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Value of €500m rescue services deal questioned

A controversial €500m contract for search-and-rescue services signed by former Transport Minister Noel Dempsey should be investigated by the incoming government, a Fine Gael TD urged yesterday.

Education spokesman Fergus O'Dowd said the new contract for the Irish Coast Guard would cost €150m more than the existing contract over 10 years.

"I will insist that this matter be fully and thoroughly investigated," Mr O'Dowd said yesterday.

He said the contract should be at the top of any new government's agenda to see whether it represents value for money over 10 years and to investigate whether the service could be provided more cheaply.

Last July, Mr Dempsey signed the contract with CHC Ireland (CHCI), which is due to start in July next year and run for 10 years, with an option to extend for a further three years on a year-by-year basis.

The service will see a new generation helicopter, the Sikorsky S-92, used to replace the existing fleet of Sikorsky S-61s, some of which are 40 years old.

CHCI is to provide four helicopters at Waterford, Shannon, Sligo and Dublin in the lease contract up to 2022, with a back-up helicopter.

It is believed the fleet will involve one new S-92 and four second-hand machines used in Britain.

Mr O'Dowd got documents under the Freedom of Information Act, which revealed that the head of the Irish Coast Guard claimed there would be no cost savings if the service was carried out by the Irish Air Corps and they were not equipped for the role.

However, this has been disputed by Agusta Westland, which manufactures the main helicopter used by the Air Corps, the AW139, and by former Air Corps personnel who said the Defence Forces should have been given an opportunity to tender.

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The Air Corps withdrew from limited search-and-rescue duties in 2004.

Meanwhile, the Canadian company CHC has been part of a consortium offering search-and-rescue services in Britain in a £6bn (€7bn) contract that has run into trouble.

The UK has abandoned the procurement process as military police investigate how information relating to the bid process fell into the hands of the preferred bidder, a consortium called Soteria, which includes CHC, Sikorsky and French defence group Thales.

Philip Hammond, Britain's secretary of state for transport, said in a statement that Soteria had informed the government in December of irregularities concerning the conduct of their bid team.

Irregularities included access by CHC Helicopter to commercially sensitive information regarding official evaluations of bids, he said, and evidence that a former member of the government's project team had assisted the consortium in preparing its bid.

CHC said: "In November of last year, CHC became aware that a small number of its employees acting without its knowledge or authorisation of the company's senior management may have violated the company's high standard of ethics during its participation in the competitive bid process.

"As soon as CHC became aware of the perceived irregularities it upheld those standards by immediately informing the British government, and co-operating fully with the government," it added.

The consortium had been due to take over search-and-rescue for 25 years from 2012 in the UK.

However the Department of Transport here said the €500m Irish contract with CHC would not be affected by the British move.

The department said the contract with CHC had been concluded and signed, and the first installment had been paid "as per its terms".

This is understood to involve a payment of around €19m to CHC.

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