Irish Defence Minister Willie O'Dea attempting to defend the government on Irish national radio
As public anger grows over the Government’s response to chaotic weather conditions for commuters in Dublin, Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea yesterday said the Army hadn’t acted because “we weren’t asked”.
Minister O’Dea also said that if the Government had got involved a week ago he didn’t really think “anything different would be happening”.
On the same programme Fianna Fail backbencher Mattie McGrath called for Transport Minister Noel Dempsey to return to Ireland: “He’s entitled to his holidays, but to go on holidays and leave that crisis…”
Irate callers flooded Lunchtime with Eamon Keane on Newstalk 106-108 fm during the course of the Minister O’Dea’s interview with some asking if it was a sketch.
The following is a transcript of the interview.
Minister O’ Dea (W O’D): “Even if we had got together in the last week or so ago, I don’t think really anything different would be happening. The optimum way to grit the roads is by the use of salt. Unfortunately because this thing has gone on so long, the prediction was last week that we’d get another week of it at least but now the Met people are talking in terms of another week or ten days.”
Eamon Keane (EK): “You have people in cities stranded. We knew this was happening, Why couldn’t the army trucks or air ambulances have been made available?”
W O’D: “We have used the air ambulance service increasingly in the last week on foot of response to requests from the HSE. We’ve had no requests whatsoever for the use of any army vehicles up to now.”
EK: “People stranded in Dublin would have wanted army vehicles.”
W O’D: “We weren’t asked. If Bus Eireann or the local authority had asked us and if it was transmitted to me I would certainly have made army vehicles available.”
EK: “The dogs in the streets knew about it. If you have to wait to be asked…”
W O’D: “It’s not a question of waiting to be asked.”
EK: “You just said it was.”
W O’D: “It’s not a question of waiting to be asked. Basically, is it a question of us going off and volunteering our services? We’re there. People know we’re there. The army did very sterling work with the recent flooding crisis as requested by people and if we’re requested to help we will help.”
EK: “I don’t doubt your good intention to help but people will say ‘hang on, these guys are the Government. There are people falling over footpaths, there are people who can’t get home, there are people stuck in their cars for four hours but the Government are waiting to be asked?’”
W O’D: “Eamon look, you tend to blame the Government for a lot of things but you can’t blame us for the weather. If you want to let me reply to the question, I’ve been looking at the BBC News and the situation if anything is much worse in the UK…”
EK: “Let me put it in the context of people stuck in their cars for three or four hours yesterday, for people sliding on their behinds yesterday, for elderly people in A&E yesterday because there was no system. I’m saying you could have provided army trucks to get people home.”
W O’D: “Well the army trucks were available if they were requested and we have made that quite clear now to the military authorities that they are to accede to any transport requests that come in. As I say we’re there as a back up. It worked very well in the flooding, our assistance was requested and the army did sterling work. The army is available to do a similar type of work. But I do anticipate, and I think their assistance won’t be needed nearly as much as it was during the flooding crisis because this is quite a different situation.”
EK: “The IFA told me their members could have gritted roads the councils couldn’t get to but aren’t permitted to do so. Your backbencher Mattie McGrath was making the point you can get material other than salt.”
W O’D: “There are some difficulties about that which I am not aware of. I’m coming at this from the perspective of making the army available. I’ve made it perfectly clear today the army are available. My understanding is there is some difficulty with that but you’d need to address that with John Gormley who’s the Minister of Environment…They tell me mind you the alternatives we’re looking at are fairly poor alternatives but in view of the shortage of salt we’re going to have to consider alternatives, mixing salt with grit or using beach sand etc. They are a fairly poor alternative and they tend to damage the roads more than the salt. Any expenditure now is coming from the roads budget in the long term.”
EK: “You’ll appreciate in your constituency in Limerick that’s not too much good to people when they’re stuck in their homes.”
W O’D: “Well I appreciate that. The situation in Limerick hasn’t been as bad fortunately as the rest of the country.”
EK: “On my programme today Mattie McGrath, FF backbencher demanded Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey return home. Deputy McGrath said ‘to go on holidays and leave that crisis…the responses I got yesterday from him through email were that it’s the responsibility of the NRA.’ So Minister O’Dea what do you make of those comments?”
W O’D: “Well I think it’s wrong for a start. A huge amount of work has been done on gritting roads and the primary focus has to be the main roads, of course, and with all the best will in the world we wouldn’t have enough material to grit every side road in the country… but the fact of the matter is that I’m sure Noel Dempsey will be back in the next day or so. He’s due back at the weekend. That’s my understanding. This is Thursday, the weekend begins tomorrow. The fact of the matter is the Cabinet are meeting next week.”
EK: “Next week?”
W O’D: “The Cabinet has its first meeting next week yes”
EK: “Next Week?”
W O’D: “Wait just a second now the Emergency response coordinate committee has met today. Their decisions will be transmitted to the various government departments. The matter will be kept under review by the office of emergency planning which I will be in contacted with literally on an hourly basis.”
EK: “To your credit you’re in their Willie and I know you are working hard and in fairness you are on radio as well. But maybe Minister Dempsey should have cut the holiday short and come back a few days early just for the public they want leadership Willie.”
W O’D: “Ah you know the point is that people book their holidays and none of us anticipate that this sort of situation would arise and I don’t know the circumstance bout Noel Dempsey booking his holidays and it’s quite unfair to expect me to comment on that. The fact of the matter is that the people who are responsible who are primarily responsible for coordinating this now at a central level that it’s going on longer than we anticipated is the emergency response coordination committee they have met they are in session their decisions have been transmitted. I’m in charge of the emergency planning office and you know there will be nothing achieved by noel Dempsey coming back a day earlier or a day later other than what we can achieve any how through the emergency plan. I would make the point also that the Department of Transport Noel Dempsey’s own department actually chaired that meeting this morning so I’m sure he has been kept very closely appraised of the situation.”
As the country braces itself for further bad weather, FF TD for Tipperary South Mattie McGrath called on Transport Minister Noel Dempsey to come home from holidays and deal with the worsening roads crisis.
The TD told Eamon Keane how he had tried to contact the Minister but with no success :
“He’s entitled to his holidays but to go on holidays and leave that crisis…the responses I got yesterday from him through email were that it’s the responsibility of the NRA. I’m just bitterly…I can’t believe that. The NRA are not responsible. They have subsumed responsibilities but when it comes down to it, they’re blaming the county councils. And the county councils are blaming them and the Government.’’