independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Paul Melia: Engineers not politicians should decide how flood money spent

Strand Road Clonakilty submerged in water. Picture: Ger McCarthy
Strand Road Clonakilty submerged in water. Picture: Ger McCarthy

TOUGH decisions will have to be made on where scarce public money should be spent on flood defences.

Will Carlow be prioritised over Clane? Should Ballyconnell be protected before Bunratty? Will the tourist trap that's Killarney take precedence over the medieval town of Athenry?

These decisions are long overdue.

In 2003, an expert group commissioned by the OPW identified locations across the country susceptible to flooding. Despite this, just €34m was spent between 2002 and 2004 on defence works.

During the boom, when the country was awash with cash, money was splurged on less-important projects including e-voting (more than €50m) and the HSE's payments system PPARS (€150m).

Why? Because once the flood waters subsided, the Government of the day moved onto other priorities.

Flooding is a recurring nightmare for many communities, with records showing that Carlow has been hit 16 times, Athlone on 29 occasions, Cork has been underwater 71 times and Dublin 224.

Each incident can affect hundreds if not thousands of people. In the floods of November 2009, some 764 properties in Cork were damaged. That same month, 90 homes in Ballinasloe and 103 in the Waterways in Sallins, Co Kildare were destroyed.

The economic impact has been huge. Chambers Ireland chief executive Ian Talbot has criticised the lack of progress in dealing with the problem, saying that "surveys and planning" had been ongoing for years and it was now time to execute the plans.

An Taisce also warned that some Blue Flag beaches would lose their designations because access roads, carparks and other amenities needed to obtain the award had been destroyed in recent storms.

Not until 2007, when the EU told us to start finding out which parts of the country were liable to flooding, did planning for the future really begin.

The CFRAM studies were commissioned in 2011 and 2012 as part of the EU Floods Directive, ordering member states to identify the works needed, and by 2015 we should know what's required.

The lack of money in the national coffers will a huge impediment to completing the works. A lengthy planning process, coupled with objections from some quarters, may also delay the safeguarding of communities, and a decision will have to be made on whether there are places which simply cannot be defended.

Crucially, politicians and not engineers will decide where the money goes. It will require careful oversight by all to ensure that those most in need are protected, and not those who choose to vote for a party in office.

Irish Independent

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