Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 16 Nov 1961

Vol. 192 No. 3

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Coastal Helicopter Service.


andMr. McQuillan asked the Minister for Transport and Power when it is expected that the much needed helicopter service will be provided.


asked the Minister for Transport and Power whether in view of the fact that his statement of 17th May last, that in no case over many years would a helicopter have been useful in saving life on the occasion of a disaster at sea around the Irish coasts, can no longer be said to obtain, he will now reconsider his decision that the provision of helicopters is not warranted; and if he will take immediate steps to ensure that such a helicopter rescue service is provided in this country.


asked the Minister for Transport and Power if in view of the loss of life at sea off the coast of Wexford recently and the subsequent dramatic rescue of three sailors by a British naval helicopter, the pilot of which flew the extreme range to effect this gallant rescue in conjunction with the Irish lifeboat crews, and in order to prevent further loss of life and to ensure adequate protection against the hazards of the sea to sailors and airmen of all nations off the Irish coasts, he will consider the establishment forthwith of a national helicopter service to meet all future emergencies around the Irish shores.


asked the Minister for Transport and Power if having regard to the wonderful assistance rendered by a British helicopter in the recent tragedy off the South-East Coast of Ireland he will consider the provision of a coastal helicopter service in this country.


Mr. Ryan

asked the Minister for Transport and Power if in addition to the assistance already provided to the Life-Boat Institution in the maintenance of Life-Boat Stations he will take such steps as may be necessary to render assistance by way of helicopters to the valuable and deserving actions of life-boat crews.

With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, I propose to take questions Nos. 17 to 21 inclusive together.

I would refer the Deputies to previous replies on this subject.

Because of their inability to operate in low visibility or high winds helicopters would be essential to the life-saving services only in very exceptional circumstances. The recent loss of the "Halronnell" was the first case in our waters in which such circumstances prevailed since helicopters first came into operation and may well be the last for many years to come. Indeed, even on this occasion, the coincidence of daylight and good visibility, the abatement of wind and the partial preservation of the vessel's structure constituted an element of providential good fortune which resulted in the helicopter being of service in saving three lives.

The availability of helicopters for search and rescue purposes in Britain and elsewhere in Europe arises incidentally from a primary military requirement. On occasions of distress all who can help are bound by long standing traditions and international conventions to do so and our thanks are due to the British Navy for the splendid assistance they rendered.

On the information and advice before me I am not prepared at present to recommend to the Government the diversion to a helicopter service of the very large sums which would be required and which were estimated a few years ago at £200,000 capital expenditure and £100,000 annual operating costs. Such sums could be usefully applied in less novel but more effective ways to the saving of life in other fields of endeavour or to the general benefit of the community. The situation is kept under constant review. I am asking Aer Rianta Teo. to ascertain whether conditions have changed since the last enquiry in any way which would indicate a greater volume of demand for helicopters for a variety of uses.

Arising out of the scandalous reply by the Minister, is it not a fact that on innumerable occasions over the past five years we have had to depend on the good offices of the British helicopter service in the north of Ireland and in Britain itself to rescue our sailors and to provide relief for our men in the lighthouses? Is it not a fact that on a number of occasions they had to provide ambulance services? Surely the Minister does not suggest that it is only when there is an exceptional storm that the services of the helicopter people in Britain are necessary in Ireland? Is the Minister suggesting now that it is more desirable on his and the Government's part to expend £1,100,000 on the purchase of obsolete jet aircraft and the construction of a runway at Baldonnel for military purposes than to expend the sum of £200,000 on a helicopter service which is absolutely essential in this country if we are to show any sense of responsibility towards the people on our coastline?

Could the Minister indicate what the delay was in procuring the helicopter in the last sea disaster off the Wexford coast? Will he venture an opinion as to whether or not the three men who were lost would have had a chance of being saved if we could have requisitioned a helicopter from either Cork or Dublin?

In regard to this unfortunate loss of life, the helicopter would not have operated at a time when there was any hope of saving them.

Would the Minister explain that?

I have given the Deputy as much information as I can. In regard to the unfortunate person who went adrift in the inflatable life-raft, his remains were discovered 12 miles off the Welsh coast. At the time he got on the raft, no helicopter could have operated.

Three men clung to the boat for a long time before they gave themselves to the sea.

If the availability of helicopters for search and rescue purposes arises from a military requirement, would it not be reasonable to assume that our Army and Air Force should be similarly equipped with a helicopter?

The Minister for Defence has already, in reply to another question, said that they do not require helicopters in the Defence Forces.

I put down the question and it has not been answered since. The Minister complimented the two officers who flew the helicopters. Did the Minister offer any thanks to the British Admiralty or the commander of the Centaur?

We will send the Deputy over.

That is a separate question. The matter does not arise.

We have made a suitable reply——

Did the Minister do that through the Government Information Bureau? Why was that not published?

It is all among friends.