Belfast Telegraph

Minister demands changes in fire service

By Adrian Rutherford

Failings by Northern Ireland’s fire service will no longer be tolerated, the health minister has said.

The stark warning from Edwin Poots came as he outlined the contents of three damning reports into practices at the organisation.

It followed whistleblowing allegations about fraud, unapproved bonuses and failure to deal with staff grievances.

Mr Poots said urgent and fundamental change was needed, adding that this had to be led “from the top”.

“There have been failings in the past, and I will not tolerate them in the future,” he told the Assembly.

The audit substantiated whistleblower claims of unapproved bonus payments worth £15,200 to four principal fire officers.

It also emerged that Peter Craig, while assistant chief fire officer, ignored instructions to hand back a Land Rover worth £40,000 to its owners, Charles Hurst car dealers. Instead, it was stored at a lock-up in Carryduff.

The audit also identified serious weaknesses in how the whistleblower, Linda Ford, was treated.

Mr Poots said there has been an “unacceptable management culture” which stretched back for more than a decade.

Fire service chief executive Jim Wallace said many of the recommendations have already been implemented by the organisation.

“We fully accept that mistakes have been made in the past. We will not shy away from what still needs to be done,” he said.

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