Thursday 8 December 2016

Ireland does not need EU go-ahead on flood defence measures

Sarah Collins in Brussels

Published 14/01/2016 | 02:30

MEP Mairead McGuinness. Photo: Damien Eagers
MEP Mairead McGuinness. Photo: Damien Eagers

Ireland does not need to run emergency flood measures past the EU and may still be entitled to European funding to help clean up after recent storms.

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At a meeting with European Commission officials in Brussels yesterday, MEPs and TDs from the regions most affected by December's storms were told that EU environmental rules were not to blame for recent flooding.

MEPs who spoke to the Irish Independent blamed bad planning at home for the extent of the damage caused by the flooding.

"It is clear we have the flexibility we need to implement action to address the issue," Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness said after the meeting.

"This idea of 'blame Brussels, blame the EU' was blown apart today," Independent MEP Marian Harkin told the Irish Independent.

Also at yesterday's meeting were Independent MEP Luke 'Ming' Flanagan, Independent TDs Michael Fitzmaurice and Denis Naughten, and Fianna Fáil environment spokesman Barry Cowen.

Mr Fitzmaurice and Housing Minister Paudie Coffey have blamed EU red tape for hampering drainage and other flood prevention measures.

Dredging is not the commission's preferred option because it says it can have damaging effects in neighbouring areas, including towns. But EU rules do not ban the practice, leaving it up to national authorities to choose.

Ireland is not required to notify the EU of its flood defence plans unless there is a risk to protected habitats - and even then there are exceptions for emergencies.

MEPs said local authorities often failed to take action out of a misplaced fear of breaching EU rules. "This does not seem to be the case in other member states where the full processes available at EU level are used," Ms McGuinness said, adding that Ireland needed "a holistic approach and not just local plans drawn up in isolation of the knock-on impacts downstream".

Ireland is required by EU law to submit a national flood management plan by March this year, but Ms Harkin said it would not be ready on time.

Meanwhile, the Government has not ruled out applying for aid from the EU solidarity fund, which has a budget of more than €500m a year to help countries recover from natural disasters - though the cost of the clean-up has to be greater than €983m for Ireland to benefit, which is unlikely to be the case.

However, Ireland might still be able to apply under a special rule for regional emergencies, where the threshold is lower - as was the case after the 2009 floods, when Ireland got €13m from the fund.

Applications to the fund must be made within 12 weeks of day one of the disaster, which means by early March.

Irish Independent

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