EU approves €200m loan toward Irish flood-prevention schemes
Ireland is to get a €200m loan for flood prevention and protection from the European Investment Bank (EIB) after a series of storms battered the country in recent weeks.
It is the first time Ireland has received money for this purpose from the EIB, the EU's long-term lending arm. The bank has already provided other European countries with more than €3bn for flood protection and prevention and €1.1bn for post-flood reconstruction since 2008.
"We are very happy to be able to provide some support," Jonathan Taylor, the EIB's vice-president for environment and climate action, told the Irish Independent.
"For both the EIB and the Irish Government, addressing flood risk is a clear priority."
The money is for flood prevention and will not be able to help with the clean-up costs from the most recent storms.
According to the EIB, the Government has around 30 flood-related projects in mind, nine of which are flood prevention schemes - including one on the River Lee in Cork.
However, the loans will be conditional on the projects fully complying with EU environmental laws, including those on natural habitats, which have come under fire in recent weeks from certain TDs.
At a meeting in Brussels this week, the European Commission reassured Irish MEPs and TDs that EU laws did not prevent drainage works or slow down post-flooding clean-up operations.
The EIB will verify whether each project complies with EU legislation before approving it. Mr Taylor will be visiting Ireland in the coming weeks "to ensure that our support for flood protection and prevention is rapidly put in place".
Minister of State Simon Harris welcomed the EIB loan but said the conditions for accessing disaster aid from the commission should be relaxed.
Ireland is unlikely to meet the thresholds for aid from the EU's solidarity fund, which is available only for damages in excess of 0.6pc of gross national income - or €983m in Ireland's case. The fund has a regional disasters clause where thresholds start at €460m (for the border, midlands and western regions). Ireland benefitted from this following the 2009 floods, but it is not yet clear whether recent flooding will be costly enough to warrant aid.
"I think at this stage it's highly unlikely that we can meet the thresholds for European support, though we rule nothing out," Mr Harris said in Brussels yesterday. "I do feel that the thresholds are too high. I do feel that they're particularly too high for smaller countries."
He said he would be asking the commission to look at changing the rules to allow EU countries to make joint applications for emergency funding.
"Storms don't recognise countries' boundaries, they don't recognise national borders," Mr Harris added.
Environment Minister Alan Kelly will meet EU environment chief Karmenu Vella next week to discuss EU flood rules.
To draw down the EIB money, the Government will have to stump up 55pc of the total cost of the projects, or €245m.
The EIB would not disclose the interest rate on the loans, but said it was competitive.