SEVERAL issues affecting the Doolin Coast Guard Unit including a ban on call outs to assist casualties on land near the Cliffs of Moher remain unresolved as concern grows over the delay in reconstituting the unit.
Minister of State in the Department of Transport, Hildegarde Naughton TD, has asked the Irish Coast Guard (IRCG) to begin the process of reconstituting the Doolin Coast Guard unit, which was stood down from operations and training activities on November 2 last after the resignation of six volunteers.
The decision was made following receipt of a report and recommendation from independent mediator, Kieran Mulvey, which has advised that certain relationships within the Doolin Coast Guard Unit have irretrievably broken down and that the mutual trust, respect and confidence required to effectively operate a Coast Guard Unit does not exist within the unit.
However, local volunteers are still in the dark about what process will be used or who will have the final say in completing the difficult task of rebuilding a new unit.
It is understood that no formal approach has been made from the National Coast Guard requesting volunteers to return at the time of going to press on Tuesday, five days after the report was published.
It has been emphasised that any new unit will have to include a number of experienced members in view of the difficult cliff and sea rescues undertaken by the unit, when it was operational.
The Clare Champion has learned that volunteers are not permitted by the National Coast Guard to carry out a call out on certain designated risk zones about a kilometre north and two kilometres south of the Cliffs of Moher.
If a visitor to the Cliffs falls and breaks their ankle outside the fence, the Doolin Coast Guard are not allowed to provide assistance in this area, which is addressed by the fire brigade, local rangers or other emergency responders.
The exclusion zones apply following a risk assessment undertaken by a company on behalf of the Cliffs of Moher, which was later sent to the National Coast Guard.
Senator Martin Conway said it would have been beneficial if Mr Mulvey had gone back to volunteers to discuss a draft copy of his report before it was published following his initial meeting.
The Fine Gael Senator said the Department of Transport and, in particular the national Coast Guard, has more lessons to learn than any other party involved in this difficult situation.
“I hope the Department of Transport implement the report in full and the spirit of the report. I would encourage all parties that were connected with the dispute to re-engage with the unit in a positive and open minded way because they have decades of experience concerning the challenges of the Clare coastline.
“I am calling on other people with relevant experience who were not involved previously to engage with the new unit. I hope the national Coast Guard has learned its lesson and will put the necessary processes and procedures in place at national level to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
“I believe an independent facilitator agreeable to all parties could work with this unit for the next year to iron out problems if they arise.”
Mr Mulvey’s report recommended an immediate engagement with those volunteers who wish to continue in the unit on the use of training facilities/equipment within the station. The report proposed a reassessment of the return to use of cliff-based rescue arrangements/training on the Cliffs of Moher. This arose from an external report and not one commissioned by the Coast Guard Service.
Where new directions/regulations regarding health and safety obligations are being considered and which potentially have the effect of altering existing and well established practices for volunteers locally then a process of consultation with the national representative group Coastal Unit Advisory Group (CUAG) is undertaken to evaluate their efficacy and if implemented their effect upon training and actual operations.
The Clare Champion has been told the failure to provide any feedback from the one-to-one sessions conducted by the national coastguard last July and Graphite HRM in February 2020 caused a lot of frustration among volunteers in the unit.
Volunteers are upset they didn’t receive any advance copy of the report, which was published on Thursday afternoon, and are concerned about the lack of progress addressing unresolved issues following the tragic death of Caitriona Lucas (41) in Kilkee on September 12, 2016 . Some of the issues in the unit were present before this incident.
Volunteers are frustrated over the lack of communication between the national Coast Guard and the Doolin unit. In the winter time, volunteers used to abseil up and down massive supporting beams in the €1.9 million Doolin Coast Guard station.
A source close to the unit confirmed these beams were not weight rated so this training was stopped because no one came out to carry out safety checks. One of the three entrances doors in the Doolin Coast Guard station has been broken for more than a year. Despite numerous complaints to the National Coast Guard, it has been claimed this door has not been repaired.
Volunteers are also concerned about the dramatic increase in paperwork pre and post call outs. They feel things have gone overboard with health and safety regulations.
The report concludes that the interpersonal difficulties are not capable of being resolved through the normal mediation process.
In accordance with the recommendations of Mr Mulvey’s Report, members of the Doolin Unit will be permanently stood down. The unit will be re-constituted in the short term by temporarily appointing volunteers who Coast Guard believe can work and operate together. This will address the situation presented by the absence of a functioning Doolin Coast Guard Unit. A broader appointment process will commence in due course with the view to permanently restoring the Coast Guard Unit in the Doolin area.
Minister Naughton understands that this is a difficult decision and outcome for all concerned. Inaction on the matter is not an option where there is a situation that a person may find themselves in trouble on or near the water into the future and require the assistance of a locally-based Coast Guard Unit. The provision of a robust and fully operational Coast Guard Unit to the Doolin area is the priority.
A number of further recommendations in the report will also be implemented including further engagement with volunteers and a review of procedures affecting the unit around training, operations, equipment and activities.
by Dan Danaher