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Speech by Mr. Willie O’Dea, T.D., Minister for Defence at the commissioning ceremony for the 44th Naval Service Cadet Class

Wednesday 6th September 2006

Ladies and Gentleman I am delighted to be in Haulbowline today to participate in a very important event in the Naval Service calendar and a day of great significance for the six young officers before us who have just been commissioned as Ensigns of the Naval Service. These young people have just taken an oath that pledges each one of them to be faithful to the Irish Nation and the Constitution. This solemn undertaking marks them out from every other profession and I know that they have not taken on these responsibilities lightly.

Each annual Commissioning Ceremony marks the coming of age of a new generation of leaders. Having successfully completed their Cadet training, the members of the 44th 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 as leaders of the future in the modern Naval Service will have equipped them with the skills necessary to face the many and varied challenges that they will encounter in the course of their Naval careers. Anyone watching the first instalment of RTE’s excellent documentary on the Naval Service last Monday evening would have been left in no doubt that the Naval Service, by its nature, makes particular demands of its members. I have an enormous regard for the high level of professionalism and commitment to their calling shown by our Naval personnel – not just on the television screen but on every patrol and mission that they perform.

Sadly over recent days, members of the Navy have been co-ordinating the search off the West Cork coast for the bodies of Peter O’Keeffe and Jonathan Herlihy who bravely and selflessly went to help 2 people who had got into difficulty in the water at Owenahincha last Sunday. This was a tragic sad incident and our hearts go out to the families of these two heroes. Our prayers and thoughts are with them and the hundreds of personnel continuing to search now for Jonathan Herlihy’s body.
Today’s ceremony is the culmination of two years hard work and study. These officers have undergone a rigorous training program that covered a range of military, nautical and academic subjects. Their training has involved courses at the Military College in the Curragh, here at the Naval Base and in the National Maritime College in Ringaskiddy.

Of course their training as officers does not end today but will continue for the duration of their military career. After taking some well earned leave, they will be returning to the National Maritime College to embark on another academic year which will include some sea-time on both a Naval and a Merchant ship to gain experience and to put into practice what they have learnt in the classroom.

As you may be aware, since my appointment I have been taking steps to increase the number of women applying to join our Defence Forces. So I am delighted to see that the 44th Cadet Class includes a young woman and I am pleased to say that over the last five years, the Defence Forces have doubled the percentage intake of female cadets to 20%. Also last year over 10% of enlistments for general service were females. Last month, Naval Service cadetships were offered to 5 young women and 5 young men – so we will see a 50% intake of female cadets into the Service this year.

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. Already, the benefits of this ten-year initiative have already been highly significant. There has been substantial investment in infrastructure and equipment across all areas of the Defence Forces. In fact, in the past few weeks, I have approved two contracts valued at over at over 3 million euro in total, which have been placed for construction projects here in Haulbowline. These works will see the historic Block 6 being refurbished and upgraded as the new combined Headquarters building for the Naval Service, and the refurbishment and extension of the of the Mast House building.

In the Defence White Paper, the Government decided that the Naval Service would be developed around the provision of an eight-ship flotilla. We remain committed to maintaining the ongoing investment in the equipment needs of the Naval Service that will maintain the eight-ship flotilla.

And we are getting a good return on our investment. Last year, the Naval Service achieved a total of 1,682 patrol days, of which 93% related to fishery protection. This was an increase of more than 5% over the total patrol days for 2004. In the course of these patrols, a total of 2,068 vessels were boarded, 41 were detained and 111 warnings were issued. These outputs reveal a focused and committed Naval Service that is continuing to produce high levels of performance. I would like to take this opportunity to thank each member of the Naval Service for their contribution to this impressive performance.

Today is a celebration of achievement and it marks the passing of a milestone in the lives of these new officers. Of course the dedication and commitment of those who have helped to mould these young people into officers over the last 24 months should be acknowledged and I would like to thank the Commandant of the Naval Service College, Commander O’Flynn, the Class Officer, Lt. Cathal Power, class NCO, LS Colm Goulding and all of the staff of the college for their efforts.

Today however, belongs primarily to these new officers. 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 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. Fergal Carroll 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.

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