Tuesday, 24 November 1981
Dáil Eireann Debate
16.—(1) The Minister may by order establish a body which shall be known as the Fire Services Council (in this section referred to as the Council) to perform such services for or on behalf  of the Minister or fire authorities as he may specify from time to time.
(3) The Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) Act, 1971, shall apply for the purposes of this section to a fire authority, to an order under this section as if it were an establishment order and to the Council as if it were established under such an order.
Mr. Connolly: When we were debating this amendment last week we were concentrating on personnel. Over the week-end I discussed this matter with a person involved in the operation of the fire brigade and I am worried that we will not have the necessary personnel to implement fully the working of this Bill. I was not happy with the Minister's reply because it seemed that vacancies would be filled by the transfer of personnel from other sections. Has there been a change of heart about the recruitment of the necessary personnel to implement this Bill?
Minister for the Environment (Mr. P. Barry): I spoke on this matter two or  three times last week and said the Government's guidelines of 21 July last were explicitly framed to show that we would not allow an increase in the overall level of staff employed in the public service during the next financial year. There is room in each fire brigade authority for a re-arrangement so that the fire service will have adequate staff to function properly.
Mr. Connolly: I do not wish to be awkward but I am anxious that there will be sufficient personnel to carry out inspections of the many public places where people congregate. I am led to believe that at present a number of fire brigades under the control of the local authorities or corporations do not have the necessary personnel to ensure that this Bill will operate effectively. I am not happy with the present arrangement because it will not work if personnel are moved from one section to another. It may work for a few months but in the long-term it will not work. We should have personnel who would be solely responsible for this area and who would ensure that the provisions of this Bill are properly carried out. A minority of owners and managers may be haphazard in carrying out the regulations and if anything happens they try to throw the blame on somebody else and that is not good enough.
We do not rule it out. At that stage we decided that we should leave a further option open which is the amendment to the Bill we are now discussing and that is the setting up of a fire council. I understand a similar council set up an inquiry into the Woolworths fire some years ago in Manchester. Its findings were accepted by all concerned as being fair and helpful. The Government have not yet decided, because they cannot until the council is established, whether they will have a public inquiry under the 1921 Act, given the fact that the urgency appears to have gone from it, or whether they will use the council.
With regard to the inquiry into the Woolworths fire in Manchester, I am sure the Minister did not intend to mislead the House but I should like him to comment on the fact that the British council did not investigate the Woolworths fire, only the implications of that fire. That council did not hear evidence as such. The Greater Manchester Fire Service conducted a detailed investigation of the fire and at their request the fire research station carried out a number of small and large scale tests. Later the Secretary of State for the Home Office asked the Joint Fire Prevention Committee of the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council for England, Wales and Scotland to investigate and consider all implications of the fire in the context of the Fire Precautions Act, 1971. That related in particular to the planning legislative sub-committee which duly reported on it.
Mr. P. Barry: It is not at this stage the Government's intention to rule out a public inquiry or an inquiry such as that outlined by Deputy Burke into the Bundoran fire. The question of whether somebody was at fault or not in the criminal  sense has been disposed of by the Director of Public Prosecutions. Therefore, what we are trying to establish now is whether any lessons can be learned for the future from this fire. The question is whether the best way to do that is by a public inquiry such as that which is in progress at present in relation to the Stardust tragedy or whether it should be done, after the Bill is passed, by the fire council which it is proposed to establish.
The introduction to the report dealing with the Woolworths fire stated that the report dealt with the circumstances of the fire, the legislative implications and the lessons to be learned together with a summary of conclusions and recommendations. The question as to whether somebody was guilty of negligence or some other crime in regard to Bundoran has been disposed of by the Garda inquiry in that the Director of Public Prosecutions has decided that there is no basis for taking a case against anybody. The Government, when they come to consider this matter, will decide whether to hold a full-scale public inquiry, as in the case of the Stardust tragedy, or establish, as was done in the case of the Woolworths fire, the legislative implications, the circumstances in which the fire took place and any lessons to be learned for the future. That choice has not been made yet.
Mr. Raphael Burke: I do not accept that the Director of Public Prosecutions has decided that there was not negligence. He has decided not to proceed with any criminal prosecution and that could have more to do with the defects in available legislation. It would be interesting to hear the comments of the Director of Public Prosecutions if the provisions of the Bill before us were in force. There are sections in the Bill which put responsibility on owners of property to keep their premises in a safe condition. The decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions that there were no grounds for criminal prosecution is not the same as saying that there was not negligence. Many questions must be answered and the longer the Minister delays his decision on the type of inquiry he intends  holding the more questions will arise. I should like now to refer to the interview on the “This Week” radio programme on Sunday. The replies given to questions on that programme caused me great concern. The interviewer said:
As long ago as last July the Junior Minister at the Department of the Environment, Fergus O'Brien, said in the Dáil that the Government were considering this. Now three months later you are still considering it.
I think he made clear at the time, the reason we were not considering it was because the option of the fire council was not open to us and it still is not open to us because the legislation has not gone through the Dáil, and until that happens we will not make up our minds.
