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Andrew Lynch: Brian the ostrich buries his head

Move on, nothing to see here.

Brian Cowen's dismissive attitude to his economic critics has already forced most people to conclude that their leader is dangerously out of touch with reality.

Now the Taoiseach has given an equally blithe response to an important report on his Government's handling of last winter's weather crisis -- and needless to say, his coalition partner John Gormley seems just as determined to duck any responsibility.

In late October and early November, unprecedented rainfall resulted in severe flooding around the country, which forced hundreds of people to be evacuated from their homes.

The following month, the coldest weather since 1963 made the roads virtually impassable and left many houses without waters.

The insurance bill for these events has come to almost €550m, while the damage to the roads is estimated at €180m.

The conclusions from the Oireachtas Committee on the Environment report are clear and devastating. It says bluntly that the State failed at all levels, from the slow implementation of the national emergency plan to the lack of resources available to fight the floods and snow.

If it wasn't for the heroic efforts of our emergency services, we could have been looking at a real natural disaster including the loss of many lives.

In other words, last time we got lucky -- and since most experts warn that our climate is set to become even more extreme in the years ahead, the work must begin now to ensure that next time we don't need to rely on good fortune.

Instead of showing an appropriate sense of humility, however, Brian Cowen has retreated into his comfort zone where nothing is really his fault and anyone who suggests otherwise is just a moaner who deserves to be ignored.

Incredibly, the Taoiseach says that he is "very satisfied with the Government response" and believes that "all in all, things went well". John Gormley has proudly declared that there was "real leadership shown" and is satisfied that the crisis was "properly dealt with".

This ostrich-in-the-sand attitude suggests that neither man has bothered to actually read the report.


Its overall verdict is that the country was ill-prepared to deal with the situation because of a lack of coordination between several different agencies.

In other words, there was no leadership from the top -- and right now, that description applies to the Government's handling of many more issues besides the weather.

Most damningly of all, the report finds that the public were not adequately informed of the approaching danger until it was far too late.

The Government never declared a national emergency, even though the crisis clearly fitted the description as laid out in their own published National Emergency Plan.

When the snow fell on New Year's Day, transport minister Noel Dempsey refused to come home from his sun holiday -- and when he did return, he blithely admitted that his presence wouldn't have made any difference anyway.

The number of bodies responsible for various aspects of emergency management is described as "breathtaking".

There has still been no independent investigation into the various screw-ups that happened along the way, such as the ESB's release of millions of tonnes of water that worsened Cork's flooding problem.

Gormley ordered his own review into the Department of the Environment's performance at the start of this year, but there is no sign of it yet -- and if his handling of pet projects such as water charges and a Dublin Mayor are anything to go by, it certainly won't be in place before next winter.

It would be nice to think that having got a fright, the Government might be determined to learn from its mistakes.

The response from Cowen and Gormley suggests however that they're determined to take the old John Wayne attitude of "never apologise, never explain".

That's a pretty good summary of this Government as a whole -- which is why even when they do take tough and necessary economic decisions, they get little or no political credit for them.

Like so many official reports, it looks like this one will end up going to waste.

If this year's winter is anything like last year's, it will once again be every man for himself -- and we will know exactly who to blame.