Wednesday, 21 September 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
118. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the extent to which all equipment including sea going vessels available to the naval service is fully modernised and up to date in line with requirements to meet any emergencies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25267/11]
119. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the extent to which the Air Corps is fully modernised in terms of aircraft, equipment and skilled personnel with particular reference to requirements arising from overseas deployment or emergencies such as air rescue or surveillance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25268/11]
As the Deputy will be aware the Irish Coast Guard has overall responsibility for the provision of Search and Rescue, (SAR) services within the Irish Search and Rescue region. In accordance with the roles assigned to them by Government in the White Paper on Defence, the Defence Forces are committed to providing support to the civil authorities including in relation to Search and Rescue. In this regard, the Air Corps provides support to the Coast Guard as the need arises and within its available capability. Air Corps assets are not deployed on overseas service.
On the issue of equipment for the Naval Service and Air Corps, a contract was awarded to Babcock Marine for the provision of two new Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) for the Naval Service. Preparations for the construction of these new vessels have commenced and the first new vessel is scheduled for delivery in early 2014. The second vessel will follow one year later. The acquisition of these modern new vessels, combined with a continuous process of refurbishment and repair, will ensure that the operational capability of the Naval Service is maintained at a satisfactory level and that the most up to date equipment is available to Naval Service personnel for their various roles.
The equipment and aircraft available to the Air Corps are of a high standard and are maintained by the Air Corps in accordance with best practice. The main expenditure in the Air Corps in 2011 relates to the maintenance and Power by the Hours contracts set up to keep the fleet fully operational. There are no plans for the purchase of new aircraft for the Air Corps at present.
120. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if he is satisfied that sufficient provision is being made in terms of skills, equipment and aircraft and sea going vessels to provide the highest level of coastal surveillance and air-sea rescue services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25269/11]
Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter): The primary day-to-day tasking of the Naval Service is to provide a fishery protection service in accordance with the State’s obligations as a member of the European Union. However, as the need arises, Naval Service vessels are deployed to other duties such as aid to the civil power, search and rescue or recovery and drug interdiction operations.
The current Exclusive Fishery Limits, or the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone, extend to 200 miles offshore and cover an area of 132,000 nautical square miles. The Naval Service currently patrols the entire 200-mile limit and periodically patrols beyond these limits to protect specific fisheries. The Naval Service is committed to having at least three vessels on patrol within the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone at any one time and a high level of coastal surveillance is carried out during the fishery protection patrols.
The Irish Coast Guard has overall responsibility for the provision of maritime search and rescue services within the Irish search and rescue region. In accordance with the roles assigned to them in the White Paper on Defence, the Air Corps and the Naval Service are committed to providing support to the civil authorities including in relation to search and rescue. In this regard, the Air Corps and the Naval Service provide support to the Coast Guard as the need arises and within their available capabilities.
A Service Level Agreement is in place with the Irish Coast Guard which sets out the search and rescue assistance that the Air Corps and Naval Service can provide, within their capabilities, to the Coast Guard. The provision of assistance during mountain rescue operations and fixed wing top cover by the Air Corps Casa aircraft to Coast Guard helicopters is included in the agreement. Assistance that is provided by the Naval Service to the Coast Guard during maritime search and rescue and recovery operations is also covered in the SLA.
A contract has been placed for the provision of two new Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) for the Naval Service, each of which will be almost 90 metres in length. The acquisition of these larger vessels will ensure that the Service can continue to carry out all its taskings in increasingly difficult and dangerous sea conditions in the Atlantic. Preparations for their construction have commenced at Appledore in the UK and the first vessel is scheduled for delivery in early 2014. The second new vessel will follow one year later. The two Air Corps Casa aircraft also have an important surveillance capability which offers aerial assistance to the Naval Service in patrolling the Exclusive Economic Zone. These aircraft both underwent mid-life upgrades that were completed in 2008 at a cost of €16.5m. The upgrades included the fitting of state of the art surveillance and communication equipment.
I am satisfied that both the Air Corps and Naval Service have the necessary resources to meet all their operational requirements including coastal surveillance taskings and search and rescue assistance to the Coast Guard.
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