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Other Questions. - Marine Rescue Service.

Wednesday, 6 February 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 547 No. 4

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 31. Mr. O'Shea Information on Brian O'Shea Zoom on Brian O'Shea  asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey  the position regarding the provision of a full helicopter air-sea rescue service, with night time capacity, in the south east; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3501/02]

Minister of State at the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Byrne): Information on Hugh Byrne Zoom on Hugh Byrne An Alouette 111 single engine helicopter is based at Waterford. Its restriction to visual contact flight conditions in daylight only and its restricted range means it is unsuitable for offshore marine emergency helicopter cover. As the Deputy is aware, the Alouette is a temporary replacement for the Dauphin helicopter which crashed on Tramore beach on 2 July 1999 with the tragic loss of four crewmen.

Arising from the draft report of the joint working group of the coastguard and the Departments of the Marine and Natural Resources and Defence on dedicated marine emergency response helicopters, a tender competition was commenced for provision of an all-weather marine emergency helicopter at Waterford to replace the Alouette. The competition required that the service be in place by 1 July 2002. The tender evaluation process has been completed and I am pleased to record that a contract is on the point of signature for a forward looking infra-red and autohover equipped helicopter based at Waterford to provide marine emergency response 24 hours a day, for five years from 1 July 2002.

Negotiations are also advanced for the provision of coastguard cover with an all-weather marine emergency helicopter at Waterford from May to July 2002. The helicopter will be on call for 12 hours per day until the start of the main contract. This will provide an improved capability, endurance and range over the Alouette, albeit for slightly less time each day during the long daylight hours at that time of year. The coastguard all-weather 24 hour helicopters based at Dublin and Shannon will be called on to cover any gaps during these twilight periods.

Mr. Bell: Information on Michael Bell Zoom on Michael Bell I thank the Minister of State for the information. I am sure he was pleased to be asked a question about developments in his area of the country. I look forward to seeing the new helicopter in operation as it is wrong that we have to depend on groups in other countries, such as the Royal Air Force, to provide cover.

Mr. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne Zoom on Hugh Byrne I thank Deputy Bell for the reply and I agree that the question was timely, given the small event that may occur in May. I thank the RAF for its help, as it has responded immedi[1475] ately to any difficulties we have encountered over the years and I hope we can reciprocate that assistance when the new helicopter is in place. I thank the coastguard, the RNLI and the volunteers throughout the country who help in difficult times.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes Zoom on Alan M. Dukes The Minister of State said he expects the contract for the provision of forward looking infra-red equipped helicopters to be signed soon. If the contract is signed “soon” and if there are no difficulties or disputes after it is signed, does the Minister of State really believe the service will be in place on 1 July?

Mr. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne Zoom on Hugh Byrne I am more than confident the service will be in place on 1 July. The Government is determined to put the service in place for all sorts of reasons and the project is on course. As I indicated earlier, a better service than the one currently in place will be established between May and July. I am very confident the full service will be in place by 1 July.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes Zoom on Alan M. Dukes I appreciate the Minister of State's confidence, as I appreciate the Government is taking measures between May and July. The Government may need to be rescued in May, but that is another day's work

Mr. Sheehan: Information on P. J. Sheehan Zoom on P. J. Sheehan The Government might need a lifeline.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes Zoom on Alan M. Dukes I do not mean to embarrass the Minister of State or to cast any doubt on the validity of what the Government intends to do. Has the Minister been assured by the firm with whom it is proposed to sign a contract in the next few weeks for the supply of three air and sea search and rescue helicopters, with possibly two further helicopters for military operations, that if such a contract is signed this month a fully equipped and tested operational helicopter can be put in place by July? I have no doubt about the Government's determination in this matter, but the supply schedules of the company manufacturing the helicopters will be the deciding factor. Has the specific question of whether an aircraft can be put in place by July on foot of a contract signed in February been asked?

Mr. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne Zoom on Hugh Byrne As I said, I am confident in relation to this matter and I assure the Deputy that the country will be protected from the appalling vista of a change of Government in May.

Mr. Sheehan: Information on P. J. Sheehan Zoom on P. J. Sheehan The Government might need to be saved.

Mr. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne Zoom on Hugh Byrne I assure the House that the company providing the helicopter, the Canadian Helicopter Corporation, has always treated the Department well. Deputy Dukes, as Opposition spokesman, will be invited to the launch of the new helicopters at Waterford.

[1476]Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes Zoom on Alan M. Dukes Has the Government asked the company the specific questions?

 32. Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin Information on Breeda Moynihan-Cronin Zoom on Breeda Moynihan-Cronin  asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey  the number of occasions during 2001 on which the coastguard helicopter was called on non-marine rescue operations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3492/02]

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey At present the coastguard operates two marine emergency response helicopters, based at Shannon and Dublin Airports. The helicopters used by the coastguard are medium load carrying helicopters which provide an all-weather, 24-hour service. The role of the helicopters is to respond to medical evacuations from vessels and marine and aviation emergencies in the internationally declared Ireland search and rescue region and in the Irish pollution responsibility zone; to support marine emergency response by harbours, ports, local authorities and the offshore oil industry; to provide medical evacuation for the islands; to transport firefighters to offshore incidents; to provide support to mountain rescue teams; to provide a search and rescue response in adjacent search and rescue regions and to provide hospital to hospital patient transfer.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes Zoom on Alan M. Dukes And to bring the Tánaiste to open another off-licence.

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey In 2001, coastguard helicopters were called out to 235 incidents, of which 46 were classified as non-marine rescue incidents.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes Zoom on Alan M. Dukes The Minister of State is smiling.

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey The 46 non-marine rescue incidents were comprised of 16 mountain rescue incidents, 16 pollution and salvage incidents and 14 incidents involving the helicopter emergency medical service.

Mr. Bell: Information on Michael Bell Zoom on Michael Bell Who sanctions the use of these aircraft to deal with non-marine incidents, for example to bring people to hospital or to transfer patients? Who covers the cost of the service when it is used for incidents other than those for which it is explicitly designated?

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey The approval of the matron of the relevant hospital, or a senior consultant from that hospital, is needed when patients are transferred from one hospital to another. This happens only when it is determined there is a serious emergency. All other services provided are essentially emergency services and helicopters are used only when the coastguard and the operating company decides it is a genuine emergency. The helicopter cannot be used for a purpose other than search and rescue or in the specific instances I have mentioned.

[1477]Mr. McGinley: Information on Dinny McGinley Zoom on Dinny McGinley Who has jurisdiction over the helicopter at Finner Camp near Bundoran in County Donegal? Is it controlled by the Department of Defence or by the air and sea rescue service? I pay tribute to the helicopter crew based at Finner who respond positively to emergencies on islands off Donegal, particularly Tory Island. People can be marooned on the mainland or on an island and the helicopter often rescues and assists such people. I express our gratitude to the crew. Is the helicopter at Finner the responsibility of the Minister or is it under the aegis of the Department of Defence?

Mr. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey Zoom on Frank Fahey The helicopters based at Shannon and Dublin are leased by a private sector company, but the helicopter at Finner is an Alouette which is owned and operated by the Air Corps. The Air Corps provides search and rescue and other services to the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources. I join Deputy McGinley in expressing appreciation for the good work carried out by the helicopter crews in all stations around the coast whose bravery and dedication know no bounds.


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