The Government has bowed to a massive campaign from communities in Donegal and Kerry to reject plans to wind down the bases. Transport Minister Noel Dempsey said €2.5 million will be pumped into a technology upgrade at both sub-centres, as well as the Dublin headquarters.
Reacting, Kerry South TD Tom Sheahan said: “The proposal to shut the coast guard stations was economic folly. It made absolutely no sense to procure new lands to build a new station when existing stations were already functioning.”
Joe McHugh, Fine Gael TD for Donegal North East, said the decision was a victory for the swell of community opposition against plans for the stations to be moved. I’m absolutely delighted... It will mean 17 or 18 jobs saved at each of the stations, but the big one here is that lives will be saved.
Mr McHugh campaigned along with a broad coalition of residents, fishermen and politicians on both sides of the border to save Malin Head in particular, the site of the oldest radio station in Europe.
“From an historical point of view, this is a service that has been provided in Malin for over 100 years, but from another point of view this is a massive victory for the regions,” he said. “For too long now, the whole philosophy in relation to the type of government being rolled out in this country has been centralisation.
“This is a marker that regions will not put up any longer with the downgrading or centralisation of services,” said Mr McHugh.
Mr Dempsey said he considered all views before scrapping proposals to re-site the rescue centres at Drogheda and at another urban location on the west coast.
“Tendering procedures for the necessary radio equipment is at an advanced stage and delivery, and installation of the first Integrated Communication System core in Dublin will be in late 2009 with work at Malin and Valentia to commence in 2010,” said his spokesman.
“This phasing ensures that full national coverage is maintained while development work takes place.”
Malin Head is the world’s oldest maritime radio rescue centre, while Valentia is internationally acknowledged as the location for the original transatlantic cable station which linked Europe and the US.
Tánaiste Mary Coughlan and former junior marine minister Pat “The Cope” Gallagher welcomed the U-turn. Ms Coughlan said she was pleased that the Malin station will remain following much speculation about its future.
Mr Gallagher said: “I’m delighted the Government has taken this very sensible and realistic step.”
Coast guard chiefs had proposed reorganising the service, with new stations at Drogheda and an undecided location in the west — possibly Shannon — replacing Malin, Valentia and the headquarters off Stephen’s Green, Dublin.
A total of 34 jobs were at stake.