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Dublin: 5 °C Wednesday 19 December, 2018
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Government to block proposals to close all places of work during Status Red weather alerts

During Storm Ophelia last year, there was confusion as to whether all businesses should close, and if people should go to work or remain at home.

People walking in the snow during Storm Emma in March.
People walking in the snow during Storm Emma in March.
Image: Eamonn Farrell

THE GOVERNMENT IS to oppose a Bill that proposes to close places of work for the duration of a Status Red weather warning.

The Sinn Féin Bill also seeks to ensure that an employee who stays away from their workplace for the duration of a severe weather alert is not penalised by their boss.

During Storm Ophelia last year, there was confusion as to whether all businesses should close, and if people should go to work or remain at home.

At the time, the National Emergency Co-ordination Group advised that people remain indoors and stay safe. There was similar confusion during Storm Emma this year.

Following calls for there to be a clear plan as to what should be done in the case of a red alert, the Taoiseach committed to drafting guidelines to outline to businesses in the private sector what a code red alert means and how employers should deal with their employees in such a situation.

Private businesses 

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy also ordered a review into how government agencies have handled recent storms, and said it would inform what guidelines private businesses would be given in the future. However, he added that the government would not be telling the private sector what to do.

“Businesses have different ways of working today and we feel it is for the businesses to decide what is in the best interests of the safety of their employees,” he said.

Sinn Féin’s Extreme Weather Bill, which is due to be debated on Thursday, seeks to set down in law that businesses should be instructed to close during such major weather events.

Louth TD Imelda Munster said three people tragically lost their lives as a direct result of Storm Ophelia.

“As legislators we must now take measures to guide employers, protect workers and strengthen the powers of emergency services in the case of future warnings.

“I believe that this legislation will help prevent tragedies during future extreme weather events,” she said.

Business Minister Heather Humphreys told ministers at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting that while the Bill is being proposed in “good faith”, the government will oppose it as the government is not permitted to tell the private sector what to do in such weather events.

Ministers were told that the proposed law does not detail what would happen if all schools, hospitals, airports and all other businesses were forced to close.

“There are a large number of concerns with the Bill,” said a government spokesperson.

Cabinet were told that the outcome of Murphy’s review into recent weather events would inform any future policy relating to Status Red weather alerts.

In addition to dealing with the closure of businesses, the Sinn Féin Bill also proposes to impose penalties on those who put lives of the emergency services in danger through reckless behaviour during an extreme weather warning.

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