RESIDENTS living in areas hit by raging Atlantic storms will get no protection from floods until 2015 at the earliest, the Sunday Independent has learned.
And up to a staggering €5bn could be needed to properly deliver adequate flood defences for the country because of decades of chronic underinvestment.
The revelation comes as more storm-force gales are set to batter the country again this week.
Met Eireann forecasts gusts of 130kph and heavy and prolonged showers all weekend, with coastal counties in Munster, and Co Wexford and Co Galway most at risk of flooding as gusts and heavy showers sweep across the country.
As communities devastated by the floods count the crippling cost of the clean-up, the Government is set to double the amount of money it will spend on flood defences to €500m.
But experts say this sum is woefully insufficient.
Yesterday, the National Co-ordination Group held an emergency meeting and issued a warning that the rivers Shannon, Barrow, Nore, Suir and Slaney were likely to swell and cause "serious flooding" in several counties over the coming days.
Families on incomes of up to €70,000 will benefit from emergency flood damage payments from the Department of Social Protection.
Minister Joan Burton said some employed people will be entitled to the same amount of emergency funds as accessed by families living on social welfare.
Those earning €70,000 and above will also be entitled to urgent funding, but will have to pay a one per cent contribution for the privilege.
Ms Burton said: "In the case of a episode like this, we have a humanitarian fund, and essentially we make that (available) on what are called 'urgent needs payments', and that is normally availed of heavily by people who are on a social welfare income; people maybe on a pension from the department, or any other kind of pension."
However, a study carried out by NUI Maynooth suggests the increased regularity of flooding caused by global warming will force the Government to effectively abandon parts of the country that are not "economically viable".
The report further states that more than 33,000 addresses in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway were less than three metres above sea level, and flood defences built in the 19th and 20th Century might no longer be fit for purpose.
Major flood defences have been put in place in some of the major urban areas such as Clonmel, Kilkenny and Mallow. Environment Minister Phil Hogan yesterday visited Wexford and Waterford yesterday to assess the damage in the aftermath of the recent floods.
Ms Burton and cabinet colleague Jan O'Sullivan, the Minister for Housing, toured parts of Limerick city to review the clean up operation.
The Government Task Force on Emergency planning will meet tomorrow, followed by meeting of the National Co-ordination Group.
Ms O'Sullivan said houses that have been left uninhabitable by recent flooding may be demolished and rebuilt in other locations.
The cost of the clean-up where more than 300 homes in the estate were badly affected by unprecedented flooding last week is to run into at least tens of millions of euro.
Ms O'Sullivan said: "One side of St Munchin's Street (St Mary's Park) – which is the side nearest the river – is due for demolition any way, so it doesn't make any sense that there should be major work done on those houses.
"We hope to fast track it. It's very early stages as yet, but there are considerations going on as to how to fast track things."
The Government had previously committed to spending €250m between now and 2017 toward the completion of flood defence schemes in Bray, Waterford, Ennis, Fermoy and Dublin.
The money was also allocated for similar schemes in Skibbereen, Bandon, Templemore, Cork city, Clonakilty and Claregalway.
After successive storms and eight weeks of heavy rainfall, the Government announced it will double the fund – equating to €100m a year over the next five years.
Mr Hogan is to receive submissions from his Cabinet colleagues before bringing a memo to Government on Tuesday.
A detailed list of flood defences that are needed across the country will not now be produced until 2015.
Office of Public Works minister Brian Hayes said that although schemes were under way in some areas, all the projects would not be identified until the national Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management (CFRAM) studies were completed.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent yesterday, Mr Hayes agreed that decades of underinvestment in flood defences were being addressed.
"Flood defence is one area of capital spending that has not been cut, but yes we are coming from a position of underinvestment," he said.
Mr Hayes also rejected suggestions that his high visibility in recent days in flood-hit areas amounts to him "campaigning," in reference to his prospective bid to become an MEP.
"I have been doing these tours for three years with no camera crews, so that is nonsense," he said.
With two major Atlantic storm fronts lashing the coast, there are fears of inland river flooding as swollen waterways struggle to contain the heavy rainfall predicted for the next six days.
Local authorities, the gardai and Irish Water Safety have pleaded with people to stay away from swollen streams and rivers – and to be particularly vigilant with children near waterways.
Limerick Co Council engineers warned that there was a serious threat of localised flooding upstream of Limerick city. Council services director Paul Crowe said that over-flowing rivers and streams may be unable to cope with the torrential rainfall forecast for the next 36-48 hours.
"The council has been informed by Met Eireann that the current spell of very unsettled weather will continue for the coming week with a succession of Atlantic storms predicted to impact.
"Heavy rain and high winds are again forecast overnight and again during Saturday. The council will continue to monitor the situation over the coming days.
"We are also in constant contact with the ESB regarding the elevated water levels on the Lower River Shannon."
In Cork, the Blackwater and Lee were being monitored on an hourly basis with the greatest flooding concern switched away from Cork city towards regional towns including Fermoy, Bandon, Clonakilty, Carrigaline and Cobh.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for a national emergency service association last night voiced grave concerns over the country's response to flood control.
John Kidd of the Irish Fire and Emergency Service Association (IFESA) claimed there us "a huge disparity" in the response in different parts of the country to the flooding.
He said most fire stations across the country have a policy of only responding to calls relating to flooding in cases where lives are at risk.
However, a spokesman for the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government denied Mr Kidd's claims.
The department said all emergency services have been on "continuous alert" since December to respond to any severe weather.
By Daniel McConnell, Alyson Hayden, Ralph Riegel and David Raleigh