As this is my first appearance here since the new Minister took office I want to congratulate him and wish him well as Minister for Defence.
On Wednesday, 30 October, a fishing boat, theHeather Berry, based in Renvyle, County Galway, got into difficulties off Old Head during a very bad storm while on it way to fishing grounds in Clew Bay and sent out calls for help. A helicopter based at Shannon arrived on the scene and airlifted two crew members. In the meantime another fishing boat from Westport, the Sun Dancer, came to the rescue of the Heather Berry but it, too, got into difficulties. Because the helicopter had to go back to refuel it was not in a position to continue the rescue operation. Fortunately, a trawler, the Honey Bee, from Achill, came to the rescue and took the Sun Dancer in tow and saved the lives of three crew members. I wish to pay tribute to both crews who set out in atrocious weather conditions with no regard for their own safety. Were it not for the bravery of the two seamen and their crews coming to the rescue in that storm, the three crew members of the Sun Dancer would probably have lost their lives.
I ask the Minister to examine the present position regarding the fuelling of helicopters in Castlebar military barracks. It has an ideal landing facility with floodlighting and there are personnel on duty at all times. I suggest that a modern fuelling depot should be provided at this location given that a number of islands off the Mayo coast require a constant helicopter service. Indeed, at this time of year many people from all over the world who arrive at piers and harbours along the coast, to bury their dead or visit relatives living on the islands, are unable to get to them and have to return to the United States, Australia and so on without having made the trip.
If fuelling facilities were available at the military barracks in Castlebar or a helicopter provided there, it would eliminate the cost of travelling to Baldonnel, Shannon or Donegal to refuel. I ask the Minister to examine the possibility of locating a helicopter at the military barracks in Castlebar to provide a rescue service over a long coast line, from Donegal to Cork, to airlift patients to hospitals and to protect our fisheries.