Attempts to save Bangor coastguard station intensified last week with the First and Deputy First Ministers paying a key visit to the life-saving base.
There they met with the officials behind the controversial draft proposals that pit Northern Ireland’s only coastguard station against a base at Liverpool.
Last Thursday morning (February 17), DUP leader Peter Robinson and Sinn Féin MLA Martin McGuinness stood “shoulder to shoulder” in Bregenz House to voice their opposition to the visiting vice admiral Sir Alan Massey, the chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) who, “with a clear conscience”, stands by the modernisation plans that propose to slash the number of UK’s 24 hour coastguard stations from 19 to just two.
Mr Robinson said: “”The Executive will do all in its power to keep this coastguard station open, and even reducing it to a daytime service only will impact significantly on service delivery levels.
“The closure would not only lead to the loss of 23 full-time jobs, but could also potentially reduce safety levels for both commercial and recreational users of our coasts and seas.”
Martin McGuinness said: “I am concerned also at plans to close the Clyde coastguard station, with whom both Belfast and Malin Head stations have a close working relationship. If both Belfast and Clyde were to close it would leave the north and east coast perilous for the shipping community.”
Following this meeting, Sir Alan Massey, upon the invitation of North Down MP Lady Sylvia Hermon, held a press conference at the Marine Court Hotel to explain his position.
Sir Alan, who is touring around all the coastguard stations during the consultation period, denied the proposals were radical and “a bridge too far”.
Sir Alan said: “The current structure of our coastguard system is 20th century and our agency has the best overall view of how to take the coast guard service into the future.
“In our view, after doing all the risk assessments required to put forward these proposals, we will be delivering the same level of service and I am absolutely confident that lives will not be put at risk by these proposals.”
Ian Graham, branch secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, rejected this. He told the Community Telegraph: “All Belfast operations are based in Bangor coastguard station, but it’s not just the coasts we protect, it is also the inland waterways which include Lough Neagh and Lough Erne, and not forgetting mountain rescue for the Sperrins and the Mournes.
“What the consultation proposes is that either ourselves or Liverpool do both regions — with 50 per cent less staff than we currently have employed now.
“The way those proposing this say they can make these changes is by a new piece of technology — however, this is the same type of technology that the UK Fire and Rescue Service have just thrown out because they do not trust it.”
However Rod Johnson, chief coastguard at MCA who accompanied Sir Alan on his tour, argued: “The technology we are proposing in the consultation is an upgrade, not an overhaul of the computer system. There are fail safe mechanisms in place with this technology, it has been tested and we have no concerns on that front, there is continuous back up to the system.
“We are certain that these proposals put forward for consultation will not result in the loss of life.”