The Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue (SAR) capacity for the south east and southern coasts is to be improved rather than downgraded according to Transport Minister Noel Dempsey.
His defence of a proposal deemed indefensible by the 20,000-plus members of the Facebook campaign to retain the 24-hour SAR service operating from Waterford looks set to become a major issue come the next general election.
Speaking in Knocktopher at the opening of the M9 section connecting the Waterford City Bypass to Danesfort, Minister Dempsey said the quality of service provided for the south east coast would not be negatively affected.
The Minister, branded “delusional” by Fine Gael Senator Paudie Coffey, said the proposed cut in the SAR service at Waterford from 24 hours to 12, would be compensated through a faster fleet of helicopters.
“The helicopters that are being bought are faster – they’re 50 per cent faster than the current helicopters,” said Minister Dempsey.
“The personnel will have the ability to fly at night in clouds unlike the current situation so it will be a much improved service, it will reach its target areas within the specified time laid out by the Coast Guard to try and save lives.
“This is a recommendation from the Coast Guard that the Government has accepted. We’re increasing costs to the Coast Guard by almost 50 per cent which is a huge commitment – and it will be an improved service, there’s no question at all about that.”
Speaking to The Munster Express, Fine Gael Deputy John Deasy challenged Minister Dempsey’s assertion regarding the Irish Coast Guard’s request of the service review.
Referring to “concrete information” he received from local management, Deputy Deasy claimed that the Department of Transport had, in fact, made the specific recommendation.
“Fine Gael’s leadership and members of the frontbench are at one in seeing the reduction in cover as proposed, given the financial saving involved, as simply making no sense,” he said.
“With that in mind, Fine Gael has formally resolved to make the retention of the south east SAR service official party policy.”
Minister Dempsey’s implied claims about the current SAR fleet’s deficiencies also incurred the wrath of Waterford City Councillor Mary Roche.
“He is so obviously parroting the wrong information that some suit in the Department is feeding him without having any real understanding of it himself,” she said.
“The current helicopter service does fly at night and indeed, in clouds – contrary to what Minister Dempsey said on RTE on Monday. Where he got that one I’ll never know.”
Cllr Roche added: “The new helicopter will not – according to my information – be 50 per cent faster, but rather maybe closer to 15 per cent faster to fly here from another base with the new helicopters…
“Perhaps the Minister has been watching too many episodes of ‘Star Trek’ and thinks (a helicopter crew) can be ‘beamed’ to the south coast?”