Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Minister slammed over ‘hollow’ coastguard praise

The UK Shipping Minister, one of the two political figures behind the controversial decision to include Northern Ireland’s only coastguard station on the list of threatened closures, has been accused “hollow words” after praising coastguard staff at Bregenz House.

Conservative MP Mike Penning described the staff as “a breath of fresh air” after visiting the life-saving base last Wednesday (March 9), as part of his duties as Shipping Minister.

However DUP MLA Peter Weir said: “The praise rings a little hollow as it is the minister who created the problem in the first place. Bangor was originally recommended as a secure station in this review, but the Minister gerrymandered the process by adding the alternative for clearly political reasons.

“As has been admitted by senior coastguard officials, the first five minutes of any incident is literally vital, and it is clear that the closure of Bregenz would put local lives at risk.

“We cannot be allowed to be the only part of the UK to be without this facility, and the Secretary of State should be making it clear to his colleagues that he feels so strongly about this that he considers this a resigning matter.

“It is time for Government to put right what they made wrong in the first place, get beyond honeyed words and deliver on securing the coastguard at Bangor.”

John Montgomery North Down DUP Mayor said: “Both Mayor and councillors wished to speak with the Mike Penning, his original visit was cancelled but his London office assured the Mayor’s Secretary we would be informed of rescheduled visit — this was not done.

“Is the Shipping Minister running scared of North Down Councillors?”

North Down MP Lady Sylvia Hermon said: “We know we have a fight on our hands to save Northern Ireland’s last remaining Coastguard Centre in Bangor, but it’s a fight that has brought together the collective will of the various political parties here. Together, we are fighting to win.”

During his visit Mr Penning admitted Bangor was not originally included in the list of stations under threat, but was added later.

He said: “It was a decision made by myself and the Secretary of State and we were honest about that. What did come up and was breath of fresh air — is the acceptance of the people in the frontline that there has to be change and there has to be modernisation.

“They accepted there have to be closures, the debate is where those closures are.”

However Ian Graham branch secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union that represents coastguards said: “Not a single coastguard I have spoken to — many of whom have been trained to the highest level — agree with the proposals that pit station against station.”

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