The recent announcement that Enniskillen and Omagh are to have their fire cover cut to part-time in a matter of weeks should be a cause of grave concern to all of us.
These cuts could lead to long delays in responding to fires and other emergencies, potentially with tragic consequences. Fire service management say that the reduction in cover in Enniskillen and Omagh will only be temporary, but our experience across the public service is that when cuts are made, they are rarely reversed in this age of austerity.
The fire service faces a £3.2 million shortfall for this financial year. The budget allocated by the Department of Health simply has not reflected the rising demand on the service. Safety inspections of public buildings are being skipped just to plug the gaps. The reduction in fire cover across Northern Ireland will put lives at risk and, again, rural communities will be hit hardest.
I am pleased that the Fire Brigades Union has come out strongly against these cuts, which will also put their members at increased risk. I will seek to work alongside the FBU to oppose this reduction in cover and fight for the necessary funding – relatively a pittance – to be put in place so a safe service can be maintained for people in the Fermanagh & Omagh area and further afield. I intend to put a motion on the issue to the September meeting of the council.