Thursday, 27 January 2011

Northern Ireland Assembly - HM Coastguard Coordination Centre

Update: Monday, February 14

[Click links to open]

Public Meeting, Bangor, March 3

Westminster Hall Debates, February 2

Owen Paterson Backs Bangor Campaign

Naomi Long MP

I visited the Coastguard Station in Bangor this morning [February 14] with Lady Sylvia Hermon MP, Margaret Ritchie MP and Jim Shannon MP. We need to work together to resist the changes proposed to this vital service

Response From Declan O'Loan MLA's office

The three SDLP MP's have signed the Early Day Motion you have referred to.

Margaret Ritchie has been very strong in her support for coastguard services and has raised the issue in Westminster.

In Northern Ireland, the Bangor Coastguard station is facing possible closure, which would leave Northern Ireland without a full time Coastguard station.

Opposition to the consultation proposals is mounting by the day and Margaret Ritchie has sought an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State for Transport, Phillip Hammond.

This frontline emergency service has saved countless lives since its establishment and in the past year alone, its Northern Ireland team has dealt with more than 700 incidents.

For the SDLP, saving lives will always come ahead of saving money.Ulster Unionist Assembly candidate Colin Breen has had face to face talks with Secretary of State Owen Paterson MP. The North Down UUP Chairman met the Secretary of State last Thursday at Stormont House were he pressed home the case for the retention of Northern Ireland’s coastguard station which is based in Bangor.

Colin Breen UUP
Mr Breen stated that he had a long and very direct meeting with Mr Paterson at which he outlined the depth of concern throughout Northern Ireland of the impact on the community if this facility were to go. Describing the meeting as very positive he said “the fact that Mr Paterson spent so long in discussion with me on this matter shows how seriously he views the situation.”

Mr Breen continued; “I can confirm that the Secretary of State has assured me that he will back the campaign to retain the coastguard station in Bangor. To that end he has been lobbying vigorously at Westminster on the issue. Whilst we have to wait until the end of the consultation period (24th March) I would certainly very hopeful that his support puts us in a much stronger position.

“The Secretary of State has raised the issue with the secretary of state for transport Philip Hammond and the minister with direct responsibility Mike Penning.

“Through the Secretary of State I invited Mr Penning to visit the station and see first hand the sterling work carried out there.

“I can confirm that Mr Penning will be visiting the Bangor station very shortly, (obviously I wouldn’t wish to compromise his security by announcing the date). I look forward to hearing first hand where he stands on the future of the Bangor base.”

Mr Breen described the coastguard as an “invisible service until you need it” adding “but when you need it you really need it”. “We all see police, and ambulances as we go about our daily business but we don’t generally come into contact with what the coastguard does. In Northern Ireland last year they responded to 654 incidents involving almost 1200 people and that is only part of what they do.

“I know technology is very helpful but I do not believe there can be an adequate substitute to our own coastguard.”

First Minister Peter Robinson Champions Coastguard
[DUP Newsletter]

"The Coastguard Station at Bangor is performing a very valuable service keeping people safe and protecting lives. Indeed, I will be visiting the facility in the coming weeks to learn more of its work and to demonstrate my ongoing support. I am also strongly opposed to the Government's distasteful suggestion that the Bangor and Liverpool bases compete against each other for survival during the review of coastguard provision around the UK's coast.

"Of particular concern is the fact that should the Bangor station close Northern Ireland would be left as the only Devolved Administration in the United Kingdom without such a facility. This matter has been raised on the floor of the House of Commons and with the NIO and I will continue to press Bangor's case throughout the consultation period."



An unpublished draft report seen by the News & Star, handed to Government ministers on December 10, featured a map which did not include the Liverpool base. It listed just five bases and not the seven needed to carry out a viable consultation on the plans. 

A sub-centre at Belfast or Liverpool would stay along with either Stornoway – also excluded from the original document – or Shetland to ensure coverage of the country. These centres would only be staffed during daylight hours.

HM Coastguard: Bangor

2. Mr Gibson asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister whether they intend to lobby HM Government for the retention of Bangor Coastguard station.   (AQO 836/11)

The First Minister: We recognise the level of concern that this matter has provoked among public representatives of all parties, evidenced by the question being asked of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Prime Minister at Westminster. The coastguard rescue centre is vital to people here, and we are delighted to see the growing campaign in the media and local community to save it. The Executive will do all that they can to influence any decision about the centre’s future.

