Fine Gael TD for Galway West & Mayo South

Fire Station for South Connemara – Dáil Topical Issue

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire, Deputy Hogan, sa Teach inniu chun an cheist thábhachtach seo do Chonamara theas a phlé, an ceart atá ag daoine eile i nGaillimh stáisiún dóiteáin a bheith acu sa cheantar.  Níl a fhios agam cén fáth gur tharla sé go bhfuil seacht stáisiúin dóiteáin i nGaillimh thoir ach nach bhfuil ach ceann amháin i gConamara, sa Chlochán, agus an príomh stáisiún i gcathair na Gaillimhe ag freastal ar Chonamara theas.  Níl mise ná aon pholaiteoir ó Chonamara nó Gaillimh thiar sásta leis an tseirbhís seo. 

Nílim ag cur aon mhilleán ar an Aire faoi seo, mar ní bhfuair an Roinn aon iarratas ó Chomhairle Contae na Gaillimhe maidir le seo.  Bhí an cás os comhair cruinniú de Chomhairle Contae na Gaillimhe Dé Luain agus rinne na comhairleoirí cinneadh iarratas a sheoladh chuig an Roinn Comhshaoil, Pobail agus Rialtais Áitiúil faoi seo.  Bhí cruinniú againn sa Cheathrú Rua cúpla seachtain ó shin agus dúirt mé ag an gcruinniú sin go bhféadfadh an comhairle contae airgead a thabhairt ó lá go lá chun seirbhís a chur ar fáil agus chun pá an fhoireann dóiteáin a íoc.  Nílim cinnte an bhfuil an bainisteoir nó an fhoireann bainistíochta sásta é sin a dhéanamh fós.

An cheist atá agam don Aire ná an bhfuair sé iarratas fós ón gcomhairle contae.  Freisin, nuair a chuireann an chomhairle contae iarratas isteach, an mbeidh an tAire in ann breathnú air i gcomhthéacs airgead caipitil chun stáisiún nua a thógáil?  Chomh maith le sin, an mbeidh sé in ann breathnú ar chead a thabhairt don chomhairle contae chun foireann don stáisiún nua a fhostú, cé go bhfuil moratorium nó stop curtha ar daoine nua a fhostú sa seirbhís poiblí?  Tá sé ráite ag príomhfheidhmeannach Údaras na Gaeltachta go bhfuil sé sásta suí síos leis an chomhairle contae agus an Roinn chun suíomh feiliúnach a aimsiú.  Tá sean foirgneamh ag an gcomhairle a bheadh feiliúnach freisin.

There are seven fire stations in the eastern part of County Galway, only one of which, Clifden station, is in Connemara.  The main station in Galway city serves part of south Connemara.  By comparison, there are five stations in County Leitrim and 16 in County Donegal.  The southern part of Connemara is one of the most poorly served areas in the country in terms of fire service provision.  I do not blame the Minister for this.  I understand no application from the local authority has been received by the Department.  A meeting of the council took place last Monday, however, at which a decision was made to submit a formal application for a fire service in the area.

I was in Carraroe some weeks ago for a public meeting which more than 200 people attended.  It was organised by Coiste Cearta Chonamara, which has been campaigning for 20 years for the provision of a fire service.  I stated at the meeting that the day-to-day running costs of any new fire station would have to be borne by the county council from its budget, with the capital costs being a matter for the Department.  The principal officer of Údarás na Gaeltachta, Steve Ó Cúláin, indicated at the meeting that he would be happy to discuss a suitable location with the authority and the Roinn.  He told the meeting that Údarás na Gaeltachta has buildings and units that are not in use and might be suitable for a fire station.

Let us consider the geography of Connemara.  According to AA Route Planner the journey from Carraroe to Galway City via Furbo is one hour and 13 minutes and the journey from Lettermullen to Galway via Furbo is one hour and 36 minutes.  That is too far a distance for the provision of a safe fire service for the people of south Connemara.

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan: I thank Deputy Kyne for raising this matter with me, as he has done several times.  The provision of a fire service in its functional area, including the establishment and maintenance of a fire brigade, the assessment of fire cover needs, the provision of premises and the making of other such provisions as it considers necessary or desirable, is, in the first instance, a statutory function of individual fire authorities under the provisions of the Fire Services Act 1981 and 2003.  Furthermore, under section 26 of the Fire Services Act 1981, each fire authority that maintains a fire brigade is required to prepare plans for fire and emergency operations and revise them as occasion requires.  These plans include provision in respect of fire stations.  The making and revision of these plans is a reserve function of the local authority, in this case, Galway County Council, and I, therefore, have no function in that part of the decision.  My Department supports fire authorities through the setting of general policy and guidance and the provision of capital funding, including the recoupment of costs incurred by fire authorities relating to the approved purchase of fire appliances and specialist emergency and communications equipment as well as the construction and upgrading of fire stations.

