Fears for Ireland's first charity air ambulance as appeal raises fraction of funds needed for its operation

Fianna Fáil has demanded the Government explain what, if any, contingency plans it has in place if the country’s first charity air ambulance is grounded.

Fears for Ireland's first charity air ambulance as appeal raises fraction of funds needed for its operation

Fianna Fáil has demanded the Government explain what, if any, contingency plans it has in place if the country’s first charity air ambulance is grounded.

Defence Spokesperson Jack Chambers said the matter needs “urgent clarification”.

He was speaking after it emerged today a funding appeal by the Irish Community Rapid Response-run service has only raised a fraction of the €400,000 it needs.

When it launched a GoFundMe fundraising campaign last week, organisers insisted the service would have to be grounded if it couldn’t raise the money.

However, as of 3.45pm today, just 183 donors had donated only €6,424 via the GoFundMe page.

The inability to raise funds needed even for this stage in a two-week funding campaign despite repeated media appeals has exposed the ability by the charity - which raised little more than €193,000 in 2018 - to fund its commitments.

At the current rate funds are coming in, it would take the charity at least another 60 weeks to get the money they need.

Worryingly, the charity agreed to act as back-up for the Emergency Aeromedical Service (EAS) when it emerged last November staff shortages at the Air Corps-operated service left it unable to operate its AW139 helicopter for four days throughout January and February.

ICRR was asked to step in and provide cover during these grounding days and the charity said it would deploy its secondary aircraft.

“Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe must urgently clarify what contingency he has put in place if this service is grounded due to a funding crisis,” Deputy Chambers said.

The Minister’s failure to address the retention crisis and the exodus of pilots, technicians and other skilled personnel in the Air Corps is the reason we are in the outrageous situation where the State is reliant on a charity to provide this essential aeromedical service in Athlone.

That lives are now being put at risk is Minister Kehoe’s greatest indictment and failure.

“What is more shocking and unacceptable is his total silence on this matter since the funding challenges were first revealed.

“It shows a complete failure of both Ministers Kehoe and Harris to strategically plan and coordinate life-saving aeromedical cover across the country.”

Ruth Bruton, who is co-ordinating the GoFundMe campaign, left a note on the funding page on Monday urging more people to donate.

“Your donations and support mean the absolute world to me, the ICRR team and the ill or injured,” she wrote.

“Over the weekend you lovely bunch have given over €7,939 between this page and directly to ICRR, via their website.

“It's a fantastic start, however we still have a long way to go to reach our target.”

In an explanatory note to go with the campaign, she stated last week: “Ireland’s new charity Air Ambulance service to be grounded in two weeks’ time without immediate support from you.

“The ICRR Air Ambulance needs the immediate donation of €400,000 to keep its services flying across Ireland.

“It risks grounding of its vital life-saving air ambulance that has saved countless lives across Ireland.”

It launched with an Augusta Westland AW109 aircraft from its base near Millstreet, Co. Cork, last July.

Since then, it says it has helped bring emergency care to 250 people.

Although the National Ambulance Service (NAS) provides medical staff and coordinates the taskings, the charity funds the helicopters, pilots, fuel and its airbase.

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