Thursday, 4 November 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Coast Guard Service
I thank the Deputies for raising this important issue and giving me the opportunity to come before the House. The temporary standing down of Doolin Coast Guard unit operations is a proportionate response having regard to significant ongoing attempts by the Irish Coast Guard to address the unfortunate differences that have existed within the unit and their impact on the unit. Equally, the recent resignations of several Doolin Coast Guard volunteers have contributed to this decision.
The key objective is to ensure the safety of the volunteers. The action is being taken in compliance with the search and rescue assurance obligations set out in the national search and rescue plan.
As regards contingency plans, I have been advised by my officials that these are fully in place. The Inis Oírr Coast Guard unit, which falls under the direct management of the Doolin unit, shall continue to remain fully operational. In the interim, the Coast Guard is liaising with other search and rescue stakeholders in the area to provide full cover for services that otherwise would be provided by the Doolin unit.
The Coast Guard is currently deploying various contingencies based on an assessment of risk within the area, and in particular Kilkee and Killaloe Coast Guard units. All other Coast Guard units, shoreline and cliff rescue services remain in place, along with the four search and rescue Coast Guard helicopters. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution, RNLI, community rescue boats and Naval Service will continue to assist, particularly in those areas of greatest risk, until the issue has been resolved.
The Coast Guard and the Department have taken these unfortunate differences within the Doolin unit volunteers extremely seriously and have consistently striven over the past number of years to try to assist in the repair of the breakdown in relationships that have occurred within the unit. These actions include: dignity and respect training for the Doolin unit; a number of facilitated group meetings with the unit; one-to-one sessions with Irish Coast Guard management and the Doolin unit members; and an independent investigation by a HR consultancy with subsequent report and follow-up actions and recommendations.
Follow-up actions included an intensive support package put in place with the coastal unit sector manager attending training sessions weekly in Doolin to monitor and assist in supervising the situation. Unfortunately, during the period of March 2020 to April 2021, there were limitations on volunteer training due to COVID restrictions. Confidential counselling services are also contracted by the Coast Guard and are readily available to all volunteers who wish to avail of these services.
The Irish Coast Guard very much acknowledges and recognises the strenuous efforts and leadership displayed by many members of the unit, its management team and other stakeholders to address these difficulties. The Irish Coast Guard will continue to offer support to all those affected by this event with the aim of strengthening the unit's management structure and providing relevant training and mediation services as may be required.
The Irish Coast Guard is committed to supporting the near 900 dedicated volunteers who help provide the important and life-saving services of the Coast Guard. Ongoing consultation with Coast Guard volunteers is key to the success of the Coast Guard. For this reason, Coast Guard volunteers have for some time had a representative body called the Coastal Unit Advisory Group. This group represents Irish Coast Guard volunteers and provides advice and input to the Coast Guard under agreed terms of reference between management and the volunteers. This group meets regularly and is involved in working with Coast Guard management to deliver a world-class service while protecting the safety and well-being of the volunteers within the Coast Guard units. My office has been in touch with the Coastal Unit Advisory Group with a view to arranging a meeting shortly.