Storm Ophelia almost cost emergency service lives, Taoiseach reveals
Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader criticise people who disobeyed safety warnings
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said local authorities would receive additional resources to assist in the clean-up. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Two incidents during Storm Ophelia on Monday almost cost the lives of members of the emergency services, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has revealed.
“We were close to many more fatalities than were suffered yesterday,’’ he said.
A Government spokesman said in one case a tree fell beside a crew that was removing another tree.
In another case, a crew was involved in a rescue after a car crashed into a tree, when it was discovered a live wire had fallen into the tree.
“Fortunately no one was injured,’’ said the spokesman.
Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin criticised those who ignored safety warnings.
“Not only did those who disobeyed safety warnings put themselves at risk, but they also risked the lives of members of the emergency services,’’ said Mr Varadkar.
Mr Martin asked the Taoiseach to work with other parties to review legislation to make it an offence to disobey safety warnings during a major weather event.
“There was a lot of anger yesterday that the lives of first responders had been put at risk by needless activity,’’ said Mr Martin.
“It is important that, as the legislature, this House show cause by protecting first responders and creating a far greater awareness of the dangers inherent in such reckless activity.’’
Mr Varadkar said the Cabinet had decided to carry out a full evaluation of the State’s response to Storm Ophelia.
He said it would be done when the clean-up was completed and power and water were restored to everyone in the country.
“I think it is always possible to learn lessons and always possible to strengthen your response to a national emergency,’’ he added.
He said local authorities would receive additional resources to assist in the clean-up.
Mr Martin said there would be a pattern over the next few years in terms of the frequency and intensity of such storms, adding there should be a project to eliminate dangerous trees.
“It is an important issue as traditionally there can be a patchy response and some councils are better than others,’’ he added.
Mr Martin called for the finalisation of a national adaptation plan to prepare for such storms and their impact.
“If anything, this storm, notwithstanding many sceptics, some in this House and elsewhere, shows there is an issue we cannot shirk any longer as a nation,’’ he added.
Mr Varadkar said there was provision in the budget for special incentives to encourage more people to use electric vehicles, additional funding for cycling infrastructure, renewable heat and energy.
The 10-year capital plan would have to take into account the need to adapt to climate change, electrification of some of the railways, as well as investing in flood defences, he added.
While any one storm could not be put down to climate change, it was a scientific fact there would be more storms and severe weather events in the years ahead which required preparation to deal with them, said Mr Varadkar.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin said the call to issue a red alert for the entire country, while difficult to make, was the right one. The decision to close schools for a second day was also the right one, he added.
“The Government acted with calm throughout this particular episode,’’ he added. “The Taoiseach can be happy with the work of his Government during the past 48 hours.’’
Mr Howlin said a Dáil debate on a climate mitigation plan would be timely, especially if it was well in advance of the publication of the 10-year capital plan.