The new state-of-the-art Lough Neagh Rescue Centre at Kinnego Marina has been completed.
And those present heard how the facilities would enable an enhanced serviced at the County Armagh site.
Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots returned to Kinnego Marina to celebrate the completion of the works.
The £640,000 project, which received a grant of £480,000 from the NI Rural Development Programme’s Co-Operation Scheme, also included refurbishment work to the ‘Gary Breen’ boat as a rescue command vessel to bring it up to ‘boat code’ standard.
This was together with the provision of four high spec glamping pods at the marina, along with new fencing, road resurfacing and a utility block refit inside and out.
It was delivered in co-operation with three Local Action Groups – SOAR (ABC) in Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council area, MURDP (Mid Ulster Rural Development Programme) and GROW (South Antrim).
At the event, Minister Poots said: “Its gives me great pleasure to return to Kinnego to see the completed Lough Neagh Rescue Centre – the £680k project received some £480k rural development funding and is a perfect example of the difference this funding can make to everyday lives.
“The new facility allows Lough Neagh Rescue to provide a more enhanced service to the community and enable vital training to take place in a modern training environment.
“This is now a state-of-the-art rescue centre and it will make the Lough a much safer place in which to enjoy the activities on the open water and the wildlife around it.”
Minister Poots also met with family members of Gary Breen, after whom the boat is named, and Jim McCann, a volunteer crew member.
Gary sadly lost his life on the lough 30 years ago and his family undertook a massive fundraising campaign to fund the original rescue vessel.
The volunteers at the centre named their tearoom after Jim, who passed away 10 years ago, and both men were remembered at the official launch that took place on Saturday.
Minister Poots added: “I was honoured to meet with members of both Gary and Jim’s families. The naming of the boat and the tearoom after these men will ensure their memories live on around this part of the lough for many, many years to come.”
Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon, Councillor Paul Greenfield said: “This superb, new centre will have a hugely positive impact in the local area, helping the Lough Neagh Rescue team continue to do their search and rescue operations, benefiting not only the local area but indeed the entire community surrounding the lough.
“In addition to a modern, fit for purpose rescue centre, this co-operation project also supported the upgrade of the ‘Gary Breen’ rescue boat, helping bring it up to the required boat code standards and as a result enhancing the lifesaving service of this invaluable, voluntary search and rescue organisation.”
Chair of LAG, Cllr Kyle Savage added: “I am delighted that the Lough Neagh Rescue building has been officially opened. This Lough Neagh co-operation project is the culmination of many years of hard work to get these elements of the project completed.
“The Lough Neagh Rescue building is a real pride within the local community and can now be used to house the rescue boat along with providing rooms for training and a safe, warm place for relatives to wait should their family be involved in a search and rescue operation.
“The upgrade of the Gary Breen rescue vessel will be a tremendous asset to Lough Neagh Rescue and enable them to enhance their search and rescue efforts across the entire Lough Neagh area.”