Dempsey defends absence during extended cold spell


MINISTER'S REACTION:MINISTER FOR Transport Noel Dempsey has defended his absence from the country while on holiday during the extreme weather conditions.

Mr Dempsey said it was never a bad decision to go on holiday and he did not accept people needed to “see and hear” from him when the conditions were most severe.

“Ministers for Transport don’t actually go out and grit the roads,” he said. The Minister said he had booked the trip to Malta before Christmas and flew out very early on Tuesday morning when, he said, the forecast was for weather that was very cold but sunny and dry.

He had been due to come back tomorrow but began to make arrangements to come back on Thursday. He said he could see from reports that his absence was “becoming a bit of a distraction” from the work being done by frontline staff.

He arrived in Bristol on Saturday night and flew to Dublin yesterday morning having been prevented from travelling directly to Ireland on Saturday because of weather conditions. Asked if Taoiseach Brian Cowen had asked him to change his plans, he said: “I changed my arrangements myself, no request from anybody. I think people are entitled to a holiday. I’m entitled to look after family commitments . . . I’ve public obligations and I’ve private obligations.”

Mr Dempsey said the Government had agreed an approach to the severe weather and officials from the Department of Transport had attended the National Emergency Response Committee. The Minister said he was in contact, through his office, with the committee on a constant basis.

“I was actually only out of the country since Tuesday which is four or five days but I feel as if I’ve been here all the time, I’ve been so well-briefed by my officials,” he said. “I wasn’t swanning around anywhere.”

Mr Dempsey said he could understand people who were having difficulties would be annoyed but said: “I don’t think I would have been able to prevent the weather from happening, whether I was in the country or out of the country”.

The Minister said he could not think of “one other item” that could have been done if he had been in the country over the last four or five days that had not been done. Some people believed that every road in the country could be gritted in a severe weather situation but that was not possible, he added.