Meetings between Irish Coast Guard management and members of the Doolin unit of the volunteer service are being held today (Wednesday) after the station was stood down on Monday following a number of shock resignations.
A total of six long-serving volunteers, including the unit’s officer in charge (OIC) confirmed on Monday they were leaving the service with immediate effect. The resignees, who had 100 years experience and service between them, did not say why they were leaving while a communication sent from the OIC to volunteers made no reference to a reason for the departures.
Clare Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley has called for the reinstatement of the Doolin Coast Guard Unit and raised the issue in the Seanad urging the Minister of Transport to set out a clear path for the return to service of the Doolin Coast Guard.
Senator Dooley said: “To say that the standing down of the Doolin Coast Guard Unit caused shock throughout Clare and the mid-west region would be an understatement. They have been put to sea in the most hazardous conditions and carry out search rescue and recovery missions 365 days a year both day and night. Their work is so arduous and so difficult.”
“There are HR issues in every organisation and every office in the country. It is really unfortunate that it has been let go to a point where this has now happened. The people who work in the service, who depend on the service, deserve better. I am calling on the Minister to set out a path to the reinstatement of this service, it can’t be let go on for a protracted period of time. We need to see this service reinstated,” concluded Senator Dooley.
The issue was also discussed at the monthly meeting of West Clare Municipal District of Clare County Council.
North Clare Councillor Joe Garrihy said: “All nine councillors at our West Clare Municipal District meeting on Tuesday proposed and passed a motion to call on Transport Minister Eamon Ryan to intervene as necessary and give whatever support to secure the future of this priceless centre and the full retention of the services given for our area, county and country.
We will work as one to ensure the volunteers and services are given the full focus they have earned and deserve following the major investment made to ensure its development after many years of hard work.”
Clare Fine Gael TD, Joe Carey, has also asked Transport Minister, Eamon Ryan, to intervene in the dispute. In a letter to the Minister, Deputy Carey said that he had received “many calls” from Doolin Coast Guard this week, who were “extremely concerned” about the unit’s future.
“Doolin Coast Guard Unit has been an invaluable resource to Clare for many years and is widely regarded as the best Coast Guard unit in the country. It is really important that volunteers are listened to by management and that every effort is made to work with Doolin Coast Guard volunteers with a view to retaining this crucial service,” Deputy Carey.
“I understand that the unit continues to have the necessary resources and capabilities to launch a boat having five fully trained experienced volunteers still active. While I accept that there is a requirement for four appropriately trained personnel to launch a boat and the existing numbers of volunteers pose a challenge, this service can still be delivered. The current unit is more than capable of performing cliff rescue, search and ambulance assistance duties,” the Clare TD added in his letter to Minister Ryan.
“It’s vital that there are no knee jerk reactions and that the hard working, experienced volunteers of Doolin Coast Guard are engaged with in a constructive way by Coast Guard management. Coast Guard volunteers shoulder much responsibility and the services they provide are crucial for coastal communities. I am requesting that you would intervene immediately in this matter with a view to bringing about a resolution that secures the future of this vital Coast Guard service in Doolin,” Deputy Carey concluded.
Sinn Féin TD for Clare, Violet-Anne Wynne said: “This is a devastating announcement for the local community, the loyal membership there, and for Clare more broadly. The resignation of six members in any given unit is cause for concern, especially long-serving members as is the case here.
“It is particularly worrying for Doolin, which is a critical point for activity at the Cliffs of Moher and the prominence of surfing along that section of coast. The Coast Guard there has provided invaluable multi-role services for many years, undertaking drone, cliff, boat and search operations. Their work provides both primary and secondary emergency responses to land and sea accidents.”
Clare Fianna Fáil Deputy Cathal Crowe said: “Minister Ryan, in his role as Transport Minister, has supreme authority over the Irish Coastguard system and he needs to urgently intervene to ascertain the full nature of HR problems which has led to this breakdown and the resignation of volunteers.
“The Doolin coastguard base is one of the busiest in the country because it covers a large area of the Atlantic coast, including one of Ireland’s most visited sites – the Cliffs of Moher – and also the Aran Islands, the most populous island community in Ireland.
“The volunteers have given many years of excellent service and I know that many people involved in tourism and marine activities in west Clare are now very concerned that this essential base has been temporarily closed. It’s vital that there is expediency at this point to ensure that the matters which are central to this dispute are identified and resolved.
“We should highly value the men and women who put their lives at risk to keep others safe at sea and I intend to raise this matter during question time in the Dáil on Thursday afternoon. This matter cannot go unresolved.”
While the Doolin unit is ‘off the board’ and won’t be tasked to any emergencies, the Kilkee unit of the Coast Guard; the Kilrush and Inis Mór RNLI lifeboats have been advised they may be required to respond if needed to the Doolin area. The Inis Mór based all-weather lifeboat would take about 25 minutes to reach Doolin while the smaller Kilrush in-shore lifeboat is up to an hour away. The Shannon-based Irish Coast Guard helicopter, Rescue 115, can reach the Doolin area in about 10 minutes after take off.
Crews from Clare County Fire and Rescue Service’s Ennistymon station have also requested to provide cover where needed. This could involve line rescue and casualty recovery operations along the Cliffs of Moher walking route or other areas covered by Doolin Coast Guard. It’s also understood that mountain and cave rescue organisations have been asked to be available if needed.
Any taskings will be mounted and coordinated by watch officers at the Irish Coast Guard’s marine rescue sub centre on Valentia Island in Kerry.
The Irish Coast Guard has said it “acknowledges the divisions that have unfortunately existed within the unit for a number of years, and recognises the strenuous efforts and leadership displayed by many members of the unit, its management team in particular, and other stakeholders to address these difficulties.
The Irish Coast Guard will continue to offer support to all those affected by this event, and with the aim to strengthen the unit’s management structure, provide relevant training and mediation services as may be required, and return the unit to operational readiness as quickly as practicable,” the spokesperson added.