Wednesday, 6 November 2013
Department of Defence
Search and Rescue Service
138. To ask the Minister for Defence the extent to which ongoing review continues to take place into the capacity and capabilities of the Air Corps, with particular reference to air sea rescue, coastal surveillance and or air ambulance services; if any particular issues have been identified which require specific attention; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47401/13]
The Irish Coast Guard has overall responsibility for the provision of search and rescue services within the Irish search and rescue region whilst responsibility for the prevention of drug-trafficking and people trafficking rests primarily with the Revenue Commissioners and An Garda Síochána respectively. However, the Air Corps has a role in assisting and supporting the civil authorities and, in this regard, both they and the Naval Service provide support to these agencies as the need arises and within their available capabilities. A Service Level Agreement is in place with the Irish Coast Guard which sets out, inter alia, the search and rescue assistance that the Air Corps and Naval Service can provide to the Coast Guard. The provision of onshore assistance by Air Corps helicopters for mountain rescue operations is also covered in the Agreement, as is provision by Air Corps aircraft of fixed wing ‘top cover’ to Coast Guard helicopters operating offshore.
The Air Corps Maritime Patrol Squadron carries out aerial surveillance of territorial waters using the two CASA maritime patrol aircraft. These aircraft are equipped with state-of-the-art surveillance and communication equipment which offers aerial assistance to the Naval Service in patrolling the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone.
A Service Level Agreement is in place between my Department and the Department of Health which formalises the arrangements for the provision of emergency inter-hospital transfers by the Air Corps. In addition, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between my Department and the Department of Health underpins the Air Corps’ support to the National Ambulance Service for a pilot Emergency Aeromedical Support service, focussing primarily in the west of Ireland and operating out of Custume Barracks Athlone. Following a review of the pilot service carried out by an Audit and Evaluation Group established under the MOU, a Report was submitted for consideration by my colleague, the Minister for Health. Following a subsequent request from the Minister, I have agreed to extend the Air Corps’ participation in the pilot in order to allow him an opportunity to give consideration to the Report and to examine the options for the implementation of its recommendations.
These matters are kept under review and I am satisfied that the Air Corps has the necessary capabilities in these important areas.
In July 2013, following Government approval, I launched a Green Paper on Defence. This initiated a consultative process that will inform the development of a new White Paper on Defence. When finalised, the new White Paper will provide the defence policy framework for the next ten years.