Damning Critique of Council Action From Ringaskiddy Fire
Updated: Jan 19, 2022
Writes Ciaran Dineen
In January 2021 residents of Ringaskiddy and the wider Harbour area were left “traumatised” when they woke up one Saturday morning to find plumes of black smoke coming through their windows.
Across four days and involving over 80 hours of work from crews across Carrigaline,
Crosshaven, Bandon, Kinsale, Midleton and Cobh stations, a fire which originated in a grain storage building in the Port of Cork was eventually put out. However, a burning fire of fury and anger continues to rage with regards to how the situation at a local level was handled, with residents in Ringaskiddy and Shanbally relying on Facebook community noticeboards to discover what was actually happening and whether they were in danger.
Public representatives at the January 2021 meeting of the Full Council at Cork County Council were justifiably concerned and frustrated over the manner in which people were, or perhaps were not informed about the situation, which had been the latest in a line of fires in the area over a short period of time.
Leading the charge last January in their efforts to find answers were Councillor Marcia D’Alton (Ind) and Seámus McGrath (FF). The latter this time last year called the incident a “wake-up call”, with the need to develop a clear strategy for any future event that would alert nearby residents and put the necessary plans in place to ensure their safety. Meanwhile, the former, Cllr D’Alton, one year on from the concerns and requests raised by herself and her colleague, let rip at the way in which the Council has since managed the situation, with local people none the wiser as to what they need to do should there be a similar incident in the future.
Cllr D’Alton, meticulous as always in her level of detail, reviewed and recalled all the potential solutions that the Chief Executive, Tim Lucey, had said the Council would explore, adding that an event like this, which left so many people worried and panicked, would never be walked away from without key takeaways to ensure that next time it would be handled in a much more conscious way. Quoting the Chief Executive directly, Cllr D’Alton noted that as part of the response, reviews would be made around future communication and engagement as well as paying more attention to the “granular detail” required when implementing future strategies, while a community ‘text alert’ was mooted.
In March 2021, Cllr McGrath asked for information of the post-review incident report, to be told that one was still in the process of being made. Fast forward 10 months later and no such incident report has been publicly published, nor has it been shared with local councilors. A motion from Cllr D’Alton at the first meeting of the Carrigaline Municipal District (MD) on Monday 17th January called on the Council to provide Councillors with an update in relation to commitments made.
The response received by Cllr D’Alton and circulated to other members drew “no reflection” on the granular detail that had been referenced this time last year and seemingly no obvious sign that the Council are actively on course to deliver anything like a Ringaskiddy-focused evacuation or contingency plan in the event of a future incident.
Instead, the Council intends to stick with the use of the county-wide ‘Major Emergency Plan’, saying that “adopting this approach to emergency planning ensures effective coordination which meets the requirements of differing emergency situations regardless of location or complexity of the incident”. In light of the response Cllr D’Alton had received ahead of the MD meeting, she requested that the original request be re-sent given the failure to address what she had asked for.
Across the board her fellow councilors fully supported these latest efforts to keep the item on the agenda and simply not leave such an important issue be swept under the carpet and forgotten about. Cllr McGrath was the first to back the independent councillor, recalling how “traumatic” the fire had been for residents and that the enactment of a county-wide response plan for future incidents was not sufficient, given the “unique circumstances in Ringaskiddy with the concentration of heavy industry and the specific nature of the road network.”
There was a sense that fortune was in the favour of residents last year with the weather on the day meaning that there was damage limitation. The “get out of jail card” was referenced once more by Cllr McGrath, who added that the latest fire should have been the final warning in the prospect of a more serious incident that may strike the community in future. Cllr Michael Paul Murtagh (FG), who is a serving firefighter himself, stressed the importance of communication especially in volatile conditions such as that seen in early 2021 and suggested that this needs to be improved on. This point was reiterated by Cllr Ben Dalton O’Sullivan (Ind), who said it was vital to keep the issue on the agenda.
Finally, Cllr Jack White (FG) suggested that the issue be of “national importance” given the new status of Ringaskiddy with regards to the relocation of the Port of Cork and the fact that the area was no longer just a place for heavy industry, but was a place that had become a popular visitor destination with the opening of the Haulbowline Park and improvements made to local beaches.
It was concluded and agreed that the MD would refer back to the Director of Services for
Environment, Emergency Services, Climate Change and Rural Broadband, demanding the formation of a community-focused emergency plan for residents in Ringaskiddy.