Wednesday, 29 April 2015
Mountain Rescue Service
11. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he is aware of the doubling of funding for mountain rescue teams in Northern Ireland, in April 2015; if, in the context of the improving financial position of the State, an increase in funding will be considered, to support the vital work of mountain rescue teams; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16439/15]
I am aware of the measure announced recently by the Northern Ireland Minister for Justice doubling the funds provided by the Northern Ireland Executive to search and rescue volunteer groups.
My Department recognises and acknowledges the contribution that these voluntary groups make to their communities and to the general public. As the Deputy is aware, my Department, through the Irish Coast Guard administers a grant for mountain rescue teams, and other voluntary search and rescue groups such as the Irish Cave Rescue Organisation, the Search and Rescue Dog Association and 12 individual community rescue boat teams. In 2014 a total of €250,000 was paid in grants to these voluntary organisations. In addition, in 2014 my Department granted a special once-off capital grant of €200,000 to Mountain Rescue Ireland, the all-island overarching body responsible for mountain rescue, for the purchase of vehicles.
As I have previously indicated to the House, MRTs are not tasked directly by the IRCG; rather they are tasked by this Garda Síochána, which comes under the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality. While I accept the vital nature of the commitment made by this voluntary group, I believe that budgetary priority must be given to the primary responsibility of providing a marine emergency response service. The IRCG has responsibility to equip and train approximately 918 volunteers from 44 volunteer units around the country. Each unit is subject to operational readiness audits to ensure they are positioned to provide a safe and effective service.
Therefore, with the current and competing pressures among the budgets in my portfolio, I cannot commit to any increase in funding at present. I draw the Deputy's attention to the support we have been able to give in the recent past.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I acknowledge the work of his predecessor and the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, in getting last year's funding. The Minister knows of the great success of the Wild Atlantic Way through his Department and the increase in tourist numbers that has happened as a result. There is huge potential next year for that. I ask the Minister to keep it in mind. They do great work and are always under pressure for finances. I acknowledge the support in the past and whatever can be done in the future by way of additional support would be welcome.
As I said a special allocation of €200,000 was made last year as a result of the interest the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, and the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, had in the matter. That money was provided for the purchase of vehicles to allow the work the Deputy has described to be done better.