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Sunday 19 January 2020

Ireland is 'softest target in EU for drug smugglers' after Defence Forces cuts

LE Eithne was mothballed
LE Eithne was mothballed

Cutbacks in the Defence Forces, coupled with an ever-increasing shortage of naval personnel, have made Ireland the softest target in the EU for international drug smugglers, a security expert has warned.

Almost a quarter of the Naval Service's ships were mothballed six months ago, leaving Ireland's large sea mass more vulnerable than ever to maritime smugglers.

However, ever-worsening staffing levels across the Defence Forces have heightened fears that the withdrawn naval ships, LE Eithne and LE Orla, could remain out of service indefinitely, leaving Ireland's coastline at the mercy of smugglers.

Former Army commandant Cathal Berry said: "My understanding is that a quarter of our naval flotilla is tied up indefinitely for lack of crew.

"This is not normal. What other employer would allow €50m worth of productive hardware to lie idle with no apparent plan to ameliorate the situation? It's incredible.

"Secondly, gaps in the naval patrol plan are further exacerbated by a lack of pilots and technicians in the Air Corps Maritime Squadron.

"This has significantly depleted the country's search and rescue capability, while simultaneously reducing our ability to deter, detect and intercept all types of smugglers landing in Ireland, and by extension, the European Union.

Unvaccinated

"If I may use a medical analogy, Ireland is like an unvaccinated child in a classroom with 27 other students."

Mr Berry warned that morale levels within the Defence Forces have plummeted to an all-time low, with poor pay and work conditions and a deepening retention and recruitment crisis threatening to cost Ireland a seat on the UN Security Council.

Ireland is competing with Norway and Canada for two of the rotating seats on the 15-member UN Security Council, a coveted position that this country held previously in 2001-2002.

However, Mr Berry said growing shortages in military personnel, coupled with falling levels of investment in the armed forces, have damaged our chances of winning a seat.

The retired head of the elite Army Ranger Wing said: "The year 2008 was the high-water mark for the Defence Forces. At this time there were three Army brigades, 10,500 personnel and we were leading the hugely successful international stabilisation operation in Chad.

"Unfortunately it's been downhill since then. The severe and disproportionate cutbacks may also reduce the likelihood of Ireland securing a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

"A country that has no spare capacity to deploy additional troops due to personnel shortages would have little credibility at the table of such an international forum."

In an interview in the latest edition of Signal magazine, Mr Berry also described morale among Defence Forces personnel as at "rock bottom", adding: "As you can imagine, being the lowest paid public servants in the country for no reason other than your unwavering loyalty to the State is having a devastating impact on morale."

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