The previous holder of the office set down in the Dáil the terms of reference of a tribunal of inquiry into the Bundoran disaster on 7 May last. The terms were put before the Dáil but the Dáil was dissolved two weeks later and the matter was not discussed in the House. However, the Minister must remember that the terms of reference were outlined on the Order Paper. The fact that the legislation has not been passed does not mean that the Minister cannot make a statement to the effect that when it becomes law an inquiry will be set up. Later in the  course of last Sunday's interview the interviewer asked:
Not to my knowledge; that does not mean there is not a report there which I may not have seen. It may have been done immediately after the fire in August 1980 but I have not seen it. I understand there is only the report done by the Donegal County Council and the one done by the gardaí for different purposes.
That is not correct. I accept that the Minister said, “not to my knowledge” but was the Minister serious when he said he had been considering this for a number of months, that he had examined the matter which was debated for almost three-and-a-half hours last Wednesday? Is the Minister serious when he says that he is not aware of a report from his fire advisers in the Department? The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, in the course of a reply to me in October, said there was a report from the fire adviser. It is worrying to think that in a matter of such importance the Minister responsible is not aware of what reports or documentation are available in his Department even after months of consideration, a three-and-a-half hour debate last week and two replies to questions.
Mr. P. Barry: I am not at all impressed by Deputy Raphael Burke's concern with the urgency and need to have an inquiry held into the Bundoran fire. This fire took place in August 1980. He says now that he placed a motion with terms of reference before the House on the Order Paper on 7 May last — that is nine months later. In that time apparently he did not see any urgency about having an inquiry into the Bundoran fire. Yet, as he says himself, we had three-and-a-half long  hours of debate about this matter the last day. He has put down numerous questions in the House, but when he was in a position to do something about it he did nothing. His excuse the last day for doing so was that, only after the Director of Public Prosecutions had, on the basis of the Garda report, taken a decision that there was no criminal liability involved and no prosecutions following, had he decided to hold a public inquiry. That sounds reasonable enough because I think there has been one inquiry only, under the 1921 Act, that was in 1943, and then the Whiddy disaster in 1979. Therefore, reasonably enough, he decided that he would not go ahead with an inquiry in that time. The reason he gives is that the Garda inquiry was proceeding. Although he did not specifically say so, the implication was that the Government would wait until they saw that and then go ahead with an inquiry. But the same considerations did not apply to the Stardust inquiry because the Government decided, without having seen any report from the Garda, without the Director of Public Prosecutions giving his decision on that report, that they would go ahead within a matter of days with a public inquiry. If they could do that in a matter of three or four days in regard to the Stardust inquiry why then did it take eight or nine months to reach the same conclusion with regard to the Bundoran fire when it would appear that the same set of circumstances applied?
I am not sure what Deputy Raphael Burke is trying to prove here. We had three-and-a-half hours of debate on this the last day. He has raised it here again today. I am not quite sure where he stands in this regard. I said quite plainly in the radio interview the other day to which he referred that I had not seen that report, and that is correct. I had not seen that report, but that does not in any way invalidate the stance I am adopting here on behalf of the Government. The Government will not come to a decision on what form of inquiry will be held and Deputy Fergus O'Brien, who was Minister of State at the Department of the Environment up to a week ago, and I  have repeated publicly and in this House on a number of occasions that there will be an inquiry held into the Bundoran fire. But what form that inquiry will take has not yet been decided by the Government. I am not going to give a commitment during this debate as to what form that decision will take until this Bill is through and the option considered of having an inquiry somewhat on the lines of the one held by the United Kingdom Fire Council into the Woolworths fire, or whether to have a full public inquiry as is proceeding in the case of the Stardust disaster. There is no question of my giving any undertaking or guarantee in that regard. I might suggest also that it appears to be irrelevant to the section we are debating, but that is a matter for a ruling by the Chair. I shall repeat in this regard that Deputy Raphael Burke was Minister for the Environment in August 1980——
Mr. P. Barry: Deputy Raphael Burke was not Minister for the Environment in August 1980 when a fire took place in Bundoran. He was Minister for the Environment in October, two months after the fire took place. He did not put on the Order Paper a motion, with terms of reference to have an inquiry into the Bundoran fire, until 7 May 1981, which was nine months after the fire took place and seven months after he had assumed office. His Government considered it for nine months evidently, if we are to believe what he said here the last day, because they were awaiting the Garda report and the Director of Public Prosecutions to come to a decision about the matter. They then put the motion on the Order Paper.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister will appreciate that, contrary to his own stated opinion, he is now extending matters which, as far as the Chair is concerned, have been amply dealt with having  regard to relevance. It would be a pity if we assumed that discussion on the new section in place of the original section 16 should be devoted entirely to a discussion on Bundoran or indeed any other special disaster.
Mr. P. Barry: I shall conclude, but just make the point that even though the motion was put on the Order Paper it was not moved. We all know that placing a motion on the Order Paper does not mean that it has to be discussed, and it was not at that time. Even though it was on the Order Paper it was not moved when the Dáil was dissolved on 21 May last.
Mr. Raphael Burke: I wanted some clarification, resulting from the debate in the Official Report of Wednesday last, in regard to the type of inquiry held into the Woolworths incident in Manchester and also as a result of the statements made by the Minister on this question in his radio interview of Sunday last.
