Dáil debates

Thursday, 26 October 2006

Adjournment Debate

Fire Services.

5:00 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I wish to speak on the urgent need to put in place better provisions for dealing with a fire emergency such as occurred last night in a hostel in the north inner city. Calls have been made to provide additional resources to the fire brigade services in Dublin and throughout Ireland. In addition, a proper system of emergency planning is needed so that there will not be a recurrence of the disgraceful events in which the people rescued from the fire were accommodated in Mountjoy Prison. If a flight is delayed, passengers have the luxury of being accommodated in a hotel, yet one would appear to have to spend time in Mountjoy Prison in the event of a fire emergency. Several community halls are located in the inner city, as well as a number of hotels and hostels, which would be more appropriate for people who have just suffered the trauma of having escaped from a fire.

I congratulate Dublin Fire Brigade on its heroic efforts last night and, thankfully, nobody was seriously injured, although five people were hospitalised for smoke inhalation. An urgent need exists for a proper fire risk assessment to be conducted in Dublin. No such assessment has been carried out over the past 20 years. In some instances, people are crammed into hostels that resemble the Dublin tenements of yore. As is clear from last night's events and recent reports on RTE, some of these hostels represent grave fire risks and should be closed immediately. The 25th anniversary of the Stardust tragedy has just passed. While I hope such a disaster will never again be visited upon Ireland, it could happen if we do not invest in fire prevention or conduct a proper risk assessment in Dublin. The city has grown substantially over the past 20 years, so an assessment is needed. Comparisons should be made with the approaches taken in other cities. There is an immediate need for additional fire brigade ambulances. We have only 11 fire brigade ambulances, the same number as for the past 20 years even though emergency calls to the 999 number have increased from 26,000 per annum to 80,000. It is a tribute to the fire brigade and the emergency staff who deal with these calls that they have managed to keep going without a tragedy. If this city had another disaster last night, we would have suffered greater consequences because our emergency services would have been stretched to the limit. In 2004 the fire brigade service attended to more than 10,000 fires and more than 2,000 road traffic accidents, and there were nearly 70,000 calls to the 999 number, which indicates the level of work being done. The service needs to be properly resourced.

The Government needs to provide proper resources to ensure that we address longer-term planning for responding to fires and other major emergencies on an all-Ireland basis. We need to resource properly the fire brigade and ambulance service throughout the country.

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Progressive Democrats)
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I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. I am responding on behalf of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche. I would like to place on record my gratitude and that of the Government to the members of the fire service for their work last night and for continuing to safeguard the community on a daily basis. I also extend my sympathies to those caught up in the fire and wish them well in their recovery.

I understand that last night's fire occurred in private rented accommodation which was formerly a hostel. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government issued guidance, addressed to local authorities and to property owners and occupiers alike, with a view to reducing fire risk in apartments and hostels. In 1994 the Department published Guide to Fire Safety in Flats, Bedsitters and Apartments. In 1998 the Department published Fire Safety in Hostels.

Dublin City Council homeless services and the homeless persons unit, which is operated on a 24-hour basis by Health Service Executive community welfare officers on an agency basis for the city council, are available at all times to assist persons who may face a crisis regarding their housing accommodation.

With regard to the present case, the Homeless Agency in Dublin has advised the Department that the landlord has 24 additional apartments in the area, which will be used to accommodate residents. The community welfare officer in the North Strand and Dublin City Council have organised 14 beds in private bed and breakfast accommodation in Fairview and an additional 12 beds in a nearby hotel. Interpreters have also been organised to work with the residents to ensure that they are supported and that they understand the situation.

I again thank the frontline services for their speedy and effective response to last night's incident, which minimised more serious consequences to the victims. A more comprehensive response is now being provided by the housing and other social agencies.