DUBLIN FIRE BRIGADE AMBULANCE SERVICE WORKERS PROTEST AT CITY HALL — hundreds of workers protest Dublin City Council Executive Officer’s plan to “outsource” their service.
The monthly meeting of the elected representatives of Dublin City Council is often an occasion for protest, with placards and banners, of a number of campaigns protesting measures of the Council’s administrators or for calling on City Councillors for support ffor the campaigners’ objectives.
The March meeting of the Council on Monday night this week was no different in that respect but on this occasion, unusually, there were hundreds of protesters outside, the majority of them in uniform, filling the Cork Hill space in front of City Hall’s side entrance, up to the ceremonial entrance gates of Dublin Castle.
Several hundred thronged the area, most of them in either the dark blue of the Dublin Fire Brigade or in red-and-yellow or tan-and-yellow jackets, also bearing the legend “Dublin Fire Brigade”. Dotted among the crowd too were others in ordinary street clothes, presumably members of the public and a few with young children, probably relations to fire fighters or paramedics.
The protest meeting was seeking the support of elected Dublin City Councillors in their dispute with the Chief Executive of the Council, Owen Keegan. The highest officer in the Council does not want the local authority responsible for funding the Dublin Fire Brigade’s ambulance service call-and-dispatch service and announced two years ago that it would be transferred from the Tara Street centre and put under the control of the HSE at their national control centre in Tallaght.
However, his plan ran into trouble not only with the fire-fighters themselves but with a large number of the elected public representatives and as a result a consultative forum was set up. Its eventual recommendations were not however what Keegan wished for, proposing instead a technological linkup between the HSE’s and the DFB ambulance services and as a result Keegan and other DCC senior management pulled out of the consultative forum in January. Brendan Kenny, second-in-command at DCC said that there was no point in continuing with the forum since it did not carry out the task it was set up to do but came up with different recommendations.
Since the intention of the City’s management was clearly to proceed with their plan, both the main trade unions affected, SIPTU and IMPACT, balloted their members for strike action and obtained an overwhelming majority in February: 93% to 7% in favour of strike action and 97% to 3% in favour of industrial action. On Monday SIPTU served strike notice on Dublin City Council management and IMPACT did likewise the following day.
The strikes are due to take place from 9am on Saturday, March 18th and Monday, March 27th.
The demonstration on Monday night was addressed by a number of speakers, including many elected Councillors. However, first to address them was SIPTU’s Brendan O’Brien who expressed regret that “SIPTU members in Dublin Fire Brigade have been forced into conducting these work stoppages” which he said was a result of his “members’ total commitment to providing the best emergency services possible to the residents of Dublin” and the intransigence of DCC management, headed by Owen Keegan.
Speaking to the press, he said that “These firefighters are withdrawing their labour to indicate, in the strongest manner open to them, their complete opposition to an attempt by senior management in Dublin City Council to break up the DFB Emergency Medical Service by removing its ambulance call and dispatch function.”
Addressing the demonstration on Monday evening, O’Brien said that if the strikes were not sufficient to make DCC management see reason, “make no mistake, this fight will become a national one.”
A number of Councillors addressed the crowd, representing most of the political groupings on the Council. Christy Burke, ex-Lord Mayor (2015), representing a group of Independent councillors, stated that DCC management had refused to let them use the power in the nearby building for amplification for speakers. Burke drew cheers when he quipped that what the Management did not realise was that “the power is not in there, it is out here on the street.”
Burke also stated that the DFB Ambulance Service was working well and asked rhetorically “why fix something that isn’t broken”, a theme taken up by a number of other speakers. The Sinn Féin speaker made the point that she was representing the largest political party in the Council, totally supported the Fire Fighters and would be seeking legal advice on Keegan’s plan and the other speakers likewise promised support to the fire-fighters.
OTHER UNDERLYING ISSUES IN THE DUBLIN FIRE-BRIGADE AMBULANCE SERVICE PROTEST
Although speakers for the fire-fighters a number of times expressed support for the colleagues employed by the Health Servive Executive, their members must be concerned at the prospect of coming under the management of an organisation so under-funded and reportedly often mismanaged as has been the HSE for decades now.
Another element playing itself out here is the recurring conflict between many elected City Councillors and the unelected City Management. The political colouring of the public representation in the Council changed considerably with the local elections in 2014, when Sinn Féin with 16 seats and Independents with 12 became the groups most represented. Next in numbers of Councillors is Fianna Fáil with 9 seats, while Fine Gael and Labour each have 8 each and People Before Profit have 5. The remaining 5 are divided between the Greens, Anti-Austerity Alliance and United Left.
This struggle between many of the elected and the appointed few has broken out on a number of issues previously, most notably perhaps on the Moore Street Quarter issue, with Keegan and Jim Keoghan, formerly second-in-command and head of the Planning Department, proposing a deal with a property developer for a ‘land swap’ involving Council buildings on Moore Street, a plan which mobilised significant campaigning opposition and which was defeated by a large majority of Councillors voting in November 2014. The Councillors were however unable to prevent Keoghan’s “executive action” in agreeing a number of property speculator planning applications and the most controversial extension of the ‘giant shopping mall’ permission towards the end of last year.
This level of conflict between the elected Dublin public representatives and the appointed senior officials has perhaps not been seen since the War of Independence (1919-1921), when an Irish Republican and Labour majority on the Council, after the 1920 Local Government elections, found itself in recurring confrontation with officials appointed under a colonial administration.
“According to Dublin Council’s website, “The Fire Brigade has provided the citizens of Dublin City and County with a fire and rescue service since 1862. This service was enhanced in1898 by the addition of an emergency ambulance service. In 2007 with 12 emergency ambulances DFB responded to 78,864 ambulance incidents, with the figure growing each year.
“Dublin Fire Brigade provides an emergency ambulance service to the citizens and visitors of Dublin. Dublin Fire Brigade is the only Brigade in the country to provide an Emergency Ambulance Service. Dublin Fire Brigade operates 12 emergency ambulances with one ambulance operating from each full time station with the exception of Dun Laoghaire.
“DFB’s Firefighters are trained to Paramedic level and are registered as practitioners with the pre-hospital Emergency Care Council (PHECC), meaning there are over 100 Paramedics available on a 24/7 basis in the event of a major emergency. All operational firefighters rotate between Fire and Rescue to Emergency Ambulance duties. Dublin Fire Brigade Ambulance Service has achieved accreditation under the ISO 9001/2000 Quality Management System.”
OTHER CITY HALL PROTESTS
Also protesting outside City Hall (see photos) were lively and good-humoured campaigners for social housing on the former Glass Bottle company site in Ringsend and others calling for the renaming of the Artane Band (it is hoped to cover these campaigns in a little more detail in future reports).