As to why an inquiry was not held the Minister is perfectly aware of the stance taken by the Government at the time — that because the papers had been forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions for his decision no inquiry was proceeded with. However as soon as the Director of Public Prosecutions took his decision not to proceed with any criminal prosecution the Government and I at the time announced immediately that we were going to hold a public inquiry. Two days after the Dáil resumed following the Easter recess the terms of reference on that tribunal were on the Order Paper of the House. Many of the Members of the Minister's party, who in the Opposition contributed to Question Time and to debates in the House on that issue at the time, were loud in their calls for an inquiry into this tragedy. It would be in the public interest at this stage if the Minister would as a result of the passage of this Bill, outline even a time scale as to when he will take a decision on the form of inquiry. Assuming we finish Committee Stage today we will then have the Report and Final Stages and it will go to the Seanad. Assuming it is passed by  the Seanad before Christmas, when will the Minister take a decision on it? Or are we to be placed in the same situation as we have been from July last, when the then Minister of State said that the matter was being considered? Are we to be left in that position — of consideration, without a decision?
16. —(1) The Minister may by order establish a body which shall be known as the Fire Services Council (in this section referred to as the Council) to perform such services for or on behalf of the Minister or fire authorities as he may specify from time to time.
It does not say that he will; it says that he may. The delay involved in the process of setting up a fire council, its back-up personnel and facilities can be considerable. Leaving aside all the other functions that they have, assisting in the operation of guidelines, codes of practice, research in relation to fire safety matters and so on, the Minister is giving them this function as well. Surely the Minister can see that a new Fire Services Council cannot go in on the first day and start investigating a tragedy of this significance which, because of various leaks to the media of some of the documentation, there is considerable public concern about. During the time that the Minister's party were in Opposition and were asking questions about it that concern was recognised and acted upon. The Minister is obviously going to stall on the type of inquiry but will he tell us when we can expect this inquiry to take place?
Mr. Mervyn Taylor: I must admit to being a little concerned about the generality and vagueness of the amended section here. The original section, as drafted, specified that the Minister might appoint a fire services training council that would be concerned solely with training purposes. But it has apparently been decided to scrap that section and bring in an entire new section relating to a Fire Services Council with no particular task or functions specified. It is left completely  vague and the Minister may designate its services to it from time to time. I would have thought it more desirable that the tasks and functions of this council should be more specific. I am not sure whether this would be a council that might perhaps conduct inquiries and could call witnesses to determine causes of fire or matters of that nature, or whether the members of the council would themselves be investigators, technical people, who would examine technical data, the scenes of fires and so on and report to the Minister.
In reply to the debate on the last day, the Minister accepted the possibility of a situation where two independent sets of investigators would be carrying out parallel investigations. An investigation could be carried out by the Garda or the local authority and a parallel investigation carried out at the suit of the Fire Services Council. That seems rather strange. I fail to see the logic of the Minister envisaging such a possibility arising. I would have thought that one competent body ought to be there for this purpose and that one investigation with the appropriate technical officers and the appropriate people should have that job to do. The idea of having two separate authorities, whether they are police, local authority or central authority, going around a site carrying out parallel investigations seems an appalling waste of effort, energy and expense. It seems that the thing has not really been thought through fully. We should be clearer about what is intended. Setting up a fire council will, no doubt, involve considerable expenditure of public moneys; there will have to be civil servants to staff it and technical people and so on. It seems completely unnecessary if it is going to be purely reflective of a system that is already there for the same purpose. Perhaps the Minister would clarify that to some extent.
Mr. P. Barry: Deputy Burke's attitude when he was Minister would appear to have been very reasonable in all this were it not for the fact that he completely changed feet when he came to dealing  with the Stardust inquiry and adopted a totally different attitude from that which he adopted in relation to the Bundoran fire. Either of the attitudes would have been quite justifiable. In relation to the Stardust he went in without waiting for the Director of Public Prosecutions to report, whereas in relation to Bundoran he waited for the report of the Director of Public Prosecutions and then decided to have an inquiry. I am mystified as to why he did not adopt the same attitude to both inquiries but changed from one approach to the other. It was reasonable for him to say he would wait until he saw whether the Director of Public Prosecutions was going to institute proceedings before making up his mind. If he had done this again when the Stardust disaster took place it would have been reasonable. But he did something totally different, evidently feeling that the report of the Director of Public Prosecutions and his recommendations were important in the case of Bundoran but completely ignoring the fact that they might have some bearing on the Stardust inquiry and going ahead without the report in this case. I cannot see why he did not adopt the same strategy in both cases.
In regard to when the council will be set up, it will be set up immediately this Bill is passed. Whether it will be this week, next week or before Christmas, I do not know, but immediately the Bill is passed I will set about establishing the council. The point was made that this is a brand new council which will have a lot of other functions. But the point is that they need not conduct the inquiry themselves; they could appoint a qualified consultant to do the job for them. Without in any way trying to influence the council, I think that might be the way they will deal with it. Deputy Taylor made the point that two separate inquiries could be going on at the same time. That is probably correct. But the two inquiries would be made from different points of view. The Garda would look at it from a criminal point of view whereas the fire council would look at it from the point of view of what went wrong in regard to fire hazards and make recommendations to ensure that in other circumstances there would  not be a fire of that nature. Although I am not sure, I think that while the investigation was going on into the Stardust disaster, there was probably a Garda investigation at the same time.
