MP claims discrimination against nationalists

West Belfast MP Gerry Adams has expressed deep concern at what he says is the level of discrimination that nationalist employees in the Fire Service in the North are experiencing.

Mr Adams says that the discrimination stems from the introduction of standby maps in 2002. Standby maps stipulate that senior members of the Fire Brigade must live within designated geographical zones when they are on standby or call out.

The Sinn Féin President, however, believes that the maps prevent Catholics obtaining top spots in the Fire Brigade. He cited the case of Warrenpoint man John Allen who was offered the post of Divisional Officer at Fire Brigade Headquarters in Lisburn in August 2003 on the condition he moved to the specified geographical zone within a 20-mile radius of Lisburn. Mr Allen declined the position because he was unhappy with the way the maps were drawn up and has complained to the Fair Employment Tribunal about his position.

“The officer standby areas do not make any geographical sense,” said Mr Adams.

“They do not follow any logical transportation routes and do not contribute to fire safety,” he said.

“The fact that the standby area for the Lisburn Headquarters stretches from Portadown, Tandragee and Banbridge in the south through Antrim and Ballyclare to Carrick in the north yet excludes Belfast is a concern.”
Mr Adams said that the maps appear to gerrymander the employment areas for senior grade fire officers.

“Is it the Fire Brigade sending out the signal that the people from Twinbrook, Poleglass or Lagmore are not welcome in the Brigade Headquarters which is just a couple of miles down the road?

“I have written to the Fire Brigade and the Fire Authority seeking an immediate review or ending of these standby areas,” he added.

A spokesperson for the Fire Brigade last night said that the Chief Fire Officer has received Mr Adams’ letter and would be replying directly to him regarding his concerns about the existing standby catchment areas.

“Under the national conditions of service, senior officers are required to provide their standby in designated call out areas - a requirement which has been established for well over 30 years. The policy was reviewed in 1999 and a new map of the call out areas for Headquarters in Lisburn was produced based on providing optimum cover for the people of Northern Ireland.”

The spokesperson said that keeping the people of the North safe from fire is the number one priority of the Fire Brigade.

“The mapping of our standby areas greatly enhances fire safety as they specifically provide optimum spread of officers in each of our four areas which reflects the four Area Commands. The public can be absolutely confident that the mapping of the standby areas have been produced by the Northern Ireland Fire Brigade to save more lives. That is why we exist as an organisation.”

The spokesperson said that as part of the Fire Brigade’s new Integrated Risk Management Plan, fire and rescue cover is being completely equality impact assessed, ensuring that the right resources are in the right place at the right time based on life risk.

“The Northern Ireland Fire Brigade undertakes an ongoing programme of Equality Impact Assessments as detailed in its equality scheme which was detailed with the Equality Commission. The officer standby areas are programmed to be equality impact assessed as an intregal aspect of the Integrated Risk Management Plan.”

The spokesperson said that the Fire Brigade is wholly committed to Section 75 equality and diversity within their workforce.

“For example, at Brigade Headquarters in Lisburn all our job advertisements for support staff have a statement particularly welcoming applications from members of the Roman Catholic community.”

Journalist:: Roisin McManus

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