Belfast Telegraph

Storm Ophelia: Anger at short notice for school closures in Northern Ireland

How and when Ophelia will track over the country

By Steven Alexander

The Department of Education has been lambasted after it waited until late last night before advising that all schools in Northern Ireland should close today as Hurricane Ophelia arrives.

The tropical storm will lash the region with gusts of up to 80mph, posing a danger to life and threatening travel chaos.

It has made its way across the Atlantic and Ophelia's remnants are set to reach home shores today, resulting in "exceptional" weather - 30 years after the Great Storm of 1987 killed 18 people.

An 'amber' warning is in place across Northern Ireland between 3pm and 10pm - meaning there is a "potential risk to life and property".

But in the Republic it was ramped up to 'red', with troops placed on standby to help for what officials called an "unprecedented storm".

Schools, colleges, courts, crèches, universities and passport offices will close in the south, while medical operations have been cancelled.

The chairman of the Republic's National Emergency Co-ordination Group even advised people not to travel to work during this "extreme weather event".

But as the Republic battened down the hatches, the authorities in Northern Ireland appeared less concerned.

It was not until after 10.20pm that Stormont issued a tweet, saying the Department of Education "has announced that all schools should close tomorrow (Monday, October 16 ) as precautionary measure in light of weather warnings".

An official Press release was not issued until 10.45pm - too late for many. Angry parents said it gave little chance to make alternative arrangements.

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath said his party had pressed Stormont officials to take a decision after the announcement in the Republic. He said the decision in Northern Ireland was "welcome" but "very late".

"Parents will struggle to arrange childcare and many children will already have their lunches packed for school in the morning," he said. "This really is very late in the day."

Jayne Knox tweeted: "Why are we only being told this so late in the day?! Huge implications for childcare."

The lack of clarity in the tweet was also criticised. Iain Shannon tweeted: "You say 'should', please confirm if you are telling schools to close or is it at the school's discretion. I think you need to be clearer."

A handful of schools here had already taken individual decisions to close today.

But parents in the Republic had known about the closures for many hours beforehand.

Earlier, Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann had called on the Northern Ireland Office to ensure that the authorities were prepared. He said he had been advised that the Secretary of State James Brokenshire would be speaking to the head of the Civil Service, David Sterling, on Monday.

However, Mr Sterling will be attending a meeting of the devolved regions in London to discuss Brexit today.

Mr Swann said: "It needs to be treated with the utmost seriousness. Hopefully Northern Ireland will avoid the worst effects of the storm, but in case we don't then we should to be fully prepared in advance."

Met Office spokesman Grahame Madge said it is likely there will be considerable disruption to transport and power lines.

"We're expecting wind speeds in Northern Ireland on Monday to run to gusts of 65-75mph with the south east of the province maybe even experiencing gusts of up to 80mph."

Forecasters are warning of flying debris, such as tiles blown from roofs, as well as large waves around coastal districts with beach material being thrown on to roads, sea fronts and properties. Heavy rain is also possible in parts of Northern Ireland.

"This leads to the potential for injuries and danger to life," the Met Office said.

On Facebook, the PSNI advised drivers to follow its updates on road closures on Twitter. Flights, ferries, bus and rail are all likely to be affected.

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