Friday 23 March 2018

Snow, floods but no emergency

Response to weather disaster is slated

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

THE COUNTRY grappled with more extreme weather yesterday as it emerged that there is no provision to declare a "national emergency" at times of crisis.

An Oireachtas committee heard that emergency situations can be declared at local level, but there is no mechanism for declaring a national emergency.

And a "major emergency" -- the highest level of action -- was never declared at the height of the flooding crisis last year or during the current big freeze, the chairman of the country's emergency group admitted yesterday evening.

Sean Hogan, who heads up the Emergency Response Co-ordination Committee (ERCC), said a major emergency can be called by council officials, gardai or the HSE locally -- but there is no provision for a so-called national emergency.

Labour's Ciaran Lynch said that this was leading to a "hodge-podge of local responses operating in an uncoordinated fashion".

The revelation came as fresh snow affected the east and south-east last night and it is expected that driving conditions will be hazardous this morning.

Also at yesterday's Oireachtas hearing, Fianna Fail TD Sean Fleming, who chairs the committee, said that it was "appalling" that the ERCC was headed by a principal officer level in the public service.

Mr Fleming said such an important committee should be headed by a secretary general from one of the government departments.

Mr Hogan could not say if a comprehensive risk assessment had been carried out on what would happen if massive quantities of water flooded the River Lee in Cork, as they did between November 18 and 10 last.

He could not confirm if an assessment had been carried out which would have anticipated the size, direction and timing of last November's floods.

Des Dowling, assistant general secretary at the Department of Environment, told the committee that Environment Minister John Gormley has no direct legislative role in relation to flooding. He said the primary responsibility was with the OPW.

Irish Independent

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