Taoiseach rejects allegations of inaction

Fri, Jan 8, 2010, 00:00

GOVERNMENT ROLE:TAOISEACH BRIAN Cowen has dismissed Opposition claims that the Government has been slow in responding to the crisis caused by the prolonged spell of severe sub-zero weather.

Mr Cowen said yesterday the Government had now intervened to take a direct role in the response to the severe conditions.

He said he and Ministers were briefed yesterday and that he had asked Minister for the Environment John Gormley to arrange for his department to co-ordinate the response through the National Emergency Response Committee.

Mr Cowen has asked the committee to meet daily until the severe weather has abated.

The Government had asked the National Roads Authority to take responsibility for supplies of salt and grit, he said, and he accepted that supplies were running low, causing difficulties.

The Taoiseach was speaking at a press conference at Government Buildings yesterday afternoon. He was accompanied by Mr Gormley and by Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Éamon Ó Cuív.

He rejected Opposition criticisms that the Government had been very slow in its response to the crisis.

“The response here is a local response. The local authority response has been there for the past 20 days dealing with the weather conditions that have emerged and evolved.

“At the national level, as we saw with the flooding, we are co-ordinating all the efforts. We have daily inputs coming in to see where, and in what way, we can address the situation.”

He argued that the principal problem on Wednesday was compacted ice. It was that deterioration this week, he said, that elevated the spell of severe weather into one requiring national intervention.

Mr Cowen said that, much as happened with the flooding crisis in November, the primary operational role in de-icing roads would lie with the 34 local authorities.

The availability of salt was the critical issue, he said. 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.”

Supplies would be priorities for national routes and public transport routes. He said that virtually all of the national yearly use of salt, about 50,000 tonnes, had been used in the periods before and after Christmas.

As of now 14,000 tonnes were available.

The Taoiseach said that next week the supply was “more difficult to confirm” but the information was that between 6,000 and 9,000 tonnes would be available.

Asked about the absence of Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey, he said he was away for a few days and as of yesterday afternoon he had not spoken to him. But he suggested that Mr Dempsey would not have had a central role in the response.

“I want to emphasise that this is an operational matter dealt with by local authorities.”