Belfast Telegraph

Coastguard chiefs heckled over base closure plans

By Sarah Rainey

Locals confronted Coastguard bosses last night over the proposed closure of Northern Ireland’s only sea rescue base.

Officials from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency were heckled and booed as they tried to justify shutting down the station in Bangor, Co Down.

Supporters of the station said they felt let down at being presented with a “bad deal” and “shabby” proposals from national representatives.

Strangford MP Jim Shannon told MCA officials they should “be under no illusions” about local support for the maritime base.

“You need to go home with a message, and that’s that our Coastguard needs to stay open 24/7,” he said.

The threat to the Coastguard station is part of a proposed Government shake-up of the service that will see the number of stations cut from 18 to eight.

The local base is in direct competition with Liverpool to be one of just five daylight-only sub centres which will remain open after the overhaul.

Just weeks before the consultation process ends, members of the public rallied in support of the Coastguard at a meeting with MCA bosses.

North Down MLA Peter Weir said he “didn’t come away particularly reassured” by what he had heard.

“Why should Northern Ireland be the only one of the four countries in the UK without a Coastguard corps?” he asked.

Bill McFadyen, the regional representative from the Coastguard, admitted he was not handed a copy of the proposals until after they had been finalised.

He said he knew local people were “extremely concerned” about the future of the rescue base, but insisted its closure was “not a done deal”.

When asked what he thought of reports that Shipping Minister Mike Penning had added Belfast to the closures list at the last minute, Mr McFadyen was unable to comment.

“You appear to know more about it than I do,” he said.

“I’ve got nothing to hide here, I’m trying to be open and transparent and tell you as I see it.”

One local supporter said he had a personal reason for opposing the changes to the Coastguard service.

Stuart Gray told the audience that his 75-year-old father had been involved in a serious sailing accident off the Irish coast in October 2009.

“His boat was hit by gale force winds and eventually it smashed into some rocks,” he said.

“He put out an emergency call — within six minutes the RNLI had been dispatched and they spent five hours trying to save my dad’s life.

“I wouldn’t like to be sitting here as a statistic saying I lost my dad, purely because of spending cuts.”

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