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Bernard Lucas: “With the eight, there isn’t enough qualified people to do climbing, the boat is restricted so all they can do is search. Where is the logic behind that?" Photograph by John Kelly.

Sacked Doolin volunteers willing to return so unit can function

TEN FORMER Doolin Coast Guard volunteers are willing to return as a group to facilitate a proper working of the unit, it emerged this week.

Addressing a meeting of the Transport and Communications committee, Bernard Lucas recalled six volunteers resigned over alleged difficulties with management.

“We were all sacked. They put an interim team in place. Four of the six people went back, two didn’t. They took back two members that had resigned two or three years previously. They asked two more to come back that made up eight people. They asked some from a group of ten to come back and they said no.

“Four of the eight were qualified and two were retired so some of their certificates would be out. They left out a group of ten that could have continued the unit on all disciplines – boat, searching and climbing – who were fully certified.

“With the eight, there isn’t enough qualified people to do climbing, the boat is restricted so all they can do is search. Where is the logic behind that?

“You take ten people away who can do all the things and take on people who are very limited in what they can do. The Doolin Coast Guard unit is not functioning.”

Out of an initial interim team of eight, Mr Lucas said one volunteer has left.

He said a number of the existing volunteers work away from the area on 12-hour shifts so numbers that are available on any given day could fluctuate between two or three for a call out.

“Doolin Coast Guard can’t function as a rescue team at the moment.”

The vice-chairman of the Irish Coast Guard Volunteers Representative Association (ICGVRA) said he is one of the group of ten people who feel they “did nothing wrong whatsoever” that are willing to return as a group to get the unit up and running and have communicated this to the national Coast Guard.

Mr Lucas recalled Minister Hildegarde Naughton previously gave a commitment in a Clare FM interview last December she would come to Doolin and meet the volunteers but nothing has happened.

He claimed people have been dismissed from Doolin Coast Guard because they fall out of favour with the officer in charge or their direct boss.

“If the OIC takes a dislike to you, you are pretty much dismissed and are told you are in trouble. The Coastal Unit Sector Manager (CUSM) will come down and you will get a letter saying you are going to be dismissed. The CUSM will always back up the OIC, you will not meet the CUSM separately. You will be taken into a room and told you are dismissed.”

“You can appeal it, but I don’t know anyone who has appealed it who got back in to the Coast Guard after the decision was overturned. The only exception is one person who spent €18,000 from his own money and they settled on the steps of the court.

“We don’t have a mechanism where we can get legal representation that is paid for like the Coast Guard. We have none of these rights. We are ignored.

“We don’t have any body like the Garda Representative Association or the fire service or the army, which has a representative body.”

On Monday, November 22, Kieran Mulvey, who was appointed as a mediator met separately with the Sector Manager of the region, the existing 12 volunteers, and the six resigned volunteers.

Asked by Deputy Michael McNamara if he was happy with the mediation conducted by Kieran Mulvey, Mr Lucas said he was very disappointed with the whole process.

While Mr Lucas acknowledged volunteers were happy that a mediator was put in place, they expected a reasonable outcome. However, he understood mediation is a process that could take weeks or months.

“We met Mr Mulvey for 90 minutes. He told us he would be back down the following Tuesday night but never came back down. I think there was some reference to weather as there was a storm at the time. But we never again saw Mr Mulvey.

“He didn’t speak to any members individually. People might speak more freely on a one-to-one basis. Instead of doing that he had taken reports from Graphite following one-to-one meetings, which we were told when we were participating they were private and confidential. We think this was wrong.”

In his report, Mr Mulvey recalled external mediation/communication expertise has been engaged in extensive interaction with each of the volunteers within the Unit.

In addition, the department itself at a senior level, has conducted “one to one engagement” over a two-day period last July.

“Regretfully I have formed the conclusion that no form of mediation will lead to a resolution of the matters of disputation in the Unit,” Mr Mulvey reported.

“Some volunteers were expecting a further one to one engagement, but I indicated that the process I was conducting did not envisage such engagements and that the earlier engagements did not lead to a conclusion or resolution of the issues in dispute.

“Despite several efforts by me the volunteers did not respond to my attempts to get an engagement on the identification of the interpersonal difficulties between them and which formed such a
major and negative narrative in the Graphite HRM Report of February 2020,” he outlined.

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