In the wake of the escalating fire service dispute, SIPTU today (Thursday, August 10th) wrote to the Government to request clarification on whether social protection payments were being deliberately blocked for Retained Fire Fighters. The letter, addressed to Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys, highlighted the fact that these payments were a vital lifeline to many Retained Fire Fighters who do not have second jobs. SIPTU Public Administration and Community Divisional Organiser, Karan O Loughlin, said: "Approximately one third of fire fighters (around 550) are supported by social protection payments. It is very difficult to find employment which will release workers regularly at very short notice to attend at fires, road traffic accidents or storm and weather events. In addition, Retained Fire Fighters need to be available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week throughout the year. "Social protection support is therefore critical to keeping fire fighters in the retained service during this recruitment and retention crisis. Unfortunately, it is clear that the Government is trying to break this dispute and to use Retained Fire Fighters as a deterrent to other public service workers who might fight back against poor pay and conditions. "Withholding social protection payments from vulnerable families is despicable. SIPTU members in the Retained Fire Service will not be cowed by these underhanded tactics. They are determined in their commitment to save the Retained Fire Service, even if the Government is not. "SIPTU Sector Organiser, Brendan O'Brien, said: "We are receiving reports from across the country that Retained Fire Fighters are having their payments refused because of the strike. Retained Fire Fighter work is part time and precarious, with fire fighters available on an 'if and when' basis. They are on strike from this employment but remain available for other work in the normal way. "There is therefore no reason whatsoever that social protection payments should be stopped or withheld. We call on the Minister to issue a clarification on this matter without delay."