TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has rejected suggestions that the government had not taken a co-ordinated approach to preparations for Storm Ophelia.
“This is an evolving situation,” said the Taoiseach, addressing the media just before 11am today. “The response began on Wednesday when the initial warning was given to Met Éireann.”
He said that as a decision was only made last night to apply the red alert warning to the entire country, the decision could only then be made to close all schools and all public service offices.
The Taoiseach said:
Our number one priority today is to avoid any injuries and any loss of life.
On that note, the National Emergency Coordination Group is to meet three times a day while the storm and its aftermath is being assessed.
The main message to the public, however, is to “stay home” and to check on elderly neighbours, before and after the storm.
There will be huge danger in travelling even when winds and rain die down, relayed the Taoiseach, with hazards such as fallen trees and downed power lines not necessarily cleared straight away.
“I would like to thank emergency services and local authority workers, particularly in the south, who are bearing the brunt right now,” said Varadkar. He said that eirgrid and ESB workers would not be sent out to repair damage until it was absolutely safe to do so.
Should private employees be paid if they had to stay home?
When asked why the government had not told private industries and companies to instruct workers to stay at home, when public service workers and schools were told to close, the Taoiseach said it is “up to individual companies” and noted that many private companies were in a position to have people work from home today. He also said that ‘force majeure’ provisions in employment legislation could come into play where people could not make it into work as public transport was off, or it was unsafe to do so.
However, it will still be up to private companies to decide if people should be paid if they could not turn up for work or work from home today.
The Defence Forces have not yet been deployed, but are on standby.
Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, Minister of State for the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief, warned that the ripples of the storm could carry on late into the week.
“When we see what is happening in Cork at the present time,” he said, “and look at the destruction and the amount of electricity that is out, if that is to ripple right through the rest of the country, we’re faced with an awful problem tomorrow and right into the weekend.”