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Doolin Coast Guard to be "Reconstituted", Naughton Says after Mulvey Report

16th December 2021
Doolin Coastguard
Doolin Coastguard

Minister of State for Transport, Hildegarde Naughton says she has asked the Irish Coast Guard (IRCG) to begin “reconstituting” the Doolin Coast Guard unit in Clare, after it was stood down from operations and training.

The unit was stood down on November 2nd after six resignations of volunteers, including that of the officer-in-charge.

Naughton said the decision was made following receipt of a report and recommendation from independent mediator Kieran Mulvey, which “has advised that certain relationships within the Doolin Coast Guard Unit have irretrievably broken down”.

Minister of State for Transport, Hildegarde NaughtonMinister of State for Transport, Hildegarde Naughton

She said Mulvey also reported that “the mutual trust, respect and confidence required to effectively operate a Coast Guard unit does not exist within the [Doolin] unit”.

“The report concludes that the interpersonal difficulties are not capable of being resolved through the normal mediation process,”Naughton said in a statement.

In his 12-page report published today (Thursday, December 16th), Mulvey noted two OiCs had resigned from the Doolin unit in recent times and “there have been other resignations in the past”.

He said in discussions which all of the Doolin volunteers attended and engaged “covered many aspects of the operation of the unit, both currently and historically”.

Mediator Kieran Mulvey reported that “the mutual trust, respect and confidence required to effectively operate a Coast Guard unit does not exist within the [Doolin] unit”.Mediator Kieran Mulvey reported that “the mutual trust, respect and confidence required to effectively operate a Coast Guard unit does not exist within the [Doolin] unit”.

“Issues raised related primarily to the interactions with the Department/management of the Coast Guard Service, the lack of feedback from the Graphite [HR and employment law consultancy] and departmental interviews, the increasing constraints on the local operation of equipment and training opportunities within the unit, the restrictions on training/opportunities, particularly around the Cliffs of Moher, previous resignations, a previous dismissal, and equipment quality, storage and utilisation”.

“In summary, the volunteers were of the strong opinion the bureaucracy around procedures, form filling and increasing health and safety regulation was leading to “an adverse to risk culture in the service “rather than engaging with volunteers on the practical realities of search and rescue operations and their respective skills acquired, in some cases, of almost 30 plus years of volunteering in the immediate area of this part of West Clare”.

“Despite several efforts by me, the volunteers did not respond to my attempts to get an engagement on the identification of the interpersonal difficulties between them and which formed such a major and negative narrative in the Graphite HRM Report (Feb 2020),”Mulvey said in his report.

Mulvey’s main recommendation to the Department of Transport was that “the Minister and the Coast Guard Service should move with immediate effect to reconstitute the Doolin volunteer team”.

“ The Coast Guard Service should reinstate immediately those members of the unit who management believe can work and operate together in a collegiate and co-operative manner,”he said.

“It is of a vital necessity that this course of action should instil a new and positive culture of teamwork, professionalism and “esprit de corps” and which meets all the general/specific requirements of the Coast Guard Service as outlined in the Voluntary Services & Training Code Coast Guard Code,”he said .

“In accordance with the recommendations of Mr Mulvey’s report, members of the Doolin unit will be permanently stood down,”Naughton said.

“ The unit will be re-constituted in the short term by temporarily appointing volunteers who Coast Guard believe can work and operate together. This will address the situation presented by the absence of a functioning Doolin Coast Guard unit,” she said.

“A broader appointment process will commence in due course with the view to permanently restoring the Coast Guard unit in the Doolin area,”she added.

The junior transport minister said that she understood “this is a difficult decision and outcome for all concerned”.

“Inaction on the matter is not an option where there is a situation that a person may find themselves in trouble on or near the water into the future and require the assistance of a locally-based Coast Guard unit,” Naughton said.

“ The provision of a robust and fully operational Coast Guard Unit to the Doolin area is the priority,” she said.

“A number of further recommendations in the report will also be implemented including further engagement with volunteers and a review of procedures affecting the unit around training, operations, equipment and activities,” she said.

Naughton said she “supported the work of the Coast Guard Representative Group, the Coastal Unit Advisory Group (CUAG) which represents volunteers interests within the Coast Guard”.

“To enhance CUAG’s role as a representative body for volunteers, a review of CUAG’s existing terms of reference and grievance procedures within the Irish Coast Guard will be carried out,” she said.

The six resignations on November 1st had left the unit with just 11 members.

There had been mounting tensions within the Doolin unit after Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) report into the death of one of its most experienced volunteers, Caitriona Lucas, in September 2016. She had been assisting the neighbouring Kilkee unit in a search for a missing man when their RIB capsized.

The subsequent MCIB was critical of safety management systems in the organisation – criticisms which the Irish Coast Guard rejected in a lengthy submission to the draft report.

