Ambulance crews will not strike despite attacks

 

Members of Northern Ireland's ambulance service voted by a small majority yesterday not to take strike action to highlight growing attacks on emergency services members.

At a meeting in Derry of the health union UNISON, which represents 95 per cent of ambulance crews in the North, the 20 shop stewards decided to defer a strike ballot for two months. In the interim, UNISON officials say they will seek meetings with the Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, and with the Health Minister, Ms Bairbre de Brún, to discuss the issue.

Mr Tom Herrington, UNISON's Northern Ireland secretary, said they will also seek a meeting with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Trust to discuss ways of introducing a zero tolerance policy on the attacks.

"We will also be asking the courts to give stiffer sentences to those who are convicted of attacking members of the health service.

"Last year in the western area alone there were 24 attacks on ambulance crews responding to emergency situations.

"Clear patterns of the abuse of the emergency call-out system have emerged as well as a pattern of repeat offenders. Political, church and community leaders all have a role to play in ensuring that a policy of zero tolerance is introduced," he said.

Meanwhile, ambulance paramedic Ms Janice Macintosh, who is still off work following an assault on her in July 2000, said many of her colleagues believe they have reached a point of no return.

"We're here to protect the community and we end up needing protection ourselves. Through the Troubles we were allowed to go about our work without interference but now thugs are turning their attentions on us and see us as legitimate targets.