Thursday, 27 January 2022
Department of Defence
149. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the details of the engagement he or officials from his Department have had in 2021 and to date in 2022 with the Department of Transport in relation to exploring the option of the Air Corps providing some element of the next generation search and rescue service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3921/22]
As this House is aware, there is currently a project ongoing under the remit of the Department of Transport, to consider, develop and bring to fruition a new Coast Guardaviation contract for future service provision. As part of this project the Department of Transport convened an inter-Departmental/Agency Steering Group of which both the Department of Defence and the Air Corps were members.
A strategic assessment and preliminary appraisal document in line with the Public Service Code was brought to Government for information in July 2020. This preliminary appraisal, which included an appraisal of various service delivery options, was compiled by the Department of Transport’s Project Team in conjunction with KPMG, and was shared with the Steering Group before going to Government in summer 2020. The preliminary work included an appraisal of the options of the State assuming full responsibility for the service, either through the Air Corps or a dedicated Irish Coast Guard Aviation Branch. Both options were ruled out for a variety of reasons but notably the risks to the State and questions around potential affordability and deliverability.
I agreed with the strategic assessment and preliminary appraisal and I confirmed then, as I do again now, that I did not see the Air Corps taking full responsibility for search and Rescue (SAR) aviation services in Ireland’s SAR domain. However, given the Air Corps' historic role in SAR provision, at the end of 2020 I asked Defence officials to engage further with the Department of Transport to explore the option of the Air Corps providing some element of the next generation SAR aviation service while at the same time ensuring that the service meets domestic and international obligations for SAR and represents value for money for the State.
There was proactive and realistic engagement between the Defence Organisation and the Department of Transport Project Team during the first 6 months of 2021. This included the consideration of the option of the Air Corps providing some element of the helicopter and fixed wing SAR service as part of the Transport Project Team’s detailed appraisal and business case. The option which included the Air Corps providing an element of the helicopter and fixed wing SAR service did not emerge as the preferred option.
In July 2021, the Government agreed to commence the formal procurement process for a new Coast Guard aviation service. The decision was based on the detailed appraisal and business case prepared in accordance with the Public Spending Code. The Government also agreed that the Department of Defence, working in conjunction with the Irish Coast Guard, would examine whether the fixed wing element of the proposed service could be delivered by the Air Corps in line with the requirements and parameters set out in the business case.
Additional project time was afforded for these further discussions to take place which concluded in October 2021 with a fixed wing proposal submitted to the Department of Transport. Whereas it was decided not to initially proceed with the full Air Corps proposal, provision has been made within the procurement process which provides for the Air Corps to undertake the fixed wing element of the service at the appropriate time should the Air Corps have the capacity and availability to provide this service.
It has been important that a full and realistic consideration is made of all of the viable options available to the State. I am satisfied that this is the approach that has been taken.
Both the Naval Service and the Air Corps currently provide support to the Coast Guard on a request and availability basis.