NI fire brigade hires ‘reputation management’ PR squad as it welcomes new boss Peter O’Reilly – whilst having lost over 100 actual firefighters in five years

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service has hired an upmarket “reputation management” firm to handle its PR, just as Peter O’Reilly assumes the post of leader.

Saturday, 4th September 2021, 8:00 am
Updated Saturday, 4th September 2021, 9:34 am
Peter O’Reilly who has been appointed by the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) as their new chief officer

The Lanyon Group, a corporate communications company based in Belfast, was enlisted despite the fact the fire brigade already has its own in-house PR team.

This all comes against a backdrop of belt-tightening by the fire service.

It also comes some four years after Mr O’Reilly retired, following failings in his handling of the 2017 Manchester arena bombing, which killed 22 people (more details below).

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Efforts to find out how much hiring the Lanyon Group PR team has cost the public purse have been repeatedly stonewalled.

Meanwhile, the fire and rescue service has cut back on manpower in recent times, losing 119 firefighters over the past five years.

The service also struggles to meet its emergency response targets.

In 2015/16, its performance target was to have 75% of high-level incidents responded to within six minutes.

The fire service only managed 57%.

But by 2020/21, this had fallen further, to 46%.

Not only has the question of how much public money is being spent on Lanyon PR gone unanswered, the “communications strategy and delivery” experts have refused to answer even the most basic questions about the new leader, such as:

> What is the new fire chief’s salary?;

> Who was ultimately responsible for interviewing and appointing him?;

> What age he is (given that he is four years into his retirement)?;

> What he has been doing since retirement?;

> How many candidates were interviewed?;

> And how many full-time PR staff are currently employed in the fire brigade’s in-house press office?

Mr O’Reilly’s appointment was announced on Friday, August 27.

The Lanyon Group (which boasts of offering services to clients that can include a “24/7 press office”) was then asked these questions the following Monday.

But the News Letter was told the firm could not answer, because nobody was in the office that day (a bank holiday).

Once Lanyon did pick up these questions on Tuesday, it said: “Thank you for your continued interest.

“We are not issuing any responses currently as the official statement has been issued by the Department and NI Fire and Rescue Service which you’ve received.”

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