In 2010, the Galway city and western environs fire review group was established to consider fire cover in Galway city and the western environs, which includes south Connemara as well as the west Connemara area.  The group comprised representatives of Galway City Council, Galway County Council, the Chief Fire Officer for Galway City and County, representatives from the national directorate for fire and emergency management and an external advisor from Strathclyde Fire and Rescue in Scotland.  As part of the review, the group specifically examined the adequacy of fire cover in the south Connemara and Oughterard area.

The group used a risk-based approach which had regard to the risk categorisation process as set out in the Keeping Communities Safe document.  The document was adopted as national policy in February 2013 and is based on a risk management approach which addresses the critical elements of fire prevention, protection and response.  It sets out an integrated approach to fire safety and fire services in Ireland generally in keeping with international best practice.  All fire authorities are currently undertaking risk categorisation for their areas.

The group finalised its review in June 2013.  It considered three years of fire incident data, including the number of emergency calls, the emergency type and the locations.  It also considered potential changes in demographics and the various potential fire station permutations throughout the western environs area.  The group found that there is not a conclusive case for an additional fire station in south Connemara or Oughterard.  The group recommended a series of community fire safety measures to further enhance the safety from fire of residents of the area.  These include fire safety awareness on all fire safety issues, such as home fire safety, controlled burning, wildland and gorse fires, community safety advocates and a smoke alarm campaign.  I understand that a report on the matter has been made to Galway County Council outlining the findings of the group and several required future steps.

The matter of adequacy of fire service provision for the south Connemara area is a statutory function of the fire authority and plans for fire and emergency operations in the area are a reserve function of Galway County Council.  I am somewhat surprised that Galway Council has not prioritised this matter over the years in its fire services planning.  Many public representatives in the Connemara area could have made money available for this facility over the years but chose not to do so.

Perhaps Galway County Council could engage with my Department and be mindful of this facility in the context of the 2014 Estimates.  Ultimately, any request to my Department from the council for financial assistance for fire services provision will have to be assessed in the context of the overall budgetary situation of the council.  We do not have much money for fire services for any part of the country at the moment and in particular we do not have much by way of capital moneys.  Any assistance provided would have to be part-funding.  We will have to see the commitment of the county council in the first instance to demonstrate project development and the commitment from local funding provisions in the 2014 Estimates.

Deputy Seán Kyne: I thank the Minister for his reply.  I acknowledge my colleague, Deputy Nolan, who has expressed a good deal of interest in this area as well.  I appreciate the Minister’s response and I understand the position.  I stated at the meeting in Carraroe that I was unsure of the commitment of the manager and the management team to this area and whether they would be able to come up with the running costs and day-to-day costs of any new station as well as the wages of any retained fire service personnel.  I understand where the Minister is coming from in terms of the county council having to show commitment in its budget.

The Minister is right with regard to the report issued.  The option of building a new station was examined.  Several advantages were stated, including that the unit would be located in the western environs area and would give a quicker response and that public expectation would probably be met.  Disadvantages included that it would be difficult to withdraw once a decision was made and that it would take a considerable amount of time to become functional.  However, people have waited this long and need to see the station built as a matter of urgency.  Another issue related to the considerable cost implications, both initially and on an ongoing basis.

I stated earlier that Údarás na Gaeltachta is willing to engage with the county council and the Department with respect to investigating the possibility of using some of the old buildings that it has in the area, a welcome initiative and something that should be considered.  When an application comes I urge the Minister to engage positively with the county council and Údarás na Gaeltachta and local community groups to provide the service.

The Minister is right.  I am unsure why the service has not been provided heretofore.  There is an obvious gap in the provision of fire service within the county and it is difficult to justify.  I referred to the journey times of up to an hour and a half or one hour and 36 minutes from Lettermullen to Galway city on a poor road with a high historical level of accidents.

I thank the Minister for his response and I urge him to engage with the county council positively and proactively to determine whether we can find a solution to ensure that the provision of a fire service is achieved in as fast a time as possible.

Minister Phil Hogan: Deputy Kyne understands well that I have inherited many legacy issues relating to rural areas, one of which happens to be south Connemara fire station.  It is remarkable that I have to resolve many of the issues at a time when we have a difficult financial position, when others, who had plenty of money, could not do so.  In the first instance, Galway County Council should engage with the Department on the basis that it has new information to offer or new resources to put to the case of providing the service.  However, the case has to be justified as well.

Deputy Kyne referred to the fact that Údarás na Gaeltachta is keen to get involved and assist Galway County Council in providing a fire safety and fire service facility for south Connemara.  That is new information.  I advise Deputy Kyne to get a comprehensive plan in place among all the State agencies and bodies that have an interest in providing a fire service in south Connemara.  They should put it on paper, get agreement from the local authority which, in the first instance, must make an application to the Department.  Of course, given the reserve function of local authority members they must approve it first.  Then, I will consider the application in the context of the 2014-15 financial programme.