Thursday, 14 October 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
The Minister of State is very welcome. I thank him for taking time out of his schedule to be here. I appreciate it. This morning, I will raise the issue of the urgent need for a new fire station in Ballybay. Ballybay fire station provides cover not just to the town itself, but to the wider mid-Monaghan area. Back in 1977, a report was commissioned which determined that the fire station fell short of the minimum requirements of a modern fire station. That was in 1977 - many years ago. The current station, which is a single-storey structure, is located in the centre of Ballybay and has no parking facilities attached.
I pay tribute to the nine dedicated crew members attached to the fire station for their loyal and dedicated service, both in the past and at present. I pay tribute to all who have been attached to the station down through the years. They have given excellent service not just to the people of Ballybay, but to the people of the wider hinterland of mid-Monaghan.
The current crew and the people of Ballybay and the mid-Monaghan area deserve a new fire station. I hope the Minister of State will have positive news for me in that regard this morning. I pay tribute to local councillor, Séamus Coyle, who has worked tirelessly on this issue. Only last week, he put a motion before Monaghan County Council which highlighted the urgency of addressing this issue. I pay tribute to all members of Monaghan County Council and, indeed, Ballybay town commissioners down through the years who have worked and pushed tirelessly to get a new facility for the town. There is no doubt but that there is an urgent need for a new facility there. I would like the Minister of State to push the matter with his Cabinet colleagues in order to ensure that this facility is provided to the crew that currently works there and the people of Ballybay and the wider Monaghan area.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir as an gceist seo. The provision of fire services in a functional area, including the establishment and maintenance of a fire brigade, the assessment of fire cover needs and the provision of fire station premises, is a statutory function of individual fire authorities under the Fire Services Act 1981 and 2003. My Department supports fire authorities by establishing policy, setting national standards for fire safety and service provision, providing a central training programme, issuing guidance on operational and related matters and providing capital funding for priority infrastructural projects.
My Department recently announced a new fire services capital programme for the period covering 2021 to 2025, with a funding allocation of €61 million. Following extensive engagement with the fire authorities, a number of proposals for station works and so on were received. The proposals were evaluated and prioritised on the basis of: the area risk categorisation of the fire station, which relates to population, fire risks and so on; established health and safety needs; the state of development of the project, which relates to whether a site has been acquired and so on; and the value for money offered by the proposal. The new programme will see six replacement fire stations built, continued support for the construction of a further 12 fire station projects, nine fire station refurbishments and the allocation of 35 new fire engines. In order to optimise the use of the available capital programme funding, my Department reassesses the status of projects in the programme annually. Some flexibility is normally available to advance projects that are ready and that offer best value for money, taking account of the state of readiness of projects more generally.All requests for funding from my Department's fire services capital programme are considered promptly and have regard to local authorities' own priorities, consistency with national policy, the value for money offered by proposals and the totality of requests from fire authorities.
Project consideration stages in my Department include submission of preliminary and detailed appraisals, submission of design brief, selection of site, application for approval in principle, appointment of design consultants, submission of a preliminary design, planning application, submission of preliminary cost plan, detailed design and cost plans and tender process and construction stages. Each step is subject to approval from the Department.
Monaghan County Council has indicated that a new fire station at Ballybay is a priority and is included in the list of proposed new-build fire stations under the 2021 to 2025 capital programme. My Department received a detailed cost plan for this project on 24 September, outlining an estimated total build cost of €1.7 million. This proposal is currently under consideration and my Department will continue working with the council to progress this project.
I thank the Senator for raising the matter, along with Councillor Coyle and members of Monaghan County Council. We will certainly give it the highest priority and it is on the list for the capital programme. It will therefore be given due assessment in that regard.
I sincerely thank the Minister of State for his most comprehensive report. There is no doubt that the case has been well made that this is a priority. I welcome the comments this morning and I trust the Department will work with Monaghan County Council to ensure the facility is built without delay and as soon as possible.
I might digress when I have the Minister of State to raise the matter of peat in County Monaghan. Monaghan is well known for many things, one of which is mushrooms, and we have a serious problem there now because peat products are essential for that mushroom industry. I ask the Minister of State to take it upon himself to address the matter urgently because many jobs in County Monaghan depend on it.
As we have outlined, there is a clear commitment that this facility will be included in the capital plan and in that regard Monaghan County Council is following all due process to ensure it can be prioritised. Again, I thank the members of Monaghan County Council and the executive for advancing this. I join the Senator in paying tribute to fire service personnel, who do heroic work in the county and throughout the entire country.
On the peat question, I am expecting to receive a report on alternative materials from Dr. Munoo Prasad by 20 October. The Government is trying to address the matter but as I stated, we are caught in a legal bind over this. All efforts are being made to try to resolve this as a matter of urgency.