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Speech by Mr. Willie O’Dea, T.D., Minister for Defence at the opening of the new Civil Defence Headquaters at Benamore, Roscrea, Co Tipperary

Tuesday 12th September 2006

Mr Chairman, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great honour for me, as the Minister responsible for Civil Defence, to be with you today at the opening of your new headquarters here in Roscrea.

Ideally situated as it is, in the very heart of Ireland, it is fitting that Roscrea should serve as a headquarters and a seat of learning for Civil Defence. Roscrea and the surrounding area has a rich history with a total of five monastic sites, one of which being the Cistercian Abbey of Mount St. Joseph, whose Abbot, Dom Kevin Daly, is here with us today.

Roscrea is a Heritage Town and has a large number of National Monuments under the care of the Heritage Service, Duchas and the local Heritage Society. And, as one who has driven through and around the town of Roscrea on countless occasions, I know well what an attractive and welcoming town it is. Although – I will confess – I have grown to like the town more since the bypass was built!

I am delighted my predecessor as Minister for Defence, Michael Smith, T.D., is here with us today. Michael was a prime mover in proposing and working resolutely for the re-location of the Civil Defence headquarters from Phoenix Park to Roscrea. I know he is particularly proud today seeing the fruit of his endeavours in this impressive new building here at Benamore.

Yesterday’s fifth anniversary of the horrors of 9/11 reminds us all that Civil Defence is about preparedness and about training for emergency response. If we are to expect Civil Defence volunteers around the country to be ready to respond to assist their first line colleagues in responding to emergency situations, we have to ensure that they are adequately trained and prepared to meet that request.

The recent drowning tragedy at Owenahincha in West Cork is an example of their commitment. From the earliest stages of the search, Civil Defence personnel were present and mounted a sustained rescue effort with personnel both in boats and on shore. Over 50 volunteers made themselves available on the first day of the search alone. While last weekend, Civil Defence volunteers were on standby in our coastal towns and cities in case the exceptionally high tides led to flooding problems.

What the Government has provided here is a state of the art facility for the School here to develop ongoing programmes of centralised training for the organisation. Civil Defence Volunteer Instructors from all areas of the country can come here to be trained in a wide variety of programmes such as:

Casualty/First-Aid
Rescue
Fire Fighting
Radiation detection & monitoring
Radio Communications
Welfare Provision

Those Instructors then return to their various local authority areas and pass on the benefit of their knowledge and experience to the Volunteers there.

These new facilities have been designed to meet the requirements of a modern national training establishment and are purpose built for the delivery of those training programmes. They include state of the art audio-visual systems and other electronic training equipment in the main lecture theatre and in each of the three large training rooms. Students can therefore avail of the latest technologies in training and education while attending courses here.
The Headquarters also form a critical hub in terms of the Civil Defence communications networks. It will operate as the central emergency control centre for Civil Defence operations in the event of major or national emergencies and provide the requisite facilities for command, control and communications training.

A number of courses have already been held at the School since the headquarters re-located to Roscrea in May and the feedback from volunteers has been extremely positive. These facilities are a fine example of the standard of accommodation that the Government is making available, through the Office of Public Works, under the decentralisation programme.

The Government continues to see Civil Defence as having a key role to play in emergencies and in providing backup to the front-line emergency services. A budget allocation of almost 6 million euro is made available to the Civil Defence Board annually. Of this, over half a million euro each year is provided for the Civil Defence training programme and national exercises. This demonstrates the Government’s firm commitment to ensuring that a highly skilled volunteer group is ready to meet community and national needs in emergency situations. In 2007 my Department will allocate more than 3 million euro towards the operational costs of Civil Defence at local authority level and more than 1 million euro for procurement of equipment for Civil Defence.

With the decentralisation of Civil Defence to this brand new facility, the Board has recently approved the introduction of a new work wear uniform for Civil Defence members, which both updates the image of the organisation and meets modern safety standards in terms of visibility.

Standing proudly behind me today you can see a number of volunteers decked out in their new work wear. I am pleased to now formally launch the new work wear uniform. The new work wear is a change from the yellow denims that have became so familiar to us all down the years! I understand it will be rolled out throughout the organisation later this year.

Volunteers and the volunteer ethos are the lifeblood of Civil Defence which is why the Board strongly welcomes the Taoiseach’s vision in establishing the Taskforce on Active Citizenship last April. The Chairman has told me that the Board shares the Taoiseach’s views that the scarcest resource of all nowadays is time; that the role of active participation is being devolved to fewer people and that there is a need to identify and understand how public policy helps and hinders active engagement.
As the Minister responsible, I am glad to see the work the Civil Defence Board under the Chairmanship of Joe Meagher, is doing in strategic planning for the future of the organisation. They are putting in place a number of measures to address difficulties both in recruiting new members and in developing the existing volunteers through training courses on order to encourage them to remain with Civil Defence for many years to come. Unlike many other voluntary agencies Civil Defence is a statutory body that can offer a broad range of training programmes to any potential volunteer. I would urge people to visit the Civil Defence website, www.civildefence.ie to learn more about what the organisation can offer them.

For our part, the Government will continue, through the Department of Defence, to work with the Board and to provide them with the necessary resources to develop Civil Defence.

In conclusion, I would like to thank Chairman Joe Meagher and the members and staff of the Civil Defence Board for inviting me here today. I would like to thank the Board members and the Committees of the Board for giving of their time. I would like to thank the local authorities for supporting Civil Defence in their area and would urge them to continue with their support. I would like to thank their Civil Defence Officers, who are with us here today, resplendent in their number 1 uniforms. My thanks especially go to each and every Volunteer for their commitment to Civil Defence and I extend a warm welcome to those members who have travelled here today to witness the opening of their new Headquarters.

I would like to thank the staff of the Office of Public Works for their contribution in designing these fine premises; for overseeing their construction and fit-out and the staff of my own Department who worked with them in that endeavour.

My thanks too to the main contractors involved: Frank Murray Construction, Frank McGrath Construction, P.H. McCarthy & Partners; H. A. O’Neill & Co., Lacken Engineering and Enterprise Roscrea Ltd. for their part in helping to bring about this fine new building.

Finally, may I thank the people of Roscrea for welcoming the Civil Defence Headquarters into their town. Civil Defence will bring many benefits to Roscrea and I hope that the links between the new headquarters here and the town will flourish and strengthen in the years ahead.

ENDS.


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