Minor drama over Major Emergencies

A number of years ago, a Fianna Fail junior minister, Joe Jacob got himself into a right tangle in an interview with RTÉ’s Marian Finucane. The subject was Ireland’s preparedness in the event of an incident at Sellafield.

The minister huffed and puffed, and eventually allayed his acute embarrassment at not understanding his brief by rushing out, at a cost of millions, iodine tablets to over 1.2 million bewildered Irish households. “I think it’s important to reassure people and know that there is in place a national emergency plan for nuclear accidents”, Jacob told his interviewer.

That was 2001, and clearly not much has been learned in the intervening seven years. In the last week or so, over 1.2 million copies of a booklet entitled ‘Preparing for Major Emergencies’ were delivered to every household in Ireland. Not, of course, that the powers-that-be want us to be in any way alarmed.

Here’s the full list of what this booklet deems ’emergencies’:

Chemical spills
Accidents at sea
Bomb explosions / suspicious packages
Nuclear incidents
Influenza pandemic
Animal disease outbreak

Quite how ‘suspicious packages’ ends up as a ‘Major Emergency’ I’ll leave to the folk at the Office of Emergency Planning to explain. In the intro to the document, our outgoing Taoiseach offers this soothing observation: “there is no reason to think that a major emergency is likely in the immediate future”.

There is only the most cursory reference in this document to climate change and the effects that it will deliver, from flooding to drought and severe water shortages. The solitary reference appears on page 9, in the section on Flooding. In totality, it states: “Climate change may lead to more frequent and severe flooding incidents in the future”.

Fire gets a whole section. Advice includes: “Raise the alarm and leave the building quickly’ and ‘Remember, always have working smoke alarms in your home’. Quite what this is doing taking up two pages in a booklet on Major Emergencies is beyond my powers of comprehension.

The main purpose of this bizarre booklet is apparently to reassure us the the folks in charge have, like former minister Jacob, everything “under control”. Feeling safer already?

Even more bizarre, to my mind, was the decision to turn what should have been a 40 page booklet into an 80-page tome instead. This was achieved by the simple trick of printing the entire thing twice, once as Bearla and then again in our native tongue. This piece of absurd political correctness involved a doubling of the paper and inks involved in the production and printing of this booklet.

And when you’re printing things by the million, these things really do matter. Altogether, some 25 million leaves of papers were consumed for this production, half of them in the entirely and absolutely wasteful replication of the booklet in Irish. One page in an English version, offering a free copy to be mailed out as Gaeilge to anyone who requested it would have sufficed. How many would have taken up the offer? 5,000? 500? 50?

There are of course far, far more people in Ireland who genuinely don’t speak English. They are catered to by having downloadable PDFs on the website, Emergencyplanning.ie, which is an entirely sensible approach.

By my estimate, it would have been more environmentally friendly to send out copies of the Irish language version by helicopter to the handful of people who would have requested them. Last time I heard, there were Green ministers at the Cabinet table. Have they no oversight of this kind of sickening waste?

For the record, the booklet does include a ‘recycle’ symbol and states: “The cellulose used in this booklet is exclusively made from wood of known origin and from sustainable well-managed forests”. Great, but what about the plastic laminate cover on each and every one of the 1.2 million copies? This renders them next to impossible to recycle.

Also, what precisely does ‘known origin’ mean? Known to whom? This kind of wishy washy language smacks of Greenwash. What’s needed here is certification. The Forestry Stewardship Council is probably the most authoritative in assuring that wood is being sourced from genuinely sustainable sources.

It’s the least we can expect that a Government document requiring the printing of around 100 million pages in total would, in 2008, be able to guarantee us. And in case you’re wondering about the iodine tablets, that daft idea has been quietly shelved.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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2 Responses to Minor drama over Major Emergencies

  1. Billy the kid says:

    What a total waste of time and effort. Cant believe someone actually thought this tripe was worth printing and sending out to over a million households. Whoever it was should be made to eat their own weight in iodine tablets!

  2. Heavy weather says:

    I got this rubbish in the door as well and was wondering if I was the only one who thought that way! glad I;m not alone. Whoever came up with this should have to walk the plank (more likely, they’ll get a promotion, like Martin Cullen with his E-voting machines. ‘Tis a great little country all de same!!

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