Wednesday, 22 June 2011
Seanad Éireann Debate
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: I wish to raise the issue of three fire stations in my constituency of Donegal South-West which are in urgent need of upgrading or replacement. The stations, which are located in Gleann Cholm Cille, Ballyshannon and Bundoran, are vital to the local populations they serve as well as to the increased populations in these areas during the summer months.
The smallest of the three stations, Gleann Cholm Cille, requires a new building. I understand the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and Donegal County Council have confirmed that it is not possible to modernise the station and, therefore, the only option available is to build a new facility on the existing site. From the Department’s point of view the next stage is to permit the council to seek planning permission for the construction of a new station. I hope this project can progress given that the parish is at present serviced by the fire station in Killybegs, which is a considerable distance away. Killybegs is one of the country’s largest fishing harbours and if a fire or accident occurred there, the tender would not be available for Gleann Cholm Cille, Carrick and Kilcar. The station in Glean Cholm Cille will probably comprise two bays.
The other two stations are located in large towns which are serviced by town councils. The previous Government decided, following consultations between the Department and the county council, to build new stations in Ballyshannon and Bundoran. A site was identified in Bundoran and the next phase involves seeking planning permission and issuing a tender. Bundoran fire station is in a poor condition. The population of the town increases from 4,500 to more than 20,000 during the summer months and at weekends throughout the year. Major apartment buildings and holiday accommodation have been built around the town and it also contains several four storey hotels. The station urgently requires to be upgraded given that it also services the northern parts of counties Sligo and Leitrim. A site adjacent to the by-pass at Ballyshannon has been identified by Donegal County Council for a new station.
The Department is carrying out a review of the decision of the previous Government to proceed with the construction of new stations in Ballyshannon and Bundoran. I am concerned that the review may result in a decision to build one station on a site located between the two towns. This would not meet local demand, however, because studies have revealed that call-outs to areas north of Ballyshannon cannot not be dealt with by fire tenders based in Finner Camp or Bundoran. We must proceed with the two stations to which the previous Minister committed. Any reversal of that commitment would be unacceptable.
Deputy Phil Hogan: I thank the Senator for raising this matter. I acknowledge the courage and commitment of all personnel engaged in the fire and emergency services in County Donegal and throughout the country. The professionalism and dedication of the retained service in Donegal received particular attention in early May during the spate of gorse and wildfires which caused substantial damage in Ard an Ratha, Glenties and An Clochán Liath. The communities were very appreciative of the great efforts made by local crews and I commend the fire fighters, local management and the Defence Forces for the efforts they expended.
The provision of a fire service in Donegal, including the establishment and maintenance of a fire brigade, the assessment of fire cover needs, the provision of premises and the making of such other provisions as it considers necessary or desirable is a statutory function of Donegal County Council under the provisions of the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003. My Department supports fire authorities through the setting of general policy and guidance and the provision of capital funding, including the recoupment within the overall funding available of costs incurred by fire authorities on the approved purchase of fire appliances and emergency equipment, as well as construction and upgrading of fire stations. The Department’s fire services capital programme has channelled significant investment to fire authorities over the past decade and as a consequence, Ireland’s fire service infrastructure is now acknowledged to be first rate.
There are 15 fire stations in County Donegal and the fire service responds to approximately 1,300 call-outs annually. Donegal County Council, in partnership with my Department, has made substantial progress in modernising fire stations in the county and has replaced 12 fire stations following investment of €11 million by my Department over the last decade. I acknowledge the involvement of the former Minister of State, Pat the Cope Gallagher, MEP, in fast-tracking a number of these projects.
Donegal County Council is to be commended for undertaking this ambitious programme of fire station replacement in recent years. The following towns in County Donegal are now served by modern fire stations with full facilities: Milford in 1998; Buncrana in 2000; Letterkenny where the headquarters is located and An Fal Carrach, both in 2003; Carndonagh and Donegal town, both in 2004; Killybegs in 2005; An Clochan Liath, Glenties and Moville, all three were built in 2007; and most recently Gaoth Dobhair and Stranorlar in 2009. In total, more than €12.8 million has been invested by my Department since 2002 to fund the station replacement programme and to acquire fire appliances and specialised emergency equipment.
I agree with the Senator that it is important to build on the significant progress to ensure the development of consistent and effective fire services to keep communities safe from fire and other emergencies. Value for money is a key theme in the current climate and future developments, including investment in station infrastructure, will have to be brought to fruition within tighter resource constraints.
In recent years, international trends in managing emergency service provision have moved towards the use of integrated risk management or a risk-based approach, RBA, and the Department’s national directorate is currently funding the development of such a system. It is envisaged that the output from this work will inform decision making on the optimum allocation of resources to support fire service operations in all parts of the country, including those relating to Bundoran, Ballyshannon and Gleann Cholm Cille fire stations. Outputs will also inform decisions on how best to determine an appropriate balance between fire prevention, protection and response measures. It is not true to say that the Department approved two stations at Bundoran and Ballyshannon at any time in the past. If it had approved them then the Senator would not have raised the matter.
I am sure Senators will concur it is important that value for money is delivered from all expenditure under the fire services capital programme. Following completion of a review of the programme, continued investment in the fire appliance fleet has been identified as a key national priority measure. In that context, I have recently approved a new programme of joint procurement of 17 fire appliances which will involve fire authorities working together to aggregate demand and drive value for money. I expect this collaborative approach will deliver budgetary and administrative savings.
Given the tight constraints on public finances any further support from my Department’s fire services capital programme to Donegal County Council for the replacement of fire stations in Ballyshannon, Bundoran and Gleann Cholm Cille in the period ahead will have regard to the council’s priorities, the extent of previous investment, the value for money offered by proposals, the spread of existing facilities and the totality of demands from fire authorities countrywide. Accordingly, I am not in a position to state categorically when construction of any of the three fire stations referred to by Senator Ó Domhnaill can proceed to construction.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: I have a question and a point of order also. I did not say that two fire stations were approved but what I did say, categorically, is that the previous Minister whom I lobbied extensively, as did the previous Tánaiste, asked the county council to forward two site proposals for two new fire stations, one in Bundoran and the other in Ballyshannon. They were forwarded by the council. Agreement was given that there would be two individual stations. I am very much concerned by the result of the review that——
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill: Finality must be brought to the issue. It is not fair on Donegal County Council nor the local community and the town councils in Bundoran and Ballyshannon. The Minister has acknowledged all of the stations that were built under the previous Administration but the Department now seems to be rowing back on the commitment which was given to Donegal County Council to build two new fire stations, given that the council in conjunction with the Department agreed that there would be a site in Bundoran and a site in Ballyshannon with two base stations——
Deputy Phil Hogan: The Senator might choose for it not to be clear, but to be absolutely clear, there are proposals in the Department from Donegal County Council to build new fire stations in the three locations mentioned by Senator Ó Domhnaill, namely, Ballyshannon, Bundoran and Gleann Cholm Cille. I have no money to build any of them at the moment, thanks to the fact that we have ceded our economic sovereignty to the EU and IMF. I am waiting to see what the capital programme for 2012 is like before I make a decision about any fire station in the country. I do not have money for capital investment in any fire station in any part of the country in 2011 thanks to the work of our predecessors.
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