The Irish Government ended 2023 on a high note, with an announcement last December 16th, that the last three remaining naval protection vessels remaining in Ireland's fishery protection service are to be scrapped as soon as possible in the new year.
In 2022, the Government utilised the crisis caused by the Ukraine war to quietly decommission the former Irish Naval Service flagship the LÉ Eithne, and the OPV's LÉ Ciara and the LÉ Orla, while older vessels, they are still operational and effective. It has also engaged in large-scale cuts to the Irish fishing fleet during this period.
Also during February 2022, the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation (IS&WFPO) successfully lobbied the Russian embassy not to conduct offshore military manoeuvres near Ireland's fishing grounds. This was a political embarrassment to the the Irish Government, which had no means of monitoring the exercises.
In response, Irish Government coupled the decommissioning scheme with a mandated demand that Irish fishermen assert that they were not supplying arms to Russia for use in the Russia-Ukraine war.
As with fishing boats, there is a historical basis for this disposal of still-functional naval service assets. The Irish Naval Service is tasked with fisheries protection, among other duties such as prevention of drug smuggling and pollution control. Previously, during 2013 to 2016, three Irish Naval Service Emer-class offshore patrol vessels were also formally decommissioned by the then Fine Gael led coalition Government.
These ships were disposed as follows:
3. The LÉ Aisling was sold to a Dutch broker. In 2018, a united Arab Emirates company sold her to the internationally unrecognised Libyan National Army as its flagship. This was in violation of a UN arms embargo.
The logical course, to create a volunteer naval reserve / coastguard utilising the older vessels as a backup to the regular navy was decisively rejected.
The current December 2023 announcement is a statement of intent that what resources the Government is willing to invest in the Naval Service will be in support of overseas combat operations, leaving Irish waters unprotected.
The ongoing personal crisis in the Naval Service means that two additional and more recent offshore patrol vessels, (LÉ James Joyce, LÉ George Bernard Shaw) were also placed into reserve last August 2023. The two vessels of the LÉ Róisín class, the LÉ Róisín and LÉ Niamh were placed into reserve as of January 2023. That is the entire OPV fleet, leaving Ireland's territorial waters unprotected.
The replacement for the former flagship LÉ Eithne, is to be a 'multi-role' troop carrying vessel, obviously slanted toward oversees military operations and not coastal or offshore protection duties in Ireland.