Westmeath Co. Co. Annual Cathaoirleach Awards


Westmeath County Council

Annual Cathaoirleach Awards  by Cllr Frank McDermott

Belvedere House and Gardens

12th May 2017.

Address by Minister Damien English.


Good evening ladies and gentlemen.

As Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government I am delighted to be here with you this evening for this important annual event, the Westmeath County Council Cathaoirleach Awards ceremony.

Thank you to my colleague and friend, Cathaoirleach, Frank McDermott, and to all the members and management of Westmeath County Council for your kind invitation to be here.

As a public representative serving North Westmeath in Dáil Éireann, I am aware of the important role that the community and voluntary sectors play in the wellbeing of our nation.

I want to personally thank each and every one of you here tonight for your active participation in the community.

Thank you for giving your time so selflessly; for sharing your energy, enthusiasm, and expertise for the betterment of County Westmeath.

From the individual working on their own, to the group of like-minded people, you are ones who have a sense of social concern, of shared values, who have a sense of pride in their place and a sense of service towards their community.

Small tasks make a big difference to those who benefit directly, but, in many ways, the real winners are our communities which are made healthier by the multiplier effect of a positive volunteering spirit running through our society.

Each act of voluntary participation combines to form the cement that binds and unifies our society in common purpose and makes it a better place for its entire people. Voluntary participation is at the very heart of active citizenship and enriches and energises our democracy.

A key determinant of the health of society is the degree to which individuals are prepared to come forward to give of their own time on a voluntary basis. This essentially sums up the value of volunteering and the significance it has for the maintenance of a healthy society.

The extent of volunteering in a society is a barometer of its civic health. And in County Westmeath the barometer is set high.

On behalf of the Government I want to recognise the value of your engagement in volunteerism. I believe that a better and more inclusive society can be created by Government listening to the voluntary and community sectors as a reflection of the views of large numbers of its citizens.

My Department supports a range of volunteering organisations, including 21 volunteer centres across a range of counties, volunteering information Services in counties without a full-time volunteer centre and a range of volunteer supporting organisations such as Volunteer Ireland and Young Social Innovators.

While central Government has a key role to play in supporting the volunteering sector, local government also has an important role to play. In this context, I wish to acknowledge the significant funding distributed each year by Westmeath County Council to community and voluntary groups in the form of awards and grants.

The benefits of this level of engagement at local level are clearly demonstrated in the awards being given out tonight – across a range of very worthy categories including eco-schools, Tidy Towns and Person/Group of the year.

In Westmeath and equally throughout the length and breadth of our country, thousands of individuals and community organisations contribute, each and every day, to society in a number of ways from providing essential services in areas such as social care, to education, the environment, sport and much more.

Young and old together with a shared vision for their community, united in a common goal to carry out fundamental and crucial jobs for the betterment of others.

We must not and should not forget that or even take that dedication as a sort of ‘given’, as if it will happen anyway.

To do so, devalues and undermines selfless effort and most certainly does not bode well for the future of any community let alone any society.

I’ll conclude on a slightly different, but none-the-less related, theme. Government is, and remains determined, to promote active citizenship, to support a vibrant, diverse and effective community and voluntary sector.

Engagement with the community and voluntary sector can, and should, lead to a better reflection of the views of larger numbers of the population and, as a consequence, to the creation of a better and more participative society.

Government is also determined to facilitate having your voice heard and heeded in matters of importance to the locality.

In that regard I wish to highlight to you here tonight the work of the Public Participation Networks (or PPNs), which are the main link through which local authorities connect with the community and voluntary, social inclusion and environmental sectors.

While still relatively new, I believe that the PPNs will be critical in facilitating greater engagement between active citizens, communities and local government into the future.

Finally, I would like to congratulate everyone involved in this very prestigious event here this evening. I am confident it will be a tremendous success and in my mind everyone here present tonight is a winner.


