Other Questions. - Air Accident Investigations.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin


9 Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources the progress made to date in implementing recommendations, for which his Department has responsibility, of the final report of the air accident investigation unit into the crash of the Dauphin helicopter at Tramore, County Waterford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17404/01]

As the Deputy is aware a thorough examination of the final report of the air accident investigation unit of the Department of Public Enterprise into accident DH 248/rescue 111 Tramore, 2 July 1999 took place in my Department. The following is an update on the response of my Department to the recommendations which relate specifically to the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources. The recommendation 4.14 – safety recommendation 24 of 2000 – refers to the emergency services including fire service, regional airport fire crews, the Garda Síochána, IMES coas tal teams, mountain rescue teams and RNLI lifeboat crews being made fully aware of and trained to deal with, the potential hazards to rescue personnel associated with sites of serious aircraft accidents. My Department has in place training programmes for coast guard units in dealing with hazardous situations. This training is being upgraded in the case of incidents of serious aircraft accidents. On 14 October 2000, the chief fire officer at Shannon Airport delivered a lecture on the subject of downed aircraft search and approach techniques at the coast guard area officers' annual conference in Limerick. I plan to have this lecture as a regular means of training personnel in relation to downed aircraft.

Recommendation 4.15 – safety recommendation 25 of 2000 – recommends that a formal service level agreement be put in place between the Air Corps and the Irish coast guard defining the precise responsibilities and deliverables of both parties. My Department accepts the need for formalising current relationships and such agreements are at draft stage at present.

Additional Information.All safety recommendations have been concluded by my Department with the exception of a service agreement between my Department and the Air Corps of the Department of Defence. This agreement awaits the outcome of the Department of Defence contract for helicopter procurement and the finalisation of the report of the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources-Department of Defence working group on dedicated marine emergency response helicopters.

Recommendation 4.16 – safety recommendation 26 of 2000 – states that for future SAR bases at airports-aerodromes, a service level agreement between the operator and the airport authorities should be put in place before operations are commenced. This should clearly identify the level of support services to be provided. My Department in its contract relationships with private operators ensures that appropriate agreements to the Department's satisfaction are in place between service providers and airport authorities. It should be noted that the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources is not a party to relationships between the Air Corps and airport authorities.

Recommendation 4.21 – safety recommendation 31 of 2000 – recommends that my Department should review the aviation expertise and training requirements for personnel involved in the tasking of SAR air assets. My Department has an ongoing training and review programme in place which encompasses, inter alia, aviation awareness. Two three week search and rescue mission co-ordinator's courses have been attended by 12 staff to date and a two day aviation awareness module was introduced on the course.

Recommendation 4.22 – safety recommendation 32 of 2000 – is that my Department should conduct an investigation into the maritime circumstances, which gave rise to the mission and to prolonging the mission. The maritime circumstances that gave rise to the rescue mission are well known and documented. Unfortunately these type of circumstances are all too common despite continuing intensive media and publicity campaigns led by my Department assisted by the RNLI, Irish Water Safety, the Civil Defence, CII, and sporting, fishing and various representative organisations. The chief marine surveyor has advised that a formal investigation is not required as all the details are already available. The level of call out to assist leisure craft in difficulty is more than 300 annually. A key aim of my Department is to bring about a fundamental change in safety culture.

Recommendation 4.25 – safety recommendation 35 of 2000 – states that the relevant operators should ensure that future new, or significantly changed, SAR operations, are the subject of a work-up period prior to the commencement of full operations. My Department has to be satisfied when taking on private contractors that they will be fully capable and proficient in providing the required service from date of contract. The relationship with the Air Corps is not a contractual one and the matter of proficiency of crews and assets is primarily for the military authorities.

I am very happy with the progress made to date on the recommendations. The Department has taken this very seriously. Will the Minister tell the House when all, or the majority, of these recommendations will be put in place?

We have targeted the end of the year as the time when all the recommendations will be put in place. I thank Deputy Bell for his compliments which I will pass on to the Department. The Department has taken this very seriously. Members will recall the terrible accident in Tramore. These people were providing an absolutely wonderful service at risk to their lives, and unfortunately lost their lives. We owe it to them and to those who will man such aircraft in the future, to take all possible steps to minimise injury and loss of life.

I want to raise a point of order, I am sure the Ceann Comhairle will, on reflection, agree with me. Will the office of the Ceann Comhairle issue an instruction to Departments not to produce lengthy answers for Ministers which take longer to read than the time allowed in the nósanna Oireachtis? The Minister has just read out a supplementary response, and we know how these briefs are prepared, that has taken longer to read than is allowed. There is another Minister – not the current Minister – with whom I dealt on another matter, who came in and gave us lectures that could have lasted all night. I suggest that the Leas Cheann-Comhairle gets the office of the Ceann Comhairle to issue a reminder to Departments not to prepare these time-wasting tomes for Ministers. Then we might get some real interchange.

I will draw the Deputy's comments to the attention of the Ceann Comhairle, but it might be more appropriate if it was dealt with by the Committee on Dáil Reform.

I was just asking that the rules be observed.

It is really about reform of the Dáil. The issue of how questions are dealt with in the House and time allocated is for that.