Fears in Waterford that search and rescue base could be lost

TDs in the South East will meet on Tuesday concerned that the new Coast Guard contract may not include Waterford base
Fears in Waterford that search and rescue base could be lost

The new tender for the Irish Coast Guard aviation service refers to "a minimum" of three helicopter bases, and public representatives in the South East are concerned lest the Waterford base of Rescue 117 is at risk. File picture: John Hennessy

Politicians from across the South East will meet on Tuesday to discuss concerns that Waterford could lose its search and rescue base.

The new tender for the Irish Coast Guard aviation service references "a minimum" of three helicopter bases, instead of the current four, which are based at Dublin, Shannon, Waterford, and Sligo.

The €800m contract for the service has been tendered, and will see a new or existing operator appointed by the Department of Transport for the next ten years. The current contract is held by CHC Ireland, a subsidiary of Canadian company, CHC Helicopter.

The region's TDs will hold a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the issue.

Waterford Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane said they aim to "adopt a common approach as part of a united front" to lobby for retaining the service, ahead of Government deliberations expected later this month. He said: 

While the contract will be awarded as part of an independent tendering process, it is vital that the voice of Waterford and the South East is properly heard.

Independent TDs from Waterford, Tipperary, and Wexford have visited Rescue 117's base at Waterford Airport recently, with Waterford deputy Matt Shanahan placing an Oireachtas motion calling for the suspension of the tender process.

"There are fundamental flaws in the tender that has gone out — partly if we come out of this process with three bases — and we want it ceased and revisited," he said.

Rescue 117 was highlighted by the Irish Coast Guard last month, pointing to its having saved seven crew members from a fishing vessel that sunk off Kenmare Bay in Co Kerry last March.

Council meetings in Waterford and Kilkenny have discussed the service's future, where members highlighted rescues carried out on the Comeragh Mountains, the region's beaches, and its use for farm accidents.

Fianna Fáil councillor Adam Wyse summed up the mood, saying there is a "fear" in Waterford over the issue, adding that politicians should consider resigning if the service is lost. He said: 

If we lose this service, the TDs — I include my own party in that, and the senators, they're culpable as far as I'm concerned. 

Waterford councillors agreed last Thursday to send a letter to the Government stressing the need to retain all four search and rescue bases in the State and that all remain operational on a 24/7 basis.

Jim Griffin, a former Irish Coast Guard officer and Sinn Féin councillor on Waterford City Council, said the service is vital and one which Waterford “cannot afford” to lose, while ex-Naval officer and Fianna Fáil councillor Eddie Mulligan said that if the tender goes to a second round, it “should stipulate a minimum of four helis and four bases”.

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