The fifth anniversary of Ms Lucas’s death was remembered when an Irish Coast Guard Volunteers Representative Association (ICGVRA), involving her husband Bernard, was initiated in late October in Kilkee, Co Clare.

The ICGVRA comprises current and former volunteers, and is chaired by John O'Mahoney. It aims to represent the concerns of Irish Coast Guard volunteers.

John O'Mahoney, Chairman of the Irish Coast Guard Volunteers Representative AssociationJohn O'Mahoney, Chairman of the Irish Coast Guard Volunteers Representative Association

There have been reports of bullying and other issues in several Irish Coast Guard units, and late last month, Clare Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe called for an independent inquiry into the Coast Guard, and claimed there were “deep problems running from the higher echelons of management right down to each station”.

Crowe was speaking to The Clare Echo, after acting Irish Coast Guard director Eugene Clonan and Department of Transport assistant secretary-general Deirdre O’Keeffe appeared before an Oireachtas Transport Committee last month, and the Doolin issue was raised.

An Irish Coast Guard Volunteers Representative Association has been launched, five years on from the death of coastguard volunteer Caitríona Lucas.

“The Irish Coast Guard, it appears to me, is in a state of organisational rot,” Crowe told The Clare Echo.

He claimed that members of the Coast Guard are “afraid to raise issues in coastguard units or with Irish coastguard management for fear of retribution by way of disciplinary action”.

“This, simply, isn’t right and needs to be addressed by means of an independent inquiry into how the organisation’s central axis works – it’s clear to me that there are deep problems running from the higher echelons of management right down to each station around the country, and Doolin isn’t alone in experiencing this,” Crowe said..

Crowe had also said it was time to get the Doolin Coast Guard unit back up and running.

“All Doolin Coastguard volunteers live locally and are ready to respond within minutes. Other stakeholders, which are now expected to provide cover are too far away – the Kilkee Coast Guard Unit is 55 km away; the fire brigade based in Ennistymon is 18km away; the Civil Defence in Ennis is 32km away. Perhaps most worryingly of all, the Aran Island lifeboat, operating in average sea conditions, takes about 60 mins, including launch time to get from Inis Mór to Doolin. The average launch time at Doolin is 15 to 20 minutes,” Crowe said.

Published in Coastguard
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

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The Irish Coast Guard

The Irish Coast Guard is Ireland's fourth 'Blue Light' service (along with An Garda Síochána, the Ambulance Service and the Fire Service). It provides a nationwide maritime emergency organisation as well as a variety of services to shipping and other government agencies.

The purpose of the Irish Coast Guard is to promote safety and security standards, and by doing so, prevent as far as possible, the loss of life at sea, and on inland waters, mountains and caves, and to provide effective emergency response services and to safeguard the quality of the marine environment.

The Irish Coast Guard has responsibility for Ireland's system of marine communications, surveillance and emergency management in Ireland's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and certain inland waterways.

It is responsible for the response to, and co-ordination of, maritime accidents which require search and rescue and counter-pollution and ship casualty operations. It also has responsibility for vessel traffic monitoring.

Operations in respect of maritime security, illegal drug trafficking, illegal migration and fisheries enforcement are co-ordinated by other bodies within the Irish Government.

On average, each year, the Irish Coast Guard is expected to:

  • handle 3,000 marine emergencies
  • assist 4,500 people and save about 200 lives
  • task Coast Guard helicopters on missions

The Coast Guard has been around in some form in Ireland since 1908.

Coast Guard helicopters

The Irish Coast Guard has contracted five medium-lift Sikorsky Search and Rescue helicopters deployed at bases in Dublin, Waterford, Shannon and Sligo.

The helicopters are designated wheels up from initial notification in 15 minutes during daylight hours and 45 minutes at night. One aircraft is fitted and its crew trained for under slung cargo operations up to 3000kgs and is available on short notice based at Waterford.

These aircraft respond to emergencies at sea, inland waterways, offshore islands and mountains of Ireland (32 counties).

They can also be used for assistance in flooding, major inland emergencies, intra-hospital transfers, pollution, and aerial surveillance during daylight hours, lifting and passenger operations and other operations as authorised by the Coast Guard within appropriate regulations.

Irish Coastguard FAQs

The Irish Coast Guard provides nationwide maritime emergency response, while also promoting safety and security standards. It aims to prevent the loss of life at sea, on inland waters, on mountains and in caves; and to safeguard the quality of the marine environment.

