Tuesday, 27 January 2004

Questions (837, 838)

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

954 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the nature and extent of Ireland's participation in the EU Civil Protection Agency; the commitments which have been entered into to date to provide personnel, equipment or management expertise to the agency or to any of its operations; the arrangements which have been made with the fire authorities in this country for such participation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1464/04]

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Eamon Gilmore

Question:

955 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he received any requests for the provision of personnel or equipment from Irish fire and emergency services to assist in rescue work at the recent earthquake in Bam, Iran; the response he gave to such requests; if any assistance was provided from the Irish fire services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1465/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 954 and 955 together.

My Department represents Ireland at EU level on various civil protection — emergency planning — working groups and committees in relation to improving co-operation strategies between member states in the event of major emergencies, or the imminent threat thereof, which may require urgent response action outside the capabilities of the affected country.

One of the main developments in this area in recent years was the adoption on the 23 October 2001 of a Council decision, 2001/792/EC, establishing a Community mechanism to facilitate reinforced co-operation in civil protection assistance interventions. The mechanism provides for interventions inside and outside the European Union and is intended to help ensure better protection primarily of people but also of the environment and property. It improves intervention responses through means of better co-ordination facilities and strengthening of communications and training capacities. Participation in the mechanism is open to all EU member states, accession countries and the European Economic Area countries. An EU civil protection agency was not established under the Council decision. The European Commission DG Environment and Civil Protection is charged with implementing the mechanism and co-ordinating its activities on behalf of the Community.

Among other things, the mechanism provided for the setting up of an improved EU civil protection monitoring and information centre, MIC, accessible and able to react immediately 24 hours a day; and a procedure for the provision of up to date information on the resources available in countries participating in the mechanism for different types of interventions.

Following an initial trawl of the relevant Departments, agencies and bodies, including all local authorities, my Department on 25 February 2003 informed the EU that Ireland could make available, within the framework of the mechanism, 15 experts and six intervention teams — 42 personnel. A handbook for the conduct of operations by all teams and experts, prepared by the Commission civil protection unit, has recently been circulated to all Irish teams and experts. A number of Irish team leaders and experts will participate in mechanism training courses commencing shortly.

Notwithstanding the declaration of resources/experts/teams that could be available within the framework of the mechanism, participation, when requested, is voluntary. It is a matter for the national authorities in the first instance and the organisation/body or individual involved. Ireland can also call on the resources and expertise of the EU mechanism in the event of a national emergency situation requiring international assistance.

In the case of the recent earthquake in Bam, Iran, the European Commission, through the MIC, first contacted Iranian authorities on 26 December 2003 to offer assistance following media reports of the disaster. The MIC subsequently notified the formal request for assistance to all participating countries, including Ireland, through the designated 24 hour contact points.

Following consideration of the request and having regard to the resources available for dispatch under the mechanism, it was confirmed to the MIC that Ireland was not in a position immediately to send search and rescue teams to Bam. However, the Minister of Foreign Affairs confirmed that a sum of €1 million would be provided for humanitarian aid in the area. A large number of search and rescue teams from 12 of the 28 participating countries assisted the Iranian authorities in Bam and a ‘lessons learned' exercise is currently under way on the operation of the mechanism in Bam. My Department, as chair of the Council civil protection working party during the EU Presidency, will support co-ordination and continuous development of the civil protection capabilities of the European Union.