IF there was any doubt that Wexford was one of the worst hit areas during Storm Emma, they were eliminated by the arrival of An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who travelled to the South East specifically to see for himself the effects of the worst snow storm in over 35 years.
The Taoiseach arrived in Wexford on Sunday afternoon to see the aftermath of the heavy snow and took the time to meet with members of the ambulance service and defence forces who were striving to overcome major difficulties to keep things going and to keep the people of Wexford safe. From there, the Taoiseach travelled to the nerve centre of Wexford County Council's operations at County Hall where staff had been putting in long hours trying to co-ordinate rescue effort and the clean-up in the wake of the storm. While there was a massive amount of work left to do, with thousands of homes still without water and electricity, the Taoiseach said that every effort would be made to get Wexford back on its feet.
'I'm here in Wexford because I wanted to take opportunity visit one of the areas worst affected by the storm,' he said. 'The areas worst affected were Wexford, West Wicklow and North Kildare. As things improve in the rest of the country, we're going to be redeploying resources and all the resources of the state to the areas that are worst affected, particularly the South East and North Kildare.'
Taoiseach Varadkar was under no illusion as to the scale of the task involved in terms of the clean-up and returning to normality.
'I think what we saw in the past few days was the full force of mother nature - the worst known storm in 35 years. While the vast majority of the country will be going back to work tomorrow (Monday) it is going to take a few days for things to normalise. We're asking people to conserve water, to be really careful on the roads and on the footpaths because most injuries and most fatalities actually happen after the event not during the event. Also because our health services are under enormous pressure, we'd ask people only to use the emergency services and health services when absolutely necessary. Hospitals haven't been able to discharge patients for days, it's been difficult to get them home, difficult for them to get back to nursing homes and then of course there's increased demand because of trips and falls and other injuries, so really we're asking people to avoid using the hospitals unless they need to.'
In terms of Wexford specifically, the Taoiseach was well aware of the risks of flooding. In particular, homes and businesses in Enniscorthy are on red alert as the River Slaney continues to rise. Although the Taoiseach didn't manage to stop in the Cathedral town over the course of his day long visit, he said that the situation was being monitored, but for the moment flooding was not the priority.
'For Wexford specifically, there is a concern about flooding down the line as the thaw continues, but there's been no significant flooding as of yet,' he said. 'The concerns at the moment obviously are getting water and power back on for everyone. There's still hundreds of households that don't have access to water or to power and as well as that, a lot of the roads, particularly in the rural areas are impassable. Then there's particular concerns around the farming community, particularly when it comes to feeding livestock, milk spills and also farm buildings that are damaged. But as I say, it's going to take a few days for things to get back to normal and the worst affected part of the country here, Wexford, will see all the resources of the state brought here to back them up.
The farming community around the county was said to have been hit particularly hard by the storm. Gorey based TD Michael D'Arcy brought the Taoiseach to visit O'Connors just outside Gorey on his way back to Dublin and he subsequently tweeted: 'Many farms & businesses have been hit badly by this storm. Minister @michaeldarcy took me to visit O'Connors outside Gorey, where large glass houses are destroyed. Buildings may be insured, but it's much harder to account for the stress & lost business.'
In terms of the damage that the massive snowfall has caused around Wexford, the Taoiseach said it was hard to estimate just now, but he has pledged the support of the government as the clean-up gets underway.
'It's always the case that after a severe weather event like this, whether it's flooding or storms, that additional resources can be provided by central government, so the short answer to the question is yes, the government will provide the funding needed,' he said.
'The longer answer is that it's not possible to estimate how much will be required at this stage, it takes a number of weeks to really estimate the damage and what additional resources will be needed.'
While damage to property can be rectified, the loss of life can't and the Taoiseach said that in the coming days, some grim discoveries may be made around the county and the country. However, he reiterated that things could have been a lot worse were it not for those on the front-line who risked themselves to help others.
'There is the possibility that as we clear the roads, as we get out to isolated areas, that we may find people dead in their homes in the coming days,' he said. 'So, I suppose that's what we could be facing, but I think it is true to say that things could have been very much worse had it not been for the enormous response of the public services, the gardaí, the health service, the defence forces, the civil defence and all the different volunteer groups here in Wexford who have really pulled together in the last couple of days.'
'We spend most of the year and most of the time talking about what doesn't work in Ireland, but it's on occasions like this that we actually see how well things can work, particularly when people pull together.'