Minister Ross publishes new National Search and Rescue Plan for Ireland

The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross, T.D., today (Friday, 19 July) published a new National Search and Rescue Plan aimed at placing Ireland at the forefront of international best practice.

The plan also addresses some key lessons arising from tragic accidents involving Search and Rescue services in Ireland over the last three years.  The new plan replaces the existing National Maritime SAR Framework dating from 2010. It will be the baseline guide for all Search and Rescue (SAR) organisations in Ireland.  It underpins agreed methods of coordinating and conducting all SAR activities in Ireland and provides for a robust governance and oversight regime for SAR into the future.

Minister Ross said: “This review and the resulting National SAR Plan is about  significantly improving the manner in which the State provides and oversees Search and Rescue. Ultimately, our objective is to make our SAR service better and safer for all those involved and ensure that we have clear guidelines and practice for those who have vital roles and responsibilities to fulfil.”

The Minister continued: “This new plan takes account of the recommendations arising from a succession of Reports and Reviews in relation to Search and Rescue in Ireland over the last year, including the AAIU’s Interim Statement (March 2018), the AQE Report on a “Review of Oversight of Search and Rescue (SAR) Aviation Operations in Ireland” (September 2018) and the Marine Casualty Investigation Board Report into the fatal accident in Kilkee involving a Coast Guard volunteer (December 2018).”

He said: “It is vital that we learn the lessons from tragic accidents such as Kilkee and Blacksod and that we nurture and promote a world class Search and Rescue service.”  

A key conclusion of the SAR review, which underpins the new National SAR Plan (NSP), is that roles, responsibilities and inter-dependencies within the overall SAR system need to be clear, explicit and understood by all those concerned.  A new Governance and Oversight chapter in the plan sets out these roles very clearly, from strategic, tactical through to operational levels. It also recommends SAR stakeholders meet at least annually to review the plan.

The NSP delivers on a new mechanism of assurance in relation to standards and practices and oversight of the overall SAR system. This will include the creation of a support network to assist those involved in search and rescue to develop minimum standards and practices and to embed principles of continuous improvement and safety within their organisations. It also creates a new SAR Regulators’ Forum, a unique initiative which brings transport regulators in the Search and Rescue domain together to exchange good practice and seek to improve the overall system assurance mechanisms.

A new National SAR Committee has been created with renewed terms of reference which underpins its role in providing strategic coordination, guidance and leadership for Search and Rescue. This group will monitor the performance and adequacy of the SAR system and advise on any necessary improvements.  It will be chaired by Sir Alan Massey – ex CEO of the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Its members will include senior representatives from the Coast Guard (IRCG), Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) and An Garda Síochána (AGS), their parent Departments and other strategic partners in both the State (Departments of Defence, Health and Local Government) and the voluntary SAR sector (RNLI). 

The SAR Review report also includes an implementation plan for a new “virtual” Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) model. This was another key recommendation in the AQE Report. The new model will secure additional collaboration between the Aviation Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC), which is managed by the IAA, and Marine Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC), which is managed by the Coast Guard. This will greatly enhance the overall SAR system.  Utilising enhanced technologies and greater collaboration, the new JRCC will capitalise on the strengths of the current Aeronautical RCC and Maritime RCCs and ensure a more coherent response.   

With regard to Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) recommendations included in the review process, the new Search and Rescue Plan acknowledges the on-going work of the Irish Coast Guard (IRCG) in developing an accredited safety management system.  The IRCG’s new Standard Operating Procedures and guidance material relevant to the MCIB report were subject to international peer review (involving Canada, New Zealand and Sweden) and are being modified to reflect best practice in relation to boat launching and the transition from search and rescue to search and recovery phase of IRCG operations.

In conclusion, Minister Ross said: “I would like to convey my thanks to those Departments and agencies who participated in the review process. I would particularly like to thanks Sir Alan Massey for his leadership and expertise through this seven month review process. I am very pleased with what has been achieved in such an ambitious timeframe since the publication of the AQE Report. We must now endeavour to build on this momentum and the ambition in this report which is to make Ireland’s SAR service “best in class” internationally – and in doing so, honour the memory of those who have lost their lives in the service of others.”


Notes to Editors:

A new National SAR Plan

The new National SAR Plan will replace the existing National Maritime SAR Framework (2010). The new NSP provides for a re-balancing of the previous “maritime-centric” SAR Framework to encompass aeronautical and land SAR more comprehensively – explicitly setting out the role of IAA and An Garda Síochána in that context. It also provides for more explicit governance, assurance and oversight roles across the SAR system. The new search and rescue plan also provides for a clearer description of the National SAR system itself - including roles, inter-relationships and responsibilities from strategic through tactical to operational levels and provides guidance on the development of a common / more harmonised approach to managing SAR incidents across all three domains (including the transition from search and rescue to search and recovery- a key issue in the MCIB report). 

A new SAR Assurance Mechanism

Assurance and oversight were key themes in the review as they featured strongly in the AQE report.  A new chapter in the NSP captures for the first time how SAR policy is set, responsibilities are assigned, performance is monitored and managed and how the primary SAR stakeholders are overseen, including from a regulatory perspective where relevant. It introduces a mechanism for routinely assuring a minimum set of requirements are in place in relation to safety management and oversight across the SAR system.

A new National SAR Committee

The newly titled National SAR Committee will replace the previous Irish Aeronautical and Maritime Emergency Advisory Committee. Its new terms of reference give it a more strategic coordination, guidance and leadership role for Ireland’s National SAR organisation.  It will be chaired by Sir Alan Massey initially and its members will include representatives from the so-called strategic SAR stakeholders - IRCG, IAA and AGS and their parent Departments; and strategic partners in both the State (Departments of Defence, Health and Local Government) and voluntary SAR sectors (RNLI). The first meeting of the new NSARC took place on 16 July.

Closure of the AQE and MCIB recommendations

The report represents closure of nine of the 12 recommendations in the AQE report within the timeframes envisaged and the two MCIB recommendations to the Minister in relation to lessons arising from Kilkee.

The report and the outputs have been conveyed to the AAIU ahead of the publication of their final draft report into the R116 accident.  As a final “belt and brace” on the adequacy of these measures, the report and the new National SAR Plan is being reviewed by AQE over the coming weeks.


Timelines for SAR Review

March 2018

AAIU publish interim statement calling for review of oversight of SAR aviation operations in Ireland  - see link to AAIU’s Interim Statement

June 2018

AQE (Prof Jules Kneepkens and team) appointed to carry out review


September 2018

AQE complete review and report published with 12 recommendations – Minister agrees to implement in full – see link to AQE Report

November 2018

SAR Review Group established under Sir Alan Massey – to address 5 specific AQE recommendations


December 2018

MCIB publish Kilkee Report with 2 Recommendations to Minister – these are incorporated in SAR Review Group terms of reference. See link to Marine Casualty Investigation Board Report

June 2019

Review Group complete report recommending adoption of a new National SAR Plan (NSP), JRCC implementation plan and reporting on progress across all AQE related recommendations.


June 2019

Report and NSP approved by Minister


July 2019

Report to Government for information


July 2019

First meeting of new National SAR Committee – NSP implementation commences












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