in operational challenges primarily across the Naval Service and Air Corps. A range of actions have been taken to date to address these issues, and further actions are currently under consideration.
Civil and Military management are actively engaged in measures to address the recruitment and retention challenges in the Naval Service. It is clear that the situation the Naval Service is facing remains challenging, in particular there are a number of pinch points with particular specialists in terms of recruitment and retention. The Department and the Defence Forces are assessing a range of options to manage the current challenges in the short, medium and longer term. Both myself and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform have received separate briefings from the Naval Service on the current challenges. The Department has engaged in discussions with DPER on this matter and these discussions are ongoing.
The Air Corps has also experienced challenges. In this context the Emergency Aeromedical Service (EAS) and the GASU (Garda Air Support) have been prioritised. A Service Commitment Scheme for pilots was sanctioned by DPER and implemented in the third quarter of 2019. This has had a stabilising effect. Other measures such as a recommissioning scheme for former Air Corps pilots has also boosted pilot numbers and a range of initiatives which will see accelerated training through outsourcing, are restoring capacity to the Air Corps as quickly as possible.
Notwithstanding the staffing challenges being experienced, the Naval Service and Air Corps continue to carry out the roles assigned by Government.
I am satisfied that Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality, which is characterised by non-participation in military alliances, is not impacted.