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Andrew Lynch: True grit in short supply as leaders go missing in blizzard of buckpassing

We've been here before. The Arctic weather conditions on the streets of Dublin today might be bad enough, but in January 1982 they were worse.

The snow was up to 1.5 metres deep in some areas while temperatures in the capital plummeted to almost -20C.

That's what makes the contrast between the feeble response from today's government and the official reaction to our last big freeze so depressing.

In 1982, the Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald returned home from his sun holiday in Tenerife to take charge, while Tanaiste Michael O'Leary became the unofficial Minister for Snow.

Hundreds of soldiers were drafted onto the streets of Dublin to make them safe for motorists, a somewhat more constructive policy than the Titanic catchcry of "every man for himself" that seems to be in operation in 2010.

The so-called "cold snap" has entered its third week, but Brian Cowen's government has apparently decided that nothing can be allowed to interfere with its winter holiday. In stark contrast to the snow, political leadership is turning out to be extremely thin on the ground.

As the NRA warns that main roads could be shut down because supplies of grit are running low, the mental grit from the ministers supposed to be in charge of this kind of crisis has been in equally short supply.

No reasonable person would suggest that politicians can do anything about the weather.

What today's government doesn't seem to understand, however, is the vital importance of ministers showing their faces on the ground and getting their voices on the airwaves, if only to reassure the public.


A couple of years ago, the Government sent a glossy booklet with the grand title of Preparing for Major Emergencies to every household in the country. It cost €2m and contained advice on what we should all do in the event of a nuclear holocaust or a terrorist flying his plane into Sellafield.

While it seems to have escaped the Government's attention, a genuine emergency has now been underway in this country for several days.

It may not be as glamorous as a September 11-style attack or a biblical plague of locusts -- but for the people whose daily lives have effectively been put on hold, it's almost as devastating.

The Dublin Chamber of Commerce has estimated that the cost to the economy so far in terms of lost productivity is in the region of €80m, money that this country can ill afford.

So it beggars belief that the two cabinet ministers who should be most visible right now, Noel Dempsey and John Gormley, have chosen this week to disappear from public view.

The only sign of life from the Department of Transport has been an unseemly row between officials there and local authorities over who exactly is responsible for gritting the roads.

The Department of the Environment is supposed to be taking control of the impressive-sounding Office of Emergency Planning, but its efforts to date have been so ineffective that you have to check with Google to confirm it still exists.

Today is the day when Brian Lenihan begins his course of chemotherapy for cancer. The Minister for Finance has been rightly hailed for the remarkable bravery he's shown in his public response to this very personal crisis.

Sadly, his colleagues' response to this week's national emergency has been closer to the Irish version of Hurricane Katrina -- and they deserve to take exactly the same kind of hit in public opinion from the Irish people as the Americans gave to George W Bush.