Gritting is becoming a critical issue with treacherous driving conditions nationwide, while the Army is on standby to assist local authorities.

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Taoiseach Brian Cowen has said that a high international demand for salt because of the freezing weather crisis has led to a 'very tight' supply situation in Ireland.

Speaking after a meeting of the National Emergency Response Committee, Mr Cowen said the Minister for Environment, Heritage & Local Government has been asked to lead the co-ordinated response to the crisis, dealing in particular with the issues of roads, education, water supply and agriculture.

He said a significant thaw is not forecast by Met Éireann for up to seven days and said that motorists should avoid any unnecessary journeys.

Minister for the Environment John Gormley has said the low supply of salt to grit roads in the freezing weather crisis was 'the critical issue'.

Because of the longest cold spell since 1963, 50,000 tonnes of salt - an amount normally used in a whole year - have been used in the country in the last three weeks, the minister added.

He said the National Roads Authority has been tasked to buy and distribute more supplies.

Shannon Foynes Port Company will receive 4,000 tonnes of salt early tomorrow at Limerick Port from the UK. The shipment will be provided to local authorities from the west, northwest, south and midlands.

However, other salt importers say the demand is far greater than they can meet.

Dublin City Council has confirmed that they have sourced 200 tonnes of salt to treat icy roads.

Defence Minister Willie O'Dea earlier confirmed that the Army is on standby to assist local authorities as they try to deal with the severe weather.

Opposition parties have criticised the Government's response to the situation, with Fine Gael's Road Safety Spokesman Shane McEntee calling for the full and immediate deployment of the Defence Forces to deal with the ice and snow on the country’s roads.

No Dublin Bus services tonight

Dublin Bus has said that because of the deteriorating conditions and in the interest of safety, there will be no bus services tonight.

This evening, heavy fog has developed, affecting visibility on roads in parts of Dublin City, Co Meath, and the midlands, including Athlone and Tullamore.

There has also been snow showers in the northwest of the country.

The Irish Primary Principals Network has said it estimates that around 60% of primary schools throughout the country were forced to stay closed today.

List of confirmed school closures

The network has urged schools to make a decision as to whether to open on Monday as soon as possible so that parents can be informed.

Certain driving tests, but not all, have been cancelled for today and tomorrow.

The majority of Bus Éireann services are operating, but some services are affected due to continuing adverse weather.

Aircoach is currently experiencing delays with all services, as a result of the adverse conditions.

Ireland West Airport Knock has suspended operations for the day.

Dublin Airport is open and operating normally, but passengers are advised to contact their airline or airline website before travelling to the airport.

The inclement weather has also prompted a host of sporting cancellations.