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Tánaiste anticipates that all Search & Rescue Bases will be Maintained

Eagerly awaiting An Bord Pleanála decision on Waterford Runway extension expected shortly

Speaking in Seanad Eireann on Wednesday 19th January, Waterford Fine Gael Senator John Cummins pushed back against the narrative that has been to the fore in recent weeks regarding the suggested loss of R117 and its base at Waterford Airport 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’.

A former board member at Waterford Airport, Senator Cummins said he knew “the service provided by the airport to the existing contractor, CHC Ireland, is second to none. CHC Ireland are very happy with its base and operations at the airport. Great synergies have been built up with the likes of the RNLI and South East Mountain Rescue over many years.

He added “Another reason I do not share the downbeat assessment is because over several months I have engaged with Government colleagues and the Tánaiste on this issue. I have sought assurances that four bases will be specified in the ultimate tender that is issued and I am encouraged by the responses I have received to date. I know the Tánaiste will continue his dialogue with other party leaders in this respect”.

In a letter to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, Senator Cummins cited recent meetings and referenced the ‘importance of maintaining a Search and Rescue base within the South East to service the vast maritime and inland areas of the South and East coast’. To emphasise this point he drew the Tánaiste’s attention to the Coast Guard end of year statement for 2021 which states “One of the more notable incidents of the year was the successful evacuation by the Waterford based Coast Helicopter (R117) of seven crew members from a fishing vessel that sunk off the South West coast in March. This operation, which was supported by Naval Service and RNLI resources, resulted in the presentation of national bravery awards to the four helicopter crew. In addition, R117 crew member Sarah Courtney, was awarded a silver medal for her role and actions as ‘winchman’ in the most challenging of weather conditions”. He added ‘this bravery and dedication is replicated daily and the service gives great comfort to the communities I represent in Waterford and the South East’.

Speaking on the issue in the Dail on Thursday (20th January), the leader of Fine Gael stated “I am a little limited in what I can say. I can say what we expect to be the outcome and a contractual process must follow. We anticipate the outcome will be that there will continue to be four bases and they will be the same four bases at Waterford, Sligo, Cork* and Dublin. I think it is those four. There is a contractual process under way, however, and it must follow a certain procedure. I hope this can give people some reassurance that the Government is very happy with the service we have currently, and we would not like to see it diminished”.

Responding to Senator Cummins’ letter, 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”. This publication understands that there could be progress on this matter as early as this week.

Senator Cummins concluded by saying “I understand that the eagerly awaited decision of An Bord Pleanála regarding the runway extension is due shortly. While it is disappointing that it has taken so long for a decision to be made, the reality is the turmoil inflicted on the aviation industry by Covid-19 would likely have delayed investment plans. However, now that we can see light at the end of the tunnel regarding the pandemic, the time is right to progress with these plans and I know a great deal of work is ongoing at present in that respect which I am happy to support”

*Reference to Cork was incorrect, the Tánaiste should have referenced Shannon.

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