The Dublin Fire Brigade (DFB) were well represented in the public gallery and outside City Hall when the Dublin City Council’s monthly meeting took place on Monday.
The firefighters have said they will strike on two days in the coming month, to oppose the idea of taking away the ambulance call-and-dispatch service they currently handle and giving it to the National Ambulance Service (NAS) in Tallaght.
At the start of their meeting, councillors heard from Stephen Brady, the head of an expert panel that was set up to work out how to address concerns raised in a 2014 report by HIQA about a lack of coordination between the NAS and the DFB. (Some councillors had heard the recommendations before, but others hadn’t.)
Council Chief Executive Owen Keegan has said that he wants the fire brigade’s ambulance service call-and-dispatch function to be given over to the NAS. But Brady and the expert panel are recommending a technical solution that would keep the two systems separate but improve coordination. It basically involves giving an NAS terminal to the DFB.
“The proposal to transfer 100,000 calls, in excess of that now (…) from one call centre to another call centre would have huge risks associated with it and would jeopardise public safety,” said Brady.
He said that the panel support the current fire-based EMS – which means firefighters are also trained paramedics – as it provides a faster clinical response to life-threatening incidents, and ensures there is a sufficient number of trained personnel at the scene.
Brady also raised issues with the current funding process, calling it “inappropriate” and “not fit for purpose”.
At the moment, the funding is channelled through different bodies and departments before it reaches the fire brigade.
When the expert panel looked at it, €138 million was given to the NAS, of which DFB got €9.3 million, the equivalent of 7 percent of that budget.
But DFB was doing roughly 41 percent of the emergency ambulance calls, he said. “It doesn’t take rocket science to recognise that is not appropriate.”
Funding should also come straight to Dublin City Council, rather than taking the scenic route as it currently does, he said.
At the council’s monthly meeting in February, some councillors had urged the resumption of talks between council management, DFB management, and fire brigade representatives from unions SIPTU and IMPACT. In January, union members of the fire brigade had served notice of a ballot for strike action.
Wary of PPPs
Also on the agenda at Monday’s monthly meeting of the full council was a report about how the council might use public-private partnerships to build social housing.
Under the central government’s Social Housing Strategy 2020, there is a proposal to build social housing through public-private partnerships, as that would allow the state to borrow off-balance sheet.
(That means that the money spent won’t count towards the annual deficit and national debt, as its counted under EU rules.)
As the report notes, “under this type of contract the Project Company designs, builds, finances and maintains the social housing units for 25 years on sites provided under licence by the local authorities”.
At the moment, there are 220 homes planned for the Dublin City Council area under the first PPP bundle: 70 in Scribblestown and 150 in Ayrfield. There are more in neighbouring local authorities.
Sinn Fein Councillor Daithi Doolan said the report lacked depth and information about costs and figures. He pointed to past public-private partnerships in the city that failed and the effect that had on communities. “They’ve left them deeply scarred.”
Doolan said the council was being told by Housing Minister Simon Coveney that money isn’t the issue when it comes to building social housing. “So it removes the need for on-off balance sheet debate,” he said.
People Before Profit Councillor John Lyons asked for the report to be discussed at the council’s housing committee. That was agreed.
The Sean McDermott Street Laundry
Councillors voted in favour of a motion put forward by Social Democrats Councillor Gary Gannon and several members of Sinn Fein that there should be a memorial at the former Magdalene Laundry site on Sean McDermott Street – as the Quirke Commission recommended.
At the moment, the site is up for sale. The Examiner reported back in 2011 that the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity had given the Sean McDermott Street laundry to Dublin City Council in exchange for “a free 20-year lease for a purpose-built hostel and a new convent”.
The motion at Monday’s meeting noted that the Justice for Magdalene Research group and the Adoption Rights Alliance have called for any redevelopment to be halted until they can work out if there are unmarked graves of children there.
The motion passed without debate.