Saturday 22 October 2016

State to pay €100m to avoid election backlash

Little relief for families with no insurance

Niall O'Connor, Paul Melia and Philip Ryan

Published 06/01/2016 | 02:30

A jaunting car makes its way through a flooded Killarney National Park yesterday. Photo: Brian Lougheed
A jaunting car makes its way through a flooded Killarney National Park yesterday. Photo: Brian Lougheed
Environment Minister Alan Kelly. Photo: Steve Humphreys

The Government will throw more than €100m at homes, businesses and farms devastated by the recent flooding in a desperate attempt to avoid a General Election backlash.

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But the long-awaited response to the ongoing weather crisis offers little in the way of solutions to prevent flooding devastation from happening again.

The Government plan came under strong attack last night, after it emerged that a "talking shop" is to be set-up to try to coordinate the huge number of agencies involved in the River Shannon.

As communities continue to reel from the effects of Storms Desmond, Eva and Frank, it was revealed the centre piece of the Coalition's strategy is the establishment of a new taskforce involving various different bodies and State agencies. Ironically, the Office of Public Works (OPW) - the statutory body responsible for flood protection - has been asked to spend the next two weeks devising the powers to be given to the task force.

Fianna Fáil last night described the taskforce as a "talking shop" and said it fell far short of the type of body required to protect flood hotspots into the future.

A spokesman for Taoiseach Enda Kenny rejected the claim outright.

"A do-nothing thing it will not be," the spokesman said.

The taskforce itself is made of a range of agencies, including the ESB, Bord na Móna, Inland Fisheries and local authorities with responsibility for the Shannon catchment area.

Meanwhile, the establishment of a long-term flood forecasting system, which will involve 15 extra staff between Met Éireann and the OPW, was announced following a series of meetings in Government Buildings.

But the system will not be in place for potentially over two years - meaning communities will continue to be at risk.

The Coalition finally responded with a pledge of cash payments to assist badly-hit farmers in particular.

There will also be a scheme whereby destroyed fodder is purchased at the market rate, in what will come as a relief to the agriculture industry.

However, like much of the plan announced, the package for farmers was lacking detail, and there is little comfort for families affected by the floods whose homes do not have insurance.

In response to their dilemma, Mr Kenny has pledged to meet representatives of the insurance industry in Government Buildings next Tuesday.

His spokesman insisted that the meeting was more than just a PR exercise, but he refused to say whether the Government would come to the table with a series of demands.

"There won't be a framework of threats," the spokesman added.

A separate meeting will also take place next week between Environment Minister Alan Kelly and the EU Environment Commissioner to discuss issues such as dredging of rivers and other flood defence measures. The other elements of the Coalition's plan include:

  • An extra €10m for local authorities as part of their clean-up efforts;
  • Extending the €5m business grant scheme to sports and community organisations;
  • Two pilot schemes in Crossmolina and Graiguenamanagh for flood protection measures such as flood gates;
  • Include farms under the €10m Humanitarian Aid scheme;
  • And so-called 'community resilience' aimed at towns and villages that have been affected.

It emerged last night that the bill incurred in terms of damage to the country's roads is nearing €60m. Overall, the cost to the State of the recent storms is in the region of €100m, government sources say.

Mr Kelly said the potential for further funding would be assessed. "The National Co-ordination committee has sat full time since December 3 and sat before that as well. It is the greatest response we have ever seen to an emergency that is unprecedented given the level of water we have seen," he told RTÉ News.

But Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen described the plan as "flawed".

"It is strong on promise but weak on delivery," he told the Irish Independent.

Irish Independent

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