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Email: gerard.craughwell@oireachtas.ie

Was the 2012 SAR Contract Fit for Purpose?

I received the following correspondence from the Department of Transport after waiting some years for an answer. I’m no expert in public procurement but to me nothing in the reply I have been provided withstands up to scrutiny. My comments are made throughout the department’s correspondence in Bold and Italics. I would welcome the views of readers on this.

Letter Starts

Our Ref: TTAS-MO-00023-2023

Dear Senator Craughwell,

I wish to refer to your correspondence concerning the contract for Helicopter Search and Rescue Service and, in particular, to the expenditure incurred on the Night Vision Imaging System (NVIS).

The original contract, signed by the then Minister for Transport in 2012, did not include NVIS as a contracted service. Now I am trying to get me head around this. I understand that the expert advisory group specified night vision (NVIS) technology should form a part of the SAR contract, so the question is why did it not? However, the contract provides for changes to the scope of agreed services through a formal “Change Control Procedure”. This general provision in the contract is consistent with similar provisions in many other State contracts and, as such, the procedure is recognised by the Chief State Solicitor’s Office and by the Office of Government Procurement. 

In this instance, it was agreed that NVIS and associated costs would be considered through this Contract Change Control procedure. I simply do not understand why the State, the Irish taxpayers ended up footing the bill to retrofit a private company’s aircraft, footing the bill for NVIS goggles and training of crews. Did the department and /or the Irish Coast Guard know what they were doing? 

The ability to conduct operations with the aid of Night Vision Goggles (NVG’s) brings an enhanced operational safety and situational awareness capability to the suite of Coast Guard helicopter operations including maritime and inland search and rescue, day and night air ambulances services to island communities, HEMS and inter hospital patient transfer services to HSE and other support to the Emergency Services. One cannot argue with this statement. However, the aircraft were upgraded in 2013 and the goggles purchased yet training was not rolled out for several years why?

The rollout of NVIS was ultimately delayed due to reasons largely outside of control of IRCG (e.g. COVID, training and IAA certification delays). NVIS capability was introduced across the four bases on an incremental basis and all bases are now NVIS capable. I understand that training was not completed until late 2022 but I do not have the actual date.