Comments by Taoiseach on Severe Weather

The Taoiseach and Ministers were briefed this morning on the response to the severe weather situation. The Taoiseach has asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to arrange that his Department will lead the coordinated response through the National Emergency Response Committee.

Weather of this severity and duration has not been seen since 1963 in many parts of Ireland. The principal problem is compacted ice. Significant thaw is not forecast by Met Eireann for at least 6 or 7 day, and there is a risk of further snowfall in the west today and in the east and south from Sunday onwards.

Since the weather deteriorated three weeks ago, local authorities have mobilised their staff to keep national and other priority roads, including public transport routes, open for traffic. These roads carry over 50% of total national traffic and are the key economic arteries for the delivery of goods, foodstuffs and fuel. Local authorities would generally have 10 days supply of salt for gritting. Stocks are continuing to be replenished, but the supply situation is very tight due to high international demand. Available supplies will continue to be used to treat priority roads. The NRA has been asked to coordinate supply arrangements nationwide.

Local authorities are mobilising all of their available resources to
address the current difficulties. The Defence Forces have mobilised staff and equipment which can be made available to local authorities on request. Minister Ó Cuiv has directed that personnel from the Rural Social Scheme be made available to assist locally.

Some local authorities have already made arrangements to make supplies of grit available to local communities. All local authorities are being asked to consider the scope for doing this where it is appropriate to local circumstances and does not compromise the gritting strategy for national roads.

Local authorities have confirmed that they are utilising the arrangements set out in their local emergency plan to address emergencies, hardship and other difficulties being faced by local communities, particularly in rural areas. Such arrangements should include at least a daily review meeting/conference call of senior local authority, Garda and HSE officials.

It goes without saying that people should be good neighbours during this continuing poor weather by visiting elderly and other housebound people and ensuring that they have adequate food and heating supplies. Motorists should avoid any unnecessary journeys and heed the RSA's advice on driving in the snow and ice.

The Committee also reviewed the impact on sectors other than transport. It is a matter for individual Boards of Management to decide whether local weather conditions and other factors, such as road access, availability of school transport, etc warrant closure of a school in the interests of pupil and teacher health and safety. Local authorities and the Garda Siochana are asked to provide advice to Boards when requested to do so.

Other services such as health, water supply etc., while affected by severe weather are coping well. Any local problems will be dealt with through the local co-ordination arrangements.

The Taoiseach has asked the Committee to meet daily until the severe weather abates, to address emerging issues and ensure whole of Government support for the local emergency response.