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Irish Offshore Patrol Fleet Mothballed

Updated: Feb 19

The LÉ Aisling, a former Naval vessel, stationed at a naval base in 2007.
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 in violation of a UN arms embargo. Brian Clayton, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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 Eithne, and the OPV's Ciara and the 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.

The 2021 Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) led to cuts agreed between the Irish Government and the EU as to the amount of fish Irish fishermen can legally catch.

From 2022-2023, 80 trawlers from the country’s 180-strong offshore fishing fleet began to be scrapped as part of the Brexit Voluntary Decommissioning Scheme. 

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:

1. The Aoife was gifted free to the Maltese Navy as a working offshore patrol vessel and still remains as such.

2. The Emer was sold for €320,000 through a broker to Nigeria and now functions as a Naval training ship for the Nigerian Navy (incomparably better equipped than the Irish Naval Service).

3. The 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, (James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw) were also placed into reserve last August 2023. The two vessels of the Róisín class, the Róisín and 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 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.

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