Tuesday, 14 May 2019
Department of Defence
99. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the steps being taken to ensure that the optimum response is always deployed by the State in circumstances in which communities face the threat posed by emergency situations such as the recent wildfires in west County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20585/19]
At a National level, as the Minister with responsibility for Defence, I chair the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning, which oversees and ensures the fullest level of coordination and cooperation regarding our national and strategic emergency management. In the event of an emergency at a National level or threats posed by an emerging emergency situation, the Strategic Emergency Management National Structures and Framework, approved by Government in July 2017, outlines the Lead Government Department principle and how this is applied across a "whole of Government" approach to managing such responses. Such responses are normally led by the convening of the National Emergency Coordination Group (NECG) by the Lead Department concerned. The lead Departmental responsibilities are outlined in the Annex A of this publically available document regarding the various emergency incident types. A lead Department may, therefore, convene the NECG at short notice to address and coordinate our responses to any National level threats or actual emergencies that may occur.
Separately, since 2006, the Framework for Major Emergency Management has allocated primary responsibility for responding at a local or regional level to specific emergencies, such as those caused by fires, including wildfires. The responses to such emergencies rests with the designated principal response agencies, namely, the relevant Local Authority (including the Fires Services), An Garda Síochána, and the Health Service Executive.
The Defence Forces provide assistance, on an as available basis, to the appropriate Lead Department in the event of any natural disaster or emergency situation in its Aid to the Civil Authority role. The Defence Forces retains a wide range of specialist skills which can be deployed, on request, in such circumstances to any emergencies that may arise.
Specifically, the principal response agency designated to respond to fire emergencies is the Fire Service, under the responsibility of the relevant Local Authority. Mechanisms to request support at a local, regional and national level are well established and may be made by the Chief Fire Officer and the Local Authority under the Major Emergency Management Framework through the National Directorate of Fire and Emergency Management in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government for such assistance. Such Aid to the Civil Authority requests are actioned immediately within existing arrangements.
In the case of requests during the recent Donegal fires, the Air Corps moved immediately to assemble the necessary personnel and the required pilots and crew with the necessary training on the use of the specialised firefighting equipment (bambi bucket) as well as deployment of other specialist personnel. This took some time as some of the crew assembled from their time off, from a distance, but this was achieved as quickly as possible in the circumstances.
The policy lead in relation to fire related emergencies, particularly those that require a National-level response, rests with National Directorate of Fire and Emergency Management in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and that Department has the lead responsibility for the Major Emergency Management Framework, which is currently under review by the National Steering Group chaired by that Department.
As Chair of the Government Task Force, I am satisfied that the responses provided by the State to such incidents are provided in a coordinated way and that the tried and tested arrangements work well in response to such emergencies. However, we should never be complacent and I regularly request members of the Task Force to review and exercise their plans and to ensure that we review and learn lessons from our responses to specific incidents and emergencies that occur.