By Mikey Rose
For over two weeks Cork City’s firefighters have taken limited industrial action and protested outside the city’s fire brigade headquarters for half an hour each day. This action is being taken to demand the recruitment of additional personnel to allow for the Ballincollig Fire Station, which has been unstaffed since 2021, to be run at agreed levels.
On several mornings I joined the striking workers to discuss the conditions that have forced them to take this action.
“Unsustainable and dangerous”
I was told that “the inoperation of the Ballincollig service has left us at an unsustainable and dangerous critical limit since the city’s boundaries were expanded in 2019. The critical limit for the city is 19 and that number has not increased since 1975, despite the service now covering an area that is five times the size with double the population.”
This is not only incredibly dangerous for the firefighters themselves, as they are forced to work overtime and respond to emergencies with only the absolute minimum resources, but also poses a major threat to the city’s safety.
It was added that “at a minimum service it is not possible to send multiple trucks to an emergency, which is required if we are to effectively fight a fire and save lives, and also respond to simultaneous call-outs.”
This situation has not only created delays of over 20 minutes in response time, but also means firefighters must prioritise saving lives, whilst buildings burn; leaving huge infrastructural damage, but more worryingly, leaving these workers dangerously under-protected.
Ballincollig is currently not fully or properly staffed, but this is not feasible, with very few people having the ability to report for duty on five minutes’ notice. Whilst wasting huge amounts of money on overtime pay, Cork City Council spurns demands for Ballincollig to be run full-time, with calls for a further five people to be recruited to the station.
Essential services neglected
When Socialist Party TD Mick Barry brought this issue to Leader’s Questions, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar posed full employment and labour shortages as the key challenge to recruitment. It is arguable that the fire service is not likely to appeal to many as a job at present, however, this only emphasises the poor condition the government has left in it.
The critical situation facing Cork City’s firefighters highlights the state’s neglect of essential public services. This is not just a local issue but reflects a state-wide and cross-industry issue. The government is well-aware that high employment today is the result of ubiquitous precarious contracts. In prioritising the interests of private profit the government refuses to provide secure, well-paid employment for essential workers.
We stand in solidarity with the striking firefighters demanding full public investment to meet resource and recruitment needs. The skewed priorities of this government have undermined a vital public service and left a community at risk of serious harm.