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Dempsey on snow chaos; 'I'll do it all over again'

Transport Minister Noel Dempsey has caused consternation by declaring that he would do nothing different if another big freeze was to engulf the country.

The cack-handed response by the Minister during last fortnight's weather was to go on holiday to Malta, when he should have been in charge of the response operation.

Minister Dempsey, shrugged his shoulders yesterday and announced that no lessons have been learned, and he'd do it all the same again.

Despite accusations that his performance during the crisis was a resigning matter, the 'Maltese snowman' says the Government reaction would be "exactly the same" if another cold snap gripped the country.

Trapped

A Dail committee was told yesterday that the Minister "went AWOL" while the country's transport network came close to a complete shutdown, thousands of elderly people were trapped in their homes, hundreds of millions were lost in business revenue and 10,000 people suffered "Dempsey fractures".

But in response, the Meath man defiantly rejected the idea that he was sunning himself in Malta without a care in the world at the time and warned it could all happen again.

He admitted: "If we had a similar type spell of bad weather, the gritting that was done by the local authorities would be done exactly the same again next time around.

"The roads that weren't gritted this time won't be gritted the next time either because of the prioritisation [local authorities] have to make, because of resources and manpower."

The only new suggestion that Mr Dempsey had for the Transport Committee was that he might legally force householders and businesses to make a bigger effort to clear pavements outside their own premises.

"It's something that I think will definitely have to be considered without any liability if somebody has an accident," he said.

During often heated exchanges, another Fianna Fail TD, Noel Ahern, also defended the emergency response saying that the public "might be over-believing this airy fairy global warming stuff".

But Labour's Tommy Broughan lashed Minister Dempsey saying people were "incandescent with anger".

"Your performance in this has been deplorable and would be a resignation matter in many countries. The whole Government went AWOL," he said.

The Minister hit back describing the comments as "a lot of political hoo-ha" that ignored the fact that 14,000km of road was gritted everyday, with more than 261 gritting trucks and 180 snow ploughs working. The Government and local authorities have begun a review of responses to the crisis.

Consideration will be given to whether or not the earlier activation of "emergency co-ordination structures" would have made a difference.

Asked about the clean-up, including the need for substantial road repairs, Minister Dempsey said there was no "pot of gold" for local authorities. He said it was up to local authorities to set aside money for weather-related works.

The National Roads Authority and councils nationwide are assessing the cost of damage to the network, which is expected to run into millions.

kdoyle@herald.ie