Tuesday, 23 November 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I welcome the Minister of State. I tabled this matter to seek clarity on how the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is dealing with a major fire incident that happened at a halting site in Bantry on 9 November. Has a report on the fire been filed and a fire hazard safety assessment completed? What is the long-term housing plan for the people who live on the site?
On the night of Tuesday, 9 November, a major fire happened at a halting site in Bantry. One unit was totally burned to the ground. It was a significant fire, covered widely on social media and also in the press. The issues regarding the site go back generations, in many ways. What has the Department done about the fire and what assessments has it carried out on the site? Has it examined its cause and how it could be prevented from happening again? How safe is the site now?
As the Minister of State will be aware, unfortunately a very significant fire happened at a halting site in Carrickmines in 2015, in which ten people lost their lives. Some of the recommendations that came from the coroner's court are worth reflecting on. The coroner recommended that the exemption from fire and planning regulations for emergency sites be changed. There is an exemption in regard to planning and fire safety on temporary halting sites. The site in Bantry is 25 years old, yet is considered to be of a temporary nature. Are there, therefore, no planning or fire regulations for the site? It would be a significant issue, not only for the patrons, one whom was injured in the fire, but for the entire town if there are no planning or fire regulations for the site. The coroner's report on the Carrickmines fire further recommended that the powers for establishing emergency halting sites be used for the shortest possible time. The Bantry halting site is 25 years old, one quarter of a century. Are we really saying that is a short period?
The report on the Carrickmines incident is something I want to reflect on. We got an awful rude awakening in 2015 when ten patrons lost their lives. There was a really significant fire in Bantry a week and a half ago and the same could have happened there. There could have been a real tragedy. Having spoken to people who attended the scene that night, I know it was by the grace of God that other units were not lost, with more people affected. The site is located on a dead-end road and access is a big issue. There are commercial units all around it, so the fire could have spread to them and had a significant impact on the entire commercial entity of Bantry.
What is the long-term plan for the site?How are we going to work on the health and safety issues there? What is the Department doing with regard to the judgment of the coroner's report on the Carrickmines incident? Has it taken on board the point made regarding the absence of planning and fire regulation in respect of these sites? Can we put in place a structure to ensure these sites are managed appropriately?