Dallat pays tribute to “Outstanding” Irish Coastguards

11 03 2013

Irish_Coastguard_Helicopter

SDLP East Derry MLA John Dallat will address members of the Irish Coastguard today at Stormont as well as Minister of State for Northern Ireland Mike Penning.
Mr. Dallat will say:
“It is a privilege and an honour for me to welcome members of the Irish Coastguard to Stormont and also to welcome the Right Honourable Mike Penning, Minister of State and Sector Manager Mr Gordon Monroe of H M Coastguards based at Bangor who have joined them.

“After I was elected to Coleraine Borough Council I became very aware that the Malin Head Coastguards play a critical part in sea rescue co-ordination in Northern Ireland and in particular along the Causeway Coast. In more recent years the Irish Coastguards have been an important feature of the Portrush Air Show.

“On Sunday I spoke to Finbar O’Connor a retired senior officer at Malin Head and he told me with great fondness of his time working with the coastguards in Belfast he told me:

‘On a personal note, I can say with ultimate sincerity that my strongest and fondest memories of working with Belfast CG and all those involved in marine rescue in Northern Ireland, was of seamless co-operation, always done in a spirit of being willing to go the extra mile, for a common, shared, successful outcome.’

“The idea for this visit is my way of saying thanks that the coastguard station at Malin Head has been spared from closure and it has been my privilege as a public representative to attend public meetings in the Community Centre at Malin Head and to give evidence, along with my colleagues Councillors Maura Hickey and Orla Beattie, to the Transport Committee in Dail Eireann.

“During that time I became aware that when the future of the coastguard station at Bangor was in doubt the Minister of State Mike Penning was Minister for Transport in Westminster and played a critical role in saving that station from closure. That was a good decision supported by this assembly and one of the arguments in favour was its special relationship with the Irish Coastguards and Malin Head in particular.

“I wish to thank Mr Penning for his support for our guests while he was in Dublin last November. I feel sure that his support and that of my colleagues played a critical role in the decision of the Minister for Transport in the Dublin Government Mr Leo Varadkar changing his mind about closing Malin Head, the oldest coastguard station in Ireland.

“However, I wish this day could be one of outright celebration but while I remain optimistic about the future I am aware that there are discussions taking place as we speak that I believe don’t address the bigger picture and the importance of the Coastguards at Malin Head as key to the future of this very special emergency service responsible for saving hundreds of lives year in year out.

“Four times in eleven years the future of Malin Head Coastguards has been in doubt and that must stop and we must move on. Talking about rationalisation while failing to recognise the very special partnership that exists between our coastguard services is wrong and I hope this visit today highlights the importance of maintaining and building that very special relationship which has been responsible for saving thousands of lives over the years particularly during the worst days of the troubles when cross-border co-operation was difficult.

“Malin Head, as the most northerly part of this island is not only beautiful, it is strategic to future planning not just for local emergencies but for the ever-increasing risk of sea pollution, emergency planning and fighting crime on the high seas. It is vital to beating the drug barons who would saturate this island with their deadly products was it not for the eyes and ears of the coastguards.

“The coastguard service is not a ‘Get You Home Car Breakdown Service’. It is unrealistic and unwise to centralise the coastguards in an industrial estate in Dublin if that is the plan and I hope it is not. It is a major mistake to think that the years of experience and knowledge of local coastguards and the special relationship they have built up with the RNLI and other voluntary rescue services can be dispensed with. They cannot and that should be central to any discussions about the future.

“I am grateful that the Irish Coastguards are in Stormont today and I hope their presence will encourage my colleagues from all parties to be more aware of the crucial role they play in saving lives of our citizens not just along the Causeway Coast but in many parts of Northern Ireland where their familiar red helicopters can be seen rescuing people whether in the sea, on the mountains or the rivers and lakes.”

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