Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Political dysfunction perfectly illustrated by response to storm

This island contains two political entities, and this was clearly demonstrated by the reaction to Hurricane Ophelia on each side of the border.

In the Republic there was a sense of a co-ordinated approach, with clear public warnings about the potential dangers of the storm, the closure of schools and the need to stay indoors unless journeys were absolutely necessary.

It was clear there was a functioning government in charge. Northern Ireland, by comparison, does not have a functioning administration.

That is not to say that emergency services, especially NIE, were not prepared and geared up for the impending arrival of the storm. They were, but information about public services, especially school closures, arrived very late in the day and in a piecemeal manner.

Leaving it until after 10pm on Sunday to tell staff and parents that schools would not be open yesterday was a mistake. It caused huge disruption in many homes as parents had to either take the day off work or find someone to look after their children.

Even yesterday it was left to individual businesses to decide if workers should go home early. There was no clear central message or guidance. Indeed, it was left to a senior civil servant to become the public face of government - a job he didn't sign up to, and yet another example of the current dysfunction at Stormont due to the continued absence of local political input.

The cost of the storm to the Northern Ireland economy yesterday is put at £30m. Thankfully, at the time of writing, there was no loss of life, even if some people had narrow escapes from falling trees.

In the Republic three people died in what was a once-in-a-lifetime storm, demonstrating that no matter how many warnings are issued or what plans are laid, we cannot tame the force of nature.

And, as the winds continued to howl, we should pay tribute to those who could not heed the warnings to stay indoors. The doctors, nurses and ancillary staff who work in hospitals and other healthcare facilities had to continue to tend to the sick and make the potentially hazardous journey from their homes to places of work and return.

Outdoors, electricity and other utility workers, coastguards, firefighters, ambulance personnel and police all had to remain on standby to respond to calls.

As most of us gazed at the effects of the storm through our living room windows - thanks to modern technology, it is now possible for an increasing number of people to work from home - emergency workers were out in the worst of the storm restoring power to tens of thousands of homes, investigating crimes or tending to medical crises. They could not shelter from their responsibilities, and we owe them a debt of gratitude.

Given the severity of the storm, it beggars belief that some people seemed determined to put themselves in harm's way, either walking by shorelines with raging seas or in wooded areas. Their stupidity obviously knows no bounds and adds to the work of those who are trying to keep the population safe.

The full cost of this storm will not be known for some time, but what it has shown clearly is the need for either a return to devolved government or a return to direct rule. It is an unfair imposition by those elected to make decisions and devise policies to put the governance of the province directly into the hands of civil servants, whose primary role is to advise and implement ministerial decisions.

Belfast Telegraph

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