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“Lives are at risk” after the Doolin Coast Guard Unit was stood down amid an ongoing dispute.

Considered one of the busiest coast guard units in the country, the Doolin unit was stood down from operations after six of the 18 volunteers announced their resignation from the unit at the weekend.

A spokesperson for the Irish Coast Guard confirmed to The Clare Echo that the unit was stood down from operations on Tuesday evening. “Inis Oirr Coast Guard Unit, which falls under the direct management of the Doolin Unit, shall continue to remain fully operational. In the interim Coast Guard is liaising with other SAR stakeholders in the area in order to provide cover for services that otherwise would be provided by the Doolin unit.

According to the Irish Coast Guard divisions “have unfortunately existed” within the Doolin unit for a number of years while it acknowledged “the strenuous efforts and leadership displayed by many members of the unit, its management team in particular, and other stakeholders to address these difficulties. The Irish Coast Guard will continue to offer support to all those affected by this event, and with the aim to strengthen the unit’s management structure, provide relevant training and mediation services as may be required, and return the unit to operational readiness as quickly as practicable”.

In March 2015, the purpose built Doolin Coast Guard facility opened. The €1.9m building has an operations and training room, changing facilities, wet room, store room and large garage within which to store boats, road transport and cliff rescue equipment.

Clare TD, Joe Carey (FG) wrote to the Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan (GP) following the resignation of the six volunteers. “Doolin Coast Guard Unit has been an invaluable resource to Clare for many years and is widely regarded as the best Coast Guard unit in the country. It is really important that volunteers are listened to by management and that every effort is made to work with Doolin Coast Guard volunteers with a view to retaining this crucial service,” Deputy Carey detailed.

Speaking to The Clare Echo, Senator Martin Conway (FG) expressed his deep disappointment as he sought explanations on what happened. “I’m not convinced that emergency response weaponry is adequate, with the best will in the world the people in Aran Islands as good and all as they are can’t cover the whole coast of Clare from Ballyvaughan to Kilrush, I think lives are at risk,” he warned.

Minister Ryan has “an obligation” to explain how emergency services will now be equipped, Senator Conway stated. He suggested a new structure be examined where that coast guard volunteers are put on a retainer similar to firefighters and are operated under the auspices of the local authority. “The days of expecting to have highly trained and skilled volunteers doing rescue and recovery, search and rescue is not on. We need to put our hand into our pocket and look after these frontline workers”.

Senator Timmy Dooley (FF) raised the issue in the Seanad on Wednesday as he outlined that HR issues were to the core of the matter. “To say that the standing down of the Doolin Coast Guard Unit caused shock throughout Clare and the midwest region would be an understatement. They have been put to sea in the most hazardous conditions and carry out search rescue and recovery missions 365 days a year both day and night. Their work is so arduous and so difficult.”

An emergency motion was tabled by elected members of the West Clare Municipal District on Tuesday evening seeking the intervention of the Minister for Transport “as a matter of urgency”.

Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG) said the suspension of services was “very disturbing news”. The Lisdoonvarna man called the unit “an intrinsic part of our area” and noted how it was there for the public “in a time of most need”. He declared, “inder no circumstances are we going to accept a scaling down or any affect”.

Through the investment of €1.9m, “the State had acknowledged at that time that this Coast Guard station was the cornerstone of protection for this section of the Clare coast,” Cllr Shane Talty (FF) outlined. “This can’t be accepted and won’t be accepted,” he said as he called for the decision to be reversed.

Reaction of Coast Guard management was astounding, Cllr Ian Lynch (IND) felt. “For members of the unit to hear from another service that they would be stood down is shocking”. Questions need to be asked of senior management, the Kilrush man said.

This development “didn’t come as a surprise,” Cllr Liam Grant (GP) flagged. “I had known about it for months on end, it is a disconnect with frontline services and the Government”. He argued that twelve people was sufficient to see the Doolin unit complete ambulance assist along with search and rescue from land.

Cathaoirleach of the West Clare MD, Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF) remarked that the decision “beggars belief”. He agreed that the unit still had capacity to serve, “it can provide land based and water cover It must be an awful kicking for voluntary members up there”.

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