Mr. Raphael Burke: Every time the Minister replies he complicates the situation even further. We are now told that the Fire Services Council will probably be very busy at an early stage and will probably use a qualified consultant to carry out this investigation. What type of investigation is it to be? What type of consultant will be used? Will he have the power to call witnesses? Are witnesses going to be brought before a qualified consultant? What sort of legal status will the inquiry have? What credibility will it have if we continue in this hazy way with the Minister, every time he gets up, giving another little bit of information on it, so that we are now at the ludicrous stage where the investigation is to be carried out by a qualified consultant on behalf of a body that he has not set up yet?
Mr. Mervyn Taylor: I do not know that the section as it is here would permit a consultant to carry out the investigation. As the section stands it is the Fire Services Council who would have the power to carry out the investigation. I do not know that the section would enable them to depute that power to a consultant or anybody else. The point that one has to be clear about here is whether this investigation is to be something in the nature of a tribunal with adjudicators hearing evidence from other people, or will the council consist of the technical people who go along and carry out the investigation on the spot. The section does not make clear if this is to be something in the nature of a judicial inquiry. It may have been drafted in rather a hurry, in replacement of the previous section, the decision being taken to expand it. Is it a question of an inquiry situation or of technical people making their own inquiries on the spot? In any event, I would like to emphasise that whatever reports are prepared on these matters by the technical officers, they should be  made available to the public, particularly those who have been involved in the fire.
There has been a tradition in the past that the results of reports from technical officers have not been made available to the public. If we are setting up a further body at least the benefit of their technical reports should be made available to people who may have been injured or have lost relatives or property in a fire. I do not know how this council will tie in with the local fire authorities where investigations are concerned. Will the local authorities no longer have any function in carrying out inquiries into fires which have occurred within their functional areas?
The local authorities will be responsible for the report no matter who carries out the investigation. If they feel their own council competent to carry out such investigation they can allow them to do so. If not, they will hire as a consultant somebody who is competent to do it. In the end, the local authorities must be the people who submit the report, with recommendations, to the Minister.
On Deputy Taylor's point, it is my intention that if as Minister I refer to the council anything which needs investigation such report shall be made public. When there is a public inquiry, everyone can hear the evidence as it unfolds. Whereas this type of inquiry might not be public in that sense, the Minister would have a responsibility to publish the findings of the council and the report.
Mr. P. Barry: I think probably not. However, I can envisage certain circumstances  where the Minister might accede to a request at the time to have a public inquiry, without going into a full sworn inquiry. The normal machine for a full public inquiry would be the one used in relation to the Stardust fire. A report of an inquiry into a fire, to establish the cause and how a repetition can be avoided and any other special circumstances, should be made public, even though the inquiry might not have been held in public.
A fire authority may carry out or assist in any operations of an emergency nature, whether or not a risk of fire is involved, and a fire authority may accordingly make such provision for the rescue or safeguarding of persons and protection of property as it considers necessary for the purposes of that function.
Take any incident of an emergency nature and the fire council, as here envisaged, carries out an investigation. Surely it would be in the public interest and essential in calming public fears and disquiet that the inquiry would be public, that members of the public and the press would be present when evidence was being given, rather than a report of a behind closed doors inquiry then being made public. Would the Minister not accept that?
Mr. P. Barry: Not necessarily. If one wants a public inquiry of a nature where one must subpoena witnesses one has a public sworn inquiry under the 1921 Act. The inquiry envisaged here is different, not an attempt to apportion the blame, or establish negligence, but to establish the facts of what happened in relation to a particular fire and to make recommendations to the Minister as a result of having established those facts. The report would lay before the Minister the facts of  what happened and how such an occurrence could be avoided in the future.
Mr. Raphael Burke: If, in any incident, a Garda report is available — as there is in the incident involved here — where the owner or manager of the place of public resort is questioned as to the condition of exits or material used in that property, surely it would be necessary to subpoena witnesses and have evidence given under oath if one is to get to the root of the tragedy and know exactly what happened. The fire council would then be enabled to make recommendations as to how to prevent a recurrence of such incidents in the future. If this inquiry is to be carried out in the casual manner which the Minister is suggesting, where witnesses would give evidence at this inquiry without having a legal responsibility as in a sworn inquiry, surely the whole purpose of the inquiry would be lost? Surely, the findings of the inquiry will be relatively worthless in the public eye?
Mr. Mervyn Taylor: I have one final brief point to make. Does the Minister envisage that this council would have any function in the testing of materials from the point of view of their fire safety? Would this council set up a system under which people who wanted to use different types of building materials could go to a facility set up by the council for that purpose? As I understand it for most of these materials there is no such facility here at present. Many products have to be sent to England or elsewhere for testing and certification from the fire protection point of view. This involves quite a considerable additional expense. Is it envisaged that the Council will have any function in that respect?
Mr. P. Barry: The council would not be responsible for the actual testing. This council would be pretty widely based. It is envisaged that it would be composed of people like architects, fire officers,  local authority representatives, whether county managers or public representatives, people from my own Department and from the IIRS, a wide range, and they would identify materials of the nature spoken of by Deputy Taylor. While it is unlikely that they would in every case have all the technical assistance available, and it would not be practical to hire all that assistance to deal with one product on one occasion, they would get the material examined by the IIRS, or send it to England or wherever the best possible advice would be available as to the safety of using these materials. They would then make recommendations to the Minister saying that the building regulations should contain clauses saying that materials X, Y and Z should not be included in places where the public are congregated, and advice of that nature.
