HOUSEHOLDERS and businesses face the prospect of being forced to clear ice and snow from footpaths to help keep town and city centres open during severe weather.
Community groups may also be provided with de-icing salt and equipment by local authorities to keep roads open if there is a repeat of last winter's big freeze.
The Irish Independent has learnt that a review of the response to the severe weather crisis also calls for "vulnerable areas" across the country to be identified where snow-clearing would take place as a matter of priority -- including areas where nursing homes or hospitals are located.
The move comes after county councils were blamed for not gritting thousands of kilometres of roads and footpaths which resulted in road crashes and pedestrians slipping on icy paths.
Last winter around 15,000km of national roads were kept open by local authorities who could not treat minor roads because of staff shortages and a lack of material.
But these new measures would allow community groups to de-ice roads themselves, without incurring a liability if an accident occurred on a stretch of road they treated.
"The review finds that prioritisation of the 15,000km of national route was a reasonable response," a government source said.
"Everyone accepts that there was a limit on what could be done."
Owners of business premises will also be obliged to clear ice and snow from footpaths, again without liability if someone trips and falls.
Earlier this week it emerged that the National Roads Authority (NRA) is to take over responsibility for ordering de-icing salt to treat roads after stocks ordered by local authorities rapidly disappeared as the freeze took hold. It has ordered 80,000 tonnes of salt and will provide 10 days' stock to each local authority, instead of the seven-day supply used earlier this year.
The use of salt will be co-ordinated by the NRA if the cold spell is due to last more than a week. This means the worst-affected areas would get priority for de-icing to keep traffic moving.
The review also says there should be a graduated response to weather events, with local state agencies tackling a severe weather crisis lasting up to four days, with a national response kicking off after that.
Local authorities are also reviewing the way they handle freezing weather conditions.
The NRA said the work at keeping roads open would be still done by the council after they helped keep critical links open for emergency services and to hospitals last winter.