A national fixation on bread supplies, cabin fever, a country-wide shutdown and one serious looting incident. Gillian Hamill takes a look at what happened when the Beast from the East and Storm Emma collided
13 March 2018 | 0
“Ireland is in a mad state of panic, the beast from the east is coming, what can I say…supply and demand. Can sell by the slice; drone delivery €80 in the local parish depending on visibility.”
So read an ad on Done Deal last month from a private seller called Mark in Clonroche, Co. Wexford. Believe it or not, with a price tag of €5 for “a 1/2 loaf sliced bread”, the advert was resolutely on the modest side compared to later listings. More entrepreneurial souls attempted to flog their sliced pans at multiples of that amount as the ‘Great Bread Shortage’ of 2018 became more entrenched.
Where’s the bread?
In fact, that particular ad secured a whopping 10,110 views over just nine days. Not surprising when one considers that bakery shelves across the country were utterly depleted by the Beast from the East, entangled with the tempestuous Storm Emma. Not only did the many, many photographs appearing on social media bear witness to this scarcity, but the dilemma even appeared in its own segment of The Late Late Show, complete with a dazzling display of Brennan’s Bread’s finest!
With Met Éireann issuing a red weather warning across the entire country from 11pm on Wednesday, 28 February until 3pm on Friday, 2 March, ‘cabin fever’ began to set in across many a household, with the majority of office workers working (and drinking endless cups of tea!) from home. The prices of bread on Done Deal leapt up too! An advert from ‘Raymond’ charged €1,500 for a loaf of Pat the Baker. A steal which racked up more than 2,000 views in the space of just 17 hours and two serious offers according to Lovin.ie.
It wasn’t all fun and games though, despite what the numerous snaps of cute puppies and kids wading through the white stuff on social media suggested! According to business promotion group Dublin Town, the exceptional weather was expected to wipe some €15 million off turnover for Dublin city’s traders. Between the Wednesday and Friday affected, the group forecast footfall in the city centre would drop sharply; declining by around 70% on the Wednesday alone. Dublin Town calculated the drop would translate into a turnover loss of €5 million a day.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar emphasised the severity of this exceptional weather, pointing out that the country had “not experienced blizzard-like conditions like this since 1982”. He pointed to “reports from that time [which] remind us of the serious and life-threatening conditions that can be posed by heavy snow and strong winds when they come together”.
Tales from 1982
Indeed, back in 1982, the reports of the day showed some 100,000 homes and businesses were “thrown into darkness” by power cuts. Trains, buses, Dublin Airport and shipping operations at Dublin Port were all halted in their tracks. Bread proved a moot point back then too. According to a colourful nostalgia piece in The Irish Times, “bread riots” kicked off in Howth, Co. Dublin back in ‘82, when the assembled crowd outside the village bakery discovered loaves were once again in stock.
“Get your bloody hands off that loaf,” shouted one “proletarian voice” from the back of the shop, while another man reportedly demanded, “ye louser ye, how many bloody loaves are you buying anyway? Are you burying them at the bottom of the garden or something?” Meanwhile, a woman attempting to battle her way through, voiced her displeasure at then Taoiseach Garet Fitzgerald, who luckily for him, was off his holiers in the Canaries at the time.
Back to the modern day however, and more serious concerns once again. Mandate Trade Union condemned a number of retail employers who on the morning of Wednesday, 28 February, informed employees they would not be paid because they were unable to attend their place of work following the arrival of arctic weather conditions.
Mandate speaks out
“Whilst there appears to be a large amount of goodwill being exercised by employers,” said Gerry Light, assistant general secretary, “there are, as predicted, a number who have told their staff that if they do not show for work they will have to take annual leave. In some cases, staff have been told that if the bad weather continues beyond tomorrow they will be placed on temporary lay-off.” Mandate highlighted the unfairness of workers being “asked to bear the financial brunt” of weather conditions “beyond everyone’s control” in a “disproportionate fashion”.
“Remarkably some of the employers issuing the ultimatums to staff,” Light added, “were happy to take the benefit of an uplift of over 60% in sales in the earlier part of this week, sales that were largely generated by the staff that they are now looking to penalise.”
He added that Mandate would follow up on such cases “in an appropriate fashion to ensure that none of our members will suffer either financial loss or disciplinary action being taken against them”.
Another serious consequence of the snow storm which gained huge media traction, was the looting and subsequent damage of Lidl’s Fortunestown Lane store in Tallaght, Dublin. Following what gardaí described as an “unprecedented” scale of looting, which has already seen 10 people charged with related offences, Lidl decided to demolish the remainder of the building. As has been widely reported, looters ripped off the roof with a digger on the night in question. After inspections by a team of its engineers and consultants, Lidl said it made the decision “in the interests of health and safety”.
Gardaí reported some looters had even brought wheelie bins into the store to fill them with goods. “It was looting like we haven’t seen before,” one officer said in The Irish Times. “They knew they were safe, because for a long time we couldn’t get to them.”
However, Lidl has certainly done its best to turn a negative into a positive and has benefitted from a huge amount of PR since the story broke. The 30 staff members employed at the Tallaght store have been redeployed to other outlets, while the retailer is also operating a shuttle bus service to an alternative store for local customers in the area who need it.
“We have been overwhelmed by the messages of support from the community and to show our appreciation to our valued customers we will be offering a complimentary shuttle bus service from Fortunestown to our store at Whitestown Way, Tallaght,” a spokesperson said.
This type of action once again demonstrates the importance of a customer-centric approach; an inappropriate response could easily snowball out of control in damaging customer relations and a retailer’s reputation.