It’s mornings like those – when the rain buckets down and winds howl and you’re bracing yourself for that measly 10 minute walk to the bus stop – they might be best times for average joes like myself to consider the work of the Irish Coast Guard. Because what else, if anything, really brings us anywhere close to appreciating the difficult conditions these brave men and women regularly have to work in?
The Irish Coast Guard responds to about 2,500 maritime emergencies every year. And it could be for anything; a boat loses power 70km off the Skelligs, a man overboard near Malinhead, a missing boat, a diver lost, a vessel capsized, and 2495 other emergencies you can imagine. The Irish Coast Guard responds to them all.
The difficulty of their work is intensified in bad weather. Heavy winds, driving rain, huge waves, an injured sailor, a drifting winch, a sinking ship, a thick fog in the dead of night. But still they go out rain, hail or shine putting their lives at risk to save others. Every call out brings its own peril but every year their efforts sees around 200 lives saved. A phenomenal contribution, vital to coastal communities and it’s indisputably work deserving of proper recognition.
It’s pretty incredible to think the search and rescue side of the Coast Guard is all volunteer-driven. That’s because unlike the other ‘blue light’ services – An Garda, ambulance and fire service — the Coast Guard is not covered by Statutory Instrument legislation which ensures standalone status. And this means less representation, less recognition and ultimately they miss out on important protections afforded to these other services, leaving them very much open to political meddling.
It’s a wonder how they manage to keep 43 units operational around the county when promises of more staff have so often come to nothing. They have three sector managers covering a 7,500km coastline, or to put that into perspective, that’s three sector managers for an area more than twice the US/Mexico land border which is a mere 3,201 km in comparison. Certainly makes their calls for at least six sector managers appear fairly reasonable.
The Irish Coast Guard is looking to be put on put on the same footing as the other emergency services and it’s only right and reasonable that this should happen. It does look like there is momentum building toward this happening. Some of the right things are being spoken by some of the right people.
Last month Deputy Michael Collins, an Independent T.D. called on the government to rectify this disparity and that the Irish Coast Guard should be legislated as a standalone, primary response agency. He said this was necessary “to protect the Coast Guard and ensure the future of the world-class organisation which volunteers have worked so hard to develop”.
And Cork South West TD, Margaret Murphy O’Mahony recently met with representatives of the Irish Coast Guard along with her Fianna Fáil parliamentary colleagues “In coastal areas, such as those found in West Cork, the Irish Coast Guard, supported by various RNLI units, provide a safety net for fishing communities, both commercial and recreational, and deserve the protections that come with being placed on a statutory basis.”
The rains from earlier have stopped now, it should be dry this evening, I guess I won’t get wet walking back to the bus stop. But you know it certainly doesn’t really make it any difference when it come to appreciating the hardwork of the Irish Coast Guard because no matter the conditions – rain hail or shine – they go out, risking their lives and many of them doing it for free.