The Government has confirmed that a minimum of four helicopter bases will be included in new tendering documentation for the next Coast Guard Search and Rescue aviation service.

At present the service uses five helicopters across four bases at Dublin, Waterford, Shannon, and Sligo.

There have been fears expressed that one of those bases could have been lost under the next contract which is due to be awarded next year and come into effect in 2024.

The initial tender documentation published by the Government last month specified a minimum of three helicopters to be provided by the next contractor, leading to concerns this could lead to the amount of bases being cut to three.

However, the Department of Transport said this afternoon that the pre-qualification questionnaire which prospective candidates have to complete will be amended to specify the number of bases "to reflect the existing configuration," namely four bases at Dublin, Shannon, Sligo and Waterford.

Politicians in the south east have welcomed assurances on the service and the retention of the current bases.

A pre-tender questionnaire was due to be completed by prospective candidates for the contract this week, with final tender details to be submitted by the end of March.

"The amendment will ensure the delivery of wider Government policies concerning balanced and even distribution of State services and investment," the Department said in a statement.

Senator John Cummins of Waterford said today on social media that the cabinet had approved the inclusion of four bases in the tender process.

"Last week I stated that I didn't share the downbeat assessment that such a vital service would be lost to the region," he said.

"I have engaged extensively over many months with Tánaiste Leo Varadkar on this issue and I want to acknowledge the work of the three Government party leaders and Minister [Hildegarde] Naughton for their commitment to clarifying this matter."

Meanwhile, Wexford-based TD Paul Kehoe said on Facebook that the Minister of State had "confirmed" to him "that the Waterford base will remain as is, as will the three other locations in Shannon, Sligo and Dublin".

The Tánaiste told the Dáil last week in the wake of public controversy that he anticipated "the outcome will be there will continue to be the same four bases" but that the contractual process must follow its course.

Sinn Féin TD for Waterford David Cullinane said the decision to retain all four bases is a "very welcome" clarification.

"There were fears that one base could be scrapped but thankfully that has been avoided following strong representations from TDs and senators across the south east," he said.

"It is great news that all four bases will be retained with no threat to the Waterford-based Rescue 117 service.

Independent TD for Waterford, Matt Shanahan, said the issue of retaining the existing bases "should never have been at issue".

Mr Shanahan said the Waterford-based R117 helicopter has been "pre-eminent" in terms of lifesaving and recovery missions.

"Given the degree of maritime activity and mountain rescue duty it performs, its survival should never have been in doubt," he added.

"I expect Government to adjust this document now to reflect both the retention of a helicopter at Waterford Airport along with its 24/7 service capability."