TOPICAL ISSUE DEBATE
Dáil Éireann -13 December 2016
The critical need to relocate Westmeath Civil Defence.
DEPUTY PETER BURKE
Civil Defence is a volunteer based organisation which supports the frontline emergency services. It operates in partnership between the Department of Defence and local authorities’ through-out Ireland.
As Minister with responsibility for Defence one of my functions is to provide policy direction to Civil Defence. The White Paper on Defence charts the future development of Civil Defence with its primary role being to support the Principal Response Agencies, that is an Garda Síochána, the HSE And local authorities, in a variety of emergency and non-emergency situations.
The Department of Defence manages and develops Civil Defence at national level. The Civil Defence Branch of the Department provides centralised training, administrative support and guidance and centralised procurement of major items of uniform and equipment in support of local authority Civil Defence efforts.
At local level, Civil Defence Units are based in each local authority area under the operational control of the relevant local authority. On a day to day basis these Units operate under the control of a Civil Defence Officer, who is a full-time employee of the local authority.
Civil Defence is a key element of each local authority’s emergency response arrangements. Volunteers from Civil Defence have responded very effectively when required over recent years, most recently during the flooding events that occurred in the latter part of 2015 and lasted well into 2016. It is fair to say that the volunteer members of Civil Defence under the management of their Civil Defence Officers, contributed significantly to alleviating hardship and supporting their communities. I am aware that Westmeath Civil Defence and other Units throughout the country were very active during this period.
In addition Civil Defence Units provide other critical supports to the Principal Response Agencies, on an ongoing basis, For example, Civil Defence volunteers frequently undertake search operations in support of an Garda Síochána. Civil Defence volunteers also provide ongoing community supports within their local authority areas and contribute to the safe management of events which attract large crowds.
In this context, Civil Defence Volunteers deserve the support of both the Department of Defence and the local authorities for whom they respond.
Civil Defence in each county is generally funded on a 70:30 basis, by way of an annual grant from the Department of Defence with the balance being funded by the local authority.
The provision of accommodation for local Civil Defence Units is the responsibility of the relevant local authority. This is a long-standing position which was reaffirmed in the 2015 White Paper on Defence.
I am aware of the situation regarding accommodation for Westmeath Civil Defence. I met recently with a number of volunteers from Westmeath Civil Defence who outlined their concerns with the existing accommodation arrangements. I understand that this matter has also been raised at a meeting of Westmeath County Council.
I advised the volunteers that although accommodation for local Civil Defence Units is a matter for each local authority, the Department of Defence will continue to work pro-actively with Westmeath County Council, to encourage them to provide appropriate accommodation for its Civil Defence Unit.
Senior officials from the Department of Defence met with senior officials from Westmeath County Council earlier this year. This has been in keeping with efforts by the Department, since the closure of Columb Barracks in 2012, to explore a number of avenues to try and secure the long term future of the former barracks for the benefit of the local community. To date, Westmeath County Council has declined the option of availing of Columb Barracks for use, including for use by Civil Defence.
Most recently, Westmeath County Council advised officials in the Department of Defence that they are conducting a review of the accommodation for Civil Defence in Westmeath. While the provision of accommodation is a matter for Westmeath County Council, department officials have offered to provide any advice required by the Council in developing their outline plan for accommodation for Westmeath Civil Defence.
MINISTER OF STATE AT THE
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE
(PAUL KEHOE, T.D.)