Posted by UTP on September 27, 2001 at 18:37:22:
In Reply to: Civil Defence advice on nuclear fallout posted by JDP on September 25, 2001 at 14:47:06:
PRESSURE intensified last night for junior minister Joe Jacob to resign after his disastrous public intervention on our nuclear emergency plan.
The Government was left reeling after Mr Jacob, who has responsibility for nuclear safety, appeared unable to say what would happen in the event of an attack on Sellafield nuclear plant.
Mr Jacob's interview on RTE's Marian Finucane radio show yesterday morning sparked a nationwide outcry.
It caused widespread alarm among the listening public. They rang the show in their droves to express fears that the Government did not seem to have an emergency plan in place.
So many believed it was a Scrap Saturday type interlude that Ms Finucane was asked by producer Eamon Keane to tell listeners it really was the minister with responsibility for nuclear safety.
Last night the Government attempted to defuse Opposition criticisms and to assure the public that emergency plans were ready in the event of an attack.
And a spokesman said Mr Jacob "absolutely" retained the confidence of the Taoiseach and said he was "doing a great job."
Following a special Cabinet debate, it was confirmed that priority is being given to plans to combat germ or chemical warfare.
And a formal Government statement gave reassurance that "detailed arrangements" existed under the National Emergency Plan for any kind of nuclear accident.
But on RTE yesterday morning, Mr Jacob was unable to answer simple questions on what people should do in the event of a nuclear accident or incident.
Ms Finucane asked Mr Jacob: "Supposing it happened now, what do people do?"
The minister said: "First of all, the objective of the plan, it's designed to deal with the incident which you describe and it's overseen by a ministerial committee, we have the RPII in there as main players with an Emergency Response Co-ordination Committee. They're the two main players who will kick in that you're asking about."
Pressed on what would happen if a plane smashed into Sellafield and the wind was blowing this way, he was asked by Ms Finucane what advice would be given to the public.
"I'm telling you that, if a plane crashed into Sellafield, we're talking about a very major accident there, something like a great power like the United States aren't geared to cope with last week. So we would tell people the situation and they would know from again this famous fact sheet that I'm talking about," said Mr Jacob.
The minister had previously referred on a number of occasions to a fact sheet that is to be delivered to every home in the country informing people of what to do in the event of a nuclear emergency.
Following the interview, Fine Gael front bencher Charlie Flanagan said the Taoiseach should sack Mr Jacob after his "disgraceful show of incompetence on the issue of a national emergency response."
But it was clear that Mr Ahern has no intention of responding to Opposition calls for the Wicklow TD to be sacked.
At yesterday's Cabinet it was agreed that national and regional airports would get Exchequer cash to cover extra insurance cover for terrorist attack.
And Mr Ahern is to head a Cabinet sub-committee on the economic fall-out from the bombings.
Labour Party environment spokesman Eamon Gilmore called on the Taoiseach to take control of the situation and explain to the public what the emergency plan is about and said minister Jacob was more like Corporal Jones from Dad's Army than a minister with responsibility for a public safety issue.
RTE producer Eamon Keane said they had to tell people the interview with Mr Jacob was for real and not a sketch.
"Our lines were jammed. We had members of the gardai and rescue workers ringing up to express their complete dismay. One person said if this was going to be our handling of the situation then we are dead," said Mr Keane.
"One man rang up and said he had to stop his car because he was crying with laughter. It was only when he met somebody at a petrol station he was told it was for real. His laughter then turned to anger," he said.
"The sense we were getting from the listeners was that they felt it was complete waffle the number of times waffle came up in the calls. There were calls we couldn't put on air," he added.
The Government was apparently concerned about the spin-off from the radio programme and health minister Micheal Martin was sent out on RTE's Six-One to reassure the public that the Government did have plans, writes Chris Glennon.
Arguing that a single emergency plans is not appropriate, the Government said that planning covered major accidents, civil-aviation security, a nuclear accident, major oil spillages from ships, marine search and rescue, severe weather emergencies and exotic animal diseases.
While there was no reason to believe that Ireland would be the subject of a chemical or biological attack, the Cabinet decided to review emergency plans and update them to take account of those threats.
A committee of ministers will oversee the response to any germ or chemical attack, and the plan for this will be completed after talks with the World Health Organisation.
The contact group, which is overseeing all post-World Trade Centre planning, meets specially today to assess planning for the new range or possible terrorist threats.
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