Progress on new Courtown Coast Guard Station moving at a ‘glacial pace’

Courtown Coastguard Station.

Amy LewisGorey Guardian

Senator Malcolm Byrne has called for the OPW to prioritise securing new accommodation for the Courtown Coast Guard Unit, saying that progress on the matter has moved at a “glacial pace”.

Senator Byrne raised the issue as a commencement matter in the Seanad, pointing out that the current station is a single-room operation with no toilet from which 22 crew members, both male and female, operate. There are common changing facilities for male and female crew members.

He referenced a commencement matter on February 24, during which he raised the same issue to The Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton.

"In answering at the time, the Minister of State acknowledged that it was very clear that there were health and safety concerns in respect of this Coast Guard station and that it was not suitable in the modern environment. She said that the OPW had carried out some preliminary work in identifying sites and that this was a priority facility. She was very clear that its development was a priority. During the summer, the Minister of State visited this facility and fully accepted the need for and importance of progress on this matter.”

“Six sites were originally identified, although they were not necessarily deemed suitable. Wexford County Council worked with the Coast Guard and the OPW to identify potential sites and a site was very clearly identified. The owners of the site were happy to look at putting it up for sale but there does not seem to have been any progress. I hope the Minister will be able to provide us with a report on progress since I asked this question in February and since the Minister of State's visit, when we were told that this was a priority for the OPW and that it had been carrying out work.

"I know this is something Government is committed to. We have provided significant funding for the development of our Coast Guard stations. However, for some reason, the OPW does not seem to be prioritising the facility at Courtown. I hope the Minister will be able to give me some positive news today.”

Minister Simon Harris responded to Senator Byrne in the absence of Minister O’Donovan. He explained that the Coast Guard building programme, which includes the provision of new or upgraded facilities at a number of locations across the country, is managed by the OPW on behalf of the Department of Transport. Minister Harris said that “new accommodation for the Courtown Coast Guard unit is included as one of the key priorities on this delivery programme”.

"As the Senator rightly indicated, it is recognised by all – including by the Government from the point of view of funding - that this is a priority matter that must be addressed. Courtown Coast Guard station is a single-room limestone building originally designed for the storage of rescue equipment,” he said. “It is situated at a busy intersection of three roads and has no available off-road area for parking. The OPW has carried out some minor remedial works to the building in the past in order to provide dry storage and office space, and to address essential health and safety issues. The building works alleviated some of the problems, but the view of the Government and the OPW is that use of the facility in its current form is unsustainable. As the current site is only slightly larger than the building footprint and is bordered to the rear by a steep river gully, there is very limited capacity to provide for any expansion or upgraded facility.”

Minister Harris assured Senator Byrne that since the matter was last raised, the OPW has continued to liaise intensively with the Irish Coast Guard to progress the matter. He acknowledged that the number of potential sites in the ownership of the local authority that were previously put forward by the Coast Guard are now no longer available.

"The OPW is investigating all potential options and in particular any State owned or similarly vested lands in the area that may meet requirements. Officials from the OPW are currently completing a formal site identification process, including required appraisals, to ensure the acquisition process is completed in line with the public spending code, PSC, and all options, including those identified by the Irish Coast Guard, will be assessed. Once a suitable site is identified, negotiations will progress without delay on the acquisition of the site and moving the project forward.”

Minister Harris said that, while he was unable to provide a commencement date for the start of construction, OPW officials are giving this project every priority possible at this time.

In his response, Senator Byrne said that progress on the matter was moving at a “glacial pace” and expressed his concern that the potential sites identified previously were not acted upon.

"I am concerned about it because the council had identified potential sites and it was not going to leave them sitting around. Potential private sites were also identified. The money has been provided for the purchase of a site. The Coast Guard is very keen that the acquisition would progress. The Minister is aware of the vital work the Coast Guard does in coastal communities. I am disappointed because the situation has not moved on to any great extent since I raised it as a Commencement matter in February and by other means,” he said.

Senator Byrne suggested that a meeting might be arranged between the OPW, the Coast Guard and Wexford County Council, preferably before Christmas, to clarify details on a site and when construction might finally begin.

Minister Harris said he would pass this information on to the OPW and Minister and see if it could be arranged.

"I echo the Senator's comments about the vital work being carried out by the Coast Guard. It is only right and proper that the Government supports it in its vital work by providing it with facilities that are fit for purpose. We are all very clear that the current facilities in Courtown are not fit for purpose. The situation is not sustainable.

"While all remedial works possible have been carried out there is a need for a new site and a purpose-built facility. I appreciate that the situation is frustrating from the Senator's point of view in that the Government is committed to the project from the point of view of capital funding. This is not a funding issue; it is a matter of finding a site and securing it as quickly as possible. I hear the Senator's frustration.”