The Irish Government position, that the Irish Naval Service role should be changed from one of a coastguard to a army combat support reserve is now apparent.
The operational naval functions will be contracted out, using the SAR 'air cover' contract as a model. This will cost an estimated €670 million (at least) over its ten year period. Meanwhile, an estimated 105 Air Corps service members have died due to the brutal and primitive conditions under which they are forced to operate.
Meanwhile the Naval Service, like every branch of the Defence Forces continues to leach personnel, thanks to poor working conditions, and a consistent policy of closing and selling existing military facilities. The latest version of this sustained policy was initiated under the austerity measures after 2010.
One reason for the migration of personnel from the Defence Forces are conditions due to a policy of relentless closure of barracks. As a result of these closures, Defence Forces personnel have to travel on a regular basis from Finner Camp and Aiken camps, as well as Athlone, to conduct security duties at army barracks in Dublin.
This was forced on the Defence Forces, as a result of what the Irish Examiner termed the "major civil service-driven" reorganisation in 2012/2013, which led to the disbandment of the Fourth Western Brigade. in 2012. The 4th Brigade (4 BDE), also known as 4th (Western) Brigade was a Brigade of the Irish Army headquartered in Custume Barracks in Athlone. Operational conditions were impacted, in some cases severely, by these relentless closures.
In July 2022, in advance of the "proposed "arrival of a number of replacement vessels, the fleet's three oldest vessels (Eithne, Orla, Ciara) were immediately decommissioned. Two other offshore patrol vessels (LÉ Róisín, and LÉ Niamh) were placed in "operational reserve" in January 2023. This leaves Irish waters unprotected.
This was implemented instead of creating a working Naval Reserve or an expanded coastguard even (employing former naval personnel) though drug shipments are constant and Ireland now has no operational naval service.
In December 2023, it was announced that the vessels Eithne, Orla and Ciara would be scrapped, despite a proposal to use Eithne as a museum ship in port. The LÉ Eithne has an interesting history, it was designed to carry a (SA365F Dauphin) helicopter, and was the only ship in the Irish Naval Service fleet to have a flight deck. However, helicopter operations were limited primarily to the vessel's early years of service.
LE Eithne also was the last ship of the Irish Naval Service to have been constructed in Ireland, at Verolme Dockyard at Rushbrooke, County Cork. Shipbuilding operations ceased at the yard in 1984, and the yard went into receivership. Unlike Finland, Ireland does not protect its domestic shipyards with Government subsidies, citing harsh market realities for industries other than banks and property developers.
With regard to the specific vessels decommissioned in 2022, (LÉ Ciara and LÉ Orla) any replacement vessels will have counter-mine and counter-IED capabilities, obviously for integration with NATO combat operations.
Closures of military facilities has not prevented Government Ministers from proposing fresh measures, even in barracks which have soldiers and their families living on site., as with the historic Cathal Brugha Barracks in Dublin, home of the military archives.
Military barracks should be utilised for Defence Forces families and military personal as a matter of course. The lack of suitable living accommodation is obviously one of the main reasons why personnel are departing the defence forces.
A succession of Irish Governments have presided over the effective disbandment of large parts of the Defence Forces, affecting matters of vital national interest in the matter of protection of Irish security and natural resources.