Disagreement between Ireland's Department of Finance and its armed forces minister is holding up completion of a White Paper on the future of the equipment-starved Irish Air Corps and the Irish Naval Service. The paper could result in the creation of an Irish coastguard service through the merger of the organisations.

Under the proposal the two forces would become a single coastguard agency, which would be more appropriate to the current roles of the organisations. The Air Corps has no combat aircraft and concentrates on search and rescue, fisheries surveillance, training and VIP transport.

The proposal is favoured by the Department of the Marine, which regulates fishing and marine transport matters and is responsible for the marine rescue service. Armed forces minister Michael Smith has yet to firmly endorse the plan, but favours the merger.

The row is believed to centre on a Department of Finance demand to cut up to 3,000 personnel across the three defence forces. The defence department is resisting the move and says it would not be able to meet its peacekeeping duties for the United Nations and NATO's Partnership for Peace organisation, which Ireland joined last week. Smith says his White Paper, expected in the New Year, would "look after the best interests of the defence forces".

The issue is further clouded by a dispute over who should pay a I£100 million ($128 million) legal and compensation bill after claims by soldiers whose hearing was damaged during firing practice.

Source: Flight International