Donegal south west Deputy Dinny McGinley
Speaking on the Severe Weather Emergencies Motion in Dail Eireann during the week, Deputy Dinny McGinley, stated that the 30 days duration of the big freeze inflicted more damage on Donegal roads than 30 years of traffic. Continuing, Deputy McGinley said that is right and proper that the House debate the recent big freeze, the worst since 1963, which paralysed the country. That so little was done and Ministers were nowhere to be seen throughout the period illustrates the lack of leadership in Government. Like Deputy D’Arcy, I do not blame anyone for going on holidays. However, there was no one to take charge in the absence of Ministers until the crisis was almost over. In addition, salt and grit were not available in sufficient quantities to make our roads safe and there was no overall emergency plan. If we are to learn one lesson from the 30 days the freeze lasted, it is that we should be more prepared in future.
County Donegal was brought to its knees and its road infrastructure ruined by the big freeze. Of the 6,300 km of road in the county, the local authority succeeded in gritting 1,200 km or 20% of the network. As a result, 80% of the county’s roads were left untreated and communities throughout the county were left isolated and exposed to the elements.
I acknowledge the work done by the Defence Forces, Civil Defence and, in particular, the mountain rescue teams who delivered food parcels to those living in mountainous areas and helped them survive the crisis. I also compliment local communities on their response. Personally, I would have been marooned in my townland for weeks if my neighbours had not taken the initiative and spread sand deposited on the roadside by the council shortly before Christmas. While I acknowledge the work done by the local authority and particularly those on duty during the crisis, the resources at their disposal were pathetically inadequate.
Travelling through most of County Donegal in the past week or so, I found that the county’s roads are devastated. An engineer informed me that the damage is known as frost heave. The “Back of Errigal” road, which was not gritted during the freeze is disintegrating in parts. Last Friday, I travelled from Lifford to Porthall to St. Johnston on a road which can now only be described as Third World. You could say the same about most roads in the County. These damaged roads must be repaired. I hope the Government will refund local authorities for the work they have carried out and provide extra funding for critical restoration works. The Donegal county manager stated last Friday that the big freeze has so far cost €4 million.
The water situation in the County was also critical. At the best of times, 42% of water in County Donegal is unaccounted for. During the freeze, water consumption increased by 35%, which is a story in its own right. County council staff dealt with leaks night and day but large tracts of the county were left without water during the crisis. Major investment is required to ensure almost half of our water is not lost and guarantee an adequate supply of water.