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Civil Defence Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Report and Final Stages (Continued)

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 5

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn]  The difficulty in this area is that there are a lot of cutbacks to local authorities, including huge changes to their budgets and consequently how they operate. It is very important that on an ongoing basis resources are there for training and re-training to deal with new techniques, equipment and health and safety processes. We want to ensure that all the strengths continue in operation. All of us are immensely proud of the work done by the Civil Defence teams. In the bad winter, from late 2010 to early 2011, County Donegal had freezing conditions for a sustained period of two months, as did the rest of the country. I was the chairperson of the roads and transport committee on Donegal County Council at the time. It was a case of putting all shoulders to the wheel, including the farming organisations. The Defence Forces were called out to inaccessible places and it was a remarkable team effort in which the Civil Defence played a key role. I am sure the Minister of State could cite as many such stories also, and he has been longer in politics than I have. We must continue to resource and value the professionalism and dedication of these local men and women. We need to continue availing of their range of skills.

Apart from that, we do not have any difficulties with the principle of the Bill.

Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I will be brief. Like Deputy Mac Lochlainn, I acknowledge the high standing of the Civil Defence organisation and its personnel across the country who do wonderful work. My amendment seeks to ensure that the external contacts that have been used to the benefit of the Civil Defence will continue in the new scenario.

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe I thank both Deputies for their contributions. I will deal first with amendment No. 1 from Deputy Mac Lochlainn. I do not propose to accept this amendment. It is not intended to put the forum on a statutory basis as I do not want to abolish one body and simply create another, thereby diluting the Government's policy of reducing the number of State agencies and boards. That policy is proposed in the programme for Government. I can assure the Deputy that the Civil Defence will still operate in the same manner as it has previously. Even before the Bill was published, I indicated that it was my intention after the dissolution of the board to establish a forum to harness the collective focus of the key stakeholders in the wider field of emergency planning for the benefit of the Civil Defence and the branch of my Department which will be charged with the future management and development of the organisation at national level.

It is also intended that the civil defence forum will be a non-statutory consultative body, which will be as flexible as possible in its operations and will be able to consult widely as required. The majority of the parties listed in the proposed amendment will be represented on the forum.

There will be further scope for the remainder and, indeed, other statutory and non-statutory bodies to be included where matters of particular interest are being discussed. It is important for the forum to retain the maximum level of flexibility in its operations and I am therefore strongly of the view that it would be hampered by having specific provisions relating to its composition enshrined in the legislation. I hope the Deputy understands where I am coming from on that.

The purpose of the forum will be to provide advice as required and to provide a structure for stakeholders to interact with the Civil Defence branch within the Department. The forum is intended to operate at a strategic level on defence matters and wider developments in the area of emergency response and other issues that might impact on civil defence.

Membership of the forum will comprise nominated representative bodies such as the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, An Garda Síochána, the HSE, the City and County Managers Association, the Civil Defence Officers' Association, and a representative from the Civil Defence volunteer body. That encompasses everyone involved in the civil defence movement to represent the views of everybody on the board. I hope the Deputy will acknowledge the reasons why I am not accepting his amendment on this occasion.

I also do not propose to accept amendment No. 2, in the name of Deputy Ó Fearghaíl. Section 12 allows for the Minister to determine the format and content of a civil defence plan submitted by a local authority for consideration. Nothing in this section or in the Bill precludes the Minister, if he or she considers it necessary, from consulting with external bodies or agencies both before and after plans are submitted by local authorities. We all understand the importance of a civil defence plan, as Deputy Ó Fearghaíl has outlined. The civil defence plan submitted by a local authority will already have been approved by the relevant city and county manager. The civil defence officer will have been part of the management team that prepared the plan at local level.

A civil defence plan will be unique to each individual authority. The provisions of the Bill, which are similar to those in the 2002 Act, will allow for further consultation with authorities on their plans, if considered necessary.

One of the purposes of the Bill for the civil defence branch of the Department is to get back to devoting more resources to deal with the real business of civil defence which is emergency preparedness and the development and implementation of training programmes for volunteers, so that the organisation can deliver effective support to the front-line emergency services and continue with its community support activities. As a small stand-alone State body, the board was constrained by the same level of governance that related to obligations as would be required of a much larger organisation. As a part of a Department that burden will be considerably reduced, thereby allowing more time for strengthening the network and the relationship with stakeholders such as local authorities that the Civil Defence has developed at national level over the years, and also with other key players in the wider area of emergency planning.

Both Deputies have outlined the importance of the Civil Defence. I can assure them that the Department will operate with the same vigour as the board did to ensure that the Civil Defence runs a smooth operation as well as highlighting the importance of civil defence in every village, town and city across the country.

Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I accept the Minister of State's good faith in this matter. I am concerned, however, that in the establishment of the forum it has been decided not to include the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland. It is not included in the list the Minister of State read out to us.

The Civil Defence has benefitted from the external inputs that have come from the variety of agencies that were previously involved in the board, so why drop the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland? Why not have it as part of the forum?

If, in putting his proposals together, the Minister of State could drop the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, we would be concerned that were there not a greater onus on the Minister, he might not consult as widely in respect of the civil defence plans that are so important on a county by county basis.

Deputy Paul Kehoe: Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe The body to which the Deputy refers will be represented by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. That means that if the forum requires further expertise or advice, any such bodies can be invited to give advice on such occasions if required. I understand the importance of the Deputy's point, but the board must be workable in terms of civil defence. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government will represent the views of that organisation. If required, the forum will invite any such bodies in for their expertise or advice.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Is amendment No. 1 being pressed?

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn: Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn Yes.

  Amendment put and declared lost.

Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I move amendment No. 2:

In page 7, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:
"(4) The Minister shall consider the adequacy or otherwise of a civil defence plan and/or a revised civil defence plan so as to ensure, as far as is practicable, that such plan meets with the criteria as set out in subsection (3) and in considering same, the Minister will consult with any or all of the following:
(a) the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government;

(b) the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland;

(c) Environmental Protection Agency;

(d) Civil Defence Officers Association;

(e) an Garda Síochána.".

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Is amendment No. 2 being pressed?

Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Yes.

  Amendment put and declared lost.


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