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Government to appoint independent mediator to resolve Doolin Coast Guard unit issues

Six long-serving volunteers confirmed last week they were leaving the Doolin unit with immediate effect.

Doolin Coast Guard (file photo)
Doolin Coast Guard (file photo)
Image: Pat Flynn

THE GOVERNMENT IS planning to appoint an independent mediator to help resolve issues that led to a number of resignations from Doolin Coast Guard in Co Clare, resulting in the unit being temporarily stood down.

A total of six long-serving volunteers, including the unit’s officer in charge (OIC), confirmed last week they were leaving the service with immediate effect.

The Irish Coast Guard confirmed the following day that, while the unit still has 11 members, the resignations meant the service would have to be stood down. The team on Inis Oírr in the Aran Islands, which is managed by Doolin Coast Guard, remains operational.

The issue was raised in the Seanad yesterday by Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley, who said there were “some internal human resources issues within the group”.

“That is not any different from any organisation, office or business, and of course issues will arise between people,” he said.

“It is really the job of management, specifically at the national level in the Coast Guard, to address such an issue. Efforts have been made along the way and, unfortunately, they have not been good enough to resolve the problem. If this happened in the private sector, the matter would be resolved and brought to a head.”

Dooley said the standing down of the service had upset many people, “particularly those whose loved ones have required the services of the Doolin Coast Guard”.

“It is one of the best known coastguards not just in County Clare but right across the country because it has had such a high profile in search and rescue operations on so many occasions,” he said.

“Sadly, it has also played its part in recovering the bodies of people who have ended their lives off the Cliffs of Moher. It is really a difficult and sad position.”

He appealed to the government to involve an independent expert in human resources to help address the issues.

Responding to the Senator in the Seanad, Minister of State in the Department of Transport Kildegarde Naughton confirmed that she will be discussing the appointment of an independent mediator with the department.

She said the unit has had “several years of significantly unresolved, internal, interpersonal difficulties”.

“The Coast Guard and my Department have taken these unfortunate differences between the Doolin unit volunteers extremely seriously and have consistently met and engaged with the Doolin unit over the past number of years to try to assist in the repair of the breakdown in relationships that has occurred within the unit,” she said.

A review was conducted in 2019 by an independent human resources company to examine and consider the root causes.

Naughton said follow-up actions included dignity and respect training for the unit, the facilitation of group and one-to-one sessions with the Irish Coast Guard, management and the Doolin unit members.

“An intensive support package was also put in place with coastal unit sector managers to monitor and assist in supervising the situation,” she said.

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These efforts were not successful, she said, and there is now “a role for an independent person or mediator to be appointed to the Doolin unit with a view to resolving the difficulties”.

She said the number of volunteer grievance cases in the Irish Coast Guard nationally remains low.

“They represent less than 0.5% of the total volunteer cadre. Given the number of volunteers, amounting to over 900 in total, the percentage is very low by comparison with that in similar organisations,” she said.

“I assure the Senators that it is my priority, and that of the Coast Guard and Department, to ensure Doolin Coast Guard unit will be returned to operational readiness as quickly as practicable. A plan is being put in place to ensure this.”

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