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Doherty challenges Fire Brigade descrimination

4 October, 2004

West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty has described the Fire Authority requirement that senior grade officers within the Fire Service be resident in specific areas east of the Bann as blatant discrimination.

Mr Doherty said:

"Under the 'Standby Areas' criteria, different senior grades officers in the Fire Service are required to live within a 30-mile radius of the Lisburn Headquarters.

"It excludes from consideration all Fire Brigade employees resident in all areas west of the Bann and in the north and south areas of the six counties. Significantly, the Officer Standby Area for the Lisburn Headquarters excludes Belfast yet stretches from Portadown, Tandragee and Banbridge in the south, to Carrick in the north.

"Given the demographic make-up of the areas excluded, many Fire Brigade employees believe the nonsensical Standby Area criteria to be a blatant attempt to gerrymander the employment areas for the senior grades of Fire Officers.

"The 'Standby Areas' make no geographical sense nor do they contribute to fire safety. Moreover, similar 'Standby Areas' are not used by Fire Authorities in Britain.

"At best, this residence requirement represents the denial of equality of opportunity for employment and at worst represents blatant discrimination.

Gerry Adams and Catriona Ruane MLA, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Equality, Human Rights and Women, have already been challenging the Standby Area criteria in written correspondence with both the Chairperson of the Fire Authority and with the Chief Fire Officer of the Fire Brigade. To date the responses from them have been far from positive.

"I have now written to Direct Rule Minister Angela Smith calling on her to look into the 'Standby Area' issue as a matter of urgency. I have also requested that she provide me with a breakdown of the religious make-up of Fire Brigade employees by grade and location.

"The resolution of this issue is a major test of the equality and human rights provisions in the Good Friday Agreement and Sinn Féin is determined to see this issue through to a positive conclusion." ENDS

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