Meeting over Bangor Coastguard 'closure'

Coastguard vessel being launched Ten of the UK's 18 Coastguard stations mare under threat of closure

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The possible closure of the Bangor Coastguard Station was discussed at a public meeting in Bangor on Thursday.

The meeting is one of a series being held across the UK by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

The coalition government is currently considering closing 10 of the UK's 18 round-the-clock centres, including the one at Bangor.

Last month, the first and deputy first minister expressed support for calls to keep coastguard services in NI.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency's plan calls for the number of Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centres across the country to be reduced from 18 full-time stations to two main centres open 24 hours a day and a further 5 sub-centres. The plan would also call for nearly a 50% reduction in full time Coastguard staff within 4 years.

Under the government's plan, the UK's only 24-hour coastguard centres would be based in Aberdeen, Dover and the Southampton/Portsmouth area.

More than 100 people attended the meeting in Bangor including members of the public, MLAs, councillors, and MPs.

Chairman of the North West Mountain Rescue Team David Campbell, attended the meeting and said he was worried the affect the closure would have on the relationship between the Northern Ireland coastguard service and that of the Irish Republic.

"The local knowledge and the rapport the NI coastguard have with the Republic's coastguard means that we get a very effective and efficient service and I would doubt that would happen if that local knowledge disappeared," he said.

Jonathan Kelly said that a lot of people asked "very heartfelt questions" about the position Northern Ireland would find itself in if Bangor's 24-hour centre closed.

"The responses weren't as direct as they could have been," he said.

Jim Shannon, MP for Strangford, said that he attended the meeting on behalf of his constituents.

'One voice'

"I'm here and I haven't got an election to fight, I'm here because people want me to be here," he said.

"I'm here and I'll be in Westminster next Thursday, whenever the debate's taking place. 'Keep the Bangor coastguard open' that's the message from tonight and I believe we can win it, we just need to work together to make that happen."

Independent MP for North Down Lady Sylvia Hermon said the issue of the coastguard centre was one of the few issues that unite all of the political parties in Northern Ireland.

"All of them who had representatives here this evening were speaking with one voice. There was a very clear view that NI must have its own coastguard centre. We cannot be the only part of the UK with a devolved administration left without a coastguard," she said.

Bill McFadyen, the Regional Director for Scotland and Northern Ireland Maritime and Coastguard Agency, attended the meeting to explain the changes and to listen to the views of concerned locals.

"The new system will ensure that the services provided right across the UK including Northern Ireland will be extremely effective," he said.

"Of course we will still maintain a high level of service here in NI as we move forward in whatever direction comes out of the consultation."

Mr McFadyen said there would still be a "large presence of coastguards" in NI and around the UK.

Currently, 3,500 volunteers are based around the UK, supported by full-time professional sector managers.

"That whole area is going to be beefed up. No matter what happens in the future we will still have our volunteers around the coast and an increase in the number of 24/7 professional officers who train and support those volunteers," according to Mr McFayden.

He encouraged people with views or ideas on the issue to participate in the consultation process which continues until 24 March.

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