The main role of the Irish Coast Guard is to rescue people from danger at sea or on land, to organise immediate medical transport and to assist boats and ships within the country's jurisdiction. It has three marine rescue centres in Dublin, Malin Head, Co Donegal, and Valentia Island, Co Kerry. The Dublin National Maritime Operations centre provides marine search and rescue responses and coordinates the response to marine casualty incidents with the Irish exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Yes, effectively, it is the fourth "blue light" service. The Marine Rescue Sub-Centre (MRSC) Valentia is the contact point for the coastal area between Ballycotton, Co Cork and Clifden, Co Galway. At the same time, the MRSC Malin Head covers the area between Clifden and Lough Foyle. Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) Dublin covers Carlingford Lough, Co Louth to Ballycotton, Co Cork. Each MRCC/MRSC also broadcasts maritime safety information on VHF and MF radio, including navigational and gale warnings, shipping forecasts, local inshore forecasts, strong wind warnings and small craft warnings.

The Irish Coast Guard handles about 3,000 marine emergencies annually, and assists 4,500 people - saving an estimated 200 lives, according to the Department of Transport. In 2016, Irish Coast Guard helicopters completed 1,000 missions in a single year for the first time.

Yes, Irish Coast Guard helicopters evacuate medical patients from offshore islands to hospital on average about 100 times a year. In September 2017, the Department of Health announced that search and rescue pilots who work 24-hour duties would not be expected to perform any inter-hospital patient transfers. The Air Corps flies the Emergency Aeromedical Service, established in 2012 and using an AW139 twin-engine helicopter. Known by its call sign "Air Corps 112", it airlifted its 3,000th patient in autumn 2020.

The Irish Coast Guard works closely with the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which is responsible for the Northern Irish coast.

The Irish Coast Guard is a State-funded service, with both paid management personnel and volunteers, and is under the auspices of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. It is allocated approximately 74 million euro annually in funding, some 85 per cent of which pays for a helicopter contract that costs 60 million euro annually. The overall funding figure is "variable", an Oireachtas committee was told in 2019. Other significant expenditure items include volunteer training exercises, equipment, maintenance, renewal, and information technology.

The Irish Coast Guard has four search and rescue helicopter bases at Dublin, Waterford, Shannon and Sligo, run on a contract worth 50 million euro annually with an additional 10 million euro in costs by CHC Ireland. It provides five medium-lift Sikorsky S-92 helicopters and trained crew. The 44 Irish Coast Guard coastal units with 1,000 volunteers are classed as onshore search units, with 23 of the 44 units having rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) and 17 units having cliff rescue capability. The Irish Coast Guard has 60 buildings in total around the coast, and units have search vehicles fitted with blue lights, all-terrain vehicles or quads, first aid equipment, generators and area lighting, search equipment, marine radios, pyrotechnics and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and Community Rescue Boats Ireland also provide lifeboats and crews to assist in search and rescue. The Irish Coast Guard works closely with the Garda Siochána, National Ambulance Service, Naval Service and Air Corps, Civil Defence, while fishing vessels, ships and other craft at sea offer assistance in search operations.

The helicopters are designated as airborne from initial notification in 15 minutes during daylight hours, and 45 minutes at night. The aircraft respond to emergencies at sea, on inland waterways, offshore islands and mountains and cover the 32 counties. They can also assist in flooding, major inland emergencies, intra-hospital transfers, pollution, and can transport offshore firefighters and ambulance teams. The Irish Coast Guard volunteers units are expected to achieve a 90 per cent response time of departing from the station house in ten minutes from notification during daylight and 20 minutes at night. They are also expected to achieve a 90 per cent response time to the scene of the incident in less than 60 minutes from notification by day and 75 minutes at night, subject to geographical limitations.

Units are managed by an officer-in-charge (three stripes on the uniform) and a deputy officer in charge (two stripes). Each team is trained in search skills, first aid, setting up helicopter landing sites and a range of maritime skills, while certain units are also trained in cliff rescue.

Volunteers receive an allowance for time spent on exercises and call-outs. What is the difference between the Irish Coast Guard and the RNLI? The RNLI is a registered charity which has been saving lives at sea since 1824, and runs a 24/7 volunteer lifeboat service around the British and Irish coasts. It is a declared asset of the British Maritime and Coast Guard Agency and the Irish Coast Guard. Community Rescue Boats Ireland is a community rescue network of volunteers under the auspices of Water Safety Ireland.

No, it does not charge for rescue and nor do the RNLI or Community Rescue Boats Ireland.

The marine rescue centres maintain 19 VHF voice and DSC radio sites around the Irish coastline and a digital paging system. There are two VHF repeater test sites, four MF radio sites and two NAVTEX transmitter sites. Does Ireland have a national search and rescue plan? The first national search and rescue plan was published in July, 2019. It establishes the national framework for the overall development, deployment and improvement of search and rescue services within the Irish Search and Rescue Region and to meet domestic and international commitments. The purpose of the national search and rescue plan is to promote a planned and nationally coordinated search and rescue response to persons in distress at sea, in the air or on land.

