Belfast Telegraph

Time to tackle arson scourge across Northern Ireland

Editor's Viewpoint

We seldom pay much attention to reports of arson attacks unless someone's life is threatened or the blaze goes out of control. Yet, as our report today reveals, the cost of tackling these deliberately started fires is an astonishing £50,000-plus every single day – a total of almost £30m during the past 18 months.

That is desperately needed cash literally going up in smoke.

That sum, for example, could go some way towards alleviating the funding crisis in health in Northern Ireland as the Fire and Rescue Service comes under the remit of the Department of Health.

Every blaze that is deliberately started has huge consequences for the whole community. It is far from a victimless crime.

As our report shows, targets range from businesses premises to educational facilities to natural resources.

And repairing the damage or restoring heath land or forests to their former natural state requires large investment.

There is also a sinister element to some of the arson attacks that are aimed directly at people or their property.

In one of the most tragic cases, a mother and daughter died when arsonists set fire to a block of flats in Dungannon in 2012.

No one has ever been made amenable for those deaths, and that points up a disturbingly low conviction rate in arson cases.

In the period under scrutiny, there were more than 5,000 fires, yet only 201 cases resulted in charges being laid.

They may be difficult cases for the PSNI to gather evidence in, but, quite rightly, there are calls for greater efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Strong efforts have been made, through educational and publicity programmes, to stem the rising number of cases, admittedly with some success.

Yet one of the greatest deterrents would be the knowledge that those who deliberately start fires will end up in the dock.

The emergency services deserve praise for putting their lives in jeopardy in tackling the fires, and it should be remembered that every time they are called out to such blazes it could prevent them tackling other accidental emergencies where lives could be lost.

Belfast Telegraph

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