Fuel payments doubled but it is no U-turn, insists Government
The fuel allowance paid to more than 300,000 households will be doubled for the coming week, it has been confirmed.
Amid plummeting temperatures, the Government has agreed those entitled to payment will get €45 for this week, instead of €22.50.
Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty denied it was a climbdown in the face of mounting political pressure.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said earlier this week he could not write a "blank cheque" to pay for people to heat their homes.
However, yesterday, Ms Doherty said "finding the money" was "probably the easiest bit".
The move comes after Older People's Minister Jim Daly sparked controversy by urging people to keep their heating on 24 hours a day during the cold snap.
Yesterday, Ms Doherty called a snap media conference, where she announced the change of policy on the fuel allowance.
She insisted it was not a U-turn, saying she had to be sure she could deliver the payments, worth more than €6m, before making an announcement.
"My job was to make sure I was actually able to deliver on a promise," Ms Doherty said.
She also met with representatives of St Vincent de Paul and An Post to consider how best to support vulnerable people.
"Anybody who needs to get money will," she said. On Mr Daly's comments, she said: "We are all on the same team."
She said the Government had acted "swiftly and responsibly".
Some payments will take up to two weeks to actually reach the households - but Ms Doherty said a guarantee was in place that people would get the extra €22.50.
The ESB warned of prolonged power outages as temperatures plummet to as low as -7C, and there may also be thunder and lightning. However, it gave a commitment not to disconnect any homes from their power supply during the cold weather.
Ms Doherty said officials held talks with the companies about households who may be facing arrears.
She confirmed ESB has undertaken not to intervene until Storm Emma passes.
Meanwhile, hospitals have had to take the drastic decision to cancel the appointments of thousands of patients due at outpatient clinics or on a list for scheduled surgery as a result of the dangerous weather conditions.
A combination of risks to patients travelling to hospital and lack of staff means all non-essential services within hospitals and in the community in the worst-hit regions of Munster and Leinster are halted today and tomorrow.
HSE staff who cannot travel are to be granted emergency leave with pay.
"We are endeavouring to ensure that where appointments, clinics and certain services are cancelled and postponed that our staff contact those affected directly," a spokesman said.
"However, if anyone is due to attend at an appointment in the affected areas over the next two days, they should ring in advance and check that it is still going ahead."
There is also concern about older people living on their own in isolated areas where home helps have difficulty travelling to.
Pedestrians who want to reduce their risk of a slip or fall on treacherous icy footpaths should walk like a penguin, experts advise. Spreading feet out slightly while walking on ice increases the centre of gravity.
Try to bend slightly and walk with short, flat-footed steps.
Orthopaedic surgeon Peter O'Rourke, of Letterkenny Hospital, said hip and wrist fractures are very common in heavy snow conditions.
"In 1982, during the heavy snowfalls, in the hospital I worked in we had 65-69 wrist fractures and 29 hip fractures in the space of a few days," he said.