Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Local Authority Salting Machinery.

11.

asked the Minister for the Environment the number of local authorities that have salting machinery for use on icy roads.

My Department do not maintain a record of the numbers and types of machines and equipment manufactured specifically for snow and ice clearance which are owned by local authorities. I am advised, however, that all local road authorities are equipped to deal with snow and ice conditions by vehicles designed or capable of adaptation for spreading sand and salt.

The Minister said that all local authorities are equipped to deal with the spreading of sand and salt on snow. Can the Minister explain how it happened that Dublin city and County, as well as adjacent counties, were snowbound for a week whereas in Donegal, and I am sure in other parts of the country, where we have the facilities, we often have similar type weather and a great national disaster is never declared? Can the Minister explain why the Dublin and other local authorities were not out, like we are on occasions when there are heavy snowfalls, the day it actually happened and not a week or ten days afterwards?

Dublin Corporation and Dublin County Council were out on the day it happened.

Nobody saw them out. It appears from reports in the press and the media that the Minister's information is not correct.

My information is accurate.

The general indication is that the co-ordinating work of the local authorities left a lot to be desired.

A question, please.

Why did the local authorities in Dublin not act immediately on the Friday night and the following morning especially on the dual carriageway, where the local authority had no equipment in operation? People had to remain overnight to get machinery from a company, which was not able to do this type of work. I believe that the Minister's co-ordinating efforts did not work.

That may be the Deputy's opinion but if he cares to put down a question ——

It is the opinion of the whole country.

That may be so. If the Deputy cares to put down a question relating to Dublin I will give him precise information on what was done and he may fill in the gaps in relation to what he considers was not done in that regard. At the moment I am investigating all the efforts that were made over that period to see if (a) the co-ordination operated, (b) if local authorities had the facilities that were available to them and used them and (c) to try to identify any gaps there were in the snow clearing efforts of local authorities during that period. When I have finished that study I will be glad to make it available to any Member of the House who wants it.

Four days after the snowfall the Army had to be called in to do some work. The Minister stated in his reply that machinery similar to what they have in Britain was available to melt the snow off the paths. In Britain they have equipment which can spray the paths. Have local authorities got that equipment here? I believe most of the local authorities have not got that equipment but it can be hired. The Minister told local authorities last October they were to make the necessary arrangements to alleviate a hazard like this. I am glad to say a number of local authorities ——

The Deputy must ask a question.

This is a very important matter. The snow caused great inconvenience to the public at large.

This is not the subject matter of the question I have answered.

Dublin Corporation and Dublin County Council had not this equipment. If it was available to them they did not use it.

I did not say it was available to them.

What did the Minister say?

The Deputy is asking a supplementary question about Dublin which is not the subject matter of the question I have answered.

The Minister said the equipment was available to Dublin Corporation and Dublin County Council.

I did not, I said that I am advised that all local road authorities are equipped to deal with snow and ice conditions with vehicles designed or capable of adaptation for spreading sand and salt, which is the answer to the question I was asked.

It seems that this equipment was not available to Dublin Corporation and Dublin County Council. The Minister says the vehicles were adaptable. How could vehicles be adapted on the eve of a blizzard?

Very easily.

Not too easily. How did it happen that there was not a grader available on the dual carriageway on the evening of the blizzard? They had a small, mickey mouse JCB, which was utterly useless working on that road. Why was a grader not available? I understand all this because I know a lot about plant. I am very familiar with this situation. People are asking why the necessary equipment was not available? If Dublin Corporation and the other county councils had not the equipment why did they not hire the necessary equipment which was available in the country and was lying idle?

This blizzard occurred about three weeks ago. In this House a Deputy only needs to give three days' notice if he wants to put down a question. If the Deputy was so concerned about what happened in Dublin County Council he had three weeks to put down a question. There is no question on the Order Paper about it.

There will be. I could not put down a Private Notice Question when the Dáil was not in session.

If the Deputy had put down a question last Friday he would have the answer now.

I know the Minister finds himself in an embarrassing position.

This is not embarrassing for me.

The Minister has the overall responsibility. The responsibility was certainly between the Tánaiste and the Minister for the Environment. They messed it up, as everybody knows. Why was the necessary equipment not brought in immediately? This equipment could be hired.

I would be a lot more embarrassed if I was the Deputy, having had three weeks to put down a question and not doing so. If the Deputy put down a question last Friday he would have got the answer today but he was not the slightest bit concerned until Deputy Coughlan put down this question. He is now jumping in on Deputy Coughlan's question.

I have a number of questions down for tomorrow on a number of matters for which the Minister has responsibility.

The Deputy has no question on the Order Paper dealing with this matter.

We cannot have a debate on this matter.

I have a question down relating to this.

What is the number of the question?

Could we proceed to Question No. 12?

I know the Minister is in a difficult position.

We could have a debate on this on another occasion.

Why did the Tánaiste and the Minister for the Environment not co-ordinate the work of Dublin Corporation and Dublin County Council in such a way that on the evening of the blizzard and the following morning this equipment which I have mentioned, which was used in Counties Laois and Offaly, as well as other counties, could be made available to them? Dublin had to wait four days for anything to happen.

The people will judge Deputy Connolly's concern by the fact that he could not be bothered to put down a question to get the necessary information. Now that I have prompted him he will have one down next week.

The Minister did not prompt me.

Where was his concern? If he had put down a question before 11 a.m. last Friday it would have been on today's Order Paper, or if he had put it down before 11 a.m. on Monday it would be answered tomorrow, but there is no question on the Order Paper from Deputy Connolly. Now he says he is concerned about the people of Dublin simply because Deputy Coughlan put down this question.

I knew Deputy Coughlan had this question down. I must clarify the situation.

We have spent almost ten minutes on this question. There are other means at the Deputy's disposal to raise this matter.

This is a very important question and I am very grateful to the Chair for giving me an opportunity to raise the matter. I realise this is a very embarrassing situation for the Minister. First, the Tánaiste was in charge of the co-ordination work, then the Minister said he would make a few pounds available, and then the Taoiseach flew back from Malaga by special plane——

A final supplementary from Deputy Brennan.

I cannot understand how the new Fianna Fáil spokesman for the Environment did not put down a question on this very important matter. He did not even bother his head——

The Minister did not bother his head to co-ordinate the work.

Deputy Brennan to ask a supplementary. If not, I am calling Question No. 12.

That is a very bad start for Deputy Connolly.

The Minister will be judged by his actions.

I wish to ask a supplementary question.

I was waiting patiently for the Deputy to ask his question.

Is it not a fact that the local authority involved did not have the money?

That is not true. They were told they would be reimbursed.

Excuse me. The officials in my county did not have approval to hire the machinery.

They had. The circular of last October told them they should identify and if necessary make arrangements to hire——

Nobody mentioned money.

——the machines.

Machines have to be paid for.

They were told on Saturday morning.

I have allowed a great deal of time for this question. I am calling Question No. 12.

Deputy Timmins rang me on Saturday morning and——

I have called Question No. 12.

Is the Chair going to let somebody from this side of the House ask a question?

Nobody from the Government side offered before I called Question No. 12.

May I ask a supplementary question?

I am calling Question No. 12.

The Chair is not allowing any questions from this side of the House.

I will allow any questions if Deputies stand up.

I want to put it on record that Wicklow County Council heard nothing about this on Saturday morning.