'Tenuous' grounds for EEC snow aid appeal

Sat, Dec 29, 2012, 00:00

GRANT APPLICATION:Some aspects of Ireland’s claim for massive European aid after the severe snow storms of January 1982 were “extremely tenuous”, minister for finance John Bruton acknowledged shortly afterwards.

Official documents released to the National Archives under the 30-year rule show that the Fine Gael-led government applied to the EEC for aid of €83 million (IR£66 million) following the storms.

The EEC subsequently approved a grant of only €857,000 (£675,000).

An aide-memoire from Bruton, prepared for a government meeting in February, said the €83 million figure was “tentative” and the actual costs incurred were “substantially less than originally envisaged”.

Blizzard conditions struck Ireland over the weekend of January 8th to 11th, causing extensive disruption and killing 10 people. Temperatures plummeted to minus 14 degrees at Belmullet, Co Mayo, and at Birr, Co Offaly, while temperatures of minus 10 were recorded on the east coast.

Heavy snowfall caused drifts of up to 16ft in hilly areas and up to 8ft in some urban areas, including Dublin.

According to the application to the EEC, most national primary and secondary routes in Leinster and in Cavan and Monaghan were impassable. Power to up to 100,000 homes was cut, and “public transport by road and rail was totally immobilised for a time and severely disrupted for several days”.

Hospitals along the east coast had to cancel routine admissions for several days in order to cope with a large number of casualties, mainly pedestrians, the application said.

The Army and Air Corps were called in to assist local authorities with the clean-up, which began on January 9th.

‘Emergency fuel issues’

The grant application made to the EEC disaster fund included a claim for losses of €12.6 million (£10 million) for the agricultural sector and almost €18 million (£14 million) for road clearance and repairs. There were also claims for disruption to public transport, electricity and telephone network, costs to the health boards, “emergency fuel issues” and Garda overtime.

But Bruton’s aide-memoire, written after the application was made, said those costs “might reasonably be expected to be met from the resources of the agencies concerned”. It added: “The basis for some aspects of the claim was extremely tenuous.”