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Speech by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence Mr. Alan Shatter at the launch of the ‘Be Winter-Ready ‘ 2012 – 2013 Information Campaign

I am very pleased to welcome you all to the launch of the ‘Be Winter-Ready’ 2012 - 2012 Information Campaign as Chairman of the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning and I wish to acknowledge the support of my colleague the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Leo Varadkar, and all of the relevant Government Departments and Agencies who have come together to support today’s launch.

The first ‘Be Winter-Ready’ Campaign last year highlighted the “whole of Government” approach being taken and informed the public of what is being done and where information can be sourced. The central message of this year’s campaign is simply to encourage people to be prepared, to stay safe and to know where to find help if you need it.

2010 will be long remembered as the year of severe cold, snow and ice but last winter, by contrast, was very mild and the more recent severe weather this summer was characterised by heavy rainfall and consequent flooding, particularly affecting the Cork area. This demonstrates the unpredictability of Irish weather and the need to be prepared but I must emphasise that severe weather events in Ireland are not common place. Met Éireann have told us that severe winters occur roughly once every ten years but it is not possible to determine, with any certainty, what the long term winter weather will be.

Drawing on our experiences of such events over previous years and the lessons learned, central and local government are better prepared and ready to respond to incidents of severe weather.  Emergency Plans are in place and are regularly updated and exercised simulating a range of weather related scenarios.  Local Authorities also have Winter Maintenance Plans in place for the coming winter. 

Within my own Department the Civil Defence and the Defence Forces are equipped, trained and regularly exercised to the highest levels to be able to provide support to the Civil Authorities, when required.  Recent experiences of severe weather relief efforts, such as the flooding of Clonakilty in mid-October, saw 15 Cork West Civil Defence Volunteers and two Civil Defence 4X4 Vehicles assist the civil authorities at various locations in the worst affected areas. The lessons learnt from such events assist Civil Defence in its own preparations for winter. Civil Defence has a fleet of 151 4X4 vehicles, water pumping equipment in each Local Authority unit, 10 welfare trailer units serving each Local Authority region and recently acquired pontoons all in addition to an active membership of 4,469 Volunteer members ready and willing to assist Gardaí, Local Authorities and the HSE countrywide.

All Local Authorities have in place Major Emergency Plans that include provisions for severe weather. During recent severe weather incidents the co-ordination structures and procedures in these plans were used extensively and included activation of Local Co-ordination Groups and internal Crisis Management Teams, and the use of Generic Information Management systems. Early activation of the Local Co-ordination Groups enables decisions to be made quickly at the onset of severe weather.  During recent severe weather events, many Local Co-ordination Groups were in a position to anticipate problems (based on previous experiences and lessons learnt) and take appropriate action at a very early stage and proved to be very effective.

Sufficient resources are also being provided this winter, including supplies of salt to treat roads.  At the start of this winter 210,000 tonnes of salt will be available and are strategically located across the country. This compares to the 130,000 tonnes used during the very severe winter of 2010/2011. In advance of severe weather events local Councils publish on their websites the priority routes being treated.  In total, normal winter maintenance covers some 18,000 km of our 96,000 km road system.

Most emergency situations, including severe weather events, are responded to and managed locally or regionally as I have described.  Where such weather events require a national response, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government will lead the national level co-ordination to bring “Whole of Government” support to bear.  During the cold weather in 2010, the Severe Weather National Coordination Group, comprising of 27 different Departments and Agencies, met every day over a 5-week period. More recently, this Group was convened in response to the flooding that affected the Cork area on 28 June 2012. Thankfully, on that occasion, it was possible to stand down the group later that day as the local response was managing the issues and a national response was no longer required.

These are just some examples of how prepared we are now at a National and local level but we can never be complacent and need to continue to regularly plan, train and exercise for such events. I would also like to acknowledge the work of individuals, community groups and the voluntary emergency services for the essential assistance they provide, especially to the vulnerable in our communities during severe winters.  I know from speaking to those in the front line emergency services that they too rely heavily upon this community spirit and resilience that exists across Ireland to assist them.

The ‘Be Winter-Ready’ website and the booklet have been updated from last year and they, together with the links to other public service websites, bring all of this information together in one location and I would ask you to take some time to explore these sites and to read the booklet. The message of this ‘Be Winter-Ready’ campaign is simple, be prepared, stay safe and know where to find help if you need it.

Go raibh maith agat.