PLAYING WITH FIRE

6 May 2011 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The crews of Monaghan Fire Service are fully deserving of the words of praise directed their way at Tuesday’s meeting of Monaghan Co Council for their courageous endeavours to bring under control the major gorse fires that swept across the scenic Bragan area of North Monaghan over the Bank Holiday weekend past.
The one positive dimension of this incident is that it brings to the forefront of public attention the bravery and expertise that the fire fighters in our community devote as a matter of course to the preservation of public safety and property.
The deep public debt owed to the men and women who dedicate themselves to this work goes too often unacknowledged, for it is never actively canvassed by the fire-fighters themselves.
They, and the members of the Gardai, local authority and other emergency services who confront the considerable dangers such incidents present should know that they carry the county’s gratitude with them as they go about such work.
This was a very severe occurrence. Gorse fires of this nature are a seasonal peril, and undoubtedly an unfortunate coincidence of climatic features exposed Bragan, Ballyconnell and the many other areas of the country afflicted by them in the last week to the danger: the harsh winter that killed vegetation, and the recent combination of dry, warm and breezy conditions that functioned as an accelerant once fires were ignited.
Despite the best efforts of the fire crews the damage inflicted on Bragan will have been severe, not least to the wildlife habitats the area encompasses.
A haven for both game birds and some rare, protected species, it will be some time before the extent of the harm inflicted upon the area’s abundance of nature can be accurately calculated.
All those who possess a love of the beautiful scenic contrasts of the area and its rich and diverse flora and fauna will hope that the damage is limited and reparable.
Although the situation was under control as this week advanced, the need for public vigilance and co-operation to prevent a recurrence is extremely important in the coming days and weeks, notwithstanding the fact that weather conditions may be set to lessen the immediate peril.
The danger of forest and gorse fire is an ever-present one in our county in the middle part of the year and those who frequent such scenic locales as Bragan are exhorted to be careful in their own habits as well as watchful for the potential harmfully actions of others.
The commendable response of our emergency and local authority services to such incidents would, we feel, be strengthened and enhanced if the Depts of the Environment and Agriculture were to set in place a formal and properly resourced action plan to deal with such situations.
Well worked-out protocols may be in place in this county, but it would seem from the experience in other parts of the country that there is a need for a more systematic response mechanism at government level to address not so much the immediate action needed when gorse and forest fires break out, but the short and medium-term remedies necessary in their aftermath, particularly in situations where agricultural or industrial livelihoods might have been adversely impacted.
The suspicion that the Bragan fires were at least exacerbated if not instigated by deliberate action is the most distressing feature of the weekend’s events.
Although Independent councillor Paudge Connolly referred at Tuesday’s meeting of Monaghan Co Council to what he described as strong anecdotal evidence that had come to his attention suggesting that malicious human agency had played a part in the fires, there seems as yet no definite proof that would found a criminal prosecution.
Nonetheless, the practice of deliberate fire-setting is not unknown in the scenic parts of our county. While the motivation for it may in some, if not all, cases be no more than mischievous, the consequences once a blaze takes hold in such locations are potentially catastrophic and fatal, posing a threat to the lives of innocent members and the public and the fire-fighters and emergency personnel who have to deal with the consequences of such actions.
Those who perpetrate these acts should realise that their possible results are such as to incur criminal penalties, both monetary and custodial, that fall within the remit of the higher courts of the land to impose. They are running the risk of much more than a judicial slap on the wrist.
The preservation of public safety and our priceless natural heritage demands that no tolerance of such reckless and irresponsible activities is extended to anyone wilfully responsible for them.
Playing with fire should carry with it the most severe legal and social consequences.

TAKING THE INITIATIVE
A great deal of expectation is building over the possible contents of the job creation initiative to be unveiled by Minister for Finance Michael Noonan on behalf of the Government next week.
It is in a sense the first true litmus test of the new Government, an opportunity for them to impose a remedial identity of their own upon the cause of economic revival rather than, has largely been the case in their life to date, merely tidying house after their messy predecessors.
While it is prudent to keep a realistic rein on those expectations, it is reasonable to hope that the plans will have some encouraging features.
The most encouraging trait would be that of imagination. To bring significant numbers of people off the unemployment register and back into the workforce will take much more than a glossy brochure of supposed growth sectors and the potential jobs they could supply.
As the employers group IBEC have argued this week, fundamental changes need to be brought about in the welfare system to create a situation that is attractive for businesses to offer work opportunities to the unemployed, and attractive for those out of work to forego benefits and take up those opportunities.
Radical initiatives are also required to break the crippling stasis preventing the release of investment capital to small and medium enterprises.
There will be no meaningful economic growth unless those with viable ideas and the acumen to implement them get access to capital.
If this is not to come from the discredited banking sector then it must come from somewhere else – either the private sector or by an apportionment by the Government of some of the penal tax take it is currently levying on the people.
A plan being considered by Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar to formulate an extensive roads repair programme that would generate employment at local community level suggests that some degree of progressive thinking might inform the new initiative.
We’ll wait and see. The Irish electorate imposed a burden of trust upon Fine Gael and Labour through the sizeable mandate it delivered them. The jobs initiative is an important early test of how effectively they will discharge that burden.

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