€45m freak storm budget is not enough, Hayes admits
THE amount of money allocated to protect Ireland from freak storms is insufficient, the Minister of State at the Office of Public Works Brian Hayes has admitted.
He said that substantially more than the current annual €45m budget needs to be allocated to cope with devastation such as that seen in the wake of Superstorm Christine.
He also confirmed that Ireland will seek funding from the €500m EU Solidarity Fund (EUSF), hoping the country secures more than the mere €13m (2.6pc) allocation granted five years ago.
Ireland now has 10 weeks to apply for aid under the EUSF as a huge clean-up and repair operation gets under way to tackle the fallout from the most damaging storm in two decades.
Mr Hayes declined to comment on claims that the fortnight of freak Christmas storms and gales has already inflicted more than €300m worth of damage.
Fears are mounting that some councils face having their entire repair budgets wiped out repairing coastal damage.
Cork, Clare, Waterford and Galway suffered major coastal damage, with Lahinch in Co Clare alone facing a €1m bill to repair its promenade.
"It is too early to estimate the full scale of the damage. If there is any positive from it, it is that it happened early in the year and we have very substantial transport budgets to spend in repairing damage."
"But we have no option but to ramp up flood relief spending," Mr Hayes said.
"I have to say that Brendan Howlin, when we came into Government, one of the areas that we absolutely were determined not to reduce on the capital side was funding for flood relief schemes."
"The €250m we have over a five-year envelope -- we will be spending at least €45m this year and we continue to ramp up expenditure.
"We need to spend more money on flood relief schemes because, by comparison to other European countries, we are not as well prepared."
Speaking in Abu Dhabi, UAE, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: "The relevant sections of the emergency planning committee have met and I think it is necessary first of all to get a true and accurate account of the scale of damage and the potential cost of rectifying that right across the west coast.
"It is also necessary to confirm an application being lodged to Europe to see what assistance, if any, can be given from there.
"Obviously we'll get a full briefing at the next meeting of Government in so far as the statistics and facts about the scale of the damage and the potential cost to rectify it."
The Society of St Vincent de Paul has urged the Government to negotiate a fund with Irish insurers for the hundreds of traders and homeowners unable to secure flood insurance.
Society vice-president Brendan Dempsey said it was "an absolute tragedy" that some families are being left to face massive flood damage bills.
Ireland South MEP Sean Kelly has received the backing of his colleagues in the European People's Party (EPP) to table a debate at the plenary session of the parliament in Strasbourg next week.
Set up in 2002 in response to severe flooding in Central Europe, the fund has been used for 56 disasters in 23 different European countries.
Mr Hayes vowed to fast-track Cork's long-awaited flood defence scheme after Ireland's most low-lying city suffered four major deluges since 2009.
He said towns like Clonmel, Fermoy and Mallow have proven the value of flood defence schemes.
"We have got to continue to ramp up expenditure. But this is not a problem of funding. We want to get the scheme right. We need to make progress for Cork because these events happen too often.
"I am confident that the new flood relief scheme will make a huge difference. This is not a problem of money in terms of the major relief scheme we intend to bring on site. It is crucial we get to that stage."
Mr Hayes was in Cork to hand over to the city council a 17th Century fort used for 200 years as a women's prison, a barracks and then a garda station.
It is hoped to turn Elizabeth Fort, which dominates Cork's south inner city, into a major tourist attraction under a €3m plan.