Hurricane Ophelia forces Bill Clinton to cancel Belfast meeting

British army on standby should it be required to deal with weather emergencies

Northern Ireland was battening down the hatches as it prepared for the arrival of heavy storm conditions expected in the early afternoon.

Schools and universities closed in advance of the arrival of Hurricane Ophelia while air, sea, rail and bus services also were several disrupted. A number of businesses did not open or were planning to close early ahead of the storm.

The Northern Secretary James Brokenshire said the British army would be brought in to deal with emergencies should it be needed.

Hurricane Ophelia even had a political impact. Sources said that as part of his visit to Ireland to receive an honorary doctorate in Dublin, former US president Bill Clinton was due to make a surprise visit to Belfast on Monday to try to encourage the DUP and Sinn Féin to end the political deadlock and restore the Northern Executive and Assembly.

His flight to Belfast however was cancelled because of the weather, it is understood.

Meetings at Stormont

As there is no Executive in place and as dealing with storms remains a devolved matter it is left to Northern Ireland senior civil servants to co-ordinate preparations to deal with the weather emergency.

On Monday several agencies dealing with areas such as electricity, roads, water and housing were meeting at Stormont to plan for various eventualities. Initially Hurricane Ophelia was forecast to hit Northern Ireland around 3pm on Monday but it was later timed to arrive sometime after 12 noon.

The worst of the weather is expected later into the afternoon and evening.

On radio programmes comparison was made between the Republic and Northern Ireland. In the South plans were more advanced with relatively early notice of school and college closures while in the North it was only very late on Sunday night that it was announced that all schools would close. It was only on Monday that it was known that third-level colleges were closing.

SDLP Assembly member Colin McGrath said the schools’ closure decision should have been made much earlier to facilitate parents with childcare and work commitments.

“Principals and teachers will also be under huge strain to communicate with parents and staff about the closure. However, the priority is to ensure that all children are kept safe,” he said.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times