Suspension of Standing Orders – Ringaskiddy Fire. Requested by Cllr Seamus McGrath and Cllr Marcia D’Alton
Cllr Seamus McGrath:
Thanks the Mayor for facilitating the discussion. This was a very significant fire. Pays tribute to the fire service. Information deficit. Needs to be an effective communications systems set up. Acknowledges that there was a meeting last night between the Port, R&H Hall and the residents and the initial word back from residents is that they felt it was a satisfactory meeting. But during the early hours of the fire there was a deficit of information. Residents communicated among themselves through social media.
The wider issue is in relation to the response when something like this happens. Ringaskiddy is a major industrial area. The weekend’s fire concentrates minds. Ringaskiddy is a cul de sac that is surrounded by water. The Port of Cork implemented its own emergency plan on Saturday morning. But as a community Ringaskiddy would like to see the Council look at a localised incident plan for Ringaskiddy. We have a Major Emergency Plan for the county. There is a place though for a local plan for Ringaskiddy. A multi-agency approach would be adopted here.
Have some specific questions. The wind thankfully wasn’t in the direction of the main settlement. Air quality was raised though. Do we have an environmental response in terms of air quality? I understand that it was decided it was safe for residents to go outdoors. Residents want to know if that decision was based on testing. Knows there was a meeting before that decision was taken.
I want the fire service to have a role going forward. There have been three fires since September in this location. That is a matter for the company. It calls into question some of their fire prevention measures. Would like to see our fire service having a role in carrying out a risk assessment in relation to his specific site. The weekend has to be a wake-up call.
Thankfully there were no injuries.
Residents are looking with a positive frame of mind to the Council to engage on this.
Cllr Marcia D’Alton:
Echoes Cllr McGrath’s thanks for facilitating this discussion on what was the second largest fire in Cork Harbour in my lifetime. Repercussions for the whole harbour. Echoes thanks also for the significance of the response from the fire service and notes that units from 4 or 5 locations were involved. Thanks also for the email communications over the past couple of days.
This fire took place at the head of the Ringaskiddy peninsula. Some of the local footage shot by drivers from Haulbowline past the fire indicated how, if it were bigger, the N28 would have been cut off. Pfizer’s OSP4 is right next door. That’s a Seveso site. So it was very fortunate that the fire was contained. It could have been so much worse. An emergency plan for Ringaskiddy is essential, not just for the community but also for the many workers on the peninsula. It is also necessary to consider an emergency plan for Cobh. Any accident at Ringaskiddy will have a significant impact on Cobh and Cobh is also an island with one road in and one road out.
Cork Harbour is a bowl and the Ringaskiddy peninsula is at its very centre. Any accident that happens in Ringaskiddy affects not only the Ringaskiddy community but communities all around the harbour.
Have also some specific questions. Requesting an inventory of materials that may have burned in the fire. We know it was mostly animal feed but the warehouse burned and other materials within the warehouse would have burned too. What kind of animal feed was it? Different grains produce different levels of particulates. Was the firewater contained or did it run into the sea? Was it analysed? That question of whether the decision to advise residents it was safe to go back outdoors was based on air monitoring has also been asked of me.
Cllr Sinead Sheppard:
Supports what the two cllrs have said and glad that it is being spoken about here today. The reality is that when something like this happens, it puts everyone’s health at risk. Glad Cllr D’Alton brought up that Cobh is an island. There have been a lot of photos taken and sent to the local councillors. Wants to support all that we said. What more proof do planners need than a live model of what happens when something goes wrong? Is it even possible to think of putting an incinerator in here? This is just a no go area. Wants to commend us for doing a suspension of standing orders today. Our harbour is such a beautiful amenity. It is very distressing to see this and puts everyone’s health at risk.
Cllr Ben Dalton O’Sullivan:
Agrees with what has been said. Thanks the emergency services and the communications office. Fully supports the proposal for a Lower Harbour/Ringaskiddy incident emergency plan. We should give serious consideration to this. We’d all hope we’d never have to use it. It is a very sensible call. Where there is a lack of information there is fear. I would hope that we could write to the Port of cork to see if communications could be improved. CThe ouncil needs to take a lead in an emergency plan.
When I saw it first it would have been on social media. Thanks the emergency services. Echoes what every councillor says and especially what Cllr D’Alton said. It’s at this stage a have-to situation. Thanks us councillors for keeping everyone updated over the weekend.
Sent out a short report this morning. This set out the framework in which we operate. Commends our own fire and emergency services. There was active communication all day Saturday and all day Sunday. We will continue to remain on site for as long as it takes. There may be minor plumes of smoke emerging for a short period of time. The company will move the material from site.
Appreciates where members are coming from. Cork County Council as an organisation leads the multiagency response to a major emergency. We have a suite of plans in place. We have our own multiagency plan which is published on line. It contains emergency plans for all the Seveso sites. Assures cllrs and the public that when it comes to a major emergency operating in Cork County, the emergency planning system and the emergency response system, there are processes in place that if required we can operate beyond. Where any organisation in the county is facing something that is not within their capability to manage, we seek a multiagency response. Within those plans we have community centres, hotels, transport providers on call in the event of any situation arising.