Meath to receive over €130k for heritage projects– Minister English

Agher, Athboy, Heritage, Meath, Navan, North Meath, Tourism, Trim

Friday, 12th May 2017

New funding for Meath under the Structures at Risk Fund & the Built
Heritage Investment Scheme

Damien English T.D., Minister for Housing and Urban Renewal and Meath
West Fine Gael T.D. has announced that heritage projects in Meath are
to benefit from over €130k in funding.

“New funding totalling €131,140 has been granted to Meath for heritage
projects here.

“Providing funding under these schemes is a commitment in Fine Gael’s
Action Plan for Rural Development, ‘Realising Our Rural Potential’.
This funding for Meath is part of an announcement by my colleague,
Minister Heather Humphreys of €4.8 million for 569 heritage projects
across the country.

“Through the Structures at Risk Fund and the Built Heritage Investment
Scheme a large number of public and private heritage buildings will
benefit from support, including €9,150 for St. Patrick’s Cathedral in
Trim, €2,970 for Loreto Navan Convent Chapel, €3,300 for Donaghpatrick
Parochial Hall, €2,500 for the Old School House at Agher, €2,500 for
Athboy Parochial House, and €2,500 for St Mary’s COI Navan, amongst
many other local examples.

“This funding will allow for the conservation and repair of protected
structures across Meath. These buildings and structures are so
important to our heritage and identity as a county, and maintaining
and repairing them is a crucial part of the regeneration of our

“The funding is also very important in terms of developing our tourism
offering and helping to attract visitors to Meath with all the
benefits that can bring.

“Nationally, it is expected the schemes will leverage more than €11
million in private funds. It is also important to note that the works
on these protected structures will generate significant employment in
the conservation and construction industries, which is good news for
local job creation.”


Reduction of levy fee great news for radio stations covering Meath West – Minister English

Heritage, Meath, Navan, North Meath, Trim, Wesmeath
Friday, 12th May 2017

Damien English T.D., Minister for Housing and Urban Renewal, and Fine
Gael T.D. for Meath West has said local radio in Meath West will
greatly benefit from the reduction in the broadcasting levy approved
by cabinet this week.

“Irish people love listening to their local radio stations. They play
an essential role in bringing our communities together, keeping us
informed and entertained.  I am very pleased at the reduction in the
broadcasting levy approved by Cabinet this week.

“This reduction will reduce the broadcasting levy by up to 50% and we
would expect that smaller community radio stations will be exempted
altogether. This is a major boost for our local and regional
independent radio stations, such as LMFM in Meath, Midlands Radio in
Westmeath, and neighbouring Shannonside/Northern Sound Radio which
also enjoys a listenership in this region.

“Local Radio stations like our local LMFM, as well as Midlands Radio
and Shannonside/Northern Sound provide a great local service and are
an intrinsic part of our local community. Local radio keeps us
connected with what’s going on in the locality here in Meath West.

“Regulated broadcasters currently pay between €30,000 and €200,000 a
year under the levy, and it has been a key commitment of Fine Gael to
reduce it.”

Reacting to the announcement, John Purcell, Chairman of the
Independent Broadcasters of Ireland also welcomed the reduction.

“The proposals accepted by Cabinet today show that Fine Gael and
Independent Government Ministers have not only an understanding but
also an appreciation of the valuable public service contribution of
independent radio stations throughout the country.

“The commitment to scrapping the burden of the broadcasting levy on
independent radio stations was included in the Fine Gael election
manifesto and confirmed by Minister for Communications, Denis

Minister Naughten said “The sector needs to be nurtured and supported.
I want to provide more flexibility for the Broadcasting Authority of
Ireland in how it applies the levy to all broadcasters including
community and hospital radio stations.”


Speech to CFOA Conference – 3rd May 2017


 Wednesday 3rd May 2017


Distinguished visitors and guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


I’m very pleased, that in my role of Minister of State in the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government with responsibility for Fire and Emergency Management, I have been able to accept the invitation of Dublin’s Chief Fire Officer, Mr. Pat Fleming, to open this year’s Chief Fire Officer’s Association annual conference. This is my first time to attend the conference and I see you have a wide ranging and engaging programme ahead of you.

