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Speech by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence,

Mr. Alan Shatter TD,

On the launch of the ‘Be Winter-Ready’ 2013-2104 Information Campaign


As Chair of the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning, I wish to acknowledge the support of my colleague the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan, and all of the relevant Government Departments and Agencies present, along with representatives of the various transport operators who have all come together this morning to support today’s launch.

The first ‘Be Winter-Ready’ campaign was launched in 2011 with the main purpose of highlighting the “Whole of Government” approach being taken to winter preparations and to inform the public of what was being done and where information could be sourced from. This is the third “Be Winter Ready” campaign, which is now an established annual event impacting across the whole of the public service but particularly for those directly involved in supporting the public and providing information during the winter months.

The central message of this campaign remains the same as in previous years, that is, to simply encourage people to be prepared, to stay safe but also to know where to find help if you need it.

2010 will be long remembered as the year of severe cold, snow and ice but winters since then, by contrast, have been much less severe and significant weather events have been spread throughout the year characterised by heavy rainfall and consequent flooding. However, the exceptionally prolonged wet and cold spell into the spring this year did impact upon fodder stocks and upon the agricultural sector. Last summer was also particularly hot and, unfortunately, this resulted in an increased number of tragic water activity related deaths across the country. This demonstrates the variability of Irish weather and the need to be prepared throughout the year.

However, I must emphasise that severe weather events in Ireland are not common place. Met Éireann have told us that severe winters occur roughly once every ten years but it is not possible to determine, with any certainty, what the long term winter weather will be.

I am informed that for weather forecasting beyond about two days ahead, Met Éireann relies primarily on guidance produced by the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts, a European consortium of which Ireland is a member, and which is recognised as the leading centre in the world for weather modelling. However, I must add that other more questionable seasonal “forecasts” are often completely speculative.

Drawing upon our experiences of such events over previous years and the lessons learned, central and local government are better prepared and ready to respond to incidents of severe weather and to provide a “Whole of Government” approach.

Within my own Department the Civil Defence and the Defence Forces are equipped, trained and regularly exercised to the highest levels to be able to provide support to the Civil Authorities, when required. As recently as 25th October, in the early hours of the morning, the Cork West Civil Defence was tasked to respond to flooding in Skibbereen caused by torrential rain and rising river levels.

35 Civil Defence Volunteers from Cork West and South were rotated throughout the night supporting the Fire Service, Gardaí, and other local authority staff on various tasks, which included traffic management, floodwater pumping, flood defence deployment and assistance in the evacuation of vulnerable residents until the operation was stood down at 4.30pm that afternoon, when flood waters had receded.

I understand that it has been publicly acknowledged that the overall co-ordinated response from all the agencies was extremely effective in minimising the potential damage to property and residences on this occasion.

Our colleague Leo Varadkar, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, cannot join us today but officials from his Department and the transport operators, all of whom have a key role in winter preparations, are here to support the launch. Keeping our major roads, airports and rail systems functioning is a critical role during the winter months. Much has been learned during recent severe winters and preparations for the coming winter are better as a result. The transport operators all have plans in place to deal with severe conditions including providing prompt communications, with increasing use of social media, to the travelling public. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport will also publish on its website a Severe Weather Transport Information Guide, which will inform the public on transport and travel, particularly on the contact details for all the operators.

I would also like to emphasize that safety on our roads is at all times necessary, but particularly when severe weather makes driving difficult or hazardous. Drivers can do a lot to avoid difficulties when bad conditions prevail by taking the advice being issued, particularly from Met Éireann and An Garda Síochána. The Winter Ready website and booklet also provides simple and practical guidance for motorists on safe and efficient driving during the winter.

Substantial stocks of salt are already in storage in the country for immediate use to treat roads and these will increase to 210,000 tonnes by mid-December. This compares to usage of 130,000 tonnes over the severe winter of 2010. Separately, the new motorway maintenance contractors, engaged by the National Roads Authority, are also required to have their own supply of salt for winter maintenance and I understand that these stocks are already in place.

These are just some examples of the kind of preparations we are now engaged with at a national and local level but we can never be complacent and need to continue to regularly plan, train and exercise for such events. I would also like to acknowledge the continued and dedicated work of individuals, community groups and the voluntary emergency services for the essential assistance they provide, especially to the vulnerable in our communities during severe winters and particularly when severe weather events hit us. As in previous years, I know that the front line emergency services also rely heavily upon this community spirit and resilience to assist them.
The ‘Be Winter-Ready’ information campaign continues to be reviewed annually and the Office of Emergency Planning would welcome suggestions on how we might improve this service and provide innovative and cost neutral mechanism’s for getting the “Be Winter Ready” message out each year. Advice to the public continues to be delivered through the website and via Aertel page 592, along with the “Be Winter Ready” booklets published and through the associated links provided.

In addition, this year a twitter account is being launched and the Office of Emergency Planning will be tweeting during the winter period to augment the ‘Be Winter Ready’. The twitter account can be followed on @emergencyIE and the public are being encouraged to join in the conversation at #bewinterready.

Finally, the message of this ‘Be Winter-Ready’ campaign remains a simple prepared, stay safe and know where to find help if you need it.

Go raibh maith agat.

Alan Shatter T.D.
Chairman of the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning and
Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence

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