1468. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the reason the Casa Maritime Patrol Aircraft, Casa CN235, was not dispatched when top cover was originally requested on the night of 13 March 2017 which led to the Rescue 116 helicopter being dispatched in its place; the change in circumstances which allowed CN235 to be dispatched later that same night in view of the earlier unavailability of the Air Corps rescue service; the investigations his department is making into the matter; when the findings of such an investigation will be reported to Dáil Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 19827/17 asked on 02 May 2017)

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): The Irish Coast Guard, which operates under the aegis of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, has overall responsibility for the provision of Search and Rescue services within the Irish search and rescue region. The Coast Guard search and rescue services can request the support of the Air Corps on an ‘as available’ basis under a Service Level Agreement between the Department of Defence and the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport, the most recent of which has been in place since 2013. Availability is dependent upon a number of factors including the availability of suitable aircraft, the availability of flying crews and the suitability of weather conditions. All agencies with which the Air Corps has Service Level Agreements to provides supports on an ‘as available’ basis, were notified of reduced availability last summer. However, it is normal practice for Agencies to check for Air Corps availability as relevant missions arise.

On the night of the tragic incident, the Coast Guard requested the assistance of the Air Corps to provide ‘top cover’. It was not possible to undertake this task as, due to a reduced availability of experienced personnel, the Air Corps was, and is currently, not providing fixed-wing aircraft for routine missions outside of normal hours. However, in exceptional circumstances, the Air Corps can recall personnel, though this can take a number of hours. This recall was activated when Rescue 116 went missing and a CASA aircraft was subsequently dispatched.

The Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is responsible for investigating the circumstances of the tragic loss of Rescue 116. I can confirm that the Defence Organisation has provided significant assistance, cooperation and aid to the AAIU through the provision of Defence Forces assets and personnel in relation to the investigation. I understand that once the AAIU completes its investigation, it will publish its findings.

The Air Corps continues to provide a broad range of services on a daily basis in accordance with its primary security roles including Army and Naval service supports, maritime patrols and fishery protection and supports in Aid to the Civil Power. In addition, the Air Corps undertakes a diverse range of other tasks such as the Emergency Aero-medical Service, Ministerial air transport, inter-hospital transfers and SAR supports, in accordance with relevant Service Level Agreements.