The Irish Navy has been operating military missions in the Mediterranean because thousands of refugees have drowned trying to cross to Europe.
The well-documented crisis led to the Irish Navy being deployed on a humanitarian mission but that stance has also changed. Ireland is now a part of Operation Sophia, meaning the Navy will now be authorised to stop people traffickers. Operation Sophia is a part of the EU Common Security and Defence Policy mission.
The operation targets vessels and gangs involved in human trafficking from Libya. Ireland joins Italy, Belgium, France, Germany, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and the United Kingdom on the operation. Sinn Féin were among those opposed to Ireland joining Operation Sophia as they said it would affect Ireland’s neutrality.
2016 was an expensive year for the Irish naval vessels located in the Mediterranean. The total cost to the Defence Forces was €1.25 million in 2016 alone.
|Ships||LE Roisin||LE James Joyce||LE Samuel Beckett|
|Other (Eg Spares)||€100,594.90||€75,493.24||€128,392.16|
|Total per Unit||€442,098.62||€300,152.95||€509,740.89|
The figures above, released by the Defence Forces under the Freedom of Information Act 2014, show over €836,000 was spent on fuel alone for the three vessels. The Irish Defence Forces have rescued over 17,000 refugees since the Navy was deployed to the Mediterranean over three years ago.
The LE Samuel Beckett was the most expensive ship to fund in 2016, costing over half a million euro for the year. The vessel was launched in November 2013 and cost €71 million. The LE James Joyce was the cheapest to fund for 2016 at €300,000. Each of the three vessels has weapon capabilities.
Over 2,000 people were saved in total by the LE Samuel Beckett with 50 of those saved in one rescue mission in November of this year as an overloaded rubber boat attempted to make its way from Libya to Europe. This is the second tour of the vessel as it originally began patrol in 2015 before being redeployed this year.
It is unknown how long the Irish Defence Forces will continue to operate in the Mediterranean or how much it will cost the state to keep the Navy operating in the area.
By Gavin Hyland & Louise Burne