Published Tuesday, 16 October 2012
The chief said the irregularities doesn't reflect the work of frontline staff. (© Pacemaker)
A number of reports dealing with investigations into allegations of irregularities at the service revealed alleged fraud, unapproved bonuses and failure to deal adequately with staff grievances.
Investigations found a former chief fire officer, accepted an unapproved sponsorship when he received a Land Rover from a company. At the time, the firm had submitted a tender for NIFRS's replacement tyre contract - a contract they were subsequently awarded.
Health Minister Edwin Poots said a new Interim Chief Executive has been appointed as part of a series of measures to make sure that "fundamental change" at NIFRS headquarters is taken forward, which he said must happen as a matter of "absolute urgency".
The minister deemed that all existing grievances and complaints need to be drawn to a conclusion as soon as possible as "it is not acceptable that such matters should remain unresolved for long periods of time".
Speaking in the Assembly, the Minister said: "Our Fire and Rescue Service is one of our most crucial public services. It is there to protect and help our community. Every year, many lives are saved and properties protected by dedicated fire fighters - who often have to deal with very challenging and dangerous situations. We all owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
"Our fire fighters need to work in an organisation that commands the respect of all - an organisation that is managed effectively and efficiently, with integrity and transparency, with a clear sense of accountability to the public. Unfortunately, there have been instances where the management and governance of the Fire and Rescue Service have been called into question."
Mr Poots acknowledged the whistleblowers in these cases and he hoped they recognised his "commitment in taking forward a comprehensive investigation."
We fully accept that mistakes have been made in the past. We are corporately responsible for the organisation and we will not shy away from what still needs to be done.
Jim Wallace, NIFRS
Jim Wallace, NIFRS Chief Executive welcomed the reports and said many of the recommendations reflect what the service is already doing.
He said: "We are setting a new tone for the organisation and a new pace for change and improvement. The process of reform has already started and we are developing an organisational reform plan, essentially a new way forward for NIFRS, which will address the issues raised in the reports that we have inherited.
"I want to be very clear that this does not reflect on the frontline work of our fire fighters, who are out there every day tirelessly and selflessly protecting our community. "
He said he could understand frustrations from those at the front, who expect "clear leadership and good governance from the very top."
"That's not a great deal to ask of us and we need to make sure that that is embedded and demonstrated," he said.
Mr Wallace insisted the public can "and should" remain confident in the service and that good work was still ongoing.
He said the reports were a "watershed" for the service and that he was confident they could rebuild confidence in the new leadership and management.