Yes, the Irish Coast Guard is responsible for responding to spills of oil and other hazardous substances with the Irish pollution responsibility zone, along with providing an effective response to marine casualties and monitoring or intervening in marine salvage operations. It provides and maintains a 24-hour marine pollution notification at the three marine rescue centres. It coordinates exercises and tests of national and local pollution response plans.

The first Irish Coast Guard volunteer to die on duty was Caitriona Lucas, a highly trained member of the Doolin Coast Guard unit, while assisting in a search for a missing man by the Kilkee unit in September 2016. Six months later, four Irish Coast Guard helicopter crew – Dara Fitzpatrick, Mark Duffy, Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith -died when their Sikorsky S-92 struck Blackrock island off the Mayo coast on March 14, 2017. The Dublin-based Rescue 116 crew were providing "top cover" or communications for a medical emergency off the west coast and had been approaching Blacksod to refuel. Up until the five fatalities, the Irish Coast Guard recorded that more than a million "man hours" had been spent on more than 30,000 rescue missions since 1991.

Several investigations were initiated into each incident. The Marine Casualty Investigation Board was critical of the Irish Coast Guard in its final report into the death of Caitriona Lucas, while a separate Health and Safety Authority investigation has been completed, but not published. The Air Accident Investigation Unit final report into the Rescue 116 helicopter crash has not yet been published.

The Irish Coast Guard in its present form dates back to 1991, when the Irish Marine Emergency Service was formed after a campaign initiated by Dr Joan McGinley to improve air/sea rescue services on the west Irish coast. Before Irish independence, the British Admiralty was responsible for a Coast Guard (formerly the Water Guard or Preventative Boat Service) dating back to 1809. The West Coast Search and Rescue Action Committee was initiated with a public meeting in Killybegs, Co Donegal, in 1988 and the group was so effective that a Government report was commissioned, which recommended setting up a new division of the Department of the Marine to run the Marine Rescue Co-Ordination Centre (MRCC), then based at Shannon, along with the existing coast radio service, and coast and cliff rescue. A medium-range helicopter base was established at Shannon within two years. Initially, the base was served by the Air Corps.

The first director of what was then IMES was Capt Liam Kirwan, who had spent 20 years at sea and latterly worked with the Marine Survey Office. Capt Kirwan transformed a poorly funded voluntary coast and cliff rescue service into a trained network of cliff and sea rescue units – largely voluntary, but with paid management. The MRCC was relocated from Shannon to an IMES headquarters at the then Department of the Marine (now Department of Transport) in Leeson Lane, Dublin. The coast radio stations at Valentia, Co Kerry, and Malin Head, Co Donegal, became marine rescue-sub-centres.

The current director is Chris Reynolds, who has been in place since August 2007 and was formerly with the Naval Service. He has been seconded to the head of mission with the EUCAP Somalia - which has a mandate to enhance Somalia's maritime civilian law enforcement capacity – since January 2019.

  • Achill, Co. Mayo
  • Ardmore, Co. Waterford
  • Arklow, Co. Wicklow
  • Ballybunion, Co. Kerry
  • Ballycotton, Co. Cork
  • Ballyglass, Co. Mayo
  • Bonmahon, Co. Waterford
  • Bunbeg, Co. Donegal
  • Carnsore, Co. Wexford
  • Castlefreake, Co. Cork
  • Castletownbere, Co. Cork
  • Cleggan, Co. Galway
  • Clogherhead, Co. Louth
  • Costelloe Bay, Co. Galway
  • Courtown, Co. Wexford
  • Crosshaven, Co. Cork
  • Curracloe, Co. Wexford
  • Dingle, Co. Kerry
  • Doolin, Co. Clare
  • Drogheda, Co. Louth
  • Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin
  • Dunmore East, Co. Waterford
  • Fethard, Co. Wexford
  • Glandore, Co. Cork
  • Glenderry, Co. Kerry
  • Goleen, Co. Cork
  • Greencastle, Co. Donegal
  • Greenore, Co. Louth
  • Greystones, Co. Wicklow
  • Guileen, Co. Cork
  • Howth, Co. Dublin
  • Kilkee, Co. Clare
  • Killala, Co. Mayo
  • Killybegs, Co. Donegal
  • Kilmore Quay, Co. Wexford
  • Knightstown, Co. Kerry
  • Mulroy, Co. Donegal
  • North Aran, Co. Galway
  • Old Head Of Kinsale, Co. Cork
  • Oysterhaven, Co. Cork
  • Rosslare, Co. Wexford
  • Seven Heads, Co. Cork
  • Skerries, Co. Dublin Summercove, Co. Cork
  • Toe Head, Co. Cork
  • Tory Island, Co. Donegal
  • Tramore, Co. Waterford
  • Waterville, Co. Kerry
  • Westport, Co. Mayo
  • Wicklow
  • Youghal, Co. Cork

Sources: Department of Transport © Afloat 2020

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