Speaking in Seanad Eireann on Wednesday 31st May, Waterford Fine Gael Senator John Cummins welcomed the government decision to award a new contract for Search and Rescue Services to Bristow Ireland Ltd. The contract will provide for the day and night-time operation of four helicopter bases in Waterford, Shannon, Sligo and Dublin. In addition to the helicopter service, the new Coast Guard aviation service will, for the first time, also include a fixed wing aircraft element which can be transferred to the Irish Air Corps after a period of 5 years.
Senator Cummins said “This is a very significant contract worth €670 million over 10 years with the option to extend for a further 3 years. Most importantly it secures the 4 operational bases of Waterford, Shannon, Sligo and Dublin which many suggested would be lost. I’m happy to have worked with my Fine Gael colleagues Minister Hildegarde Naughton and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to ensure that this new contract secured the 4 bases and built on the excellent work done by CHC staff over the past 20 years and the Air Corps prior to that”.
He added “The preferred bidder was selected following a comprehensive procurement project undertaken by the Department of Transport that included an initial market engagement process, a prequalifying process, an initial Request for Tender, a negotiation process, and final evaluation of a Best and Final Offer Tender from the shortlisted bidders.
Senator Cummins had previously pushed back on the negative narrative which had developed around the potential loss of the Waterford base as part of the new contract, saying that while he “shared the concern”, he “didn’t share the downbeat assessment that such a vital service will be lost to the region”. Responding to a letter from Senator Cummins in January 2022, then Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said “your concerns have been taken on board, and I share them. I am advised that the Department of Transport is considering what further clarification may need to be given in relation to the provision of bases. This will be brought to government in the very near future”. Subsequent to this letter, a decision was made by cabinet that the retention of the four existing bases would become a precondition of the procurement process.
Senator Cummins concluded by saying “I want to commend the men and women of the Irish Coast Guard who keep us safe on a daily basis, 24/7, 365 days of the year. CHC Ireland who have operated the current contract have served the people of Ireland for 20 plus years with great distinction and the Irish Air Corps did so prior to that. Many staff have rightly being recognised for their life saving missions, including the crew of R117, and I certainly hope that the new operator Bristow Ireland Ltd will ensure these highly skilled personnel are looked after when the new contract commences.