Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Questions (41)

Tom Sheahan


124 Deputy Tom Sheahan asked the Minister for Transport if he will make a statement on the future of the maritime radio rescue centre at Malin head. [3468/08]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Transport)

It is my intention that the Irish Coast Guard and Maritime Administration will be strengthened on an ongoing basis over the coming years. My ambition is to put in place a service that will fully meet the needs of this country well in the 21st century. The recent decisions have been taken to reflect the future optimal configuration of co-ordination centres whilst ensuring that the detailed technical knowledge and experience of the Coast Guard Watch Officers is retained and fully utilised. I want to restate again that no Officer will be forced to move or lose their jobs. The transition arrangements for new centres, including the functions to continue at Malin (and Valentia), will be negotiated with staff to ensure there is no loss of expertise.

The Deloitte and Touche Irish Coast Guard Study was published in 2002. This report has provided a backdrop to ongoing improvements and developments in the Coast Guard over the last 6 years. I have arranged that both this document and the submission to me on which recent decisions were based be published on the Department's website www.transport.ie.

I purposely outlined a long-term scenario to provide structure to negotiations, which are now taking place, on how best to implement this particular step in the modernisation of the Irish Coast Guard. I have given direction to the tendering process, where a Request for Tender is now in preparation, and given enough notice to enable difficulties to be identified and resolved before equipment has to be installed. I have made it clear that these discussions, which are underway, must take account of the safety needs of local communities, and ongoing improvement of the service to the public, and the concerns of individual staff members. As I indicated previously the proposed restructuring was raised at the relevant committees on which the relevant organisations that have an interest in search and rescue are represented.

I also want to take this opportunity to make two general statements related to the issue. Firstly, I am concerned that there is confusion in the public mind between the work done in Co-Ordination centres and that undertaken by local volunteers. A significant element of ‘local knowledge' is from the local Coast Guard Coastal Units and lifeboat crews strategically positioned around our coast. Their local knowledge of tides, currents, bays and local historical incident locations is invaluable to the Watch Officers of the Coast Guard. I would like to put on record again my appreciation of their selfless voluntary efforts of the Coast Guard, RNLI Lifeboat and Community Rescue Boat crews in rescuing those in trouble on our coasts, cliffs and offshore islands.

Secondly, the Coast Guard restructuring that is being worked on is aimed at improving the efficiency of a key public service. The position in relation to Coast Guard services is being considered with the benefit of the many comments that I have received since the restructuring proposal was announced. I can assure the Deputy that all views expressed will be taken into account before a west coast location is determined.