Of course, we share everyone’s concerns about people’s safety here and the potential impact on local employment but we are particularly concerned that the closure of the coastguard rescue centre in Bangor would leave us as the only devolved Administration without a coastguard presence. Although coastguard services are a reserved matter, we will be responding formally to the coastguard modernisation consultation, which runs until 24 March 2011. In addition, I assure the Assembly that we will continue to pursue the matter through normal channels and ensure that the strongest case for maintaining the Bangor station is made to the Government.

Mr Gibson: I appreciate and welcome the First Minister’s response. Given that many major shipping lanes pass along the County Down coast and that a major air corridor passes over that area, and bearing in mind the fishing activity and recreational boating that takes place in those coastal waters, does the First Minister share my view that the local knowledge of the staff of the Bangor coastguard station could prove vital in the event of an emergency?

The First Minister: Absolutely. Local knowledge is the main aspect of our case. Place names can be learnt quickly enough, but distances between various places, where along the coast are the best places for rescue services to land, and all the local knowledge that has been built up in Bangor are essential ingredients. The deputy First Minister and I have been invited by the Member of Parliament for the area, Lady Sylvia Hermon, to go down to look at the existing services, and I would like to take up that invitation.

Mr McKay: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Given the review of maritime safety taking place in the South, and that commenced by the London Government, and also the high level of North/South co-operation on the issue, will consideration be given to devolving responsibility for coastguard services to the Executive and the development of all-island co-operation to co-ordinate safety and coverage along that shared coastline?

The First Minister: I cannot envisage that all happening before 24 March.

It is clear that this is a reserved matter, and the power is held at Westminster. We will respond to the consultation as the requirement is set down, and we will consult with Ministers in GB about the way forward. I do not think that there is any suitable alternative, whether in the Republic of Ireland or Liverpool, to having a facility in Northern Ireland with the local knowledge and closeness to the job that is required.

Ms Ritchie: Will the First Minister outline what discussions have taken place, or will take place, through the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) in London, where both he and the deputy First Minister meet colleagues from the other devolved institutions, as well as, probably, the Prime Minister and deputy Prime Minister? What discussions have taken place at that level? Can discussions and referrals take place at that committee? What further representations will be made to the Secretary of State for Transport?

The First Minister: The JMC meets, conveniently, next week. Although this is not an agenda item, the issue will certainly be raised on the periphery of the meeting. This is a reserved matter, and Westminster has the power to take the decision. Our Members of Parliament can use their influence at Westminster as well, and I am sure that they will do that.

Thanks for your email, I have copied for your information when this issue was raised in the Northern Ireland Assembly on Monday 24th Jan 2011.
I hope you find it helpful.
Mervyn [Storey MLA]

A note received on the same topic from Paul Frew MLA

Monday, 24 January 2011

Belfast Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre

It's business is to save lives
It's our business to save it

Monday, January 24

"Today co-ordinated the rescue of two canoeists that got into difficulty off Donaghadee. We requested the launch of Bangor and Donaghadee lifeboats along with Bangor Coastguard Rescue Team and Ambulance. Fisheries Patrol Vessel also proceeded and was quickly on scene."

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Northern Ireland Water - Lack of Transparency and Accountability

The refusal/reluctance of Northern Ireland Water (NIW) to release information on more than one occasion is more than just a side-bar issue. There’s the related matter of DRD’s failure to keep notes and minutes of some meetings with NIW executives. An audit trail is required for justice to be done and to reduce the option for scape-goating.

Prior to the creation of NI Water, Water Service Board/Executive Team minutes were published in line with good practice. To date NI Water Executive Team/Committee minutes have continued to be published. At its September meeting the NI Water Board decided that going forward, Board meeting minutes will be published on this site in place of Executive Committee Minutes. .. source

I persuaded NIW to publish Board minutes on the internet and to update the publication of Executive minutes ie the second sentence is untrue, ET minutes were discontinued in November 2009 and were only updated in August 2010; I failed to persuade it to produce minutes in the sort of detail that was available prior to November, 2009, and to continue Executive minutes. Why haven’t the NEDs been acting on these transparency and accountability issues?

The Minutes of the meeting of 29 July, and 9 August conference calls were agreed. The Board agreed that in future, minutes of its meetings would be published [on the internet]. … 30.09.2010

The draft Minutes of the Board Meeting held on 30 September were noted. It was agreed to incorporate some additional points into the final agreed minutes. … 28.10.2010

The online Board minutes are in pdf format but not in user-friendly cut and paste form; I use an OCR program, especially for lengthy quotes.

Padraic White was present at the September and October meetings. As the minutes are only available for publication after the subsequent meeting I don’t know whether or not the November meeting should be online.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Department for Regional Development DRD Draft Budget 2011-2015

Hat Tip to a Friend

Those who are looking for an online copy of the DRD draft budget may struggle to find it so I've placed a copy on Scribd. Click here.

