Fire chief who apologised to Manchester Arena victims to take up new role

A senior firefighter who apologised to the families of the Manchester Arena terror attack victims has been appointed Northern Ireland’s new chief fire officer.

The appointment of Peter O’Reilly, originally from Co Antrim, was announced by Health Minister Robin Swann.

Mr O’Reilly was the chief fire officer in Greater Manchester at the time of the 2017 bombing at an Ariana Grande concert that killed 22 people and injured hundreds more.

Mr O’Reilly retired from the role several months after the attack.

During the Manchester Arena inquiry, Mr O’Reilly said he had “let everyone down” after the bombing and apologised to the bereaved families for his failings.

The inquiry has heard firefighters were not sent to the scene until two hours after the bombing.

He told the inquiry earlier this year: “I want to apologise personally for all of my failings and all of the failings of the organisation on May 22.”

“I am so sorry and I’ll regret my failings for the rest of my life.”

Speaking about his new role as chief officer of NIFRS, Mr O’Reilly said: “Having started my firefighting career with NIFRS, I am extremely proud to lead it going forward and work with over 1,800 exceptional operational and wider supporting team members, as we continue to deliver our prevention and emergency response service to protect our community.”

He will take over from acting chief officer Michael Graham in September.

Mr Swann said: “I welcome the appointment of Peter O’Reilly as the new chief fire and rescue officer for the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service.

“With over 25 years of experience within the fire and rescue services, I have no doubt that he will provide the necessary leadership to guide NIFRS into the future.”

Peter O'Reilly
Peter O’Reilly (Press Eye/PA)

Carmel McKinney, chairwoman of the NIFRS board, said: “Peter is a committed and dedicated firefighter who will bring a wealth of operational and strategic experience to the role.”

Mr O’Reilly joined the then Northern Ireland Fire Brigade in 1990. He served for most of his career in Belfast as a firefighter, junior officer and district commander before moving to Ballymena to become assistant area commander and later northern area commander.

He later joined Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service.