Jordan Norris 

The Department of Transport are currently not aware of any plans to remove or relocate Rescue 117, despite claims of such, says Fine Gael Senator John Cummins.

Independent TD Matt Shanahan spoke on local radio recently and voiced concerns regarding the future of the service in the county, given that there are discussions underway at present regarding a new tender process for the service.

Deputy Shanahan spoke of how he believes that the service cannot not be allowed to leave Waterford, and said that the conditions of the tender could jeopardise local jobs.

Speaking to this newspaper in response to the concerns voiced by Shanahan, Senator Cummins wished to assure locals that the future of Rescue 117 is in safe hands.

“It is correct that there is going to be a tender to the service. There has been a tender previously. I’ve spoken to Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney and Minister of State for Climate Action and Transport, Hildegarde Naughton on this matter. There’s absolutely no plans to remove or relocate services from Waterford. I don’t know where that idea has come from.”

Senator Cummins noted that as it currently stands, the tender as it operates via CHC Helicopters Dublin is worth between €50-60m a year. He described the tender as an ‘exceptionally important’ and ‘extensive’ contract and noted that the process is at present ‘commercially sensitive’. He says it is very important that politicians do not ‘interfere’.

Cummins noted the importance of not ‘interfering’ in a ‘commercially sensitive’ tender process.

“The contract as it currently stands is there until 2023. The current contract can actually be extended until 2025. There will be a tender process that will start later in the year. Naturally, this is open to any operator – not just CHC, who have won the tender previously. It’s not new that there’s been a tender for a search and rescue service. They have provided an absolutely excellent service. There is no question about it. SAR across the country have 800+ callouts a year and they’re involved in over 2,000 incidents. It’s remarkable the work that they do and that’s why the contract is so important. It’s very important that politicians do not interfere in a commercially sensitive tender process which is obviously going to open to a wide variety of operators. There are no plans within the Department of Transport to remove or relocate services from Waterford.”

Senator Cummins noted that the most important thing at present is that we have 4 ‘world-class’ services operating out of four bases, Dublin, Sligo, Shannon and Waterford. He says it is important that the next tender, whenever it comes into place, means that the level of service is maintained. He does not expect any drastic changes to be made.

Matt Shanahan told local radio that it would be ‘unacceptable’ should plans be in place to look at a base in Hawlbowling in Cork, as well as plans to service the helicopter in Baldonnell, Dublin. In response, Senator Cummins wished to note that the tender process has yet to even commence.

Independent TD Matt Shanahan voiced concerns for the future of Rescue 117 in an appearance on local radio.

“Politicians can’t set parameters on tenders. We have to be very, very careful that we don’t compromise the process. Something that we may say in the media could be used by an unsuccessful company as a way of challenging the validity of the tender or used to cast doubt upon the contract when it is awarded to an operator. In previous tender documents, there was never anything that said you must operate a base from Waterford, Sligo, Shannon, Dublin. You have to do X, Y, Z and have response times of X, Y and Z. To perform those, the company that wins the contract feels they need to have operations in X, Y and Z. We can’t be preemptive of tenders and commenting on them. It’s a really commercially sensitive situation which is worth a hell of a lot of money to the state – but it’s money well spent. To be clear, there’s absolutely no intention in the department for plans to move a service from Waterford – but there will be a tender process, and there will be a competitive tender and the state will get the best price and service and so it should.”

Senator Cummins concluded that it was ‘irresponsible’ of Deputy Shanahan to talk of a commercially sensitive process publicly.

“Ministers themselves don’t even have a role in this. It’s done by officials in the department. We have to be very careful. The existing tender will be in place possibly up until 2025.”