Wednesday, 20 January 2010
Defence Forces Deployment.
Question 77: To ask the Minister for Defence the extent of the deployment in various locations of the Defence Forces to assist in dealing with the extreme weather conditions since 1 December 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2033/10]
Question 98: To ask the Minister for Defence the role played by the Defence Forces in providing assistance to the civil authorities during the recent bad weather at Christmas and the new year period; if he is satisfied with the role played by the Defence Forces; the level of liaison between the Defence Forces and local authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1969/10]
Question 119: To ask the Minister for Defence the support or aid provided by the Defence Forces to local or national authorities during the recent adverse weather conditions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2067/10]
Question 264: To ask the Minister for Defence the number of occasions on which the Defence Forces were called upon to assist in the recent flooding and snow crisis; the number of personnel deployed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2606/10]
Question 270: To ask the Minister for Defence the extent to which the Defence Forces are relied upon in the context of an emergency such as a natural disaster or terrorist attack; the mechanism used to alert the Defence Forces to a need in a particular area; the degree to which this has been operational in the past 12 months; the number of requests made to his Department for such assistance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2070/10]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 77, 98, 119, 264 and 270 together.
The Defence Forces, which include the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service, in their role as aid to the civil power, that is, the Garda Síochána, and to the civil authorities, that is, local authorities, the Health Service Executive and so on, recently provided emergency assistance in an effort to alleviate the problems caused by the adverse weather conditions throughout the State. All assets, resources and capabilities of the Defence Forces were made available to provide assistance as required. Defence liaison officers were appointed to all local emergency relief centres to co-ordinate Defence Forces assistance.
The Defence Forces provided assistance to a range of local authorities and to the Health Service Executive, utilising their 4x4 vehicles and trucks, while the Air Corps was also active in providing an air ambulance service and support for other emergency services. The major Defence Forces commitments included: transportation of health care personnel to and from hospital and clinics and to patients in outlying areas such as Galway, Drogheda, Cork, Tullamore, Naas, Donard, Enniscorthy, Tiglin, Wicklow, Tullow, Gorey, Harolds Cross Hospice, Blackrock Hospice and the Drogheda House Hospice in Kildare; transportation of patients to hospitals and clinics in Naas, Wicklow and Tullamore; distribution of meals on wheels in several areas such as Cobh, Gormanstown and Balbriggan; gritting of roads and junctions, at the request of the local authorities, in counties Kildare, Meath and Leitrim; gritting of the Health Service Executive ambulance centre in Cork; delivery of water supplies in several local authority areas such as Mullingar, Drogheda and Kilkenny; movement of machinery from Dublin Airport to Wicklow for use in dispersing animal feed; provision of eight 4x4 vehicles to transport members of the Garda Síochána in Cork; and utilisation of aircraft to render assistance to the Health Service Executive, RTE and members of the farming community .
Defence Forces personnel and materials were also made available to local authorities as the thaw set in. The most notable deployment in this regard was in Skibbereen where 36 personnel and several vehicles were engaged in flood relief operations including the filling and placing of sandbags in strategic locations throughout the town. The Defence Forces responded to all official requests for assistance received from the civil authorities during the period of severe weather.
This followed on from the substantial commitment provided by the Defence Forces to the civil authorities during the floods last November. During that period, the Defence Forces provided assistance in Cork city, Shannon Banks in Limerick, Ennis, Ballinasloe, Athlone, Athy, Sallins, Bantry, Carlow, Clonakilty, Clonmel, Kilkenny and Longford. The Defence Forces, at the request of Roscommon County Council and Galway County Council, transported civilian personnel in flood-affected areas. The main effort was in Cork city where more than 200 Defence Forces personnel provided assistance to the local authority with engineer support at the Lee Fields pumping station, the distribution of drinking and sanitation water to approximately 22 locations on the north side of the city and sandbagging duty. The Defence Forces also provided assistance to the Health Service Executive at the Mercy Hospital. The Naval Service provided engineer support in the form of engineer teams with water pumps. The LE Orla provided back-up assistance including communications and catering. Rigid inflatable boats, RIBs, were provided to support river searches. The Air Corps provided aerial reconnaissance support to local authorities and air transport.
The framework for major emergency management sets out a structure enabling the principal response agencies, namely, the Garda Síochána, Health Service Executive and local authorities, to prepare for and make a co-ordinated response to major emergencies resulting from events such as fires, transport accidents, hazardous substance incidents and severe weather. The major emergency plans that have been developed by local and regional authorities identify the procedures for requesting assistance from the Defence Forces. The involvement of the Defence Forces in responding to emergencies arises from requests for assistance from the Garda Síochána, that is, aid to the civil power, or from other agencies of the State, that is, aid to the civil authority. The role of the Defence Forces in these situations is dependent on the nature of the incident and the assistance requested.
The Government task force on emergency planning supports co-ordination of emergency planning across Departments and key agencies. The task force meets on a regular basis and provides a forum for sharing information and keeping emergency planning high on the agenda of all Departments. At each meeting representatives of the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces provide an update on the security threat analysis.
My main objective in tabling this question was to have an opportunity to congratulate them on their efforts. I would like to see them being utilised to a greater degree in the future in the unfortunate likelihood of further extreme weather events and, as Deputy Deenihan suggested, they might be called into action sooner on future occasions. There is also a role for the reserve in providing supplementary support.
I attended a public meeting in Newcastle West on Monday night where the issue of the response of public services and agencies during the recent severe weather was discussed. Several public representatives from the party that controls Limerick County Council were adamant that a request for assistance was submitted to Sarsfield Barracks in Limerick but that no assistance was forthcoming. By implication, the claim was that no assistance was forthcoming from the Minister. Will the Minister clarify whether a formal request was submitted by Limerick County Council to the officer commanding at Sarsfield Barracks for assistance during the recent cold spell? While some members of the council, with the backing of council management, insist there was a formal request for help, the information I have is different.
Did the Minister indicate in a reply to a previous question that local authorities may not have been aware of the range of emergency services that the Defence Forces can supply, or alternatively that the local authorities were tardy in terms of requesting those emergency services where they were badly needed?
I thank Deputy O'Keeffe for his remarks. I assure him I will pass on what he said to the Army. The answer to Deputy Collins's question is most emphatically that there was no formal request from Limerick County Council for assistance from the Army to the CO at Slattery Barracks and if such a request had been made, help would have been forthcoming.
In reply to Deputy O'Shea, I do not know why they were so tardy. Local authorities should know the structures that exist. In any case, I have now taken the initiative of writing to all city and county managers to inform them of the procedures.
My question relates to what constitutes a national emergency, who is the activist who co-ordinates it, what is the impeller that drives it and what has to happen before the emergency is faced up to by those with particular responsibility. I think I know the answer to the question myself because I have tabled it several times in the House in the past ten years. Unfortunately, I am afraid of what the answer is, because if an answer was required, the Minister knows himself-----
The final part of the question is whether the Minister can give some indication to the House as to what will happen in the event of a recurrence of the kind of circumstances we have seen since November, through December and after Christmas in order to assure the public-----
In 2008 I submitted a document to Government, which is available to all Departments, which indicated a wide range of potential emergencies such as severe flooding, oil spillages and terrorist attacks. I outlined the lead Department in each case. As things stand, it is up to the lead Department to initiate a meeting of the emergency response committee. Perhaps that has to change. Lessons are always learned from every situation. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which is the lead Department in this case, is preparing a document on the lessons it has learned and what can be done better in future. I will also be asking the emergency response committee to examine the matter. We all learn from experience.