After the freeze
By Dan Buckley, Sean O’Riordan and Niall Murray -Tuesday, January 12, 2010 – Irish Examiner
AFTER the freeze, the rain and winds are on the way back.
While the thaw will bring a welcome relief to motorists and air travellers, it is also expected to herald another bout of severe flooding in coastal and low-lying areas of the country.
As Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe allowed schools to reopen in the light of rising temperatures, Met Éireann forecast a return to heavy rainfall. Already one council has called on the army to assist with what are expected to be extensive mop-up operations as floods and melting snow combine to cause havoc.
A 40-strong platoon of soldiers was dispatched to Skibbereen yesterday after Cork County Council requested military help ahead of the expected deluge.
The army also dispatched four trucks and two patrol jeeps from Collins Barracks in Cork to the town. County engineer Noel O’Keeffe said the ground was so cold it wouldn’t be able to absorb the rain.
Local town councillor Brendan Leahy said sand bags were being distributed to businesses and householders and Civil Defence personnel had set up a command centre in the town.
"People are panicking and it’s hard to blame them. The first flood hit the town on November 19 and we got hit again on New Year’s Eve," Mr Leahy said. He said residents had been told to expect flooding anytime between 3am and 4pm today.
The army continued to transport gardaí around Cork city and Bandon because their patrol cars were unable to handle severe ice on the roads. Army trucks were also used to ferry health service staff to and from local hospitals.
Road, air, bus and rail transport continue to be affected, with both Bus Éireann and Irish Rail warning of continuing disruption to services. Most services, however, are operating normally.
Cork Airport re-opened yesterday afternoon after being closed for 16 hours because of heavy snowfalls.
Passengers have been advised to check with their airlines for updates.
Slushy conditions continue to hamper routes in Dublin, Meath and Kildare and parts of Connacht. There are icy conditions on primary and secondary routes around Mullingar and Portlaoise while secondary roads at Ballybofey in Donegal are described as treacherous.
Earlier, Taoiseach Brian Cowen commended those involved in assisting people affected by the cold spell, saying it was "very heartening to see".
However, he also warned that plummeting temperatures have had an economic cost. Environment Minister John Gormley yesterday appealed to people to conserve water. He said supplies were running dangerously low in Dublin and there were also problems in Cork, Sligo, Leitrim and North Tipperary. The minister urged householders not to leave taps running.
Around half the country’s schools are expected to reopen this morning after yesterday’s decision by Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe to lift last Friday’s order that they should close until Thursday at the earliest. He said it was the sensible thing to do in light of the weekend weather not being as bad as had been forecast and the earlier-than-expected thaw in many regions, rejecting Opposition claims that he had done a political flip-flop.
But while thousands of schools will open their doors this morning, Mr O’Keeffe said those where teachers had travelled away and were unable to return in time for classes starting today or tomorrow would have to pay for substitution cover from their own funds, despite teachers understanding until lunchtime yesterday that they would have no classes until Thursday because of the minister’s directive.
The Joint Managerial Body, representing boards of most second-level schools, said it would expect the Department of Education to help foot the substitution bill for any absences arising from the past week’s weather conditions or staff being unable to return to schools opening earlier than previously directed by Mr O’Keeffe.
It appears that Ireland is still a victim of the extremely harsh and unusual weather conditions that have plagued the country for the last several weeks. The widespread flooding that they experienced recently was followed by snow, sleet, and freezing rain that coated the roads and made travel nearly impossible. Bus, rail, and in some cases air travel were seriously curtailed. To make matters worse, another bout of high winds and heavy rain are forecast to return very soon. The Ancient Order of Hibernians and other Irish American organizations, to their credit, have responded generously to the Irish Red Cross Flood Relief Effort, a very worthy charitable undertaking. Unfortunately, it appears as though this tragic series of events will present an ongoing need for donations and hopefully these organizations and individuals will continue to respond generously to the Irish people in their time of need.