T1. Dr Archibald asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs whether, on Firefighters’ Memorial Day, he will join with her to recognise those firefighters who have lost their life in the line of duty, to send solidarity to their families and to express our gratitude to the heroic firefighters, along with members of the Irish Air Corps, for their recent efforts to tackle the devastating wildfire in the Mournes. (AQT 1261/17-22)
I thank the Member for her question. What she said is entirely valid and correct. I spent time with the firefighters in the Mournes around 10 days ago. It was a devastating fire, but it was not the first. Our firefighters were out before that, have been out since and are out every year, and that does not get a media profile. The wider public do not see that because the firefighting is more localised. Well done to our firefighters. They are not only out fighting fires on the mountains but rescuing farmers who have got into trouble — for example, with slurry tanks in very dangerous circumstances. They are called out to all sorts of things around farms and in rural communities. With road traffic collisions on our rural roads in particular, the first people who are there are the Fire and Rescue Service, cutting people out of cars, doing spectacular work, saying very little about it and just getting on with their job. It is a very stressful job, and you are absolutely right that they need all the praise that we can give them.
I thank the Minister for his response and concur with his comments. Given the crucial North/South aspect to tackling these fires and the many other cross-border issues relating to agriculture, the environment and our rural communities, will the Minister give his commitment to working cooperatively and collaboratively through the North/South institutions and, in particular, the North/South Ministerial Council on all issues within his remit that affect our communities, North and South, and that impact on an all-island basis?
In my role, I have every desire to work with colleagues in the Republic of Ireland. I do not have an issue with that at all when it is in the mutual interest of both countries. It is in the mutual interests of both countries that people in Northern Ireland do not experience the damage and impacts of the protocol. Therefore, political colleagues in the Republic of Ireland would do well to reflect on that, work with us on that and on other key issues to help Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to prosper. That is what we want.