- Seán Hogan cites need to keep bakeries and other “essential services” open
Seán Hogan, the national director for Fire and Emergency Management, said one of the lessons from red level weather alerts like last year’s Storm Emma blizzard was the need for some “essential jobs” that keep the country working.
Shops ran out of bread in the days leading up to the massive snow storm as people stocked up amid grave weather warnings and advice to stay at home for the duration of the extreme conditions.
Mr Hogan said that the priority of the National Emergency Coordination Group is “the protection of life and limb”, but he personally doubts that legislation to close businesses in red weather warnings would benefit the situation.
It came after Solidarity TD Mick Barry said at the Oireachtas Housing and Local Government committee he believes there should be a law that would see private sector workplaces closed in such servere weather events.
Mr Hogan said he wasn’t speaking on behalf of the Department but that: “I personally would have question marks over whether that would be the right approach or if it would work in this country.”
He said a system has been developed where people can react to information from Met Éireann with yellow, orange and red levels of weather alerts in “an appropriate way that’s sensible for themselves”.
“I personally wouldn’t be in favour of laws which would enable somebody like myself to make a judgement and say close this, close that, close the other – workplaces in particular.”
He said that reviews of severe weather events show the workplace is a “complex place” and there are a whole series of “essential services out there which need to be kept going”.
Bakeries and the logistics sector were two examples Mr Hogan gave.
He added: “These are not the high-profile jobs, but they are the essential jobs to keep the country working.”
He said the Business Department have guidance available for companies and have updated it since the experience of Storm Ophelia, the tail-end of a hurricane that led to three fatalities in 2017.
Mr Hogan said that loss of life on that occasion was deeply regretted.
Mr Barry said he was surprised by Mr Hogan’s response as the current situation can see people going to work in buses, cars and bicycles during red level weather alerts.
Mr Hogan said another lesson from recent severe weather was that there’s a variation in conditions across the country.
He said the North-West wasn’t as impacted by Storm Emma as the South-East which had major snow-drifts.
“It can be a bit of a blunt instrument and that’s part of the difficulty I think that we face and would face with a legislative type of situation,” he said.
Mr Hogan added: “All employers at the moment are required by health and safety legislation to obviously consider the conditions and many have developed their arrangements since the experiences of Ophelia and Emma”.
“But I still have to say that I’m not sure that legislation to enforce that or to insist on closing of things would necessarily be of benefit to public safety which is the piece that really we consider most.”