"I'm not the boss," was the extraordinary admission by Minister John Gormley hours after he was put in charge of the freezing crisis.
In a bizarre series of live TV interviews, he failed to reassure the public that the emergency was being handled effectively:
The extremely defensive Minister stated:
- He didn't know where Transport Minister Noel Dempsey is
- Refused to call the army in to clear footpaths and secondary roads
- Became irked at being labelled the 'Minister for Snow'
- Claimed the local authorities were doing a good job clearing routes
Mr Gormley's bizarre performance came as it also emerged that Transport Minister Noel Dempsey only went on holidays this Tuesday, as the crisis descended into chaos.
Mr Gormley was also quick to pass the buck to Mr Dempsey.
Gormley insisted that he had no control over local authority gritting policy and went on to say that local authorities should be dealing with the Department of Transport as they seek to keep roads open, but Transport Minister Dempsey was still AWOL.
And as the PR disaster for Brian Cowen's Government got worse, Defence Minister Willie O'Dea said that Mr Dempsey presence would make no difference anyway.
Opposition parties today accused the Cabinet of having "failed abysmally to get on top of this issue and show direction".
An emergency plan seemed to be in disarray today as local authorities suggested that gardai may have to start closing primary routes -- and Met Eireann warned that the worst was yet to come. Mr Gormley who was put in charge of reassuring the public during the current cold snap, made matters worse with a dismal performance on RTE's Prime Time, it was claimed.
He said that the major response only began this week because schools were reopening and people were going back to work after the Christmas break.
However, around 60pc of school remained shut yesterday and even more are likely to send thousands of children home next week.
Mr Gormley also took huge exception when presenter Miriam O'Callaghan made an off-the-cuff remark, describing him as the Minister for Snow.
"This is about leadership. I'm not saying it's an easy situation, but you are now the man. You are the Minister for Snow," she said. However, getting hot under the collar, Mr Gormley replied: "No, no, please, no, no, no, I am not the Minister for Snow. Let's not use simplifications." As Ms O'Callaghan pointed out the irrelevant nature of that argument, Mr Gormly said: "No it isn't. It's a simplification. I'd prefer if we actually dealt with this in a factual way. Let's deal with the issues."
He then went on to say that he wasn't in charge of the local authorities' road clearance response, arguing that he couldn't overrule their decisions not to ask for army assistance.
"I am not their boss, with respect. If you look at the legislation, they report directly to the Department of Transport. That's the way the legislation is framed. There's no confusion, that's what the legislation says and we have to deal with the facts," he said.
But his claim that the Department of Transport was in control comes at a time when its head, Noel Dempsey, is abroad on a sun holiday.
His spokesperson was unavailable for comment this morning, but Defence Minister Willie O'Dea defended Mr Dempsey's decision not to cut his holiday short.
Bizarrely, Mr O'Dea said that his colleague's presence would not help the situation.
"I'm in charge of the emergency planning office and you know there will be nothing achieved by Noel Dempsey coming back a day earlier or a day later other than what we can achieve through the emergency plan," he told Lunchtime with Eamon Keane on Newstalk.
When challenged about Mr Dempsey's absence, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said: "I haven't spoken to the minister but I just want to make the point that he will be returning this week."
Forecasters say there won't be a thaw for at least another week and "frequent showers of sleet and snow" on Monday will lead to "significant accumulations" and drifting is possible".