People from Malin Head in Co. Donegal also attended the hearing, to protest against the planned closure of the coastal maritime station in their county.
The people from Valentia and Malin Head, calling themselves fittingly the 'Save Our Stations' (SOS) group, have accused the Coast Guard management of "protecting their own jobs against being moved out of Dublin" and giving a "misleading and factually inaccurate proposal" to the Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey to close the coastal marine radio stations.
The Coast Guard management has rejected this, claiming that "equipment at both stations is out-dated" and that it would be "more efficient to replace the two old stations with one modern station". This has been proposed for an urban centre in the West, possibly at Shannon.
What puzzles me, as a former naval officer, is that no-one in the Coast Guard management has thought of modernising the long-established stations and giving them up-to-date modern equipment. Too many people in the upper echelons of our Civil Service seem to forget that Ireland is an island and depends in many ways on the sea and on the maritime transport routes.
Since the last general election we have no longer a Department of the Marine, which - in a government re-organisation - has been incorporated into the Department of Transport, whose priorities are landbased and whose current head - Minister Noel Dempsey - has no interest in the sea.
The lighthouses around our coastline have been automated now for nearly twenty years, with no more lighthouse keepers being recruited. Thus the nation's service to the maritime community is ever more depleted of the human element. I think this is a very bad mistake. Even though the principal functions of a lighthouse can now be done easily by automated computerised systems, no machine can do the watch duties the traditional lighthouse keepers performed for centuries.
And now the Coast Guard wants to give up their long-established coastal radio stations as well, obviously ignoring the fact that they have done great service to shipping and also helped to save many lives at sea. The residents of Valentia Island and Malin Head, who know from first-hand experience how valuable these stations are, presented their valid arguments today to politicians from Dail and Seanad. One can only hope that they were not only listening, but will act soon on behalf of the coastal and maritime communities and protect the stations from closure.
The Emerald Islander
P.S. Meanwhile, in a separate development, the managements of the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) and the telecommunications company Eircom have rejected statements made in the Coast Guard's report about the low quality of their service to coastal areas. It remains a fact, however, that electricity supply and modern telecommunications services - in particular the now ever more important broadband service for access to the internet - are not of the same quality and standard in the rural areas along the west coast as one finds them in our cities. This situation needs to change drastically and quickly.