Northern Ireland Fire Service

Oral Answers to Questions — Health, Social Services and Public Safety – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 14 October 2002.

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Photo of Ms Pauline Armitage Ms Pauline Armitage Independent 3:00, 14 October 2002

4. asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety if she has considered, or will consider, the reorganisation of the Northern Ireland Fire Service.

(AQO 284/02)

Photo of Bairbre de Brún Bairbre de Brún Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Le deireannas, chuir an Bhriogáid Dóiteáin críoch le hathbhreithniú cuimsitheach ar chlúdach dóiteáin anseo, agus tá mo Roinn ag déanamh machnaimh ar an dréacht-thuarascáil thosaigh den mheasúnú sin.

Ina theannta sin, tá bailchríoch á cur ar an chéad chéim d’athbhreithniú cúigbhliantúil an Údaráis Dóiteáin. Déanfaidh an dara céim den athbhreithniú meastóireacht ar an dóigh a bhfeidhmíonn an t-údarás maidir le luach ar airgead go háirithe, agus déanfaidh sé moltaí ar conas a fheidhmíocht a fheabhsú.

The Fire Brigade recently completed a comprehensive review of fire cover here, and my Department is considering the initial draft report of that assessment. Additionally, the first stage of a quinquennial review of the Fire Authority is being finalised, and the second stage of that review will evaluate how the authority performs, particularly with regard to value for money. Recommendations as to how the service’s performance could be improved will be contained in the second stage review. Those reviews will provide information to help determine the future shape and deployment of the Fire Service.

Photo of Ms Pauline Armitage Ms Pauline Armitage Independent

The Minister has almost answered most of my questions. Is she aware of the problems that exist in the Northern Ireland Fire Brigade, especially because it does not have a Chief Fire Officer? Does she think that the Fire Authority still has a role to play in the organisation of the Northern Ireland Fire Brigade? Is there equality in the membership of the Fire Authority? Finally, does the Minister agree that the Fire Authority is a quango and should be suspended prior to complete removal, like the Assembly?

Photo of Bairbre de Brún Bairbre de Brún Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for her somewhat colourful supplementary question.

I have full confidence in the acting chairperson of the Fire Authority, and I also believe that assistant chief fire officer Lammey and assistant chief fire officer Craig will provide the necessary leadership to manage the brigade effectively until the new Chief Fire Officer is appointed.

With regard to the quinquennial review, the idea of having two stages is that the first stage should consider whether the present organisational structure remains the most appropriate vehicle to deliver the required service and whether the functions which the Fire Authority, in this case, carries out are still required. The stage-two review evaluates performance, and whether that review is carried out depends on the outcome of the first stage, which is being finalised at the moment.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson DUP 3:15, 14 October 2002

Is the Minister aware that, apart from the dissatisfaction felt in some circles with the organisation of the Fire Service, there is also continued dissatisfaction with the way that firefighters’ pay has been handled — or not, as may be the case? Will the Minister confirm that, if that issue is not resolved, the Army will have to provide cover in the event of a strike by firefighters? In such an event the Army will, in turn, require police cover, with the Minister’s Department responsible for the payment of that cover. Do we, therefore, face the prospect of an IRA/Sinn Féin Minister actually paying for the Police Service of Northern Ireland?

Photo of Bairbre de Brún Bairbre de Brún Sinn Féin

Unless that happens before midnight tonight, Mr Wilson knows well that it is most unlikely that we will face any such prospect. However, I can say that although my Department is not directly involved in the negotiations that take place between the Fire Authorities and the staff side, the Department, along with the Fire Authority, has responsibility to consider how emergency cover can be provided in the event of a strike.

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

With the emphasis on the word "reorganisation", in relation to hospital services, will the Minister agree that the site of the new acute hospital for the Enniskillen area should be announced —

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Order. The Member knows perfectly well that this is remote in the extreme from the question to which it is meant to be a supplemental.

Photo of Derek Hussey Derek Hussey UUP

The Member meant to say Omagh.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Even if Mr Foster had said Omagh, it would still not have qualified.