I very much appreciate the warm welcome I have received here this morning and in return, I would like to welcome you all to Dublin, in particular those distinguished speakers who travelled here from abroad to address the conference and I wish you all well in the discussions ahead of you.

Minister’s Role

As Minister with policy and oversight responsibility for fire safety and the provision of fire services by local authorities, my primary focus is on ensuring that local authority services are effective in achieving their objectives and are meeting their statutory obligations in respect of provision of fire services and fire safety.

Over the last decade, Ireland has experienced an unprecedented economic crisis, along with the rest of the world. Surviving that crisis has been difficult for all public service sectors. Now, however, with many people back to work and with the foundations of an economy growing again, some resources are becoming available. Deciding how best to deploy these resources at both national and local level will be a key factor in ensuring the future well-being of our Society.

External Validation Group

Since taking up my current appointment, I have been introduced to my Department’s National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management and the work it has done since it came into existence in 2009. The Directorate is, to my mind, an impressive model of central and local government collaboration around its twin objectives of fire safety and emergency management.

In April 2016, the Directorate published a report titled Fire Services in Ireland “Local Delivery – National Consistency”. This report was the first report of its kind on fire risk management in Ireland arising from the implementation of the Keeping Communities Safe national policy document. Each of your 27 local authority fire services undertook an initial Area Risk Categorisation process in accordance with KCS.

Each of you was visited then in turn as part of a new external validation process by the National Directorate. The resulting report provides a welcome and timely appraisal of the current state of our fire services.

The Report concludes that local authorities have made great strides towards delivering consistent, effective, quality and efficient fire services in Ireland. It finds that local authorities have prioritised and maintained the financial and personnel resources for their fire services, along with a comprehensive support infrastructure, at a time when resources have been scarce and significant reductions have been implemented in all other areas. Local authorities are to be commended for this commitment to your Fire Services, and this finding underlines that, despite calls for a national fire service from some quarters, it is appropriate that you remain as a local government service.

I think this point about the fit of fire services in local government is further underlined by the emergency management system that has been put in place and operated over the last decade also. I want to commend you, Mr. Chairman, for the role that Chief Fire Officers and your staff have taken on in leading preparation of the local government system and your partner Principal Response Agencies to respond to the kind of situations we have witnessed with flooding, storms, severe cold as well as the other accidents and emergencies that occur.

Of course, our thoughts are with your Coast Guard colleagues and the families who have been struck with such tragedy in Mayo recently.

However, as we begin to move forward again, it is appropriate to ask if there are better ways to achieve fire safety in this country, and are we making the most of the resources that are allocated to you? Only through constant review and reassessment can we ensure that we have a worldclass service that we can be proud of and stand over.

In the External Validation Group Report, the retained fire service model is seen as a particularly effective, flexible and efficient model of service delivery. However, the Report notes that both the retained and full-time service provision models face significant challenges into the future, including the decline of traditional response activities. Further consideration is required therefore of approaches to optimise public safety outcomes for the levels of resources being made available to you to manage.

The “Local Delivery – National Consistency” report characterises Ireland’s fire services as being in transition from a self-contained, individual focus to one where collaboration with each other and partnerships with other branches of local government and other statutory and voluntary sectors are seen as key to achieving the objective of safe communities. You, Mr. Chairman, are to be congratulated again as the CFOA are the group who are leading your services in this transition, which will benefit the safety of the Irish public, as well providing for the most effective use of current and future resources.

The EVG Report notes that services are at different stages along the road to transition, and further improvement is required in a number of identified areas. I have full confidence in the dedication and professionalism of members of this association, who hold the responsibility for managing and delivering fire safety and fire services in Ireland, to continue to progress this transition effectively and efficiently.

We know such transitions are never easy, but you have shown that through collaborative planning and action, the right results can be achieved.

Capital Programme / Community Fire Safety / Fire Fatalities

While the delivery of fire safety and fire services is a statutory function of the individual fire authorities, it is vital that local authorities are sufficiently supported in meeting these statutory responsibilities, particularly in light of the ever-changing demands of today’s rapidly evolving society.

