Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Coastguard axe must be resisted

Shipping Minister Mike Penning is behaving like the most high-handed direct rule ministers of old. It was he who put Northern Ireland's coastguard station in jeopardy by insisting that it should be one of those around the UK's coasts considered for closure.

And now he will base his decision on a review, part of which was hastily cobbled together at the last moment. A section dealing with the risk of emergency calls being missed was only drawn up hours before the review was publicly released and there must be doubts that all eventualities were properly evaluated.

Just why the Bangor coastguard station's future should be in danger beggars belief in the first instance. While it is accepted that every area which will see its coastguard services either lost or truncated will fight against the decision, Northern Ireland does have a compelling case for retention of its coastguard services. For a start it is a place apart from the rest of the UK and works closely with its Irish counterparts to police the waterways around Ireland.

Local coastguards are also responsible for coordinating search and rescue missions on the two big inland waterways, Lough Neagh and Lough Erne, both of which are hugely popular leisure destinations. It is difficult to see how a coastguard station in Britain could gain the required knowledge to co-ordinate emergency responses to problems around our coast.

Mr Penning, as a soldier who served in Northern Ireland and as a former fireman, must know that speed of reaction to an emergency is vital. Anything which delays the response to a call for help could be disastrous. He is due to meet politicians and coastguards here later this week. They should make it clear that they have serious doubts over his fitness to take a decision which could leave us without a coastguard station.

So far he has not convinced anyone on this side of the Irish Sea that he has our best interests - never mind our safety - at heart.


From Belfast Telegraph