It wouldn't take much of a tracker to recognise the footprint of this government all over the snow that has paralysed the country over the past three weeks.

The signs of the government's inability to lead, make a decision or, above all, co-ordinate the many hardworking and willing people of this country into concerted action so that we cope efficiently with what is.

We have had a master class in buck-passing and hand-wringing, and a repetition of the motif that has been the hallmark of this administration – a failure by the authorities to take responsibility. We saw it in the way the banking regulator fell asleep on the job over the banks, the planning authorities did over the flooding and the financial authorities, until recently, did over public spending. Now we see it in the snow.

What is really unforgivable is the detachment of the political leadership from the lives of people who are crashing, falling, breaking bones, struggling to run businesses, battling to get to work, trying to keep warm and, in remoter areas, now worrying about food and heat.

It is not a cheap political point to criticise transport minister Noel Dempsey for going on holiday in the middle of the worst weather crisis in half a century. Brian Cowen can argue until he is blue in the face that keeping the roads moving is not a policy or funding issue, but a practical problem. We all know that, in theory – as every cabinet minister not worth his salt keeps telling us – the day-to-day responsibility for keeping the roads clear lies with the National Roads Authority and the local authorities. But when the roads are clogging up, as many as 10,000 people have attended hospital with severe fractures and dislocations, schools are closing and businesses are faltering, this is an emergency that demands action other than "due procedure".

For the lead minister with responsibility for the roads network to leave when he knew full well an already bad situation would worsen was not just political folly, it sent a clear message to the "little people" that those at the very top of this government do not care about their wellbeing.

This was a straightforward opportunity for the government to show it can govern. Instead it has shown that it can't.

Fine Gael's defence spokesman, Jimmy Deenihan, made sense a week ago when he called for the declaration of a state of emergency and the mobilisation of the army to help sort out the chaos that hundreds of thousands of people outside Dublin had been enduring for over two weeks. Deenihan highlighted the dearth of managerial skills in cabinet when he challenged defence minister Willie O'Dea to implement the very emergency planning guidelines that the minister himself had drawn up. O'Dea's response? The army's there but "nobody asked" us to help. It's crass, and the people who are cold, who have broken limbs, and who are spending three or four hours a day getting to and from work know it's crass. It's even more crass that the government can't look in the mirror and see how crass it is.

People outside Dublin are rightly furious that the chaos became an official "emergency" only last Thursday when the snow froze the capital. Sligo, Mayo, Roscommon, Galway and the midlands have been freezing and isolated for weeks.

Yet environment minister John Gormley's first response as emergency co-ordinator was to mount a pathetic blame game, talking about "opposition" councillors controlling local authorities, cuts to grit budgets last year, and the councils' failure to convene emergency meetings. Conspicuously absent was any admission that ministerial intervention by the department with the muscle, the money and the power to make things happen should have happened much sooner. It is Gormley's job, after all, to step in and take charge in an environmental emergency of this scale.

If the local authorities were not calling in the army, then the cabinet should have, weeks ago. Soldiers could be clearing the ice off pavements, which are the cause of many injuries. They could have bussed many of those stranded commuters to places nearer their homes. They could co-ordinate and help transport the grit being offered by quarries, which are not getting a response from their local authorities when they appeal to be allowed to help.

These may be once-in-a-generation events, but the drawing up of a strategic plan, which clicks into place when this sort of weather occurs, seems a very basic function of good government. Of course we don't need snow ploughs and ice-breaking machinery on the scale of Sweden, Canada or Siberia. But why can't farmers, construction companies and quarries be employed on a contract basis so that their machinery is hauled into action where the snow and ice dictate?

More snow and deep frost are forecast, which will make it harder than ever for the country to function. You will not, however, get information about the roads from the local authorities or the National Roads Authority. You will have to turn to AA Roadwatch, whose private service has been a lifeline for thousands of people.

The education minister was finally decisive enough to close all schools on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday – a belated order, but welcome. The safety concerns were too great for schools to remain open and the lack of clear direction was confusing everyone. It encouraged people to take risks to get their children to often half-empty schools, most of which closed early anyway.

Too little, too late; following events rather than staying on top of them; hopelessly unco-ordinated; too ready to say why things can't be done, or pointing to what others should be doing, rather than taking the initiative and tackling them efficiently: the footprints of this government are everywhere.