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Deal close in battle to save Swords ambulance

REPRESENTATIVES of the Dublin fire service and Dublin City Council have said they are "quietly confident" they can reach an agreement with the HSE to cover the costs of providing an ambulance service to north county Dublin.

The Dublin Fire Brigade's (DFB) Swords-based ambulance was due to be axed last month as the HSE has not paid Dublin City Council an estimated €600,000 owed for its operation.

The Swords ambulance deals with about 4,500 calls a year and the cutback would have left just one vehicle covering the entire north county.

However, residents and politicians in the Swords area and local paramedics have campaigned extensively to save the service from extinction.

Councillors on Fingal County Council are anxious to retain the Swords ambulance service but they have expressed concern at the cost of the service in the Dublin region, which will top €94m in 2011.

The cost of running the DFB is shared between the four Dublin councils, with Dublin City Council paying nearly half of the €94m. Fingal's share of the bill this year is €17.5m.

Assistant Dublin city manager Seamus Lyons said the Dublin fire service division of the DFB was set up with 11 ambulances, and that the councils recoup the costs of running this service from the HSE.

However, when Swords became a full-time fire station it was decided to base a 12th ambulance in the town, even though there was no agreement in place for the funding of the ambulance.

As part of a cost-saving initiative it was later proposed that the DFB would scrap the ambulance.

But Mr Lyons said the HSE has recently entered into discussions with the DFB about funding the Swords ambulance, and "progress has been made in recent weeks".

He also said he was "quietly confident" of reaching an agreement with the parties, and as a result plans to axe the service have been postponed for another six weeks.

Meanwhile, Chief Fire Officer of the Dublin Fire Brigade, Hugh O'Neill, acknowledged it was very expensive to provide a 24-hour, 365-day a year service, but said there was a precautionary element in having a fire service which "needs to be maintained even if we never need them".

hnews@herald.ie