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Terry Prone: Could someone in Government please take responsibility

Nobody's blaming John Gormley for the weather. We can understand him objecting to being called the Minister for Snow. He didn't cause the problem. Nor did the Government.

Maybe the Government couldn't have solved the problem. The real issue is that they managed to give -- and continue to give -- the impression that nobody's really in charge. Nobody's putting a frame around the big picture.

Nobody up there in Leinster House is saying, "It's not good enough that little old ladies are fracturing their pelvises and 24-year-olds hitting their heads with such force that they end up in a coma in intensive care. We need to take radical action. Right now."

Radical action, right now, is what us ordinary folk have taken.

We've listened to Derek Mooney's guy telling us to put our socks over our shoes to help them grip the pavement better.

Okay, we may not have followed the advice, because there's limits to how ridiculous you want to look, even in an historic cold snap.

But we've learned coping mechanisms, whether that be wearing extra layers, making sure compacted snow on the soles of our boots doesn't cause an indoor fall, or clearing the ice from in front of our homes. Some of us, stuck on an icy hill in Stepaside, improvised with crunchy cat food thrown in front of the wheels of our car in an effort to simulate grit. It didn't work, and attracted so many crows, it looked like a remake of Hitchcock's movie The Birds, but it was a good try.

And that's the essence of the problem with how the Government have mishandled the big freeze: there's been a dire shortage of good tries.

The weather forecast, well in advance of Christmas, was for snow, hail, freezing fog and black ice. Did the Government get its emergency team together and say "Give us a plan"?

Apparently not.

Instead, it wasn't until the A&E in almost every hospital around the country was coming down with broken arms, legs, ribs and wrists that the emergency group was convened.

The old rule about PR is that you get a good image by doing good and getting credit for it. In other words, do the right thing first and then look to the publicity. The right thing, in this situation, is simple: Government must be a) demonstrably in charge, b) taking action.

In the absence of those two realities, the public loses faith. Feels abandoned. Gets furious at the minister who is out of the country and even more furious at the one who isn't out of the country and who's making excuses on the telly for the fact that Ireland has ground to a halt and small businesses are actually dying in the cold. Over the past few years, governments have made the same mistake again and again. They've set up a bureaucracy to distance themselves from blame. In the old days, the Minister for Health got it in the neck whenever anything happened in any hospital. So they set up the HSE: not our fault, go attack the professor. In the same way, they distanced themselves from the local authorities: not our fault if they don't have grit or salt.

It doesn't work. We don't want explanations about how the minister can't tell the local authority to get out and get gritting. We want solutions and if we don't get them, we blame the Government.

In PR terms, the last three weeks were a golden opportunity for the Government. They could have reacted quickly. Taken fast action. Moved the army in. Been seen to be in charge. Instead, the response has been all over the place,.

In essence, the question the public has been asking is "Who's the Daddy? Who's in charge, here?" And the answer that came: none. Other than explanations as to why nobody's really responsible for anything.

Which we need like a hole in the head.


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