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Tuesday 25 July 2017

Gormley insists Government 'on top of' weather crisis

Michael Brennan, AIDAN O'CONNOR and Breda Heffernan

ENVIRONMENT Minister John Gormley yesterday insisted the Government is "on top of" the weather crisis despite the shutdown of schools and the prospect of major road closures.

Mr Gormley, who has been dubbed the 'Minister for Snow', also denied that he would prefer to have Transport Minister Noel Dempsey, who is away on holidays, acting as co-ordinator of the relief efforts.

"I'm very pleased indeed and honoured to take on this task. It is a huge challenge and it is by no means over," he said.

It came after warnings that more snow is expected today and tomorrow.

Snowploughs -- gritting trucks with blades attached to the front -- will be used, Mr Gormley said, adding that these were not available during the last major snow crisis in 1982.

But Mr Gormley said the lack of rock salt to de-ice roads was still the critical issue.

"Salt supplies are likely to be low next week with a limited amount of rock salt coming into the country," the minister said.

Mr Gormley yesterday hosted the second meeting of the Emergency Response Committee (ERC) in Dublin, as the opposition called for a new national weather emergency plan and for more fuel grants for elderly people.

Mr Gormley said decisions by local authorities to grit roads with rock salt would be made on a "case by case" basis as supplies run short.

Marine experts have looked into opposition suggestions of using beach sand to grit the roads, but they found it did not offer any great solution, according to Mr Gormley.

Dangerous

Labour transport spokesman Tommy Broughan said he wanted to call in government officials to the Oireachtas transport committee next week to explain what had gone wrong on our "dangerous roads".

"There seems to have been an absolute failure at national and local government level to have any contingency plans in place to deal with the freezing weather," he said.

Fine Gael environment spokesman Phil Hogan said he had received confirmation from the Office of Emergency Planning that it had not fulfilled its commitment to draw up a severe weather plan.

"We now know why the Government's response to this weather crisis has been so appallingly poor. They don't have a plan. It doesn't exist," said the Carlow-Kilkenny TD.

There will be a major nationwide campaign to clear footpaths of ice in all local authority areas, with 500 staff in Dublin City Council alone being designated for this task. This has been identified as a crucial issue by the ERC.

"We have to keep the footpaths clear," Mr Gormley said.

But as the country braced itself for another weekend of weather chaos, Mr Dempsey's whereabouts remained a mystery last night.

Irish Independent

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