Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Deputy Pearse Doherty is calling on the Taoiseach and Minister with Responsibility for Defence Paul Kehoe, to provide details of the steps Government is taking to ensure that the optimum response is deployed by the state whenever and wherever communities face the threat posed by emergency situations, such as wildfires, floods and natural disasters.
The Donegal TD’s comments come following last month’s devastating gorse fires which caused widespread destruction across huge swathes of the west of the county, and which required the combined efforts of local communities, volunteers and the emergency services to successfully extinguish. There was also criticism of the Government at the time over the delay in granting approval for the Air Corp helicopter to be deployed to attend to the scene.
In urging the Government to outline the work being done to ensure that communities receive adequate supports when faced with similar crisis in future, Deputy Doherty said:
“It’s over two weeks on now since those major wildfires to ravage large parts of west Donegal were successfully put out.
“Having been at the scene myself and, along with my colleagues Councillors Marie Therese Gallagher and John Shéamais Ó Fearraigh, having witnessed the heroism and bravery displayed by the local communities themselves, from volunteers as well as by emergency services personnel, it’s clear that their extraordinary efforts are to credit for the fact that thankfully not more damage was caused – or worse – lives having been lost.
“Everyone concerned rallied around and did their bit to help bring the fires under control, including local farmers, business owners and others who brought in water tankers and took other measures to assist the emergency services.
“In fact, the Gardaí, Donegal Fire Service personnel, the army, members of the Air Corp, and all the emergency responders who were deployed to tend to the blaze that weekend cannot be commended enough for what they did tackle, what were, some of the worst wildfires to strike the county in many years.
“And while nothing should be said or done to downplay nor negate the tremendous and life saving work done by the emergency services, we are still waiting for a full explanation in relation to just why it took so long for the Government to give the green light for the Air Corp helicopter to arrive in order to provide assistance.
“This is despite the fact that it was clear to everyone who was present in the area quite early on over the course of that fateful weekend that a number of properties and homes were in danger, and that the fires posed a real and substantive risk to human life.
“In their immediate aftermath, I called on the Minister to carry out an urgent review into what lessons had been learnt from those fires in order to ascertain what the various authorities and emergency services could take away from the experience with the view to improving how the state co-ordinates its overall response to such crisis situations going forward.
“Not only should this include examining the procedures which are to be adopted by first responders and other authorities when events like this occur, but also looking at how measures to mitigate against fires, such as hedgerow trimming and roadside maintenance, can be improved.
“In addition, I requested that the Minister task his officials with also exploring the various ways which the state could potentially facilitate and even compliment the work of the emergency services by perhaps equipping volunteers and communities in some way, and looking at how we could compensate them accordingly for their assistance.
“Unbelievably however, I am still awaiting to receive a reply from the Minister and his officials to those very questions – despite my correspondence having been sent to him over a fortnight ago.
“Naturally, when it comes to dealing with major emergencies like we witnessed in this county last month, no one can afford to be complacent in terms of how we respond and plan for them, particularly whenever people’s lives are on the line.
“There can be no excuse for the lack of urgency being shown by the government here, and so this week I will again be seeking urgent answers from both the Taoiseach and the Minister and I will be calling on them to give details of the steps being taken to ensure that, when faced with similar emergency situations in future, communities can be assured that they receive a fully co-ordinated, well resourced and planned emergency response.”