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SPEECH BY MR. WILLIE O’DEA, T.D., MINISTER FOR DEFENCE AT THE COMMISSIONING CEREMONY FOR THE 47th NAVAL SERVICE CADET CLASS

THURSDAY 10th SEPTEMBER 2009.


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.

This is a day of great significance for these young officers who have just been commissioned as Ensigns of the Naval Service. I want to offer my warmest congratulations to all six of them. Today is a very special day for Ciaran, James, Michael, Jon-Laurence, Daniel and Kieran. You are, together with your families and friends, entitled to feel enormously proud of what you have achieved. Indeed, I am pleased to see so many here today to share this special day with each of you.

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. This ceremony is testament to their commitment, dedication and above all, hard work. Having successfully completed their Cadet training, the members of the 47th 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.

The fact that over 1100 young men and women have applied to succeed you in the next cadet class of 12 is testament to how highly regarded and rewarding a career in the Naval Service can be.

The Naval Service continues to make a vital contribution across a wide variety of roles assigned by Government. The performance of the Naval Service in areas such as fishery protection, search and rescue, and the provision of aid to the civil power - especially for drug interdiction - 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 providers. These high profile roles have the added benefit of conveying the importance of the Naval Service to the wider community.

Over the past number of years, the Naval Service has made huge strides through increased efficiencies and improved effectiveness. The significant increase in output in patrol days stands testament to the modernisation of the service and the commitment of all personnel in the Naval service and in the defence organisation as a whole. In the current difficult economic environment, we must again look to the efficiencies which all parts of the public sector can make, so as to continue to deliver high quality public services. The significant investment in the Defence Forces over the past number of years means that it is well placed to face the current challenges. However, we must now critically examine how and what we do to ensure that we can deliver the optimum level of service and the necessary outcomes within what will inevitably be a reduced envelope of resources.

It is my intention that we will continue to invest so as to protect the operational capability of the Defence Forces and to ensure that they are positioned to be able to deliver, to the greatest extent possible, the required military capabilities now and in the future. This will involve difficult and painful decisions across the service as a whole. But it is more important that we protect and consolidate the important capability gains which have been delivered through the defence investment and modernisation programme of the past 10 years.

This inevitably brings me to the Vessel Replacement Programme. As you all know we are in the middle of a major Vessel Replacement Programme for the Naval Service involving the procurement of Offshore and Extended Patrol Vessels. The overall tender process for the Offshore Patrol Vessels has now been completed and we have a preferred bidder. The question of financing for the Naval Vessel Replacement Programme will be dealt with in the context of the upcoming estimates discussions.

The issue of the financing was always going to be a challenge and is an even greater challenge in the current financial circumstances. However, I do believe, with your support, and through the ongoing modernisation of system, structures and capabilities, that we can arrive at a reasonable solution, which will fulfil the States requirements for effective maritime capabilities provided by the Naval Service.

I spoke earlier about the need to protect and consolidate the gains the Defence Forces have made. A modern Defence Forces requires an ongoing intake and recruitment of young, highly competent and motivated personnel like the young cadets we have before us today. I fully recognise this and was pleased recently, to be able to announce, following discussions with my colleague the Minister for Finance, that, despite the moratorium on public service recruitment, Cadetship competitions for both the Army and Naval Service will be held this year. Twelve (12) Naval Service cadetships will be awarded in 2009.

I intend, within the resources available, to retain the capacity of the Defence organisation to operate effectively across all roles. This will represent a significant challenge in the coming years and one in respect of which I will work closely with the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General of the Department

While the next few years will be difficult, we must continue to support the UN and to contribute, insofar as we can, to supporting the international order and international peace and security. There are many ways in which the Defence Forces can support and assist in this regard, not least in contributing to the staffs of UN mandated missions at critical time. In that regard, I was very pleased to secure Government approval for the deployment of two Naval Service Officers to the Operational Headquarters of Operation ATALANTA.

This EU led mission, operating under a UN mandate, is designed to contribute to the deterrence, prevention and repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia. This deployment is historic in that it is the first time Irish Naval Service Officers have served overseas in a purely maritime mission. While it is a short term deployment, it fills a critical gap in the mission. With the excellent personnel we have available to us in the Defence Forces, we can continue, even in difficult times, to contribute real added value to overseas missions.

As with the EU Mission to Chad, this is a further example of the European Union working in a neutral and impartial manner, in support of the United Nations and in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter. These missions operate in accordance with the best traditions of the Defence Forces and fully in accordance with Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality and support for the United Nations.

There are those who view these missions as examples of how the Lisbon Treaty poses both a threat to our neutrality and heralds the militarisation of the EU. I reject that view.

Our neutrality is firmly in the hands of the people of Ireland and that is where it is staying. Nothing in Lisbon Reform Treaty impinges on our sovereign right to decide for ourselves, how much we spend on Defence and where and when our Defence Forces participate in overseas missions.

The Lisbon Treaty reaffirms our traditional policy of military neutrality and the principles and values, which have guided our engagement with the world.

The European Union has brought peace to Europe and prosperity to Ireland. The European Union is becoming a force for good in the wider world. The initiatives in the Lisbon Treaty represent the essence of our republicanism and of our founding fathers: the ability to offer equality of opportunity to others so that we can enjoy it ourselves.

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In conclusion, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Commandant of the Naval Service College, Lt Commander Martin Counihan, the Class Officer, Lt. Stuart Armstrong, class NCO, Chief Petty Officer Chris McMahon and all of the staff of the college for their efforts.

Today is a celebration of achievement and it marks the passing of a milestone in the lives of these six 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 and I wish you every success.

Finally I would like to compliment everyone involved here today in the arrangements for this impressive ceremony with particular thanks to the Band of the 1st Southern Brigade, under the baton of Lt. Brian Prendergast for the splendid music that has added greatly to the enjoyment of this ceremony.

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

ENDS


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