Search and rescue deal

 

Madam, – Will somebody in Government or at minimum in Opposition please shout stop! I refer to the current contract that has been prepared by the Department of Transport to provide Search Rescue (SAR) services to the island of Ireland.

CHC, a third- party private company has been identified as the preferred bidder for this very lucrative 10-year contract beginning in 2012. CHC will be paid an exorbitant figure of over €500 million for this contract to provide SAR cover at four bases in Dublin, Waterford, Shannon and Sligo. The Irish Air Corps which already operates a 24/7 National Air Ambulance service in accordance with a service level agreement between it and the department can provide the service, but has never been asked to do so or to cost this option.

Given the recent discussions in the media and in the Oireachtas, there seems to be a lack of recognition and understanding by some people in relation to the current capabilities of the Air Corps. I feel it’s time that this misperception is clarified.

For over 40 years, the Air Corps was successfully involved in the provision of the SAR service. Then in December 2003, when working in tandem with CHC – a joint service was provided – this was supported by the Coast Guard, which was of the view that to safeguard continuity of service, it was better not to be totally dependent on any one private operator. The Government took a decision to preclude the Air Corps from providing a SAR service and to award the contract exclusively to CHC.

In view of the experience and investment already made in the Air Corps, this should not have happened. Why can’t we revert to this joint service, which served the public with distinction and delivered value for money? At the very least let the experts review the cost savings which are possible before we read about another mishandling of public finances by the Government.

The Air Corps has the experience (with a work-up programme) to at least provide cover at two out of the four bases required. It’s simple. This would represent huge cost saving for the taxpayer – costs will be almost halved.

The current fleet (AW139) used by the Air Corps is the choice of many SAR operators worldwide including the UK (used by CHC), Spain, Italy, UAE, Australia, Japan and most recently the Gulf of Mexico. Can we not use the assets of Ireland Inc to serve the needs of our citizens as was so proudly done for 40 years; save taxpayers’ money and use the equipment and expertise the Government has already invested in SAR? Surely, no contracts should be signed, until a full cost analysis is completed, which must include utilising the already trained Air Corps experts in this field.

This Government and indeed Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey and Minister for Defence Tony Killeen cannot afford to waste tens of millions – that is much-needed across health, social welfare and elsewhere. They must ensure value for our money – the required cost analysis must immediately be undertaken before any contracts are signed. – Yours, etc,

SEAMUS McCORMACK,

Comdt (Retd), Air Corps,

Park Manor,

Castleknock,

Dublin 15.