Justine Dwyer

The resolve of Waterford and the South East’s Oireachtas members to stand united in their fight for the retention of Rescue 117 proved successful this week when it was confirmed by the Department of Transport that Waterford will retain its Rescue 117 Airbase.

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane said that this reflected the strong representations from the South-East when members across counties and parties came together to say that the existing four bases were needed.

“The decision by Ministers to specify retention of all four search and rescue bases in the next tender phase is a very welcome clarification. It is essential that the search and rescue service is maintained in Waterford. There were fears that one base could be scrapped but thankfully that has been avoided following strong representations from TDs and Senators across the South-East,” he said.

News that the four search and rescue bases were being retained was described as a “positive development” by Fine Gael Councillor John Cummins. “It removes the uncertainty which has emerged in recent times on this critical life-saving service, particularly regarding the Rescue 117 which operates out of Waterford airport.

Senator Cummins added it was really positive news for the Waterford region and the coastal communities that the crew of R117 provide a service for. He continued that the four bases located at Shannon, Sligo, Dublin and Waterford were geographically well placed and had served the state well over many years.

Fianna Fail Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People, Mary Butler also welcomed the news saying she had personally underlined the immeasurable importance of the air rescue service.

“Oireachtas members and local politicians from the South-East, activist groups and representatives of the fishing industry all made a significant contribution in highlighting the importance of Rescue 117, ensuring that the correct decision was made.”

She said it was her firm belief that the Government should work toward the enhancement of services and further development of facilities at the Rescue 117 airbase in Waterford.

“The R117 team organise, orchestrate, and execute sea rescues, land searches and emergency hospital transfers in very challenging conditions at a time when the people affected, and their families, are enduring harrowing life and death situations.

This highly skilled crew, emergency service staff members and volunteers are all honourable people of the highest calibre and we are privileged to be able to call upon them in dire circumstance and urgent need,” she concluded.

Meanwhile Independent TD Matt Shanahan remained cautiously optimistic about the news, saying further clarification was needed. “We need absolute clarification that we will retain the heavy lift helicopter on a 24/7 basis here in Waterford.”

Deputy Shanahan said although he was pleased with the news it was also quite distressing to see the amount of capital funding being given to the National Aviation Centre when Waterford airport had lost out on two tranches of funding.

“It raises the question why do we always have to fight, not only for what we need but also for what we already have. We shouldn’t have to fight to retain what we already have when some of the other regions don’t.”