Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 12 December 2012
Select Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality
Civil Defence Bill 2012: Committee Stage
Civil Defence Bill 2012: Committee Stage
This meeting has been convened to consider the Civil Defence Bill 2012. Apologies have been received from Deputy Anne Ferris. I welcome the Minister of State and his officials to the meeting. I ask members to turn off all mobile telephones as they interfere with the sound recording system. It is not sufficient to have them on silent mode.
I am not challenging the Chair's ruling. I simply request that the Minister of State note the intent of the amendment. I will not come back with an adapted amendment on Report Stage but I ask the Minister of State to note that we are trying to maintain the balance of skills.
I wish to raise a concern similar to that raised by Deputy Mac Lochlainn. We hope to bring forward a proposal on Report Stage to provide for consultation with agencies such as the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, the EPA and so on when the Minister is approving the plan prepared at local authority level.
There will be representations from groups and organisations under the new arrangement. I take those concerns on board with a view to ensuring representation from those organisations.
I move amendment No. 2:
Under the existing Civil Defence board, there is a criteria for allocation of funding to local authorities. It is obliged to compile a plan at local level to ensure adequate training and resourcing of Civil Defence members within its respective local authority area. Under the provisions of the Bill it appears the same criteria does not apply in respect of how the Minister and the Department will allocate funding. I am concerned that adequate resources would be made available for ongoing training. As the Minister of State is aware, Civil Defence officers are an incredibly important back up. For example, during the winter of 2010 and early 2011 there was a crisis across the State and those officers were called out in counties such as Donegal to back up the emergency services. There are all sorts of scenarios but please God they will not happen. However, we must have the ability to train people on an ongoing basis and the resources to do so. The intent of the amendment is to ensure the existing criteria continues, whereby Civil Defence officers continue to keep on top of their plans and are sharp and trained and ready under the new arrangement.
In page 8, before section 13, to insert the following new section:
"13.-The Minister shall ensure that each local authority is resourced accordingly in order to fulfil its civil defence plans as set out in section 12 of this Act.".
The local authority will report back to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government but in respect of funding we have retained the current expenditure level of €5.58 million. The funding will go towards the training of Civil Defence members. As they have to be ready for all emergencies we want to retain the level of training and hence the reason we want to retain the budget going forward.
Section 16 refers to the register being kept of the local Civil Defence membership and that local authorities are obliged to keep a register. In turn that register may be available to the county manager, or a person designated by him or her, to the Minister or to a Civil Defence member. Why is it that the membership of the local authority in its entirety is excluded from the categories of people who might be allowed to view that register? Given that local authority members are spread out across their area of responsibility they engage on an ongoing basis with members of Civil Defence.
They have a knowledge of the key role people play in local communities. Why it is that, for example, even the mayor of a county might not be designated as someone who could have access to the register?
The reasoning behind that is because it is a data protection issue and there is a considerable amount of personal information collected from personnel within Civil Defence. It would not be very fair for every member of a local authority to be able to see the personal details of a member, such as date of birth or past illnesses. It is only right and proper that it is the preserve of either the county manager or a representative of the county manager, usually a director of services. It is purely a data protection issue.
I cannot agree with the Minister of State on this matter. The information collated is the address of the person and his or her telephone number, date of birth, qualifications and experience in respect of Civil Defence. Let us say that a member of the local authority was concerned about somebody in his or her community becoming an active member of Civil Defence. That member of the local authority is, on foot of this legislation, precluded from getting access to the information other than by virtue of an approach to the county manager who might or might not be willing to pursue that. I cannot see why we could not vest in a county mayor the same confidence we vest in a county manager or director of services. It seems to be a bridge too far. While we talk about the need to enhance the role and power of local authorities, when it comes to taking legislative steps, we constantly seek to exclude them from as many processes as possible. This is excluding local authority members from access to information which might ultimately be in the interest of the local community.
One could understand a situation where sensitive issues arise, for example, in respect of a Civil Defence member's health, which is not listed in the legislation as something that would be recorded. Were that to arise, I am sure it would be possible to have information that would be somewhat readily available and information that would be retained.
We are talking about volunteers and not paid employees of the Department of Defence. When a person joins Civil Defence, he or she must complete an application form. There is a certain amount of personal information that he or she must submit to the board and now the Department. This has been the case since the setting up of the board in 2002. If a member of any local authority has concerns about the work being carried out on behalf of the community by any member of Civil Defence, he or she should go to the Garda if the information is relevant to that body. I can assure the Deputy that it is a matter of data protection. It is not very fair for us to give personal information, for example, health issues, to every member of a local authority. This is the reason we give the responsibility to the county manager or a person he or she designates on his or her behalf.