THE DEPARTMENT of Transport wrote to the country's 34 local authorities last November warning them to buy grit to prepare for the extreme weather, the Irish Independent has learned.
This emerged as some councils said last night they have run out of supplies and more will use up the last of their stockpile in the coming days.
Each local authority was told money was available through a discretionary fund and warned that it should be used.
But despite this, thousands of kilometres of local and regional roads remain treacherous because grit has not been laid.
Local authorities are short of the rocksalt needed to keep roads ice-free. This includes roads which were previously national routes, but which have since been reclassified as regional roads because of the completion of new motorways and dual carriageways.
The revelation comes as Met Eireann forecasters yesterday confirmed the big freeze is set to continue for another week as hundreds of thousands of people returned to work after the Christmas and New Year break.
Local and secondary roads across the country remain extremely dangerous because they have not been gritted, and city and county councils have confirmed they are running out of rocksalt to spread on roads to make them safe.
South Dublin County Council said the level of activity was "stretching the council's resources" and that gritting was dependent on more being sourced.
Mayo County Council says it will spend €1m keeping roads safe, while Meath said it is prioritising heavily-trafficked routes. Wexford said its supplies would run out before the weekend, while Carlow will run out today. Westmeath County Council is expecting a delivery tomorrow, but warned it will run out if it does not arrive.
A memorandum sent by the Department of Transport in November warned authorities to ensure their plans to cope with extreme weather events were up to date.
Extreme weather would include coping with flooding and the big freeze which has gripped the country since December 19 last.
"The minister (for Transport, Noel Dempsey) has indicated local authorities should ensure that an adequate level of winter maintenance is undertaken in their area each year and that special attention should be paid to heavily trafficked routes in councils' areas of responsibility," the memo said.
"It is particularly important that a programme of winter maintenance is put in place for sections of the regional and local road network which previously formed part of the national route network, (roads which have been bypassed by new national routes or motorways), and which carry significant traffic volumes, including heavy goods vehicles and inter-urban bus routes.
"In this connection, local authorities are reminded of the provisions in the Memorandum on Road Grants, and departmental circulars, which highlight the importance of setting aside contingency funds from within budgets (including the annual discretionary maintenance grants) to finance works necessitated by severe weather."
Sources said supplies of road grit should be bought early in the year when there was less demand. The memo was "significant", one said, because it told local authorities to ensure they had enough grit to look after secondary roads.
An average of 45,000-55,000 tonnes of salt is typically used for gritting roads during the winter period from October to April. Already in excess of this amount has been used between October to December.
Further supplies of salt will be delivered in the coming days.