Click image to enlarge

The draft budget is currently out for consultation so you'd expect to find a link on the Consultations list but it's not there. Perhaps the bilingual traffic signs consultation is considered to be more significant.

I rang the DRD switchboard to offer unsolicited advice to its Information Office. I was to be disappointed. The switchboard operator appeared not to have heard of the Information Office but eventually put me through. After a short conversation it dawned on the recipient of my call that we were talking at cross-purposes. She realised we were looking at different home pages. This might seem surprising. But it wasn't really as she was based in the Information Office of the DOE!

She attempted to put me through to the DRD Information Office but after about twenty seconds the line went dead. At that point I lost the will to live; I gave up the unequal struggle. It's reassuring to know that even under normal circumstances, never mind severe freeze and thaw, you may struggle to get through on the phone.

Updated January 19

DRD Information and Communication Branch: "Thank you for your feedback on the way that NI Direct is linking to the DRD draft budget 2010 and also that the same document was missing from the current DRD consultations. I am pleased to advise that both of these issues have been addressed and the changes are now live".

Monday, 10 January 2011

Rathlin Island Ferry Limited - Liabilities Exceed Assets

Rathlin Island Ferry Limited - Liabilities Exceed Assets
Accountant's statement 23 November 2010*:

"Emphasis of Matter Going Concern

In forming our opinion we have considered the adequacy of the disclosures made in the financial statements concerning the company's ability to continue as a going concern The company incurred a net loss during the period ended 31 March 2010 and as of that date the company's current liabilities exceeded its total assets. These conditions along vvirh other matters as set forth in Note 11 to the financial statements indicate the existence of a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt about the company's ability to continue as a going concern The financial statements do not include anv adjustments that would result from a failure to continue as a going concern. Details of the circumstances relating to this emphasis of matter are described in Note 11. Our opinion is not qualified in this respect.

Going concern

The company has incurred losses in its first two periods of trading with the result that its current liabilities exceed its total assets The contract with the DRD is currently under review and the directors believe that the outcome of the review will enable the company lo continue in operational existence and to improve its profitability

Whilst there is some uncertainly regarding the outcome of the review the directors believe that it is appropriate for the financial statements to be prepared on a going concern basis"

* The RIFL Board Meeting the same day came one day after the RIFL directors were represented at an industrial tribunal.

The abbreviated accounts shed no light on the amount of public subsidy being paid to the company, the value of ticket sales, the amount paid to one or more of the company directors for the leasing of passenger only vessels and the remunerations paid to each of the four directors.

Is the company currently financially solvent? 

When does a company become insolvent? When it is unable to pay its creditors as and when they fall due for payment, and/or when the value of its assets does not cover its liabilities.

What is the future for the service? Will there be more redundancies or reduced service? What does the Department for Regional Development have to say regarding the company position?

Less than a year ago the O Driscolls threw up their Cape Clear ferry contract in Co Cork: "The service was losing money from the beginning". Questions have also been asked about the Cape Clear accounts and why financial guarantees were excluded from the second tendering process for the Rathlin ferry contract in 2007/8.

Updated January 14

DRD - £400,000 Rathlin Ferry Cuts - 'Indicative savings' are to be funded by a reduction in 'in-house staff costs'.

In light of RIFL's alleged financial difficulties why was an additional family member added to the board in 2010? Presumably DRD will have been asking questions about the company's trading status based on information available from monthly/quarterly balance sheet returns. What savings have been achieved by DRD since 2008 when the position of engineering and business manager was made redundant?

Saturday, 8 January 2011

From Portballintrae to Islay?

In 1952 a detecting station was opened in Portballintrae, where the Beach Car Park now stands. It was given the grand title of "The Admiralty Marine Physical Station" and its supposed purpose was 'oceanographic research', although it now appears its actual purpose was the detection of submarines by listening to their 'sonar signatures'.

Six undersea cables came ashore along a concrete ramp and entered a series of temporary huts in the compound. Until recently part of one of the cables could still be seen on the shoreline, although it is possible this section has now been washed out to sea.

The station closed down in 1955 in a rather mundane way - the lease of the land ran out and Ballymoney Council wanted it back to use as a car park.

The only legacy of the site is that the sewers and running piped water, installed for the station, are now plumbed into the car park public toilets. The detecting operation was transferred to its sister station in Cornwall.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Northern Ireland Water - Non-Executive Directors Update

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, an additional Northern Ireland Water interim non-executive director, has left the Board.

Northern Ireland Water Non-Executive Directors