The Irish Navy took delivery of its fourth and final offshore patrol vessel (OPV) of the Samuel Beckett class during a naming and commissioning ceremony held in Waterford, Ireland, on May 1 in the presence of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Defense Paul Kehoe. Commissioning and handover of LE George Bernard Shaw brings to a close one phase – the patrol vessel element – of the Naval Service Ship Replacement Program, a vessel replacement strategy launched in 2007 under the Irish Navy’s 30-year in-service rule.
In accordance with the program, the Irish government launched a tender competition for two OPVs that included an option for a third boat. The aim of the program was to replace the Irish Navy’s three oldest vessels, the Deirdre class LE Emer (commissioned in 1978), LE Aoife (commissioned in 1979), and LE Aisling (commissioned in 1980).
In 2009, the Department of Defense selected Babcock Marine to provide the Irish Navy with two new OPVs at a cost of EUR100 million. The option for the third ship was picked up in June 2014, thereby providing a full one-for-one replacement of all three Deirdre class boats through October 2016, when the third vessel, LE William Butler Yeats, was commissioned.
In June 2016, prior to the commissioning of the third vessel, a fourth boat was contracted for at a cost of EUR66 million. With that vessel having now entered service, the Irish Navy has an inventory of nine naval patrol vessels, thus ensuring that eight are seaworthy and operational through the short and medium terms.
The Samuel Beckett class ships (also referred to as the Modified Roisin class) are charged with performing fishery protection, search-and-rescue, anti-pollution, and maritime security missions within the Irish Navy.
Under Ireland’s Defense White Paper unveiled in August 2015, the Irish Navy will undertake two more projects.
The first involves the replacement of LE Eithne, the helicopter-carrying patrol vessel and the flagship of the service. Under the white paper, this ship will be replaced with a multirole vessel (MRV), which will not carry helicopters but will be enabled for helicopter operations and have a freight-carrying capacity.
A second project will involve replacing the two existing coastal patrol vessels, LE Ciara and LE Orla (both ex‑British Royal Navy Peacock class ships), with similar vessels outfitted with countermine and counter-IED capabilities.