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Secretary General, Chief of Staff, Flag Officer Commanding the Naval Service, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. It has always been a particular pleasure of mine to be present at the commissioning of new officers in the Defence Forces and I am delighted to be in Haulbowline today to participate in a very important event for the Naval Service and for the 13 young men and women who have successfully completed their officer training.

Today’s ceremony is the culmination of two years of hard work and dedication by these young people. Over the last two years they have undergone a rigorous training programme covering both professional and academic subjects. Their training commenced in September 2002 and involved courses at the Military College in the Curragh, at the Naval Base here in Haulbowline and they have also served terms at sea. These officers have successfully achieved the high standards required of them in a wide variety of activities and will be at the helm of the development of the Naval Service into the future. There is no doubt that with such extensive training behind them, they will be well prepared for their future careers.

Last year these young officers undertook a deployment to the Baltic Sea on the L.É. Eithne where they visited the ports of Oslo, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn and Copenhagen. The invaluable experience that they gained on this trip will stand to them in their future careers as Naval Officers. Having the opportunity to travel overseas also helps to ensure that a career in the Naval Service remains an attractive option for young people.

The men and women of the 42nd Naval Cadet class are becoming officers in a Service that has undergone impressive development in recent years. The most notable reflection of this has been the coming into service, during the last 5 years, of two new patrol vessels at a cost of over €25 million each. These vessels - the L.É. Róisín and the L.É. Niamh - are a tremendous boost to the fleet and have enhanced the capability of the Naval Service in performing its variety of functions.

The Naval Service makes an important contribution across a wide variety of roles assigned by Government. The success of the 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 important duties 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.

As Minister for Defence, I am committed to continuing the Development of the Naval Service to fulfil its range of tasks. Last year, there was a total of 1,500 patrol days, with over 90% spent in the protection of vital economic resources. This activity is reflected in the fact that in that period Naval Service ships spent 1,353 days on fishery patrol duties, sighting 2,974 vessels, boarding 1,950 and detaining 35. Once again, these figures reflect a Naval Service that continues to maintain and improve its levels of professionalism, performance and skill.

We are approaching the half way stage in the life of the White Paper on Defence. The White Paper has brought about enormous improvements in the organisation and operational capacity of the Defence Forces. Striking advances in terms of equipment and infrastructure have being made across all elements of the Forces, including the Naval Service. It is imperative that this forward momentum is sustained.

I have just had the great pleasure of opening the latest phase of the building programme here at the home of the Naval Service and I look forward to the further developments that are coming on stream. Already, two new vessels have been delivered and, as another approaches the end of its notional life, it is my intention to bring forward plans for a further new vessel for 2007.

Thus far, the funding for the great improvements delivered under the White Paper has largely come from our own resources - through payroll savings and the sale of property surplus to requirements. However, these sources have been well tapped by now and are far from being a bottomless well, and I believe the time is now opportune to explore new sources of funding. I am considering the possibility that some of the funds accrued from the Government’s SSIA scheme might be invested in Defence Bonds. Any revenues raised from the sale of these bonds could go directly towards funding the modernisation programme for the Defence Forces on an ongoing basis. The criteria for assessing such an initiative would be that it should be attractive to savers and provide a means of maintaining the thrust of the investment programme of recent years.

In recent years the Government has promoted the concept of Private-Public Partnerships as a way to “fasttrack” essential infrastructural developments through using private sector funding. The newly built National Maritime College of Ireland in Ringaskiddy is the result of a unique partnership between my Department – which provided the land – and the Department of Education, Cork Institute of Technology and the Naval Service.

The College – which will open shortly, will accommodate up to 750 full-time equivalent students. It will provide world-class training facilities that will serve the needs of both the Naval Service and the Institute and will be a major attraction for international trainees, reinforcing Ireland's position as a centre of excellence in maritime training. I would like to extend my best wishes for a successful future to this exciting new venture.

In conclusion, I would like to pay tribute to the Naval College staff involved in preparing these cadets for officer duty. They deserve a special mention for the care and dedication, which they brought to the task of developing these young people for their future careers. The fruits of their labour stand before us today and they can be proud of the good work in which they were involved. Today however, belongs primarily to these new officers. They are charged with providing leadership and guidance to others, a responsibility they will, I have no doubt, discharge with excellence. To their families and friends who are here today, you are all very welcome - this is a proud day for you and your loved ones. I hope that you will remember today with pride and with pleasure for many years to come.

Finally, I would like to thank the Band of the 1st Southern Brigade, under the baton of Sergeant Major Bill Coffey, whose music has added greatly to the enjoyment of this ceremony.

Thank you and enjoy the rest of the day.

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