Frustration at lack of a clear emergency plan after Cork harbour fire

Frustration at lack of a clear emergency plan after Cork harbour fire

Part of the fire damaged store at the R&H Hall facility in Ringaskiddy where part of the building continues to smolder. Picture Dan Linehan

THERE is frustration and some anger in Ringaskiddy that, three months after the big fire at the R & H Hall grain store within the Port of Cork complex, there has been no detailed explanation made public about the cause of the fire or about the poor level of communication to the public of its potential danger on the morning of the fire on Saturday, January 9.

The lack of a clear emergency plan for the area has again become a big issue.

“The people of Ringaskiddy and the wider harbour community deserve better from the public authorities,” county councillor Seamus McGrath told me this week.

“There must be transparency in dealing with the public. 

"Communication from official public authorities was not good on the morning of that fire. It was community activity and liaison which kept people informed.”

He has been seeking a full report on issues arising from the fire: “I want to know, for the public, what role the County Council has in preparing a Major Incident Emergency Plan for Ringaskiddy and the wider community area around the harbour.

“With the concentration of industry in close proximity to harbourside residential areas, there should be such a plan and it should be immediately and easily available to the harbour community.”

On the morning of the fire, massive black smoke clouds poured out from the Ringaskiddy port complex and travelled for miles across the sky. There was great concern in harbour communities about what was happening. 

Official communications left a lot to be desired, said Seamus McGrath: “While there were statements issued on social media, not everyone uses it or has access to it. It was the effectiveness of community contacts which was best at getting information to people.

Guide needed for harbour communities

“It showed that there is an absence of a plan in relation to the Port of Cork. It is essential for Cork County Council and the Port to engage and develop a guide for those living in Ringaskiddy and in the harbourside communities.” 

Councillor McGrath says he has been told by the Fire Services Department of the Council that “the Major Emergency Management Committee is reviewing response to the R & H Hall incident, with a view to addressing any potential improvements in the major emergency management area.” 

Correspondence he has received from the Department acknowledged the “significant concentration of industry in the Ringaskiddy area” and that “additional site-specific emergency plans are required.”

These plans are jointly prepared by Cork County Council, the Health Service Executive and Garda Siochana, according to the correspondence.

“External Emergency Plans are in place for each of these sites and are tested in conjunction with individual site operators on a 3-yearly cycle,” it said.

Mr McGrath has welcomed this update and says he is pleased that a review is underway, but says he notes “the absence of a plan relating to the Port of Cork.”

He has been supported by Independent Councillor Marcia D’Alton, both stressing that “engaging with the community is of paramount importance, the issue cannot be resolved effectively without such an approach.”

“If any similar incident occurs, there are still no provisions in place for residents to be notified in an effective way. This must be changed. The January incident should be a learning experience for everyone involved,” said councillor McGrath. 

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