General says Air Corps should run search and rescue service 

General says Air Corps should run search and rescue service 

The Irish Air Corps was among the organisations assisting in last year's devastating fires in Killarney National Park. Picture: Valerie O'Sullivan

A leading general has warned that allowing a commercial operator to run the Irish Coast Guard search-and-rescue service will cost taxpayers more money than if the State ran it itself.

In a confidential submission seen by the Irish Examiner, Brigadier General Rory O'Connor, General Officer Commanding Air Corps and Director of Military Aviation, champions the role of the Air Corps as being more cost effective than a commercial operator.

"I feel obliged to reiterate concerns in relation to value for money given the potential significant duplication of resources and the duplication of tasks that will likely arise from two state agencies operating aircraft with similar capabilities," he said.

The Air Corps' proposal would see one-off spending of €35m on two new helicopters, and around €8m a year on maintenance, extra wages and training.

He also said the State investing money in its own aircraft, rather than tendering out to a private firm,  would lead to "an enduring saving to Ireland" because the aircraft would be available to the State long after their 20-year life expectancy.

One of the options he has proposed is a new Air Corps search and rescue base in Cork or Waterford.

Despite running, not just a successful air ambulance service from its base in Athlone, Co Westmeath, but also providing a fixed-wing 'top cover' surveillance and observation service for the Irish Coast Guard, defence sources say the Air Corps is "not in the running" for the new contract.

The current €62.5m-a-year search and rescue contract, which is operated by the Irish subsidiary of Canadian firm CHC, is due to expire by the end of next year.

Any company wanting to tender for the contract has until January 26 to fill out a supplier assessment questionnaire, drawn up by the Department of Transport.

Senator Gerard Craughwell, who provided the Irish Examiner with details of the Air Corps submission, said: "Minister [Eamon] Ryan needs to explain in the Dáil what on Earth is going on.

"He needs to explain why the Air Corps is being sidelined in this whole process when it has the ability to fulfill the roles that a new search and rescue contract demand."

Despite the fact that the Air Corps currently has a fixed-wing capacity, a Department of Transport spokesperson said: "The department can confirm provision has been made to allow for the Air Corps to undertake the fixed-wing element of the service when and if it has capacity."

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