Fire stations bombshell for Bundoran and Ballyshannon

A decision to build two separate fire stations in Bundoran and Ballyshannon has been shelved by the Environment Minister Phil Hogan who says the option of building just one fire station to service both Bundoran and Ballyshannon is now very much back on the table.

A decision to build two separate fire stations in Bundoran and Ballyshannon has been shelved by the Environment Minister Phil Hogan who says the option of building just one fire station to service both Bundoran and Ballyshannon is now very much back on the table.

Confusion raged on Tuesday morning when a local Fine Gael councillor Barry O’Neill dismissed the claim and told a local radio station, Ocean FM, that the information about the U-turn was “a mistake”.

Just after 12 noon today the Minister’s office confirmed that the situation as outlined in a parliamentary reply to Sinn Fein Deputy Pearse Doherty, was the up to date position and the commitment to build two fire stations was now effectively shelved.

The news has provoked widespread anger in both towns where a lengthy campaign to ensure both towns would get new stations ended with the previous government agreeing to build separate stations in Bundoran and Ballyshannon.

Minister Hogan, in response to a question from Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty, said: “All options in relation to the upgrading of facilities at Ballyshannon and Bundoran fire stations, including the amalgamation option, will need to be considered as part” of a planned review.

New Bundoran Mayor, Cllr Michael McMahon, reacting to the news, said that the campaign to ensure that both towns are provided with their own stations will be reignited, while former local fire fighter, Frankie O’Donnell, who served 14 years with the Ballyshannon fire brigade, described the apparent U-turn as “a crazy decision”.

Earlier today when the news from Deputy Doherty emerged, local Fine Gael councillor Barry O’Neill hotly disputed the claim that there will be an amalgamation. O’Neill said this morning that Minister Hogan had recently been in Ballyshannon and had met senior fire station personnel from both towns and there was no talk of a review or an amalgamation.

However, Minister Hogan’s office stated that the decision as outlined in the response to Deputy Doherty was the up to date position - effectively contradicting their own party member, Cllr O’Neill.

Locally the Mayor-elect for Ballyshannon Town Council, John Meehan, appeared to be caught off guard by the bombshell announcement from the Fine Gael Minister. He told Ocean FM he would need some time to clarify the situation when he spoke on radio early this morning. It would appear that the Fine Gael party in Ballyshannon and Bundoran have been surprised by the announcement that the long campaign to deliver two fire stations for the area is now in ruins - less than 100 days after Fine Gael stepped into power with the Labour Party.

Deputy Doherty of Sinn Fein, who said he had no wish to get into a spat with Cllr O’Neill over the bona fides of his information, has described Minister Hogan’s response as “very disappointing”.

In a statement to the Donegal Democrat today, Deputy Doherty said:

“For many years the communities of Bundoran and Ballyshannon have been campaigning to have their existing fire station to be upgraded so that they would be fit for purpose. In July of 2009 a breakthrough was made when the then government conveyed approval in principle for the replacement of both stations to Donegal County Council. However despite the Council identifying potential sites for the new stations, the government has now withdrawn that approval. The Minister for the environment has stated in reply to my Dáil question that the future of these stations are subject to a Capital Expenditure Review of the fire services capital programme which is been carried out by the department for the Environment.

“Fire personal from both these stations have made it perfectly clear over the years that what is needed is a fire station located in each of the towns. Their argument is based on the safety of the wider community. It is crucial that this government does not put the heath and safety of these communities above the needs to satisfy the IMF and EU.

“This news from the minister will be met with disappointment in both Ballyshannon and Bundoran as this review will undoubtedly have the effect of delaying the much needed new stations in both these town. I would urge the minister not to unravel the progress that has been made and instead commit to funding the new station.”

The full text of Deputy Doherty’s question and Minister Hogan’s reply is as follows:

QUESTION

To ask the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the position regarding applications for fire stations (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

- Pearse Doherty.

For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 31st May, 2011. Ref No: 13273/11

REPLY

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Mr. P. Hogan)

The provision of fire services in local authority areas, including the establishment and maintenance of fire brigades, the assessment of fire cover needs and the provision of premises is a statutory function of the individual fire authorities under the provisions of the Fire Services Act 1981.

My Department supports the local fire authorities through setting of general policy, training support and issue of guidance on operational and other related matters, and the provision of capital funding.

In order to enhance the capacity of the fire service, Donegal County Council submitted a comprehensive plan in March 2000 to replace all fire stations in the county. The Council, in partnership with my Department, has made substantial progress in implementing this plan and has replaced 12 fire stations following investment of some €11 million under the fire service capital programme.

The following towns are now served by modern fire stations with full facilities: Milford (1998), Buncrana (2000), Letterkenny (HQ) and Falcarragh (both in 2003), Carndonagh and Donegal Town (both in 2004), Killybegs (2005), Dungloe, Glenties and Moville (all three in 2007) and most recently Gaoth Dobhair and Stranorlar (2009).

In 2007, an independent capital appraisal examined a number of options in relation to upgrading facilities at Ballyshannon and Bundoran. The appraisal recommended that the most economically and operationally advantageous option would be the amalgamation of the existing fire stations into a combined three bay station at Finner, located next to the bypass and affording excellent access to both towns. This proposal, however, did not progress and approval in principle for the replacement of both stations was conveyed to the Donegal County Council in July 2009. It is understood that potential sites have been identified by the Council.

In common with other capital programmes, my Department has commenced a Capital Expenditure Review of the fire services capital programme. Given the revenue cost overheads associated with each fire station, in partnership with Donegal County Council, all options in relation to the upgrading of facilities at Ballyshannon and Bundoran fire stations, including the amalgamation option, will need to be considered as part of this Review.

Further investment in the fire service in Ballyshannon and Bundoran will be considered within the current constraints on the fire services capital programme and will have regard to the Capital Expenditure Review, the fire authority’s priorities, the extent of previous investment, the spread of existing facilities and the totality of demands from fire authorities countrywide.