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On thin ice? Just grit and bear it

Forget striking public servants. Nothing can bring the country to a halt quite like the Irish weather. Snow fell on New Year's Eve and life as we knew it changed overnight.

There was no more than three centimetres of the stuff, yet planes were grounded, buses vanished and the traditional New Year's stampede to the sales never materialised.

The landscape changed too. It wasn't only that it was white. Abandoned cars littered the eerily empty roadsides, like scenes from some end-of-the-world disaster movie.

Cars have adopted a whole new demeanour; they no longer motor but skate. For instance, under a blazing noon sun on New Year's Day a motorist eased to a halt at a set of traffic lights in Dublin's Fairview. But the car took on a life of its own, gliding through the lights on the sheet of ice beneath and curving in a graceful arc on to the footpath where pedestrians clutched icy lampposts for support.

Walking the streets has become a life-threatening experience that has nothing to do with knife-wielding thieves who usually stalk the inner city. The Meath Chronicle reports that Navan has been struck by a near epidemic of injured pedestrians.

At Dublin Airport, maintenance men worked throughout the night to shift snow from the runways. No sooner had they cleared it, another lot would fall. Fourteen flights had to be cancelled.

Dublin Bus simply closed up shop for hours on end. They started running from 12 on Friday afternoon but after a few hours decided it was time to pack up.

Of course, country people have been living with such privations for weeks. Denis Naughton, the Fine Gael TD for Longford/ Roscommon, complained that elderly people were trapped in their homes.

There is an answer to our problems: grit. But being an Irish solution to the problem, there is a catch. We don't have enough of it. There was more grit to be found in Victoria Beckham's stiletto than on the roads of Ireland last week. The local authorities say they are doing the best they can but they have simply run out of supplies.

The last time this happened was in 1982 when the biggest snowfall in 35 years took the country by, erm, storm. Garret FitzGerald cut short his sun holiday and the late Michael O'Leary became Minister for Snow.

His natural successor would appear to be John Gormley. The Environment Minister, unlike the snow, has been a little thin on the ground over the festive period. In his absence we bring you our tip of the week from a listener who phoned RTE radio last week suggesting a bit of Saxa table salt has done wonders in de-icing the driveway.

Councils take note.

Sunday Independent