Taoiseach hopes Coast Guard life jacket issue will be resolved shortly
Decision to suspend inshore boat services taken after product malfunctioned during test
A rigid inflatable boat (Rib) at Howth in Co Dublin. Volunteers at 23 of the Irish Coast Guard’s 44 stations equipped with Ribs and smaller D-Class boats cannot launch until further notice. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is hopeful that an issue with life jackets which last week led the Irish Coast Guard to withdraw all of its inshore boats from service can be resolved shortly so the volunteer service can be restored.
Mr Varadkar said the order issued on Friday was quite properly issued amid concerns over a malfunctioning life jacket.
It means that volunteers at 23 of the service’s 44 stations equipped with Delta Ribs (rigid inflatable boats) and smaller D-Class boats, cannot launch for rescue operations until further notice.
Mr Varadkar said that “while those inshore services aren’t operating from the coast guard, they will be backed up by the Navy and also by the RNLI and also by community services too”.
Gerard O’Flynn, national manager of the Irish Coast Guard Volunteer Branch, could not say when the issue might be resolved but said the organisation was urgently liaising with the supplier.
Volunteers on inshore Ribs are provided with Rescue 400 life jackets which are serviced annually by the supplier and volunteers are encouraged to test their jackets. One volunteer during a recent test found it did not inflate fully so, as a precautionary measure, the Coast Guard took the decision on Friday.
Mr O’Flynn said: “We felt that if this was happening in a worse-case scenario, it could be problematic, so as a precaution we have suspended the inshore boat service.
“A product like a life jacket has to work to its full effect and in some ways we are the victims of our own standards in that our decision to suspend the inshore boat service stems from our insistence on high safety standards.”
He said that the decision affected more than 400 of the Coast Guard’s 940 volunteers but it was impossible to know whether the problem was a once-off or more serious without testing each individual jacket.
Mr O’Flynn said the Irish Coast Guard was awaiting a report from the manufacturer on the issue. “We realise this may cause a certain amount of reputational damage to the Coast Guard but we feel if we are preaching to the public about safety and maintaining life jackets, it’s important we maintain robust standards ourselves.”
Meanwhile, the Minister of State for Defence, Paul Kehoe, has said the scaling back of the emergency air ambulance service due to a shortage of pilots will “not put lives at risk” because contingency plans are place with the Air Corps, Irish Coast Guard and the Irish Community Rapid Response.
The Emergency Aeromedical Service will not operate for an average of one day per week until the end of February, the first scaling back since the service commenced eight years ago.