Dublin firefighters marching in protest at the introduction of the public service levy earlier this year

THE country's firefighters are considering breaking away from the state's largest union Siptu and forming their own organisation due to mounting dissatisfaction with the union's leadership.

The Sunday Tribune has learned that there is significant support for a breakaway at the country's largest fire service, Dublin Fire Brigade, and the smaller but influential Airport Police Fire Service (APFS) at Dublin airport.

Any split involving the APFS would significantly weaken Siptu president Jack O'Connor's position in future talks with the government as his union would lose its trump card: the ability to shut Dublin airport.

Unlike other airport workers, strike action by the APFS would trigger the immediate closure of the airport, due to international regulations that state that international airports must have specialised fire cover.

Sources indicate there is still considerable anger within the APFS towards Siptu's leadership after O'Connor repudiated the airport workers' plan to take strike action last April over a pay dispute with the Dublin Airport Authority.

Siptu's support within Dublin Fire Brigade also appears to be wavering and anti-Siptu flyers have been distributed to the capital's fire stations over the past week, advocating the establishment of an "emergency services union of Ireland".

According to union sources, Dublin Fire Brigade staff have been pushing for strike action in recent months but Siptu's leadership, despite concerns over firefighters' workloads, have declined to sanction such a move for political reasons.

"This split could easily become national. The firefighters feel they have been sacrificed by the union hierarchy and that O'Connor is holding them back in their attempts to resolve their problems," said one figure.

The chairman of Siptu's Dublin Fire Brigade branch, John Kidd, admitted that his members had become increasingly dissatisfied with the union's leadership.

One of the major sources of discontent is the new pensions levy for public servants to help cover the cost of their free public-sector pensions.

But Kidd said his members were being charged the full levy even though they had already paid 6.5% of their salary into their pension scheme.

"This means they now lose 15% of their salary in pension contributions and levies and they are highly angry about that and they feel their union should have been more proactive," he said.

Kidd said Dublin Fire Brigade, which employs 960 staff, was understaffed in comparison with forces in other major cities.

"They feel like they are being worked to death. We discovered recently that our staff numbers are similar to Winnipeg in Canada but that's a city of only 700,000 people and they have less than half of our workload."