Speaking in advance of the debate Ulster Unionist Health Spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson said:
“Last year’s budget reduction, along with a further proposed cut of 5-6% next year, is going to have a major impact on service provision. For instance fire stations all across Northern Ireland, including in the major towns of Armagh, Portadown, Coleraine, Antrim, Carrickfergus, Newtownards and Omagh have all now been identified for downgrading whilst other desperately needed station upgrades have been put on hold. In addition several other towns currently have no full-time cover, despite being identified as being higher risk. There is also a growing problem regarding the inadequate number of full-time firefighters across Northern Ireland
“Over recent years the cost of administration in the Northern Ireland Health Service, including in bodies such as the Health and Social Care Board, has spiralled out of control. For example the DHSSPS has spent £200m employing locum medical staff and over the last three years alone the number health administrators earning over £100,000 has doubled.
“Whilst much of the Health Service budget has been mismanaged over the last four years, the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service has actually had its budget slashed from £81.6m to £69.7m: a major reduction before inflation is even considered. Having spoken to many of the men and women in the local service, I fear that a further cut will simply lead to even greater risk to public safety. That is why I am bringing this motion and why I am urging the Minister Simon Hamilton to listen and realise the dangers of what he is trying to push through.”
Ulster Unionist Party MLA Michael McGimpsey has warned that cuts pose a major risk to safety of the public and the personnel working within in the Fire and Rescue service.
The South Belfast MLA said:
“The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service has an incredibly important role not only in responding to fires, but also vehicle collisions and other emergency situations.
“However what is happening to emergency response times is frightening. For instance there has been a major deterioration over the last five years in how long it takes the first vehicles to arrive on the scene. In fires, or in situations where people are trapped in very dangerous environments, time is so important and therefore every moment of delay increases the risk of someone coming to harm.
“I think it is outrageous that our local fire service network has been targeted for major cuts in the way that it has. Simon Hamilton may consider our Fire and Rescue Service a dispensable luxury, but I don’t and nor does anyone else. That is why I am putting the gauntlet down in the Assembly on Monday. It’s up to all the other political parties now to send a clear signal that the current situation is simply not good enough.
“Our Fire and Rescue Service, as well as the selfless personnel within it, not only need to be shown the respect they deserve, but they need to be given the adequate resources so that they can carry out their role in a safe and effective manner.”