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6 December 2007 Edition

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Angry protests as Bray fire-fighters' families demand answers

Mary Murray, the wife of Bray fire-fighter Brian Murray, is comforted by a friend at her husband’s funeral

Mary Murray, the wife of Bray fire-fighter Brian Murray, is comforted by a friend at her husband’s funeral

A LUMP of roofing was hurled in to the centre of the Wicklow County Council chamber on Monday night and smashed into thousands of pieces, scattering across the floor during a special debate on the provision of a full-time fire service for the north of the county.  The piece of roofing came from council-owned properties in the Bray area described in a recent fire safety audit as “death-traps”.
The meeting had been convened to receive a deputation of family and friends of Brian Murray and Mark O’Shaughnessy, the two fire-fighters who lost their lives in a blaze at a disused factory in Bray in September. It was the first opportunity the families had to put questions to councillors and their officials in relation to the incident.
However, things got off to a poor start when three of the families’ representatives – Mary Murray, wife of Brian Murray, and Hazel O’Brien, girlfriend of Mark O’Shaughnessy, and Darren Murphy, a spokesperson for the families – were told, just as the meeting was about to start, that they had only 15 minutes between them to address the council rather than the 15 minutes each they had previously been promised.
Then, rather than answer pertinent questions regarding the terms of reference for the investigations into the deaths of the two men and the issue of call vetting as practised by the fire service in Bray on the day of the deaths, council officials went on to patronisingly urge people to clean their chimneys and buy new batteries for their smoke alarms.
The level of frustration with the meeting came to boiling point when the County Manager, objecting to being approached by Brian’s brother Eamon, ripped up a document with statistics on it that Eamon was trying to present to him.
Sinn Féin Bray Town Councillor John Brady, who accompanied the families to the meeting but who was refused permission to speak, interjected from the public gallery and demanded that the officials answer the families’ questions. He accused the council of a PR exercise.
It was then that the lump of roofing was hurled in frustration into the middle of the council chamber and the council chair, Anne Ferris (Labour), attempted to adjourn the meeting, threatening to have Councillor John Brady removed in the process.
Speaking after the meeting, Councillor Brady expressed the frustration of those who thought the meeting would yield some answers:
“This was a complete sham. There was clearly never any intention of getting to the truth about this tragic incident or about ensuring that it would never be repeated. It was a cynical PR exercise.
“These families had very legitimate questions which need to be answered. For example, why were there five calls covering a period of 25 minutes to Bray Fire Service before it was decided to send these men out to tackle the blaze? Surely it would have been better to deal with a relatively small fire before it becomes an inferno. Who decides on whether to send a fire-fighter out or not and what criteria do they use?
“And why, now that the call vetting service has been ended and the question of deployment is being handled by the Fire Service in Dublin City Centre, are we looking at a deployment rate of three times the rate Bray Fire Service had previously handled?”
The Bray councillor added:
“I don’t say it lightly but the only term I can think of is cover-up.
“The tragedy surrounding the deaths of Brian and Mark are just one element of it. There are other serious issues that need to be looked at urgently in relation to fire safety and prevention in Wicklow – and especially north Wicklow.”
Brady said that the lump of roofing that was thrown in to the council meeting came from houses in Oldcourt in Bray. Since the mid-1980s, when these properties were refurbished, there have been 14 serious fires which have resulted in the deaths of eight people, he said.
“There is real concern locally that the investigations into these incidents were not conducted properly and that no remedial work has been undertaken to ensure the safety of the houses. There is a very real expectation that there will be more tragedies in Oldcourt.”
Voicing his concern that the problems in Oldcourt could be replicated across the country, John Brady said that these properties were standard units built by councils across Ireland during the 1970s housing crisis.
“They were never intended to be long-term dwellings.  However, in the 1980s, when things were tight, they were just refurbished with many of the old features, including the flat roofs, which are of particular concern, were just covered over. A recent audit and report on these buildings was damning. They were effectively described as a death-trap. This despite the fact that the council’s own investigators gave them a clean bill of health. It doesn’t add up.”
Demanding action the Bray Councillor called for the terms of reference into the council’s investigation of the deaths of Brian and Mark to be widened to include the issue of call vetting and how it impacted on this particular incident.
“That,” the Sinn Féin councillor said, “is the very least their families and colleagues can expect.”

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