Private Members Motion – Fire Services

October 11th, 2007 - Pat Breen

The following motion was moved by Deputy Ciarán Lynch on Tuesday, 9 October 2007:

That Dáil Éireann:

– expresses its deep concern at the death of two fire-fighters during the course of a fire in Bray, County Wicklow, on 26 September;

– acknowledges the bravery of Brian Murray and Mark O’Shaughnessy and extends its profound sympathy to the families and colleagues of the two men;

– commends the members of the full-time and retained fire service across the country for their sterling work for the community;

– supports the call made by their colleagues for an independent investigation into the death of the two fire-fighters; and

– regrets the failure of the Government to implement in full the recommendations of the Farrell Grant Sparks Review of Fire Safety and Fire Services in Ireland, submitted to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in January 2002;

calls for

– the establishment of a National Authority for Fire and Civil Protection/Emergency Services, one of the key recommendations of the review; and

– the establishment of full-time fire services in areas of high population, such as Bray.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

“- extends again its deepest sympathies to the families of Brian Murray and Mark O’Shaughnessy whose deaths occurred in such tragic circumstances;

– extends its deepest sympathies to Brian and Mark’s colleagues in the Wicklow fire service and to all members of the retained fire service countrywide;

– acknowledges the courageous service which Brian and Mark gave to the public through their commitment to the Wicklow fire service;

– acknowledges the service and dedication of all members of the fire service, both full-time and retained, given to the public across the country;

– acknowledges the fact that three investigations are under way by An Garda Síochána, the Health and Safety Authority and Wicklow County Council;

– notes the Government’s commitment to implementing any necessary change arising from the outcome of the above investigations in the work of supporting and developing fire services;

– notes the significant progress made in implementing the key recommendations in the Farrell Grant Sparks report of the Review of Fire Safety and Fire Services in Ireland in relation to fire safety and fire services and, in particular, the programmes advanced to enhance the safety of members of the fire service and the public;

– notes that as part of the Government’s continuing commitment to investment in, and modernisation of the fire service, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is reviewing the options for continuing the fire service change programme to ensure that Ireland has a world class fire service to meet the needs of the 21st century; and

– notes that the options for fire service provision in Bray and its environs are under consideration, including public consultation, by Wicklow County Council and that arrangements for the provision of fire services in all areas of the country are a matter for the relevant fire authorities, which expend an estimated €240 million per annum in the provision of the service.”

– (Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government).

Deputy Pat Breen: I wish to share time with Deputies Timmins and Coveney.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Pat Breen: As with previous speakers from last night, I firstly convey my sincere sympathies to the families of Brian Murray and Mark O’Shaughnessy, as well as to their fire fighting colleagues. These men died tragically on Wednesday, 26 September while tackling a blaze in Bray, County Wicklow. I also commend their families for appearing on the “Late Late Show” last Friday, as they must be praised for speaking out so soon after the loss of their loved ones and highlighting the need to reform fire services in this country.

Five years ago, the Government ordered a review of the fire services, with one key recommendation from the review being the need to establish a national fire authority. To date, nothing has happened in this regard and it is quite obvious we have not learned from the Stardust tragedy, despite similar recommendations coming from its investigations.

Bray, like many other large urban centres, is a fast-growing town with a population in the region of 32,000. What happened on that fateful morning in Bray could easily happen in any other town throughout the country. The scenario is similar in Ennis, which has a population of approximately 25,000. The fire service in Ennis station has a complement of 16 retained fire-fighters who must serve the greater area with a population of 60,000 people.

Earlier this year, I highlighted the problems in my own constituency experienced by part-time fire-fighters. They have state-of-the-art equipment, are extremely well trained and train on a regular basis. I have seem them first-hand doing drills and dealing with mock accidents.

Their being on-call and part-time means they cannot have another job. The local authority refuses to sanction a full-time service because of the cost involved despite calls to Ennis fire station increasing by 20% over the past year. In 2006, it dealt with 569 calls, 98 more than the previous year. That is a very busy service, with an average of two calls per day. Similar towns, such as Sligo and Dundalk, have a full-time service despite them not receiving as many calls.

The time has come to reform the fire services. We need a more professional approach from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government as fire-fighters not only carry out their traditional duties, but must also increase their role in educating the public with fire awareness and safety. There should be visits to schools, as the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, stated last night, and there should be above all else more inspections of our nightclubs, where many young people congregate at night. We do not want another Stardust tragedy.

Our fire-fighters throughout the country serve our communities with distinction, putting themselves in dangerous situations to save lives. Retained fire-fighters, no matter how alert, require five to seven minutes to mobilise, depending on traffic. We are all aware of the gridlock on urban roads, so those five or seven minutes could make all the difference in saving a valuable life.

The art of fire fighting has changed considerably recently. Thankfully, chimney fires are on the decrease but the service must now deal with chemical spills and fires, fires in high-rise buildings and apartments, horrific car accidents resulting from speeding and anti-social behaviour problems such as bogus calls. There were 100 bogus calls made in my own constituency of Clare last year.

Only last week thugs set alight an industrial bin outside my constituency office. The fire service was called to the scene but as the fire station in Ennis was already dealing with two fires, the Shannon service 22 km away had to deal with it. If another serious incident occurred that morning, there would have been serious pressure on the fire services and the call-out time would have been increased.

It was chilling to hear the words of the late Brian Murray’s family recollecting how he predicted somebody would die before the end of the year unless there was a major overhaul of the fire services. That speaks for itself. We will always remember the bravery of the New York fire services on 11 September 2001 and we will remember the bravery of the two fire-fighters who lost their lives on that fateful morning of 26 September this year. They have made the ultimate sacrifice and their bravery and courage will be remembered.

Fine Gael will support and encourage reform of the fire services. We ask the Minister not to leave the report on the fire services lie in dust like other reports.