THE GOVERNMENT HAS announced it will provide a one-off grant of €200,000 for Mountain Rescue Ireland to purchase new vehicles and equipment.
The announcement was made today by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar and Junior Tourism Minister Michael Ring.
Chris English, team leader of the Dublin-Wicklow Mountain Rescue Team, said the money is the equivalent of “almost a full year’s running costs”.
“It’s going to make a huge impact to the running of the teams across the country.”
English said that in the last ten years there has a been a big increase in the number of people the group has to rescue annually.
Some teams have seen this figure jump from 20-30 in 2004 to over 100 last year, thanks to increased hill walking and tourism.
That’s a significant increase over ten years, at a time when we’ve had our funding cut significantly.
The organisation’s budget was cut by 40% up to 2012, but has remained steady since then.
English said that, as a voluntary society, Mountain Rescue is happy to fundraise part of its running costs. Currently they have to raise about two-thirds of the money, while the government gives them a grant for the remainder.
He noted that the group would like to see this scenario reversed.
Varadkar said that he would “love” to increase funding for the organisation, but could not promise anything in the next Budget. He added that the €200,000 grant would help them to purchase “crucial” vehicles and equipment.
Mountain rescue teams play a hugely important role in supporting trekkers and mountaineers. Hill walking and adventure sports are getting more popular by the year, and play an increasingly important role in tourism.
“The various mountain rescue teams work closely with the Irish Coast Guard and the Gardaí on rescue operations. My department has stabilised current funding for mountain rescue since the general election, providing €363,000 for day to day operations since then.”
Minister Ring called on local authorities, particularly those in coastal counties, to set aside money in their budgets for mountain rescue teams, saying: “It’s the least they could do.”
As a West of Ireland Minister I am very familiar with the excellent work done by mountain rescue teams. I want to pay tribute to the heroism of these brave men who go out in all conditions, throughout the year.
“We have some of the harshest weather in the West of Ireland, and we feel the full force of the Atlantic storms. I’m delighted that we could make this special allocation.”
Ring added that he would be “delighted to serve the country to the best of my ability” should he receive a promotion in the upcoming Cabinet reshuffle.
Both Varadkar and Ring made a few quips that the Mountain Rescue’s stretcher might be needed following the reshuffle.
Varadkar said he plans to hold discussions with Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald about improving the current oversight arrangements of the organisation.
Under Ireland’s Framework for Emergency Management, mountain rescue teams fall under the remit of the Department of Justice and are called out by the Gardaí. However, the Department of Transport administers the grant scheme, while the Coast Guard chairs the National Coordinating Committee for Mountain and Cave Rescue.
“We need greater clarity concerning which Department is responsible for funding and supporting mountain rescue teams. I intend to discuss this matter with my colleague Minister Fitzgerald and provide a better arrangement for mountain rescue,” Varadkar stated.
He noted that he had a “really productive” meeting with Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and the PARC Road Safety Group yesterday.
“We focused on practical things that we can do together, improving some of the administration in the courts service and also things like bringing in the third payment options when it comes to penalty points.”
The third payment system would give people an extra chance to pay a penalty points-related fine before having to appear in court.
Frances has a real feel and understanding for road safety so things are going really well.
When asked how she compared to her predecessor, Varadkar said that Alan Shatter was “extremely busy obviously with a number of different matters”, adding: “He certainly did an excellent job in a number of areas.”
“You’d be amazed sometimes at how hard it can be coordinate ministers’ diaries and get two in a room at the same time.”
In terms of the banking inquiry not being able to discuss what happening during 30 minutes of a crucial Cabinet meeting in the lead up to the bank guarantee six years ago, Varadkar said he was not overly familiar with the issue.
“I had understood that we’d passed an amendment to the Constitution to allow for Cabinet confidentiality to be lifted in some cases, but I’d need to study it more closely first.”