Search and rescue volunteers in the Coast Guard are calling on the government to upgrade the service to a ‘standalone primary response agency’.
They warn the service is constantly under threat, primarily due to political manoeuvring and not getting the recognition deserved at departmental levels.
Volunteers claim the Coast Guard is the only one of the State’s ‘blue light’ services — An Garda, ambulance and fire service — not covered by Statutory Instrument legislation which ensures standalone status.
A four-man delegation, representing around 1,000 voluntary male and female emergency workers, last week pressed their case to a cross-party section of frontbench TDs.
A spokesman for the group said under EU law, the Coast Guards’ primary functions are pollution control and monitoring ship communications at sea. “However, we now want to safeguard under legislation the search and rescue side of the Coast Guard. This is totally volunteer-driven.”
The volunteer sector, it emerged, has compiled a detailed document listing its concerns and grievances. It claims the service is currently viewed as “a footnote in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (DTTAS)” and, furthermore, warned it is subject to political manoeuvring “at every opportunity and at our and the country’s expense”.
The documents cited the current system as preventing the service from reaching its full potential, with “decisions being made by managers within the DTTAS who have no direct involvement with the emergency services”.
The Coast Guard, tasked with saving lives at sea, lakes, waterways and rivers and remote areas, operates 43 units throughout the country. They are involved in sea, air, cliff rescue and missing person operations. Back-up includes four helicopter bases and three coastal radio stations.
Volunteers estimate at 800,000 man hours the annual combined total performed by members, with officers in charge devoting up to 2,000 hours a year in direct service.
“If you compare the services and times provided by a retained fire service against a coast guard unit it would put the time, effort and skill levels into focus,” the document states.
The volunteers say “the State needs to look very vigorously at the Officer in Charge position, with a revised system of payment implemented as soon as possible”. Promises of more full-time staff have not materialised and the volunteers’ group say three sector managers covering a 7,500km coastline is a near-impossible task. It demands at least six sector managers with nine assistant managers.
They say it would provide the service with “a proper chain of command, filled by qualified, experienced personnel as is the case with the three other legislated primary response agencies. ”
In a statement, the group said the service is regarded internationally as “one of the most progressive search-and-rescue organisations in the world”.
It also points to a 100-plus years’ history, where, in some locations, generations of same families have helped to “set search and rescue standards that are globally recognised”.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved