IT has a strong sense of history repeating itself, except now it seems the powers that be have pre-empted the backtracking they found themselves forced to do the last time out. Instead of coming to the table with a partial sea and air service for the South East, as was the case in 2009 – when they were offering a daylight only service based out of Waterford – this time they are categorically only tendering for three bases. It is clear that the writing is on the wall for the Waterford service.
The political interest in what could be a fiasco for the South East is beginning to grow, with Independent TD Matt Shanahan voicing his concern, as well as local Councillor Eddie Mulligan of Fianna Fáil – who of all people has skin in the game, given his in depth knowledge of such matters after a stellar career in the Irish Navy.
‘It will be very difficult to fight for a base that appears to have already been lost, with Sligo, Shannon and Dublin understood to be the options favoured in a game of numbers where Waterford doesn’t figure’
Cllr Mulligan has called on all politicians “regardless of affiliation” to push for the retention of the Rescue 117 service in Waterford.
“We cannot lose the search and rescue helicopter base,” Cllr Mulligan said. “Not only for the development for the airport but the safety and security of everyone in the coastal communities, as we have seen countless times over the last few years… As someone with a background in maritime who’s been involved in life-saving situations it’s not only minutes that are vital, seconds are vital.”
Back in 2009 the rallying call to save the South East’s 24/7 air rescue service proved effective. Protestors met then Transport Minister Noel Dempsey at Kilcullen where he was on site to officially open the M9, and their lobbying strategy worked.
This time round, those tasked with organizing the new sea and air rescue contract are a couple of steps ahead. It will be very difficult to fight for a base that appears to have already been lost, with Sligo, Shannon and Dublin understood to be the options favoured in a game of numbers where Waterford doesn’t figure.
The loss of the fourth base is not just Waterford’s story, but that of the entire South East, and indeed the nation as a whole where sea and air rescue is effectively being reduced by 25 percent. It will not just be a smaller number of bases, but a smaller number of helicopters as well.
When Rescue 116 crashed off Co Mayo, resulting in the loss of all four crew members – including Captain Dara Fitzpatrick who served for a considerable period of time in Waterford as chief pilot of the Rescue 117 helicopter – it was far from Irish people’s minds that this devastating crash could have repercussions on the services that these men and women of the Irish Coast Guard served so bravely.
When we hear the noisy whir of the Rescue 117 helicopter over our coastline and our rivers, we pause with concern for those they search, but also with gratitude that these skilled people are there for us – to give everyone the very best chance of survival. The immense value of that service should not be measured in Euros saved for the government pot. It is time for all of our TDs, our Senator and our MEP to stand up.
Editorial, first published in January 11th edition of the Waterford News & Star