Mr. Connolly: I am not satisfied about the carrying out of an investigation into a fire or other emergency. I regarded the Bundoran fire as an emergency but there is doubt as to how this kind of occurrence would be dealt with. Witnesses cannot be called as they can under the 1921 Act. It is necessary in cases of this kind that evidence should be given under oath. The new procedure will be much the same as an oral hearing under the Planning Act. A person may attend if he wishes but he is not under an obligation to do so.
Another matter which worries me is that the council may decide to pass the buck by hiring consultant architects and paying them large fees. Will the fire council have the necessary personnel within their own organisation to carry out investigations? Even with such personnel, their investigations will be of a limited nature. If they are carried on behind closed doors the public may think that something is being hidden. Major inquiries should be carried out under the 1921 Act.
When the Garda carry out an investigation, will the fire council be able to see their reports or will the Garda hold on to that information? They may nor may not; it is an interesting point. I am not satisfied that the council will be in a position to conduct a proper investigation.
Mr. Mervyn Taylor: Would it not be necessary at the very least to put in a provision to give the council, their technical officers or anybody conducting an investigation for them the power to go on land or enter premises for the purpose of carrying out their investigation and to take specimens of material they might require? I do not see that any such power is given here. That kind of power in the investigation of crime would under the general law be vested in the Garda. The ludicrous situation could arise that an investigator from the council would arrive to investigate a fire on a premises and be told by the owner that he did not have permission to go in or to take specimens. Would this power not be required?
Mr. P. Barry: During the past 40 years the 1921 Act has been used only twice. It is so formal, slow moving and expensive to use powers under this Act that governments decided not to do so in spite of some major disasters during that time. If it is decided to subpoena witnesses then it is necessary to use that Act. If an investigation were being held by this council and a person refused to appear and that refusal was incorporated into the report to the Minister, he could then decide to hold a public inquiry under the 1921 Act. The council will be there in order to avoid having to use continually an Act which nobody wished to use in the past.
Regarding Deputy Taylor's point, the local authorities have the power to investigate premises and one of the people whom the council would ask to contribute to their investigation would be the local fire officer who could relate what he found. If this council had been in existence at the time of the Stardust and Bundoran fires I would imagine that the council would have investigated the fires on the instructions of the Minister. They would then have submitted those reports very expeditiously to him. At the same time the Garda, for the Director of Public Prosecutions, would have been making their own inquiries to ascertain whether criminal blame could be attached to anyone. The Minister, having received the  two reports, would decide whether that was a sufficient investigation into the causes and let the DPP continue his proceedings. If he were not satisfied he would institute a public inquiry under the 1921 Act.
Mr. Connolly: This brings us into a complex situation. A person may or may not attend the inquiry. He will not be on oath and the Minister may then have to refer the matter to an investigation under the 1921 Act. We are talking about a situation in which the inquiry might be nearly through, perhaps in its last day or so, and it could be derailed, if I may use the term, and the whole matter might have to go before a new tribunal.
When a Bill leaves the House politicians are often blamed for the wording of it. Legal people are always anxious to pick holes in it and consequently we have seen Acts coming back for amendment following court actions. Under this Bill a person may give hazy evidence. It would be a different matter if the person called was on oath and if the inquiry was a major investigation. I am not happy about this paragraph. At the end of the inquiry a situation could arise when the Minister would have no option but to refer the matter to an inquiry under the 1921 Act. We know what a major investigation is. The tribunal would be in a position to call witnesses and, if necessary, to sub-poena them. What we are seeking here is that the Bill would provide the machinery for detailed investigations of what had happened.
I would point out that I am not trying to throw cold water on this, but I am afraid that the legal people will have a queer go at it when it leaves the House and then all the loopholes will be shown up. The Bill, as far as I am concerned, does not provide the machinery for a major investigation.
Mr. Fahey: I have been listening with interest to the discussion on the composition of the proposed Fire Services Council and their possible ability to carry out investigations following fires or other disasters. This is a very serious matter. I  can follow the Minister's line of thinking on the need for a council to carry out investigations, but I have reservations about it. Fires can be very emotive issues. Following disasters there is usually a lot of publicity, the media ask questions and this causes a certain amount of public disquiet. Consequently, it is most important that the issues raised will be dealt with to the satisfaction of the public at large so that public fears will be allayed. It is important that post-disaster investigations would be adequate to discover any possible defects so that recurrences could be prevented.
Local authorities in whose areas fires occur have great responsibility. They want to show that there was no neglect on their part, that they had carried out their duties. They want to set the Minister's mind at rest on these matters and the Minister, having overall responsibility, wants to show that there were no shortcomings in the services. The Minister can go for a public sworn inquiry. It is important for the Minister that the proposed Fire Services Council would be set up but I suggest that because of the size of the membership of the proposed council they would be unwieldy, cumbersome, slow and they would not be able to carry out the work expected of them in good time. The Minister could have a report quickly from the local authority. He could have a prompt report from the chief fire engineer in the Department and ultimately a Garda report. He could then decide whether a public sworn inquiry should be held.
I do not think that the Fire Services Council would be able to provide him with information he would not already have from the sources I have mentioned. As well, the media would not be admitted to the deliberations of the council and, therefore, there might be suspicion in the public mind which would not be satisfied. The Minister would not be able to allay public fears which would have been created. I do not think it would. I have grave reservations about it.
