Minister urged to address concerns of Irish Coast Guard volunteers

Former and serving volunteers allege they were targeted by group’s leadership

The Irish Coast Guard has defended itself against the charges. Photograph: Irish Coast Guard

Sinn Féin has called on Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan to address concerns raised by former and serving volunteers in the Irish Coast Guard.

A number of them have alleged they were targeted by the organisation’s leadership, amid mounting internal tensions and friction over disciplinary actions taken against volunteers.

The Irish Coast Guard, which falls under the direction of the Department of Transport, has defended itself against the charges, which were first reported by The Irish Times, rejecting claims that volunteers had been targeted or subjected to unfair disciplinary inquiries.

Sinn Féin’s transport spokesman Darren O’Rourke said the issues around the culture and treatment of volunteers were “deeply concerning”. He has written to Mr Ryan asking what measures would be taken to address the concerns raised and whether the Minister would consider setting up an independent inquiry.

READ MORE

Mr O'Rourke has also written to the Oireachtas transport committee to request concerns about culture in the Irish Coast Guard be discussed during its next private session meeting.

A new group has been formed to represent members – the Irish Coast Guard Volunteer Representative Association – and it is seeking the issues to be addressed by the Minister and the department.

‘Suffered humiliation’

"It is not fair to have people who are dedicating their time voluntarily to save lives, while putting themselves in risky situations, to be treated in such a manner," said Michael Kingston, a maritime lawyer who is assisting the group. "The volunteers are often based in small close-knit communities and they have suffered humiliation in their own communities [due to disciplinary actions taken]."

Mr Kingston, who is also involved in a campaign for victims of the Whiddy Island disaster, during which his father was one of 50 people killed, said there has been a “complete failure of maritime safety in the Department of Transport” and urged a public inquiry into issues in the Coast Guard.

There needs to be “proper procedures for volunteers that are reflective” of normal employee rights, he said.

“It is critical that best practice is employed by management and within units, so that you don’t have a situation where volunteers are under immense pressure when responding to high-risk incidents because of internal issues in the organisation,” Mr Kingston said.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times