26/03/2002

Fire fighters take their case to Health Minister’s door

Northern Ireland’s fire fighters have brought their concerns about ongoing attacks on their staff to the attention of the Stormont Health Minister Bairbre de Brún.

The Fire brigades Union (FBU), supported by Laganvalley UUP assembly member Billy Bell held a meeting with Ms de Brún late on Tuesday afternoon to highlight the serious and escalating nature of attacks on staff and appliances.

Speaking before the meeting FBU spokesman Jim Barbour said: “These ongoing attacks are getting worse. There were 800 attacks last year and it’s just not acceptable anymore.”

Mr Barbour said they were meeting the Minister to discuss firstly the possibility of launching a series of outreach initiatives, which would educate community groups about the fire service. The second issue to be discussed Mr Barbour said, involved asking the Minister to support the fire services bid for a much needed cash injection.

In recent months the UK Department of Transport, Local Government and Regions gave fire services in Scotland €18 million and €53 million to England and Wales. The cash boost came about due to the efforts of a new government think-tank called the ‘New Dimension Group’ which was established to build up emergency services procedures in case of a terrorist attack like September 11. Northern Ireland has not received any such money according to Mr Barbour.

Mr Barbour said fire services in Northern Ireland, which were much depleted and had undergone sustained attacks over the past year, needed this money to build up services “immediately”.

Mr Bell said he was giving his support as an assembly member because he felt, like Mr Barbour, that Northern Ireland should get a cut of this money from Westminster’s purse. He said: “If there was an attack on Sellafield, the impact would effect Northern Ireland’s shores just as much as areas like Cumbria.”

Mr Bell also said he was concerned about the attacks on the fire brigade and said he was going to ask the Minister what she intended to do to improve the situation. (AMcE)

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