The quality of the materials in the premises is usually highlighted to see whether they were defective in any way, to see if they should not have been used  in the first instance, and to see if they should not be used in other premises of public resort. I do not think that with this body we would have the type of investigation which would allay public fears and give the Minister sufficient information to help him to prevent a recurrence in the future, which is the ultimate aim. For that reason I have great reservations about the council.
Mr. P. Barry: If we want to have that type of public sworn inquiry we do not need this section. The law already allows us to have such an inquiry. Why was that machinery not used in the Noyek fire in 1972 when eight lives were lost, in the Sancta Maria Hotel, Galway, fire in 1964 when three lives were lost, in the Hotel Pierre, Dun Laoghaire, when two lives were lost, or in the Regent Hotel, Dublin, fire when another two lives were lost? Who investigated those fires? There was no sworn public inquiry? There was no fire council to investigate them. I presume the Garda investigated the fires independently and established whether or not someone was to blame for them, and whether or not someone was chargeable under the criminal law. Nobody looked at those fires and said: “Such and such happened in those cases and, to prevent a recurrence in the future, we recommend to the Minister that he should do so and so.”
There is nothing to prevent the Minister and the Government of the day from having a public sworn inquiry under the 1921 Act. This council is different. It does not pretend to be judicial or quasi-judicial. Much of the evidence before it will be assessable by forensic experts only. It will be vitally important in establishing the actual cause of the fire and in making recommenations to the Minister to ensure that there will not be a recurrence. This provision will not annul the 1921 Act. It will still be available to the Minister and the Government of the day.
I would envisage that the Fire Services Council would operate within 24 hours of a fire tragedy on the instructions of the Minister if he felt that was warranted. He would ask them to set about investigating the cause of the fire immediately. It  would be much more expeditious than any public inquiry, the terms of reference of which have to be agreed and brought before the Dáil. Deputy Burke said that, within six days, he had the terms of reference of the Stardust Inquiry before the Dáil. That inquiry did not get under way until over a month later. The report of an investigation undertaken by the council would be in the Minister's hands within a month. It was over a month before the Stardust Inquiry opened. I believe that on the opening day it adjourned immediately and resumed to take evidence much later on. That delay would not occur under the council. The 1921 Act will not disappear. It will still be on the Statute Book. This is an additional method of investigating expeditiously any fire tragedy which may occur in the future. It does not seek to replace the 1921 Act.
Mr. Raphael Burke: I accept that this is another method of investigation. I see the need for another method of investigation in addition to the procedure under the 1921 Act. We are arguing that in section 16 (1) (d) of the amendment the Minister does not go into enough detail as to his intentions and as to how he envisages it operating. I would ask the Minister to accept that there is legitimate concern on this side of the House. We see the need for another layer of investigation between the local investigation by the local fire authority and the sworn public inquiry. We do not want to delay this debate any further. We have been dealing with this amendment for over two hours. I would ask the Minister between now and Report Stage to accept our legitimate concern and look at the way the amendment was drafted. It is not sufficient. It does not cover the points adequately. I do not believe it will work. It is not spelled out properly. There are too many unanswered questions. We could go on for hours about it, but that would not be in anybody's interest. We want to have this Fire Services Bill passed to make available the additional manpower and the additional finances to improve our fire services generally. That is in the interest of the general public.
Mr. Mervyn Taylor: In reply to Deputy Fahey the Minister indicated that in carrying out the investigation the Fire Services Council would not be acting in a judicial or quasi-judicial capacity. It would seem to me that, having conducted their investigations, the council would not issue any findings. It is of the essence of any inquiry that having considered the representations made, and having conducted their investigations, a finding and a determination would then be made. That is either judicial or quasi-judicial. I am not quite clear how that aspect of it would work.
The Minister said that within hours of the event taking place the Fire Services Council would be on the job. I presume that could only be done by using the technical staff of the local authority. If it is simply a matter of those officials preparing their report, what is the point of having an investigation by the Fire Services Council? How does it bring it any further forward if there are no findings, or if they are not acting in a judicial or quasi-judicial capacity?
Mr. P. Barry: Between now and Report Stage I will look at Deputy Burke's point and see if there is anything we can do to facilitate him. On the point made by Deputy Taylor, perhaps I exaggerated a little when I said that within hours of something happening they will be on the job. The council will be on the spot and investigating far more speedily than is the case in a normal public sworn inquiry. The council would be more extensive and more broadly based than an inquiry by a local authority. An expert on the staff of the council might chair an inquiry. If the fire was in a chemical plant they might want somebody with expertise in that field to sit in on the inquiry. Their report would be findings because they would be making recommendations. They would be saying to the Minister: “This happened because of A, B, and C. We recommend that, to prevent this recurring in the future, you should do a certain number of things.” In that way there would be findings. It would not be engaged in trying to apportion blame.  That would be a matter for the Garda who would be conducting a separate inquiry to see if prosecutions would be brought under the criminal law.
It is important that people or groups who occasionally use premises, but who are not the owners or occupiers, should be able to obtain a fire safety service. I am thinking of youth or community groups who might use a hall one night a week. While they may not be owners or occupiers they may feel that they needed services on some matters, for example, the numbers to be allowed on the premises, arrangements for seating and so on. This amendment provides that the person in control, perhaps a youth leader, would be able to call on fire safety advice from a fire authority.
