Pollution and salvage response in the marine environment (the Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) in Dublin coordinates all pollution & salvage control in the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)).
The Coast Guard operates as a Division of the Department of Transport under the Maritime Safety Directorate. Together with the Mercantile Marine Office, the Maritime Safety Directorate comprises two main sections, the Maritime Safety and Marine Environment Division (MSED) and the Marine Survey Office (MSO):
The Maritime Safety and Marine Environment Division is responsible for maritime safety, security policy (not armed or national security policy, which is exclusively the responsibility of the Department of Defence) legislation (including leisure safety), aids to navigation, corporate governance of the Commissioners of Irish Lights and marine environment protection issues.
The Marine Survey Office deals with the inspection, survey, certification and licensing of vessels and vessels radio equipment; the examination and certification of seafarers competencies; enforcement of standards by way of audits on organisation and facilities and prosecutions for breaches of regulations. The Marine Survey Office also includes the Marine Radio Affairs Unit (MRAU).
Unlike coastguard models in some other countries, in Ireland it is not part of the Irish Defence Forces. It does however call on their assistance through the use of its Air Corps and Naval assets. Also, while in some jurisdictions fisheries patrols are the responsibility of the Coast Guard, in Ireland, these are carried out by the Irish Air Corps and Irish Naval Service and drug smuggling patrols by the Irish Air Corps, Customs, Gardaí and the Naval Service. (However, all the above government services can at any time request assistance from each other when needed).
The Irish Coast Guard is a civilian agency, members are not part of the Defence Forces and thus are forbidden from carrying any type of weapons and have no security or defence duties in respect of national police or defence.
Coast Guard personnel include full-time paid employees, and unpaid volunteers. For example, a member of the Coast Guard, Caitriona Lucas, who died while on a rescue/recovery mission in County Clare in 2016, was a volunteer.
Not all Irish Coast Guard members have enforcement powers – only some officers under warrant.
The CLSS was later renamed the Coast and Cliff Rescue Service (CCRS). In 1979 there were 54 stations, 51 equipped with breeches buoys and three only with ladders for cliff rescue. A 1990 inquiry into air sea rescue chaired by retired Garda Commissioner Eamonn Doherty recommended transferring responsibility from the Irish Air Corps to a new emergency service. The then government accepted the recommendation in August 1990, and the service was established in the then Department of the Marine by minister Michael Woods in May 1991 under the name "Slánú — The Irish Marine Emergency Service" (IMES), and subsumed the CCRS. In February 2000 the name was changed to the Irish Coast Guard in accordance with the wishes of many of its personnel. The spelling "Coast Guard" (as opposed to "Coastguard") is intended to hark back to its nineteenth-century origins; the British Coastguard adopted the single-word spelling in 1925, after the Free State had separated.
In 2012 Fisher Associates conducted a value-for-money review of the Coast Guard and recommended closing the stations at Valentia and Malin Head. The Fisher report was criticised by Coast Guard management and reviewed by an Oireachtas committee, prompting a revised report in 2013.
The IRCG also operate a number of contracted Sikorsky Search and Rescue helicopters from bases in Dublin (RESCUE116), Waterford (RESCUE117), Shannon (RESCUE115) and Sligo (RESCUE118). These helicopters are contracted from CHC Helicopter - a contract which was controversial and costs the state €50 million per year. A similar SAR contract involving CHC was cancelled in the UK in 2012 as a result of alleged 'irregularities'. Under the €500 million contract, from 2010, a previous fleet of Sikorsky S-61N helicopters were replaced with five newer Sikorsky S-92 helicopters. One of the new S-92 helicopters is located at each of the four IRCG bases, with one spare replacement aircraft being rotated between bases.
The first operational S-92 helicopter was delivered to the Irish Coast Guard in January 2012 and given the registration EI-ICG. After a period of training and pilot conversion (from the S-61N type), this helicopter was given call-sign "RESCUE115" and replaced the S-61N that was previously based at Shannon.
The five S-92's were given the registrations EI-ICG, EI-ICU, EI-ICA, EI-ICR, EI-ICD – with the last letter of each registration spelling out "GUARD". As of late 2016, the S-92s were deployed as: Callsign Rescue 118 operating from Sligo, Rescue 117 operating from Waterford, Rescue 115 operating from Shannon, and Rescue 116 operating from Dublin. Each of the five aircraft are rotated between the four rescue teams, with one spare aircraft. While EI-ICG was delivered as "factory new" from Sikorsky in the US, the other S-92 aircraft were ex-UK Coastguard equipment.
In September 2016, a Coast Guard volunteer, Caitriona Lucas, died while on a rescue/recovery mission in County Clare.
In March 2017, RESCUE116 (EI-ICR, Banríon na farraige, an S-92 helicopter providing cover for another Coast Guard helicopter) crashed off the coast of County Mayo. Captain Dara Fitzpatrick was recovered from the water at around 7 am on 14 March in a critical condition, and transferred to Mayo University Hospital where she was pronounced dead. Chief pilot Mark Duffy was recovered from the wreckage on the 26 March. Winch crew Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith remain missing.