herald

Friday 9 December 2016

€100m relief pledged for flood victims to avoid public backlash

Minister Alan Kelly
Minister Alan Kelly

The Government will throw more than €100m at homes, businesses and farms devastated by flooding in a desperate attempt to avoid a general election backlash.

But the long-awaited response to the ongoing weather crisis offers little in the way of solutions to prevent devastation from happening again.

The government plan came under fierce attack last night after it emerged that a task force is to be set up to try to coordinate the large number of agencies involved in management of the river Shannon.

As communities continue to reel from the effects of Storms Desmond and Frank, it emerged that the centrepiece of the Coal-ition's plan is the establishment of a task force involving various bodies and state agencies.

Ironically, the Office of Public Works (OPW) - the statutory body responsible for flood protection - has been asked to spend the next two weeks devising the powers to be given to the task force.

Meanwhile, the establishment of a long-term flood forecasting system, which will involve 15 extra staff between Met Eireann and the OPW, was announced following a series of meetings in Government Buildings.

But the system will not be in place for at least two years, meaning communities will continue to be at risk.

Hardship

While the Coalition's response will involve cash payments for farmers whose land has been destroyed, there is no detail as to how this hardship scheme will operate.

And there is little comfort for families affected by the floods whose homes do not have insurance. In response to their predicament, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has pledged to meet representatives of the insurance industry in Government Buildings on Tuesday.

Other measures agreed by the Cabinet include:

  • A new scheme whereby the State will replace damaged fodder at the market rate.
  • An additional €10m for local authorities as part of their clean-up efforts.
  • Extending the €5m business grant scheme to sports and community organisations whose facilities have been affect- ed by the floods.
  • Two pilot schemes in Crossmolina and Graiguenamanagh for flood protection measures such as flood gates.

It emerged last night that the bill incurred in terms of damage to the country's roads is nearing €60m. Overall, the cost to the State of the recent storms is in the region of €100m.

The plan, which the Government says has more than a dozen components, was criticised by the Opposition.

Fianna Fail environment spokesman Barry Cowen described the new task force as a "talking shop".

"I don't take from the efforts being made from everybody concerned, but the problem is they are inadequately resourced and this plan is flawed," the Laois-Offaly TD told the Herald.

"It is strong on promise but weak on delivery."

Speaking on RTE's Six One News, Environment Minister Alan Kelly said: "The National Emergency Coordination Group has sat full-time since December 3 and sat before that as well.

"It is the greatest response we have ever seen to an emergency that is unprecedented given the level of water we have seen."

Meanwhile, the European Commission has hit out at claims that EU environmental rules are to blame for the flood crisis.

In an unusual move, the commission released a statement in which it insisted it is not standing in the way of the authorities if they wish to dredge rivers.

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