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SPEECH BY MR. WILLIE O’DEA, T.D., MINISTER FOR DEFENCE AT THE COMMISSIONING CEREMONY FOR THE 46th NAVAL SERVICE CADET CLASS

THURSDAY 11th SEPTEMBER 2008


Secretary General, Chief of Staff, Flag Officer Commanding the Naval Service, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentleman: I am delighted to have this opportunity to return to Haulbowline today for this most important event in the Naval Service calendar.

Before I begin I’m sure that you would all like to join with me in complimenting Captain Colm Newport, his crew and the trainees for their courage and professionalism in executing the successful evacuation of the Asgard 2. Of course the loss of Asgard fills us with great sadness. However, that’s nothing compared with our relief in knowing that everyone is safe and well.

This day is a day of great significance for the nine young men and women who have just been commissioned as Ensigns of the Naval Service. I want to offer my warmest congratulations to all of them. I know that many of you have a strong family links with the Defence Forces and in particular the Naval Service. You are, together with your families and friends, entitled to feel enormously proud of what you have achieved.

These young officers have just taken an oath to be faithful to the Irish Nation and the Constitution. This solemn undertaking marks them out from other professions and I know that they have not taken on these responsibilities lightly. Your training as military leaders of the future in the modern Irish Naval Service will have equipped you with the skills necessary to face the many and varied challenges that will confront you.

This ceremony is testament to their commitment, dedication and above all, hard work. Having successfully completed their Cadet training, the members of the 46th Naval Service Cadet Class have risen to the challenge of a rigorous training programme which tested their determination, staying power and resilience to the limit. Their training has equipped them with the skills necessary to meet the many and varied challenges that they will encounter in the course of their Naval careers.

These new officers take up duty at a time of exciting change for the Defence Forces. The continuing implementation of the White Paper on Defence has transformed the capacity of the Defence Forces to meet the challenges of the modern era at home and abroad.

Yesterday in Kilkenny I reviewed the members of the 98th Infantry Battalion who will soon depart for overseas service with the EUFOR mission in Chad. The mission to Chad is a continuation of our long and honourable tradition of supporting international peace and security. It is a tradition whose 50th anniversary we celebrate this year.

Looking at today’s newest Naval Service Ensigns I am pleased to see that the female officers just outnumber the male officers. I am told that this is the first time this has happened in a cadet class. It shows that the Defence Forces, including the Naval Service continues to be an attractive career choice for our young people.

As you know, since my appointment as Minister for Defence I have been eager to increase the number of women applying to join the Defence Forces. While the gender balance in the 46th Naval Service Cadet Class is most welcome, we do not lose sight of the fact that women still make up only 5.46% of the total strength of our PDF. The strength of female personnel in the Permanent Defence Force has grown from 244 at the end of 1997 to 564 at the end of June 2008.

My objective remains to increase further the number of women applying to join the Defence Forces in particular the Permanent Defence Force.

The Naval Service makes an important contribution across a wide variety of roles assigned by Government. The performance of the Naval Service in the areas of fishery protection, search and rescue, the provision of aid to the civil power - especially for drug intervention - highlights the wisdom of the Government’s decision to assign these responsibilities to a highly capable organisation like the Naval Service, rather than to a number of different specialist forces. These high profile roles have the added benefit of conveying the importance of the Naval Service to the wider community.

I am delighted to say that we are getting a good return on our investment. Last year, the Naval Service achieved a total of 1,661 patrol days with over 90% focused on fishery protection. I would like to take this opportunity to thank each member of the Naval Service for his or her high performance in the past year.

In the current difficult economic environment, it will be important that we look to the efficiencies which all parts of the public sector can make so as to continue to deliver high quality public services within a more constrained financial resource envelope. However, it is also important that we continue to invest in public services so as we can maintain service levels into the future. The significant investment in the Defence Forces over the past number of years means that it is well placed to continue to deliver the services demanded of it by Government and it is my intention that we will continue to invest in the Defence Forces to maintain this position. We are currently in the middle of a major vessel replacement programme for the Naval Service. This process is proceeding and the tender for new Offshore Patrol Vessels will issue shortly. While the final decision to procure new ships is subject to further Government approval, I am optimistic that with prudent financial management we will be able to continue the process of modernisation and reinvestment in the Defence Forces into the future, in particular, in the Naval service Ships Programme which is the current focus of our efforts in this regard.

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On occasions like this it important to recall our strong national maritime heritage. Today, I would like to pay tribute to the late Mr. JJ O’Hara who dedicated many years promoting maritime heritage and strong links between Ireland and Argentina made possible because of Admiral William Brown. Unfortunately, JJ passed away recently and I am sure you will all join with me in offering our condolences to his wife Bernie, family and friends. I am delighted that JJ’s brother Joe and his daughter Louise are with us here this afternoon to continue the longstanding association between the Admiral Brown Society and the Defence Forces, in particular the Naval Service. Earlier today Joe and Louise presented a silver pin to each newly commissioned officer, following on the tradition set by JJ in recent years.

Today is a celebration of achievement and it marks the passing of a milestone in the lives of these nine new officers. As officers of the Naval Service you have chosen a very challenging and demanding career but one that is also very fulfilling and rewarding.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Commandant of the Naval Service College, Commander Mark Mellet, the Class Officer, Lt. Brian Matthews, class NCO, Leading Seaman Jonathan Dennis and all of the staff of the college for their efforts.

Finally I would like to compliment everyone involved here today in the arrangements for this impressive ceremony.

Thank you and I hope that you enjoy the rest of the day.

ENDS



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