Govt abandons plans for national fire authority

The Government has abandoned plans to set up a national fire authority, it emerged today.

The Government has abandoned plans to set up a national fire authority, it emerged today.

The authority was intended to have full responsibility to set national standards for the 3,000 full and part-time fire fighters across 37 fire authority areas.

However, Minister for the Environment Dick Roche is set to reverse the decision of his predecessor Martin Cullen at a meeting with fire service groups later this week.

“The Minister has been signalling to the various stakeholders that it’s not his preferred option. He wants to go down a different route,” said a spokesman.

The establishment of the national fire authority was the key recommendation in the Farrell Grants Sparks (FGS) report in 2002, the biggest review of the fire service for 25 years.

It would develop standard response times for brigades, co-ordinate emergency planning and implement new technology.

In May last year, former minister for the environment Martin Cullen announced his plans to establish the national fire authority at the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) annual conference in Wexford.

“It is my determination to do this within my tenure in the department. I have no intention of going anywhere except remaining in the Customs House,” he said.

Mr Roche, who replaced Mr Cullen at the Department of the Environment last September, is scheduled to announce details of his plans to fire service groups on Thursday.

He intends to set up four steering groups to drive change in the fire service. They will deal with community fire safety, fire service standards, major emergency responses and career development.

The CFOA, which has campaigned for the full implementation of the FGS report, said it was concerned at the proposal to set up steering groups instead of a fire authority.

“The national fire authority is necessary to drive the program of modernising the fire service. We would be very concerned that those powers have not been put in place,” said a spokesman.

There was significant opposition to the establishment of the national fire authority within the Department of the Environment, which holds the responsibility for co-ordinating fire services.

SIPTU’s National Firefighters Committee, which represents around 1,800 full time members, said it was in favour of Mr Roche’s plans.

“We would prefer to see some movement in that direction than no movement at all. Hopefully this momentum the minister has created will continue and we will see the development of the fire service,” said chairman Brian Murray.

The steering group on career development is expected to remove the blocks, which prevent firefighters from rising through the ranks to become chief fire officers.

“In any other organisations, such as an Garda Síochána, he or she would be able to rise to the rank of commissioner,” said Mr Murray.

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