Eugene Gallen on Quay St in Donegal town.
Business owners across Donegal have hit out at government over the shutdown of the county on Thursday and Friday.
A status red weather alert issued for Donegal and other north western counties on Wednesday night at 11pm closed schools, colleges and third level institutions on Thursday and Friday.
The status red warning put Donegal on the same level as parts of the country that had expected to be more seriously hit. Many parts of the east and south of the country were badly affected by blizzards and drifting snow.
While some areas in west and north Donegal did see heavy snowfalls which caused disruption on roads, large parts of the county remained mostly snow-free.
Members of the business community have reacted angrily to the shut-down, describing it as an over-reaction.
Eugene Gallen of the Donegal Town Business Focus Group accused the government of being “totally over-dramatic and over the top” in relation to the weather event last week.
“This was just another example of this government over-hyping a situation which in bygone years would not have involved shutting down the country for a number of days,” he said.
“This is not an isolated incident. We have had numerous warnings of every colour this past winter with the effect that businesses are severely suffering. People are simply afraid to go outside the door.
“I am aware that other parts of the country suffered severely but with today’s technology it should be possible to pinpoint more clearly areas of extreme risk.
“Donegal town enjoyed one of the finest days last Thursday yet officially it was on shut down.
“The same applied to nearby towns, Killybegs, Ardara, Ballyshannon and Bundoran.
“I had been keeping a close eye on the weather charts myself and it was quite obvious that Donegal and most of the north west was going to escape the worst.
“But this seems to have escaped the attention of those in Dublin.”
“Even though the town was deserted, common sense prevailed and many businesses remained open, but regrettably the damage was done.
“The sight of the leader of the country flanked by army and Garda personnel issuing grave warnings on every news bulletin is now beyond a joke. You would think that the martians were about to invade.
“I know at times we have to err on the side of caution, but we are getting to the stage we will have to depend more on localised weather forecasts and use a bit of common sense.
“Dublin cannot legislate for the rest of the country. I can assure you that if the blizzard-like conditions were in Donegal we would not be the subject of 24 hour news updates.”
Letterkenny business owners unhappy
In Letterkenny major retailers like Dunnes Stores and Tesco were closed on Thursday and Friday. Many businesses in the Letterkenny Retail Park and throughout the town were also closed, yet the town was practically snow-free before, during, and after the period of the status red warning.
The CEO of Letterkenny Chamber said the closure of the larger retailers affected many smaller businesses.
Toni Forrester said business owners in the town were very unhappy that they lost a day or two days of trade.
“While there has to be some kind of warning to protect people during bad weather, more localised and specific warnings are needed,” she said.
“Part of the problem with an Ireland-wide red alert was the closure by the large brands and that has an impact on those people who come into Letterkenny to shop, especially towards the end of the week. They think the whole town is closed.
“Realistically we did not have any snow really and while we have to be mindful of staff coming in from areas that are affected, local management should have been able to make the decision to keep businesses open.”
A spokeswoman for the Abbey and Central Hotels in Donegal town confirmed that they had remained open and were quite busy.
“We had quite a few guests who had already been staying with us who extended their stay ironically because of the good weather and the fact that they may not have been able to get to their home destinations.
“Our staff were excellent - they were all in on time, some were even early and not one ‘snow day’ was taken.
“From a tourism perspective, it is not a good image for the country abroad. Cities like New York, Chicago, Berlin are encountering situations like this on a regular basis yet at the very hint of a snowfall we close down. We are going to have to come up with an alternative solution,” she added.
Ardara businessman Stephen McCahill echoed the sentiments of others adding that it was a totally overhyped situation which has cost the country millions.
“Yes, we had a large snowfall in parts of the country but we don’t have to shut down everything. It was embarrassing watching television on Thursday evening with correspondents in practically every provincial town telling us how bad things were as they stood with a few flakes blowing into their faces. It was quite obvious that they were just prolonging a story that was not going to happen.
“Needless to say, the fact that Donegal had practically escaped received very little mention.”
Business as usual in Killybegs
Cllr. Niamh Kennedy said it was very much business as usual in Killybegs. “The shops were very busy in the morning with people stocking up for an event that did not materialise. By the afternoon, common sense had prevailed and most of the shops remained open.
“It is a hard one to call. Health and safety must be of paramount importance but we really are going to have to come up with a better solution.
“It is affecting business but it also impacts at all levels of the community - sport, voluntary organisations and even parish events.”
In Ballyshannon the local musical society went ahead with their show on Thursday night, although other shows in Letterkenny and Ramelton were cancelled. The Ballyshannon show was almost a sell out on the night.