Eruption: 'no breakthrough till Friday'

TRAVEL chaos caused by a cloud of volcanic ash is almost certain to continue throughout the week with no change in weather conditions forecast.

It had been hoped a change in prevailing winds would sweep the massive plume of ash away from Ireland. That now seems unlikely to happen leaving tens of thousands of travellers still stranded.

A meeting of the government taskforce on emergency planning was convened yesterday morning to monitor the disruptions and any potential health risks.

Met Eireann's Evelyn Cusack said: "Meteorologically, we don't see a breakthrough in this until Friday at least. Our weather looks more or less dry until Thursday with air flow directly down from Iceland."

Maurice Mullen, assistant secretary at the Department of Transport, warned that the country faced further severe disruption.

"This is going to be a difficult week," he said. "There is no question of that. We are not talking a day or two... Our reluctance to say what day [this will end] is because the situation could change."

Irish air space remained officially closed until 6pm yesterday evening with further updates being provided by the Irish Aviation Authority.

Hundreds of flights have had to be cancelled in and out of Ireland by Aer Lingus, Ryanair and other major airlines serving the country. It could take a further week to clear the backlog after the go-ahead is given for flights to resume.

The taskforce said that state help for the affected airlines was not on the agenda and said an estimated bill for the disruption could not be given.

They said their focus was on the disruption, possible issues for safety and health and that the economic cost could not yet be calculated.

The Environmental Protection Agency has said there has been no deterioration in air quality. The taskforce also said there was nothing to indicate a threat to the food chain.