Naomi Long MP said: “It is vital that the Northern Ireland Coastguard Station is maintained at its current level and in my speech I focused on the important coordination role the station has. This issue is far wider than just sea rescue – not only does the station deal with the coordination of search and rescue at sea, they also cover Northern Ireland’s inland water ways, such as Lough Neagh and Lough Erne, which are hugely important to tourism and leisure. In addition, they are routinely involved in coordinating search and rescue operations on remote inland areas such as the Mournes and the Sperrins.
“I also highlighted the fact that Northern Ireland has only two Category 1 responders – the PSNI and HM Coastguard. This makes their role in search and rescue coordination even more critical.
“Cross-border cooperation and local knowledge is critical to any successful operation in Northern Ireland, and as the only region with a land border, Belfast Coastguard take a lead in coordination of this work. There is a high level of co-operation between the Republic of Ireland coastguard and the coastguard service in Northern Ireland, especially during rescue missions. I am deeply concerned that this important co-operation and could be severely impacted upon should the Northern Ireland Coastguard Station be lost to another region in the UK.
“Also, the whole island of Ireland operates on Irish grid coordinates, which are incompatible with the UK coordinates system. Although this could be resolved, it may add complexity, and waste time when trying to organise a rescue and further demonstrates the value of local knowledge.
“Proposed changes regarding the Northern Ireland Coastguard Station could also affect RNLI volunteering both in terms of local relationships, to develop and encourage local people to volunteer, and also through the potential loss of direct volunteering by coastguard staff if they were to be relocated elsewhere.
“We want to see a modernised Coastguard with access to the latest technology to support the crucial work which they do. Having submitted a detailed response to the Consultation and today sought reassurance that the Minister will listen and respond positively to the concerns of people in Northern Ireland on this important issue.”