Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Leaders finally show initiative

Environment Minister Edwin Poots comes from farming stock and with that background is well used to preparing for the winter winds.

He knows the value of having contingency plans in place in case of emergencies and is putting that knowledge to good use in his political position.

At last there is evidence of joined up government thinking with Mr Poot’s department consulting with local authorities to open up council buildings if required to accommodate people left without heating, power or running water due to the current icy conditions.

It is to be hoped that such reception centres will not be required, but it is prudent to plan that they will. Local authorities have all sorts of buildings from leisure centres to community halls that could be used to accommodate large numbers of people in an emergency, providing them with shelter, heat and food. No, or at most nominal, expenditure is required at this stage, but local authorities need to be on alert to respond at a moment’s notice.

Mr Poots is right to raise the question of how councils could help vulnerable people, especially the elderly and those with young children. Already hundreds of households are reporting frozen or burst pipes and deliveries of home heating oil to snowbound homes may prove difficult over the festive period.

It has to be remembered that these are very unusual conditions for Northern Ireland with temperatures falling to potentially lethal levels. The general public can also play their part in looking out for vulnerable neighbours, ensuring that they have adequate food, fuel, power or heating.

Now that Mr Poots has urged councils to be on alert, let us hope that they respond more positively – and more urgently – than they did to pleas from another Executive Minister, Conor Murphy, to grit footpaths in towns and cities throughout the province. Local government now has a chance to redeem itself and should grasp it with both hands.

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