Sinn Féin raised the urgent need to address the current staffing difficulties for firefighters in Laois and Offaly in the Dail.
Addressing Minister Darragh O’Brien, local Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley made the case.
“The proposals being put forward by Sinn Féin are to address the retention crisis, particularly in the retained firefighter sector.
“This is a matter the Minister must address. We do not have time on our side.
“Correspondence from the National Retained Firefighters Association outlines that the current staffing level is now at crisis point. The service is no longer fit for purpose.
“Sixty percent of staff intend to retire or exit in the near future. We are at crisis point due to the failure of Governments to engage with the firefighters’ representatives. There is a danger to the safety of both firefighters and the public.
“Pay and conditions have deteriorated to the point where crews now feel they have no option but to consider, reluctantly, industrial action. Ballot returns show that 97% in some areas favour industrial action. This is indicative of the crisis we face.
“Firefighters must work extra hours and forego family time, and the retainer pay they receive does not come close to compensating them for their sacrifices. Staff shortages are critical across the State, including Laois and Offaly.
“I have raised this with the Taoiseach on the floor of the Dáil. New recruits are not entering the service. We need a solution quickly. Crews are on call 24/7 in the various areas and are in understaffed stations.
“In Rathdowney, for example, the crew is down to five people, although there are supposed to be nine at a minimum. In Abbeyleix, it is down to six. That is the situation we are in.
“I want the Department to prioritise new fire stations for Rathdowney and Stradbally. However, unless we address the staffing issues, increased capital investment in new stations and modern equipment will be meaningless.
“Sinn Féin is calling for the establishment of an all-party joint committee. Let us work together on this to have an independent review of fire services.
“The review will have to consult all stakeholders and examine pay and conditions, management and rosters. The review should be completed within four months. The reform of the service must not be delayed any longer.
“I welcome the retained firefighters who were present today to make their case. Theirs is a very positive move. We need to hear what they are saying loud and clear and act on it.”