SDLP Leader Margaret Ritchie MP said the events of the last two weeks powerfully reinforce the case for a severe weather task force which can move quickly to mobilise the resources of all agencies in an emergency.”
She said,“The freeze was handled badly and the thaw was handled a lot worse, and over-reliance on the judgement of one department and one minister’s judgement was at the core of the problem.
“Accountability after the event is vital, but we also need to move quickly beyond the blame game and prepare for the next bout of severe weather which might be just a week or two away.
“Our call in mid-December for a severe weather task force was arrogantly dismissed by Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy who said everything was under control. It clearly wasn’t. The Office of the First Ministers runs an emergency planning group of civil servants, the Civil Contingencies Unit, but there is no evidence that it did anything practical at all in this crisis.
“We need to take the politics and point-scoring out of crisis management. We need a Task Force spanning across all relevant departments and agencies which can plan sensibly for situations like these and move quickly with coordination measures when they arise.
“And we need sensible structures to mobilise and resource self-help groups in business and farming and the general community, based on the good neighbourliness which so many people are demonstrating in this crisis,” Ms Ritchie added.
In the worst winter in decades, home owners across Northern Ireland have suffered with many issues such as frozen pipes, failed heating systems, inacessible roads, difficulties in getting to work, school closures, and more, all exacerbated by a rising incidence of flu illnesses. At government level, there has been institutional failure in dealing with unprecedented weather problems. It will be a winter we will not forget in a hurry.
It is not finished yet.