The emergency framework has been drawn up to allow the gardaí, fire services, the ambulance service and the civil defence to co-operate in the event of a major disaster.
Minister of State Batt O’Keefe said he expected it to be brought to Cabinet for approval at the end of this month.
“Now we have a focus on one leadership in a national emergency. Whether it’s a flu pandemic or an animal health problem like bird flu, in a nutshell, the new framework creates the capacity for an emergency management system,” he said.
The previous framework was drawn up in 1984 and there were widespread concerns that it was inadequate for dealing with a major terrorist attack or chemical spillage. The new framework will designate a lead agency to take charge in times of national emergencies and will improve the communications between the different ‘blue light’ services.
At the annual conference of the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) in Leitrim, Mr O’Keefe said the new framework would bring Ireland in line with best practice internationally.
“Clearly, the world in which we live has changed and we need to advance our major emergency management architecture to enable us to deal with the possibility of new risks and threats.”
He said the cost of setting up the framework, which will include more emergency equipment, communications technology and staff, had not yet been determined.
“But we can be confident that the Government will not be found wanting in terms of resources needed.”
CFOA chairman Jim Dunphy said he understood that it would take up to two years for the emergency framework to be fully implemented.
Mr Dunphy said this year was the 25th anniversary of the Stardust disaster in which 48 people lost their lives during a fire in a Dublin nightclub.
“We are often asked the question, could another Stardust occur?”
He said that the former Chief Justice Ronan Keane, who headed the Stardust tribunal of inquiry, had placed the primary responsibility on the owners and designers of the nightclub.
“We have no reason to believe that the vast majority of owners and occupiers behave anything other than responsibly. However, we have recently had a highly publicised prosecution where the exit was blocked in a building with 1,600 people inside.”