Mr. Raphael Burke: This is an important section of the Bill as it lays down regulations and obligations with regard to fire safety on those who are specified in the section. It is a worth-while section and, when taken together with section 5  which specifies the penalties involved for breaches of this legislation, it can only improve the operation of safety for the general public in the protection and use of premises such as clubs etc.
Mr. P. Barry: It allows certain people to seek advice who would not normally have it available to them. In many other sections of the Bill it is laid down that the fire service shall give advice to the owners of premises. This applies to another group of people who will be using the hall but who will have no direct interest in it because they are not owners, they have only rented it for one night. I hope it will increase awareness — that is why the example of a youth leader is chosen — among young people of the necessity to ensure safety against fire.
Mr. Connolly: Will they have the right to ask the owner for his insurance policy? It is a very important point because, some years ago in my county we had a disaster and subsequent inquiries revealed there was no insurance.
Mr. Connolly: It would be in the best interests of the person or organisation involved to see the insurance policy. There was a case in my own county of an organisation hiring a hall and it was discovered later there was no fire insurance on it. Anyone who is hiring or leasing a hall should see there is proper insurance. Perhaps we could insert a clause to this effect on Report Stage?
Mr. Connolly: I appreciate that but, in  the meantime, I would like to warn the public, especially any organisation which is hiring or leasing premises, to make sure there is fire insurance and public liability.
Mr. Raphael Burke: The legislation which is being drafted will merely give the Minister of the day power to declare certain forms of insurance as compulsory, just as third party insurance on motor cars is compulsory. Is it intended that buildings such as clubs, halls and hotels would carry compulsory liability insurance?
There are references in sections 19 and 20 to a flammable, explosive and potentially explosive substance which is not an explosive within the meaning of the Explosives Act or a substance, the storage of which is the subject of regulations under the Dangerous Substances Act, 1972. However, it is not now proposed to exclude any type of substance, though premises such as magazines, stores or registered premises under the Explosives Act, 1875 and storage licensed under the Dangerous Substances Act, 1972 will continue to be excluded from the safety provisions of this Bill. The effect of these  amendments is as follows: in section 19 it means that any flammable explosive or potentially explosive substance used, stored or deposited within a building can have the effect of making it a potentially dangerous building upon which a fire safety notice can be served. In section 20 it means that a fire safety notice can specify the arrangements to be made for the safe use or storage of any flammable, explosive or potentially explosive substance. It also means that a fire safety notice can now be served under subsection 5 in respect of any land on which any flammable, explosive or potentially explosive substance is used, stored or deposited adjacent to buildings in such a manner as to present a serious danger to life.
In page 14, subsection (5), lines 10 to 12, to delete “(not being a substance the storage of which is the subject of regulations under the Dangerous Substances Act, 1972, or under the Explosives Act, 1875)”.
 In page 14, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:—“(8) Each fire authority shall keep at its offices a register of fire safety notices served by it and the register shall be open to inspection by any person at all reasonable times.”.
Mr. P. Barry: I move amendment No. 23:
In page 15, subsection (5), to delete lines 5 and 6 and substitute:—
“(a) the expiration of fourteen days from the date of service of the notice, or”.
Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 21, as amended, stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Mervyn Taylor: On paragraph (a) of subsection (1), is there not a need to add the words, “a person not having control over the premises”?
Mr. P. Barry: I understand that in other sections that would be appropriate but not in this section which relates only to the owner or occupier.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 22 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Raphael Burke: This is one of the sections which gives power of inspection to authorised persons. This would relate back to the new section 16 which refers to the point made by Deputy Taylor with regard to inspections by the Fire Council of a site after a fire had taken place. The section relates to authorised persons meaning persons authorised for the purpose of the section by the fire authority.  It does not give the power to investigate on behalf of the council.
Mr. P. Barry: That is so, but the section provides that an inspector may bring with him anybody he wishes to bring.
Mr. Raphael Burke: Without going back over the debate on section 16, there could be a situation where one of the bodies can be investigated as to their performance of their duties during an occasion of emergency. Therefore, the fire authority themselves might be under investigation by the Fire Council as to how they performed on the day, whether they responded quickly enough to the call, whether there was adequate water supply on the site and whether they had maintained continual investigation of fire hydrants. Perhaps on Report Stage the Minister might consider that where fire authority personnel are entitled to visit a fire site the Bill might be amended to allow more investigation of the Fire Council also.
Mr. P. Barry: I will have a look at this point between now and Report Stage to see if there is any way around it.
Question put and agreed to.
Section 23 agreed to.
Mr. P. Barry: I move amendment No. 24:
In page 16, before section 24, to insert a new section as follows:—
“24.— The applicant for—
(a) a certificate for the grant or renewal of a licence (other than an off-licence) under the Licensing Acts, 1833 to 1981,
(b) the grant or renewal of a certificate of registration under the Registration of Clubs Acts, 1904 to 1981.
(c) a licence in respect of premises under—
 (i) the Public Dance Halls Act, 1935, or
(ii) Part IV of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act, 1890, or
(d) a certificate in respect of premises under the Gaming and Lotteries Acts, 1956 to 1979,
shall give one month's notice in writing (or such shorter period of notice as the fire authority may in the special circumstances of the case agree to accept) of the application to the fire authority in the functional area of which the premises are situated, and the fire authority may appear, be heard and adduce evidence in respect of the application on the hearing thereof.”.
