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'Storm Troopers' fought 1982 freeze

IN the big freeze of January 1982, temperatures dropped so low that home-heating oil froze in tanks and blocks of ice floated down the River Liffey.

Temperatures plummeted to -15C, and things were so bad that the Canadian government donated six snowmobiles to the nation.

The Irish Independent reported on Monday, January 11, that the government had told cash-strapped local authorities that a "blank cheque" was offered to "get the nation moving again".

But the following day, matters had not improved. 'We're still stuck -- the big freeze drags on', the lead story of January 12 said. But the next day, the Army had arrived to clear the streets.

'Storm Troopers -- Government bring in the Army ice-breakers', the paper reported.

The then-Tanaiste and Minister for Energy Michael O'Leary took on the mantle of 'Minister for Snow', but four days after the country was hit Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald returned from his Tenerife sun holiday to take charge. The entire country was hit with snow storms on Friday, January 8, with 26cm recorded at Dublin Airport. In areas where there was drifting, the snow was up to 1.5 metres deep. The storm was so bad that hundreds of people were trapped inside Dublin Airport as the access roads were piled high with snowdrifts. Hundreds of cars were abandoned on the Naas dual carriageway and the lowest observed temperature was recorded at Glasnevin in Dublin on January 12 -- an Arctic -19.6C.

The response of the Government was vastly different. Instead of local authorities being tasked with keeping the country moving, the Government set up an emergency committee to co-ordinate efforts. Mr Fitzgerald ordered an immediate review of the strategy four days into the crisis, and 500 soldiers were drafted on to the streets of Dublin to clear snow.

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