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