The Fire Services Capital Programme forms part of my Department’s strategy to support local authorities in this regard. In February 2016, my Department announced a five-year Programme with an allocation of €40 million, based on an annual €8 million allocation, to be used for the purchase of fire appliances and specialist equipment and the building or upgrading of Fire Stations.

This Programme reflects my Department’s continued commitment to the Fire Service and I look forward to working closely with many of you here today on the delivery these projects.

Another area where my Department has been working closely and sharing resources with local authority fire services is in the area of Community Fire Safety as it has come to be known. The development of “Community Fire Safety” over the past decade is a particularly welcome approach to fire risk management, recognising that fire safety in society is a shared responsibility. Although it is very difficult to measure the impacts of prevention work, I am sure that a decade of Community Fire Safety programmes are a significant contributor to the overall downward trend in the incidence of domestic fires and fire fatalities in Ireland.

In 2016, 20 persons are reported as having lost their lives in Ireland due to fire, the lowest annual toll of loss in the past four decades. This figure is all the more remarkable when you think that the population of the state was 2.98 m in 1971, compared with the 4.76 in the most recent 2016 census. That being said, there is no room for complacency as the recent fire tragedies in Clondalkin and Sligo brought home to us.

The fatality figure so far in 2017 is showing a worrying increase on last year’s all-time low. While I want to take this opportunity to thank the members of the Chief Fire Officer’s Association present here today and your staff for developing and implementing the Community Fire Safety schemes at the local level, and in particular for the work on the fire safety programme in Traveller Accommodation last year, can I ask you to re-double your efforts in the remainder of 2017 to try maintain the downward trends.

We need to continue to work together at both national and local level to further develop and enhance arrangements, so as to make sure that resources are deployed in an effective manner to keep communities safe from fire and to ensure that there is no reversal in the downward trend of fire fatalities in this country. 

Retained Co-Responder

I mentioned earlier in my speech the value of local authority fire services working in collaboration with other service providers to make the most of available resources in achieving the objectives of keeping communities safe.

One area where I am conscious such collaboration may be possible is in the development of a proposal between the Local Government sector and the Health sector on the possible use of retained fire services to assist the National Ambulance Service in providing a first responder service to life threatening emergency calls.

As described for the first time in the EVG Report, with two hundred fire stations, the retained fire services could be well placed to assist the National Ambulance Service in meeting the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council’s response target for incidents of immediately life-threatening cardiac or respiratory arrest, particularly in the more rural areas of the country. Fire services personnel in many fire stations are already trained and equipped to a standard which would enable them to respond to life threatening emergencies.

The key information for me is that the EVG Report on Fire Services in Ireland provides real data on the percentage of the population that fire services can reach in 5 minute time bands.

While a high degree of co-ordination of emergency activity already exists among the Principal Emergency Services, there is no national framework or agreement for cross-mobilisation between the services. I know the possibility of putting an arrangement in place to build on the highlighted strengths of the fire service is at the early stages of consideration within the local government sector. However, the challenge is to show the benefits for the community, as distinct from what might be perceived as vested interests. Any such system would of course have to fit with overall health policy, and be subject to appropriate governance arrangements.


It would also have to ensure that local authority fire services resources are not diverted from their statutory fire service and fire safety responsibilities where they are providing assistance for another public body.

If an appropriate and worthwhile proposal can be developed through the National Directorate structures which demonstrates clearly the benefits to the community, you can be assured that I will give detailed consideration in my time as Minister with responsibility for overseeing fire services.


So, on behalf of the Government, I wish to express again my thanks to you, the fire service managers, and your staff for your work at the frontline of the fight against damage and loss resulting from fire and other kinds of emergencies.

I again want to acknowledge here the resources and support which the local authorities provide for fire services in Ireland.

I know that the current levels of effectiveness and reliability of your services, described in the 2016 EVG Report, could not have been achieved without your sterling efforts and dedicated work.

On that note let me conclude by commending the Chief Fire Officers Association on your conference programme and by wishing you well in your discussions and networking over the next two days.