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For the want of salt, the Republic was lost

Please Conserve Water (from RTÉ)

The sign which mocked me in the rain

A week ago, in the midst of what RTÉ christened "The Big Freeze", I had a realisation about my demands of government, national and local.

I no longer expected niceties like a public health system or public transport. My sole demand of the State was now that the roads would be clear of snow and ice so that I could cycle to and from work. Even this, they could not manage.

We ran out of grit, and there was no salt to be had, even in the supermarkets. The government announced a national emergency, after waiting a few days to see if the problem would go away on its own.

Eventually, I had to abandon my bike, and waste 2 hours, twice day, on commuting on public transport.

As the cold-snap passed, we were faced with a new "emergency". The reservoirs are now almost  completely empty. Burst pipes have exacerbated an already-bad situation in our national plumbing.

I work in what most people would consider one of the world's most high-technology companies. In the evening when I went home, for several nights last week, there was no water in the house, in this supposed first-world country.

As I waited for the bus, in the pissing rain, I was taunted by a sign like the one you see above. As the rain pooled around my shoes, it begged me to conserve water.


  1. Alan wrote:

    You are provided with moderately good public transport. As you pointed out, you spent a while taking it to work, and they kept it running for most of the "big freeze". It isn't as fast as your bike during rush hours, but that has more to do with all the cars on the road than the transport itself.

    Sunday, January 17, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Permalink
  2. James Pelow wrote:

    I think you're being needlessly cynical there, I'll be the first to admit that the current government are woeful, whether with the current shower from the (soon to be gone) Green Party, or with the previous shower from the (already gone) PDs. But, even I admit that there is no way that weather could have been planned for. What do you suggest? Salt is laid before the chill to build up a saline barrier. Once the effect of that barrier has worn off, on (say) the third or fourth day of a cold period, then as much salting and gritting as you can manage will not make much difference. You need to use more and more salt to get the desired effect. After the salt's gone, grit doesn't hold the answer – it will destroy the road and drainage in the long run!

    For weather like we just experienced, grit wasn't the answer. There should simply be legislation requiring winter tyres from 1st Nov to 1st March, like other countries in the EU.

    As for the water... they're doing their best! This country is not geared up towards very cold weather.

    Sunday, January 17, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Permalink
  3. johnl wrote:

    The buses stopped completely at least twice during the time. 2 hours to do what I can do in 30 minutes on the bike is not really good enough. The problem isn't with the time actually spent on the bus, but with the time either side. You walk to the bus, wait 15 minutes, get the bus, and then have a half-hour walk on the other side, because no bus goes anywhere near work! And coming home, you wait 45 to 50 minutes, because buses which are mentioned on the time-table simply do not exist.

    Sunday, January 17, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Permalink
  4. johnl wrote:

    I agree I was being very cynical. Greens are pathetic, PDs were nasty.
    The weather maybe could not have been planned for in totality, but they had access to weather forecasts at least as long-range as we did. Further, there should be contingency plans for even unlikely eventualities.
    As for the question of salt/grit, it does not go off, you can keep it from year to year! But the yearly accounting structures used in the public service do not countenance planning beyond December 31st of the current year, you limp from one financial cycle to the next.
    Either way, you're right, we're going to have to look at requiring winter tyres, and other such measures.

    Now, the water is another matter. My next post will deal with that!

    Sunday, January 17, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Permalink
  5. BILLY BEER wrote:

    So basically you spend your time getting worked up over the ills and flaws of society, but suddenly reduce your demands and expectations for local and national governments to the standard of "that the roads would be clear of snow and ice so that I could cycle to and from work"?

    Your wildly shifted demands and expectations for national and local governments are strangely centered on your own personal desires and "needs". Why any government should be rated on its success based on the mistaken CHOICE of a single individual to ride a bicycle during winter, while somehow not expecting severe road conditions or problems during an unusual cold front, is beyond me. You live in a supposed first-world country, start acting like it and buy a car, or simply deal with the inherent limitations of bicycle transportation without complaining or expecting special treatment or rewards for using it.

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 6:34 pm | Permalink
  6. BILLY BEER wrote:

    BTW, I assume you were interested in David Galula's "Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice" as some kind of primer for any potential new Spanish Civil War-esque conflicts that might "happen" to break out in your area. :p RAND has an electronic version of David Galula's other book, "Pacification in Algeria, 1956-1958", available for free.

    Before the ballot boxes, social revolution!

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 10:05 am | Permalink

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