Civil Defence uncertainty rumbles on as PHECC licence deadline looms

Date Published : May 8th, 2019    Published By : admin

Civil Defence members are outraged as there has been little information from the Civil Defence College or the Department of Defence in relation to the ongoing situation which may reduce the services provided by the voluntary organisation.

As from 31st July, Civil Defence branches will be unable to operate a First Aid or Ambulance service to the public.

The issues arose following new guidelines issued by the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council (PHECC) require the civil defence and other organisations to have a valid licence for first aid and emergency medical provision. This is a national issue which will affect each civil defence unit.

Many local and regional events and festivals may lose the support and assistance of Civil Defence branches for First Aid duties by the end of 31st July as the organisation need to have regulations approved by PHECC by the end of July, which many branches are likely to fail to meet.

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Kildare Regional Exercise. Photo Declan Keogh / Emergency Times

Outdoor festivals are not insured if they don’t provide for emergency cover, this can be from voluntary first aid providers or private paid providers.

Two thirds of events and festivals in Ireland happen during the Summer months. There are almost 300 events booked in by voluntary emergency services such as the Civil Defence and Order of Malta on the latter end of any given year. Most of those events would require emergency triage cover which is usually provided by either of the two voluntary services.

An estimated cost for a private four-person triage crew for an 8 -hour shift with an ambulance would cost between €4,500 to €5,000 each day.

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Kildare Regional exerise. Photo: Declan Keogh / Emergency Times

In Mayo, a well-established annual festival in Ballina was cancelled due to insurance costs and its organisers envisage that many other festivals around Ireland may also be cancelled for the same reasons.

Executive Director of the Association of Irish Festivals and Events, Colm Croffy, said if the Civil Defence is not able to provide such a service, then festival organisers will have to pay for professional cover in order to get insurance. Speaking on ‘Today with Sean O’ Rourke’ on RTÉ Radio One this morning, Mr. Croffy said “Many cannot afford to do so and if they can’t get insurance, the event won’t go ahead under current regulations.”

These concerns relate to the Civil Defence’s emergency medical service which may not have a PHECC approved license in place when the current one expires at the end of July.

An independent statutory agency is responsible for independently specifying, reviewing, maintaining and monitoring standards in the provision of quality pre-hospital emergency care. PHECC said it is waiting for a completed application form from the Civil Defence College in seeking a new license and that it would be happy to work with the Civil Defence on the matter but cannot act until it receives the application.

Emergency Times understands that a new license application has yet to be applied for.

Former Minister for Communications and Climate Action, Denis Naughton has this evening said he received confirmation from Minister Paul Kehoe T.D. that a meeting is to be held between the Department of Defence, Local Authority Chief Executives and the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council in relation to the issue surrounding the provision of ambulance & emergency cover by the Civil Defence.

Mr. Naughton said “I’ve been in contact with the key players on this issue has stated that it is vital that this issue is resolved in order that certain Civil Defence emergency medical operations can continue ‪‪after the 31st of July. If this issue is not resolved it could have a serious impact on the cost of running many local community and social events, putting some events off altogether, which would directly impact on our ability to develop the Irelands Hidden Heartlands Tourism brand launched by Government last year.”

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Previous Minister Denis Naughton TD at official opening of Roscommon County Council building. (Photo:  @CouncilTimes / Declan Keogh)

Last week, Galway/Roscommon TD Michael Fitzmaurice slammed the potential downgrading of the Civil Defence. He said “new measures have been introduced which means the voluntary organisation may have to operate at a reduced service. Strict guidelines could mean the Civil Defence would no longer be able to fulfil vital roles at community events such as EMTs or paramedics.”

Failure to meet requirements of the 2030 White Paper on Defence and failure to receive licence from PHECC would be detrimental to the organisation. Discussions between management at the Civil Defence College and local Civil Defence Officers have been ongoing for some time, however, according to the Civil Defence Officers Association, little progress has been made with the college.

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Civil Defence Officers Association at annual conference in Kerry. Photo: Declan Keogh

In a statement on social media, Fergal Conroy, National Representative for Civil Defence volunteers said: ‘All these issues could be sorted out if the CDO’s [Civil Defence Officers] and the Department sat down and entered into meaningful negotiations about outstanding issues and the future of the organisation towards 2030 document going forward. Conroy added ‘There was never a mention of the Civil Defence shutting down.’

The White Paper on Defence 2015 – 2030

The White Paper on Defence was approved by the Government in 2015, and comprehensively deals with all aspects of defence policy and was informed by a lengthy and wide-ranging consultation process facilitated by the Department of Defence. This commenced in July 2013 when a Green Paper on Defence was published as part of a process that ultimately led to publication of the White Paper in August 2015.

The purpose of the Green Paper was to stimulate an open debate about future defence requirements and submissions were sought. In total, 122 written submissions were received from a wide variety of interested parties. Civil and military personnel of the Defence Organisation subsequently held follow-on meetings with selected groups and individuals and met with other government departments and agencies, and international organisations as part of the consultation process. The then Minister for Defence also established an External Advisory Group to support him in his deliberations on the White Paper.

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L-R: Fergal Conroy, Laois Civil Defence; Aidan Dillon, Dept of Defence; Minister Paul Kehoe TD and David Buckley, Civil Defence College with White Paper on Defence. Photo: Declan Keogh

There are no plans to establish a commission on defence but, significantly, the policy framework that is set out in the White Paper is designed to be flexible and responsive.  It is within this context that the Government made a commitment to establish a process of fixed cycle of reviews to give assurance that defence policy remains up to date and relevant to changing circumstances.  The White Paper specifically provides that these defence reviews are to have a three yearly cycle and that the first of these would be a White Paper Update, which is well underway in the Department of Defence and close to completion, while a more comprehensive Strategic Defence Review will commence in early 2021.

As parts of the process of establishing these reviews as a permanent feature of the government’s approach to defence policy, and to seek to do so on a consensual basis, the Minister with responsibility for Defence, Paul Kehoe T.D. wrote to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, in August 2018 to obtain their views. Minister Kehoe met with the Committee last month in that regard.

Regional Volunteer Forums

Minister Paul Kehoe and the Civil Defence College held eight regional consultation meetings with volunteers between October 24th and November 28th last year. These meetings were held in Dublin, Westmeath, Monaghan, Donegal, Limerick, Cork, Mayo and in the Ministers home county of WexfordAccording to the college, the purpose of the meetings was to engage with civil defence volunteers who were regarded as ‘a key element of the consultation process.’

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Civil Defence volunteers asks questions to the panel at Dublin regional forum. Photo Declan Keogh

Speaking to EmergencyTimes.ie, Minister Kehoe T.D. told Declan Keogh “the consultation meetings give volunteers an excellent opportunity to have their input into Civil Defence policy. Civil Defence is a wonderful volunteer based organisation with the capability to support the Principal Response Agencies in a variety of emergency and non-emergency events and the Government is committed to its continued development in line with the 2015 White Paper on Defence”.

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Minister Paul Kehoe T.D. speaking to Declan Keogh at Mullingar Westmeath regional forum in Mullingar.

Emergency Times will bring you updates on the progress of this issue as it is received.

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