COUNCILLORS at Offaly County Council agreed to review the Fire and Emergency Service Plan ‘in the event of the council being in a financial position to do so’.
Edenderry’s Cllr John Foley called for the review in a motion he tabled during the June meeting of Offaly County Council.
Director of Services Frank Heslin gave a report on the operation of the fire services and said that 91% of calls were less than 21 minutes attendance times. He revealed that the greatest number of calls were in Tullamore and Edenderry with 108 each between January and May of this year, 47 each in Birr and Clara and 18 in Ferbane, with chimney fires accounting for the greatest number of these. “We are doing more with less,” said Mr Heslin.
Cllr Ger Plunkett said he was glad he abstained from voting to accept the plan. “I feel the people I represent in north Offaly are very vulnerable with the lack of stations,” he said. He said that Offaly should not be assisting Meath and Westmeath. “We should mind our own people in Offaly and forget about Kildare. Let them mind themselves.”
Cllr Eamon Dooley asked if many efficiencies had been achieved. Meanwhile Cllr Percy Clendennen asked if there were 47 calls in Birr, how many were there in Banagher.
Mr Heslin said there was no risk in north Offaly. He said he didn’t see assisting Kildare and Meath as an issue and if it became one they could restrict it back.
County Manager Pat Gallagher said Offaly Fire Services had “significantly exceeded” the standards they set in place for the first time under the plan. “We are living within our budget.”
In supporting Cllr Foley’s motion Cllr Johnny Butterfield said the county needed the optimum number of firestations open and needed them open now.
Cllr Sinead Moylan Ryan said if €849,000 was paid to ten employees, that was of an average of €85,000 each. She said as they had all been paid their redundancy, in order to re-open the first stations they would have to all be retrained. She said even if they looked at this in twelve months time, with the way the financial statement they were presented with that ‘the money just isn’t there’.
Cllr Eamon Dooley said if someone could show how to open the firestations it would be different but he wouldn’t listen to a ‘three card trick man’ coming in with ‘half baked ideas’.
“I can no longer say to the public that I can deliver on something I can’t. It was hard enough two years ago, it’s harder now. I will sit down with Cllr Foley. You cant mislead people. We all want the stations open. A lot of us put a lot of time and effort into it. I would ask the manager where possible to try and look at efficiences,” said Cllr John Leahy, who said he feared the closure of another station.
Cllr Foley in response to Cllr Dooley said he did not come in there with “nilly willy confounded things”. He said there were 75 fire fighters in Laois, while only 50 in Offaly. He said there were five senior managers in Offaly while only three in Laois. “I make no apologies,” he said. He said that five months ago when Cllr Dolan put forward a plan to keep the stations open, “political willpower was not here. They were worried if Cllr Dolan’s proposal got through he would run for the General election.”
Cllr Foley said that the 21 councillors should forgo their conference fees and halve their pay “if they are that worried” to re-open the first stations.
Mr Heslin said there were the same number of senior fire officers in Laois and Offaly and said Laois’s figures do not include support costs. He added that Offaly County Council subsidises nearly half of the running costs of Portarlington Fire Station.
Cllr Eamon Dooley said if anyone had any ideas, now was the time to bring them forward for next year’s budget. Cllr Hanniffy suggested amending the motion to read that in the event of the financial situation being adequate, they could look at a review of the Fire and Emergency Services Plan.
Cllr Noel Bourke seconded the amendment saying they needed to do this ‘in a realistic way’.
Cllr Foley said he would have no problem with the amendment as long as the item was kept on the agenda.
Meanwhile Laois/Offaly Deputy Brian Stanley has called on all public representatives to get behind the issue.
“The priority now should be, that all elected representatives unite together to demand a new fire plan that includes the provision of eight fire stations in the County. As I have pointed out before, Laois has eight functioning stations on a slightly smaller budget than Offaly.”