Don't panic: we have a cunning plan
It was all too, too exciting. Bertie 'Maxwell Smart' and Willie 'Agent 99' O'Dea had invited the press to have a snoop around their National Emergency Co-ordination Centre yesterday for the launch of the official Don't Panic Handbook, politely titled 'Planning for Major Emergencies: An Introduction'.
But instead of being blindfolded, bundled into the back of a white Hiace and driven to a high-security compound cunningly located inside the Sugarloaf, we were directed to Agriculture House on Kildare Street -- obviously chosen in the event that the manure should hit the fan.
One reporter, ciggie in hand, pointed grumpily at big signs plastered to one of the windows warning of no smoking in the vicinity of the building.
"Why can't we smoke here?" he grumbled.
"Because of the underground silos," explained another wisely, referring presumably to the storage of ballistic missiles rather than barley beneath the streets of Dublin.
Excitement mounting, the press trooped down a long corridor just like the one in the opening scenes of super-spy series 'Get Smart' . Except there were no sliding doors opening mysteriously on our approach. Nor was the lift artfully disguised as a telephone box. And most dishearteningly, the lift ascended rather than whizzing at breakneck speed to a subterranean cavern.
Big signs pointed the way to the National Emergency Co-ordination Centre which will be handy for any English-speaking terrorists who infiltrate the building.
Surely the main room of the nerve centre would be bristling with high-tech gizmos and massive illuminated maps of the world which appear silently from hidden recesses in the walls? Alas it's more geography classroom than geopolitical situation room -- no glowing screens, just ordinary maps of Ireland lining the walls.
There was lots of brass, though. The room was awash with grand poobahs of the gardai and defence forces who had turned up for the launch of the Don't Panic Handbook by the Dynamic Duo. The booklet was compiled in response to market research carried out by the Department of Defence which found that a large section of Joe Public was concerned that in the event of a natural or man-made catastrophe, the Irish Government would adapt the George Bush 9/11 Emergency Strategy -- which is to keep reading upside down from a children's book in the hopes that the citizens won't notice that the jig is well and truly up.
But both Maxwell Smart and his sidekick Agent 99 were anxious to reassure the nation that the Government are on the case and have Blackadder-style cunning plans in place to deal with floods, fire, foot-and-mouth outbreaks and flu pandemics.
Bertie was the picture of calm. "There is no reason to think that a major emergency is likely in the immediate future," he said soothingly. "It can be difficult to think straight in an emergency: spending a bit of time studying the handbook could pay a huge dividend," he added, prompting one to wonder if he flicked through it himself during recent events.
Willie proudly declared that the tone of the handbook is "calm, measured and reassuring". (It seems in the event of a nuclear incidents we should "stay indoors and listen to national radio", which is a shame, as I had planned to take advantage of the empty stores and go shopping for shoes).
But Willie wants no consternation on the streets if a mushroom-shaped cloud suddenly appeared over the Phoenix Park. "We have a detailed plan to deal with any nuclear incident," he stressed. The booklet, he explained, "will indicate that the plan is there, it'll indicate who is in charge of the plan, it'll give relevant telephone numbers et cetera. So my message to people is that in the event of a nuclear explosion . . . we have a detailed plan," he added.
But what is the plan in a nutshell? Willie paused. "It's a very, very detailed plan. There's no state secret about it or anything like that," he added hastily.
Every household is to receive a Don't Panic Handbook, and Willie urges everyone to "keep it in a safe place". Perhaps everyone can keep it in the space once occupied by the iodine tablets issued in 2002, which are now officially declared to be as useless as a windshield wiper on a submarine.
And if the booklet hasn't got the answers, when all hell breaks loose just head for the bunker in the Sugarloaf. It exists, you know. Just tell them Agent 99 sent you.