Culture of bullying ‘widespread’ across Coast Guard, Dáil told

Issues which led to Doolin Coast Guard being stood down replicated across country, TDs say

The Doolin Coast Guard unit has been stood down following the resignations of six members, including the officer in charge, out of a team of 18. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

The Doolin Coast Guard unit has been stood down following the resignations of six members, including the officer in charge, out of a team of 18. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

A “toxic” working environment at the Doolin Coast Guard station is replicated “up and down” the country, the Dáil has been told in the wake of the resignation of six volunteers at the Co Clare station.

The unit has been stood down following the resignations of six members including the officer in charge, out of a team of 18.

Independent Clare TD Michael McNamara describing the environment as toxic, claimed “there’s an absolute lack of confidence in the most senior management in the Coast Guard by the rank and file”.

Fine Gael Clare TD Joe Carey said a “culture of bullying and harassment has developed within the coast guard system, which has been left evolve without check” and was “widespread across the country”.

He called for Ministerial intervention and he “implored” Minister of State for Transport Hildegarde Naughton to “appoint an independent, competent person to have a serious look at the situation in Doolin”.

He said it was time for a “root and branch review” of the service in terms of management and volunteers and how they work together.

“Morale is at an all-time low,” he said, adding that the Coast Guard service is under huge stress and “we won’t have one (Coast Guard service) certainly if we don’t address the issues that have emerged in Doolin”.

Mr Carey also appealed for the unit to be re-instated as a matter of urgency with the 12 remaining volunteers “who are more than capable” of carrying out tasks such as cliff rescue, searches and ambulance assistance.

Earlier Fianna Fáil Clare TD Cathal Crowe also appealed for Government intervention to restore the Doolin service, stating that on Wednesday night rescue helicopter 115 searched for a person reported missing at the Cliffs of Moher, with no support available from Doolin Rescue.

The TDs raised the issue in the Dáil following the resignations on Tuesday.

Mr McNamara said the Minister should talk to officer in charge Mattie Shannon who “gave his lifetime to the Coast Guard” and had left the service. “People of that sort of dedication don’t leave unless there’s something badly wrong.”

He said the head of the Coast Guard would “give a story” but it would not be shared by the rank and file members.

And he said volunteers “feel that nobody has their back. They’ve no representative body. They speak out and are singled out for disciplinary measures.”

The Minister of State said “I hear the concerns of the Deputies”. She had contacted the representative body for volunteers called the Coastal Unit Advisory Unit and hoped to meet them shortly.

Mr McNamara said however, that was “basically a grouping of officers in charge”.

Ms Naughton said that standing down the unit was a “proportionate response”, given the “significant ongoing attempts by the Coast Guard to address the unfortunate differences that have existed within the unit”.

The resignations had contributed to the decision and “the key objective is to ensure the safety of the volunteers”.

She said the Coast Guard management and her department would continue to provide all supports, training and mediation to the unit with a view to returning the Doolin unit to service “as soon as practicable”.

She said the Inis Óirr Coast Guard unit which falls under the direct management of the Doolin unit “shall continue to remain fully operational in the interim” and the service is liaising with other search and rescue bodies to provide “full cover”.

The Minister stressed that the Coast Guard and her department “have taken these unfortunate differences within the Doolin unit volunteers extremely seriously and have consistently strived over the last number of years to try to assist in the repair of the breakdown in relationships”.

This included an independent investigation by a HR consultancy firm, “dignity and respect training”, group meetings and one-to-one sessions with Coast Guard management and the Doolin unit.

She stressed the Coast Guard was “committed to supporting the near 900 dedicated volunteers”.