What arose on Saturday morning was an event of scale that we responded to. It is not beyond our capability and we would have faced similar over last number of years. The Port of Cork decided to active their own emergency plan. It is clear that they have a set of actions they must take including communications. It is welcome that the Port of Cork and the company have met with residents.
There is a formal post-incident review process and this will examine everything that happened on site including communications and engagement. That learning will help us to further develop our thinking around the more granular detail around a local incident plan. We have to work in a framework. If the wind was blowing in a different way, we may well have needed to evacuate residents. Our plan provides for that. Cork County Council would have stood in in that case and activated it ourselves. Writing that down is difficult but the framework does provide for it. We would be happy to engage with local residents and the Port and enhance this. Perhaps a text alert system would work, something like the MapAlerter system for example. We’re happy to consider what we could do in this regard so that every agency down there might adopt this system if an issue arises.
On air quality – we rely heavily on the information from the port company (in this instance) and the company that operates the facility (in this case R&H Hall). We were satisfied that there was nothing burning there that would be of an enhanced public health risk for residents. So we felt there was no need to go beyond the Port’s recommendation to stay indoors.
In relation to onsite conditions and risk assessment, that is a matter for the company to review and they will be doing that as we speak. There will be a normal set of circumstances kick in. our Chief Fire Officer will in conjunction with those on the ground be preparing their own review.
No event like this is walked away from without learning which brings enhancement in risk assessment, enhancement in response, etc.
In relation to the other issues raised on the nature of what burned, etc., this will come up as part of the review. We are satisfied there is nothing of significant concern there. It will be part of R&H Hall’s review as it will be ours.
There is an onsite stormwater system but there is no doubt that it was probably not able to hold all the fire water. The Director of Services is arranging that samples are taken as we speak. Once we are satisfied we can do this in a safe manner, we will do so. We will revert on that.
The positive thing is that the fire was exceptionally well dealt with. Secondly there were no deaths or injuries. Thirdly there is a very formal review process. Any learning from this will be considered in terms of the more granular detail of a local response in the Ringaskiddy area. We may involve the Municipal District.
Cllr Cathal Rasmussen:
I work in a pharma company right beside where the activity took place. I look out on R&H Hall. I am aware of the shortcomings there for a long period of time. Delighted to hear that Council will engage strongly with the Port and R&H Hall. Would be concerned that if the buildings went back, this will happen again. This was an accident waiting to happen. Will they have to go for planning permission if they want to replace the buildings? I would have huge concerns about that the buildings would go back up and we would have no say in it. As someone who has a lot of experience of dealing with the Port, I would be very concerned that everything that has to be put in place is put in place and that they are held accountable. We were lucky this time, we may not be so lucky the next time.
Cllr James Kennedy:
What hasn’t been mentioned was the cost of this fire to Cork County Council. Will we be able to recoup the cost of this to our fire services? The amount that was spent on putting out the fire for a private, very profitable company? Will they pay it all back? Or will it be the same as derelict buildings that the banks will get all the costs back and we’ll have to do the safety work? Will we be compensated fully for that and if not, why not?
Cllr McGrath: (supplementary) Wants to thank the CE. Understands the post incident report. Understands that will take time. What we will give back to the community is important. Asks that it is made public as appropriate. Welcomes comments in terms of communication. There was no text system in place on Saturday morning. It would be welcome. Says the updates over the weekend were very welcome. Reminded about the air quality testing question.
Cllr D’Alton (supplementary):
Want to emphasis how critical it is that we recognise the impact of an accident at Ringaskiddy on all communities of Cork Harbour. If one looks down at the harbour from above, Ringaskiddy is at the very epicentre of the harbour bowl. Pollution from an accident at Ringaskiddy can affect communities all over Cork Harbour right up to the City. Cork City Council has a network of air monitors in place. We need a similar network around the harbour. We are always seen to support industry. It has been said in the past by the Ringaskiddy community that when Ringaskiddy was being developed for industry, the people should have been moved out. But they weren’t and they are living with industry all around them. We have to be as supportive to the communities of the harbour, to its amenity and to its environment as we are to industry. This is something that has been rumbling for a very long time.
It is premature to speculate on what might happen with the site. The full costs of our response is covered by charges and rates. Rates go towards supporting the fire service. The whole of one charge isn’t billed. Information flows go through our own Major Emergency Management Officer and our Chief Fire Officers, they are acutely aware of the need to engage.
There are probably two Municipal Districts involved. There are two air monitoring locations which the EPA have in Cobh. The EPA has four monitors inside in the city. The EPA monitor in Cobh showed an increase during the course of that event and it reduced afterwards. Will raise the question of a monitoring network with our environment section. The important thing is that we had full assistance on the ground from R&H Hall and the Port of Cork. Can assure members of that.
There are three Municipal Districts involved! We would all welcome being kept up to date through the MD structure.