SO MUCH for all of that guff about global warming! Are world leaders having the wrong debate? We are experiencing the most prolonged period of icy weather in 40 years and feeling every bit of it. The harsh conditions are expected to continue into early next week. It is a time for taking particular care while driving, cycling or walking and for making sure that elderly neighbours are looked after in these difficult circumstances.
Since Christmas, light falls of snow followed by freezing conditions have impacted most severely on people living in rural areas and urban housing estates, where roads and footpaths remained untreated by local authorities. But the main roads were kept open because of the hard work and long hours put in by council gritting crews. Serious disruption and inconvenience was, indeed, caused. But, unlike previous occasions, all traffic did not come to a juddering halt.
It is easy to blame various institutions for the disruption caused by snow and ice – county councils, the National Roads Authority, the Department of Transport – but it has been an exceptional event. Lessons must, however, be learned by the relevant officials. This is particularly important in relation to forward planning: the establishment of areas of responsibility and co-ordination of effort. Just as extensive flooding in early December demands a co-ordinated response to expected future events, we need to know whether present weather conditions are likely to become a feature of Irish life.
Personal responsibility also features. Anyone who has driven across the country within the past 10 days will have witnessed motorists driving far too fast on foggy or partially treated main roads, placing themselves and others in extreme danger. Similar, reckless behaviour takes place on secondary roads. There is no excuse for such action. It is the equivalent of drunken driving.
In cities and towns, icy footpaths have posed a threat nearly as great as ungritted roads. Accident and emergency services have come under pressure from the number of patients presenting with broken bones. Responsibility for gritting or clearing footpaths should become an important consideration. In a country where snow was an erratic visitor and black ice something of an overnight wonder, however, we need to know what to expect in terms of climate change. The local message, in the meantime, is for motorists to slow down, pedestrians to take care, and for local authorities to do better.