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Schools to re-open as cost of the cold snap hits €700m


Children playing in the snow near a newly built snow igloo at Bridgefield, Killarney, Co Kerry, yesterday

Children playing in the snow near a newly built snow igloo at Bridgefield, Killarney, Co Kerry, yesterday

Children playing in the snow near a newly built snow igloo at Bridgefield, Killarney, Co Kerry, yesterday

MANY schools will re open today after Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe reversed his earlier decision to close them for a week.

However, a new survey published today will reveal that the cost of the bad weather and absenteeism from work has soared to €700m.

The difficulties caused by school closures and the wintry weather resulted in a daily absenteeism rate of 12.9pc, according to a survey carried out among 236 companies by IBEC, the employers' body. Other findings are:

  • The estimated percentage of daily work hours lost since January 1 is 17.4pc.
  • The estimated percentage of sales lost since January 1 is 18.8pc.
  • The estimated percentage of production lost since January 1 is 12pc.

"Based on our survey findings, IBEC estimates that the total value of the economic output lost to date is in the region of €700m -- €500m of this occurred in the services sector and €200m in the manufacturing sector," director of sectors and policy Brendan Butler told the Irish Independent.

"Much of this lost output will be recovered over the coming weeks as business returns to normal, especially at a time when firms have so much spare capacity, but a sizeable proportion of the lost output will not be recovered and will represent a permanent cost to the economy -- probably in the region of €200m to €300m," he added.

Employers and school managerial bodies welcomed Mr O'Keeffe's reversal of his previous plan to close schools until Thursday.

Decisions will revert to boards of management, said the minister, who added that the reversal was done on the basis of weather advice given at yesterday's meeting of the Government's emergency planning group and the unexpected rise in temperatures that had occurred in parts of the country.

But Fine Gael education spokesman Brian Hayes said it represented a humiliating climbdown for Mr O'Keeffe, given his refusal to show any flexibility in the previous 48 hours. "The reality on the ground is that many schools have the capacity to re-open," he added.

Meanwhile, a senior civil servant will be quizzed by an Oireachtas committee today on why it took two weeks for the State to put together a national response to the weather crisis. But Transport Minister Noel Dempsey and Environment Minister John Gormley will not face questions from TDs and senators and continued yesterday to defend the Government's response.

The chairman of the Emergency Response Co-ordination Committee, Sean Hogan, was initially to appear before the Oireachtas Environment Committee to answer questions about the State's handling of the November floods. But mounting political pressure led committee members to use Mr Hogan's appearance as an opportunity to probe the handling of the big chill.

Opposition parties welcomed Mr Hogan's decision to come before the committee, but hit out at government ministers for hiding behind a civil servant.


Committee Chairman and Fianna Fail TD Sean Fleming said: "We will be demanding answers regarding why it has taken so long for them to meet and why so little seems to have been learnt from the experiences of the recent floods."

Confirmation of Mr Hogan's appearance before the committee came as Mr Dempsey and Mr Gormley again defended their handling of the worst freeze in almost half a century.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen also defended Mr Dempsey's holiday yesterday and insisted the Government had "seen that all the work necessary to be done was being done".

"You've seen that co-ordination being displayed, you are seeing press conferences being held daily," Mr Cowen said.

Irish Independent