Orange Weather Warning For Much of Iceland

Björgunarfélag Vestmannaeyja

Today, there is an orange warning in effect due to a severe storm from the north and heavy precipitation in the northern part of the country. Snowfall is expected in the mountains in addition to sleet and rain in the lowland.

The Met Office has also stated that the first snow avalanches of the autumn cannot be ruled out if snow accumulation is rapid. Likewise, rockslides and landslides cannot be ruled out in the lower parts of mountain slopes in this weather, given the expected precipitation. The Met Office notes that there is no perceived threat to settlements.

Damage Caused to Residences

Sharp winds have however caused some damage to residences throughout Iceland. The Westman Island ICE-SAR team was called out today to assist in fixing roofs when sheet metal began to fly around Heimaey.

Björgunarfélag Vestmannaeyja
Björgunarfélag Vestmannaeyja helping to fix roofs in Heimaey.

RÚV also reports that rescue teams were called out in Höfn in Hornafjörður due to a door that had flown off a building.  The door flew off from the Glacier World guesthouse, which is about 19 kilometres from Höfn and approximately three kilometres from the main road.

Impassable Roads in North Iceland

The orange weather warning has also caused difficult driving conditions, and motorists are advised to avoid highland areas. Conditions are particularly bad in North Iceland, where a severe storm is expected overnight. In the Southeast, there will be a blizzard east of Vatnajökull Glacier starting in the afternoon and continuing into the evening.

For more information on weather conditions and safe travel, see the website of the Icelandic Met Office.

Minister of Finance, Bjarni Benediktsson, Resigns from Office

bjarni benediktsson

Now-former Minister of Finance, Bjarni Benediktsson, has resigned from office following critique of his role in the March 2022 sale of Íslandsbanki shares.

Report on Íslandsbanki Sale Highlights Lack of Transparency

The Ministry of Finance issued a notice this morning of a press briefing at 10:30. Earlier this morning, the opinion of the parliamentary ombudsman had been published on the government website where it is stated that the Minister of Finance’s preparation for the privatization process of Íslandsbanki did not conform to government guidelines.

Following the 2008 banking collapse, several major banks were taken into state ownership, to later be sold off in a privatization process. The sale of shares in Íslandsbanki was criticized for a lack of transparency at the time, with special attention given to Hafsilfur ehf., a company owned by Benedikt Sveinsson, the father of the Minister of Finance. Hafsilfur was among those who purchased shares in Íslandsbanki when a 22.5 per cent stake in the bank was sold in an auction. Bjarni, now-former Minister of Finance, has stated in the past that he first learned about the company’s purchases when the ministry received a list of buyers from the State Financial Supervisory Authority after the auction had concluded.

FME Believes Íslandsbanki Broke the Law During March Sale

Skúli Magnússon, the parliamentary ombudsman has indicated that there was a lack of clarity in the preparatory documents regarding conflicts of interest. In his official opinion, the parliamentary ombudsman concluded that the Minister of Finance was not qualified to approve the sale. According to the ombudsman, it must be assumed that he had “significant and real interests in the sale.” The ombudsman also stressed that nothing has come to light that would cast doubt on the Minister’s claim of ignorance regarding Hafsilfur’s participation in the auction.

In his response to the ombudsman’s findings, Bjarni expressed his disagreement with some of the conclusions but emphasized the importance of respecting the opinion. He mentioned that the next steps would be determined in consultation with fellow Independence Party members.

Bjarni also reiterated that he had not been aware of his father’s involvement in the auction and defended his actions throughout the auction process. The sale of Íslandsbanki’s stake has had several important consequences, including one of the largest-ever fines levied on an Icelandic financial institution,  and the resignation of Íslandsbanki CEO, Birna Einarsdóttir.

Agreement Reached Between Central Bank and Íslandsbanki

During his press briefing, Bjarni stated that, given the recent opinion given by the ombudsman, he found it impossible to continue working in the Ministry of Finance. He stated that he wanted to bring peace to the ministry and that he would step down as the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs. Bjarni stated further that he wanted to demonstrate that “responsibility came with positions of power.”

[visual-link-preview encoded=”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″]

Welfare Committee Rejects Request for PM to Appear

refugee protest austurvöllur

The majority of the Welfare Committee has rejected the request for the Prime Minister to be summoned before the committee to discuss the provision of services to asylum seekers, as it does not fall under the Prime Minister’s purview. RÚV reports.

New immigration laws came into effect in July, which, among other things, involve discontinuing services for asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected. Dozens of individuals have received such notifications, and there is a debate about whether the state or local authorities bear responsibility for these individuals.

Read more: Authorities Dispute Over Asylum Seekers in Iceland

The minority in the Welfare Committee has called for an open committee meeting, inviting the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Social Affairs, and the Prime Minister to attend. However, the majority refuses to summon the Prime Minister before the committee, with the committee’s chair, Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, stating that there are no grounds for it, as the matter falls under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Social Affairs and the Minister of Justice. Members of the Pirate Party have objected to this interpretation, with Pirate MP Arndís Anna K. Gunnarsdóttir pointing out that the Prime Minister has a coordinating role in the government that is relevant to the situation at hand. According to the MP, due to the current disagreement that exists regarding the interpretation of the law, it is crucial to summon the Prime Minister before the committee.

asylum seekers iceland
Protest on Austurvöllur, October 9. Golli.

The Minister of Justice and the Minister of Social Affairs have also discussed recently whether “closed housing facilities,” can be used in the case of rejected asylum applications. Such facilities would restrict the movement of asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected prior to their deportation from the country.

Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister of Social Affairs and Employment, stated to RÚV that closed housing facilities cannot solve the problem that has arisen due to people who have received a final denial of international protection: “Regardless of what we may think of closed housing facilities, they are simply not a viable solution because they have no legal basis, and they cannot, of course, address the problem faced by people who have been expelled from the service. It is just a fact that these people have no place to seek protection. I am just ensuring assistance to these people; I took the initiative, and others have not done so.”

Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir, the Minister of Justice, has however stated: “I see no other solution than to have closed housing facilities. If that were the case, we wouldn’t need what the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment is suggesting. Such people need to leave the country, and it’s remarkable that solutions are being proposed for people who are breaking the law.”

[visual-link-preview encoded=”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”]