Two years ago the TV3 exposé "Errant Sea Rescue" revealed how Irish Air and Sea Rescue teams are so terrified of launching into stormy weather that they insist on drinking heavily before answering any distress calls. Today, mission commanders - known in Ireland as "sub-corporals" - admit that the problem is worse than ever.
"Institutionalised drinking is very difficult to tickle," one female lifeboat paramedic admitted, before bursting into laughter. "Did you hear me? Did you hear what I said there? Feckin'... LOCKED!" The woman subsequently lost her balance and fell over the wall on which she had been sitting, remaining reclined on its other side, shaking with laughter, before finally being summoned by colleagues for a rescue mission.
The problem has become so acute that rescue teams often insist on those they save also getting drunk before they are rescued, so that they are less likely to notice the drunkenness of their rescuers.
"We were all three sheets to the wind a few months back when we went out to rescue six fishermen off a sinking trawler in a Force 5. Our pilot insisted on a few bottles of Scotch being winched down. The fishermen had to knock the Scotch back before he'd even consider lifting them up to the helicopter," admitted a crewman.
The drinking incident only came to public light because one of the fishermen was a teetotaler. He resented having to drink a half bottle of the whisky, although he admitted it took the edge off his nerves while he was struggling in the waves.
A second incident recently launched a second public inquiry into the heavy drinking that still goes on in the Air and Sea Rescue Service. A liver transplant patient was recently brought from an island off the Donegal coast to Dublin for an operation. A lifelong alcoholic, the man had been forced to give up drinking twelve months earlier with a deterioration in his condition. When the air ambulance showed up to transfer him to hospital, he was offered swigs of vodka and bottles of stout by the already inebriated crew, even before they had stretchered him into the helicopter. The man declined the pick-me-ups, but he insisted that his wife accompany them in case he was tempted on what was expected to be a forty minute flight.