Mr. Raphael Burke: Perhaps the Minister would explain what this section is all about.
Mr. P. Barry: This section has been completely redrafted, but its purpose remains the same, that is, to ensure that adequate notice is given of an application under the Licensing Acts, the Public Dance Halls Act, the Public Health Acts Amendment Act, and the Gaming and Lotteries Acts in respect of places of public assembly. The changes are that reference should be made to the District Court under the Licensing Acts and that applications for certificates under the Register of Clubs Act are being included. Local authorities already receive notice of applications for the purpose of the Public Dance Halls Act, 1935, but not under the other Acts concerned. The section specifies a month's notice in respect of an application. In respect of temporary licences such as those that apply to a marquee, for instance, they may be accepted within a shorter period of notice.
Mr. Raphael Burke: Is it the position, then, that instead of the present 48-hour provision one month's notice will have to be given in future in respect of applications and that with the permission of the fire authority a shorter time may apply?
Mr. P. Barry: That is so.
Mr. Connolly: Does this mean that one month's notice must be given in the case of an application in respect of a marquee?
Mr. P. Barry: Normally that would be the case. Generally such structures are erected at shows, carnivals and so on and the organisers would be likely to know 12 months in advance on which nights they intended holding dances. It would only be in an exceptional case that organisers of an event would not be aware well in advance of the date of the functions. In such cases the fire authority would have the discretion to grant the licence. However, this is not meant to be a letout in any sense.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 24 deleted.
Section 25 agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 26 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Raphael Burke: I understand that the fire fighting and emergency operations plans of the various authorities throughout the country are at present under the control of the various health boards, who update their emergency plans following on any incident within their area. Does the Minister envisage taking on extra powers? Is he merely taking over from the health authorities or will they still be operating?
Mr. P. Barry: These relate only to the fire authorities. The health authorities will still have their own responsibilities and it is expected there will be co-ordination between the two. Obviously, if there was a major fire, the emergency plan would have to come into operation in other spheres as well.
Question put and agreed to.
 SECTION 27.
Mr. P. Barry: I move amendment No. 25:
In page 17, between lines 41 and 42, to insert:—
“(2) Fire authorities may by agreement provide, notwithstanding anything in subsection (1), for the vesting of sole charge and control of all operations for extinguishing a fire in any person who is for the time being in charge of a fire brigade at a fire and for the transfer of such charge and control from one person to another.”.
The provisions of this section which concern the control of operations at a fire have been the subject of suggestions from fire service interests and particularly the Chief Fire Officers Association and the Federated Workers Union of Ireland which represents the firemen. It has been pointed out to me that certain problems may arise relating to control when a whole time brigade attends a fire in an area of a part-time brigade. For example, whole time brigades with specialised equipment may be reluctant to hand over control operations to the part-time personnel who may have little or no experience in the use of such equipment. One suggestion made was that such problems would be resolved by agreements between fire authorities. I feel, having carefully considered the matter, that agreement procedures would indeed provide the best and most flexible solution. Hence this amendment, which allows fire authorities to make agreements providing for vesting and transfer of sole charge of a fire in a manner other than that provided in subsection (1).
Amendment agreed to.
Section 27, as amended, agreed to.
Section 28 agreed to.
Mr. P. Barry: I move amendment No. 26:
 In page 19, line 9, after “purposes” to insert “and the provision and maintenance of fire hydrants at such places as the fire authority requires”.
Prior to the dissolution of the Dáil, the Labour Party put down an amendment suggesting the addition of a requirement regarding the provision of fire hydrants in subsection (3) of section 10. That section deals with the fire fighting duties of fire authorities. Since the provision of water supplies, fire hydrants and so forth is a function of the sanitary authority, the amendment would not have been appropriate there. Instead it is now proposed to amend section 29, which deals with water supplies, so as to make it clear that the sanitary authority are responsible for the provision of fire hydrants at such places as are required by the fire authority.
Mr. Raphael Burke: This brings us back again to the question of staffing. However, we have discussed that at great length already and we will not get into it again. This is a good amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. P. Barry: I move amendment No. 27:
In page 19, between lines 9 and 10, to insert a new subsection as follows:—
“(2) Where a fire authority represents to a sanitary authority that reasonable provision has not been made for a supply of water for fire-fighting purposes, the sanitary authority shall consult with the fire authority as to the measures required and shall take such measures as may be agreed.”.
This amendment also arises from representations received from fire service staff interests and concerns the relationship between the sanitary authority and the fire authority in respect of water supplies for fire fighting. In the same way as section 13 gives the fire authority formal rights to give advice in planning matters, I feel that it is also correct that the fire authority should have formal rights to consultation in respect of water supplies.  This amendment proposes such consultation where a fire authority consider that the water supply for fire fighting is inadequate and also provides for the taking of agreed measures.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 29, as amended, agreed to.
Section 30 to 36, inclusive, agreed to.
Mr. P. Barry: I move amendment No. 28:
In page 20, subsection (3) (a), line 12, after “provision” to insert “and maintenance”.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. P. Barry: I move amendment No. 29;
In page 20, subsection (3) (h), lines 31 and 32, to delete “power supply and heating” and substitute “power supply, lighting, heating and ventilating”.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 37, as amended, agreed to.
Section 38 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Report Stage ordered for Tuesday, 1 December 1981.
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