Saturday 3 December 2016

Storm Frank: Kenny's visit to flood areas 'not for photoshoots'

Published 31/12/2015 | 02:30

The army were helping to distribute sand bags in Thomastown Co Kilkenny. Photo: Pat Moore
The army were helping to distribute sand bags in Thomastown Co Kilkenny. Photo: Pat Moore

After days of public pressure, Taoiseach Enda Kenny is to visit areas devastated by the recent floods later this week.

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Mr Kenny has been heavily criticised for not breaking away from his Christmas holidays to see the flood-ravaged towns and villages for himself.

But a spokesperson was last night adamant that Mr Kenny would not visit towns affected by the unrelenting storms just for the sake of it.

"He's goes when he has something to announce and to make a difference," he said.

A plan is being finalised for Mr Kenny to take a tour of some of the areas "in the coming days".

And the Irish Independent understands that Mr Kenny will chair a meeting of the emergency committee dealing with the response in Government Buildings on New Year's Day.

Fianna Fáil has called for the Cabinet to hold a crisis meeting but this has been rejected.

Ministers are due to return to Dublin next Tuesday and Mr Kenny's spokesman said the floods would be "a priority item" at the first Cabinet meeting of 2016.

He said the Taoiseach is being briefed "comprehensively on a daily basis by his officials in relation to the ongoing challenges people are facing following recent adverse weather. He is also in constant contact with the responsible ministers and fully abreast of the work of the national committee involving all relevant agencies, which is centrally coordinating the Government response."

After Storm Desmond hit on December 9, Mr Kenny went on local radio to apologise for not visiting some of the areas worst hit by flooding.

He said he felt at the time it was more important to remain in Dublin, from where the response was being coordinated.

In recent days, Mr Kenny has taken the half-hour drive from his hometown of Castlebar to visit Claremorris, which has been badly affected, but did not inform the media of his visit or have any pictures taken.

Fianna Fáil's environment spokesman Barry Cowen said Mr Kenny's determination to keep a low profile during the crisis was "astonishing".

"People feel neglected by the Government. The Taoiseach needs to get on the ground and see for himself the extensive disruption caused by flooding in areas such as Galway, Clare, Cork and Kilkenny," he said.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly and Minister of State Simon Harris travelled to Athlone and Kilkenny yesterday where they met families and business people affected.

Mr Harris defended the Taoiseach, saying Mr Kenny wouldn't "just be putting on the wellies and doing the Bertie Ahern standing in a puddle of water saying 'look at me taking action'."

Mr Ahern was famously photographed in a long trench-coat and wellies surveying the damage to homes after the River Tolka burst its banks in Dublin in 2002.

The junior minister argued that "the people of Ireland know where Enda is" as they would have seen him attending a Council of State meeting in Áras an Uachtarain on Tuesday.

"He's putting the funds in place, the €430m more than we've ever put in place before.

"He set up the inter-departmental group on flooding which will report in spring. Whoever is in government in spring will have a range of options in relation to forecasting, flood insurance and other things.

"And himself, the Minister, the Tánaiste and whole of Government put in place the Red Cross fund.

"So, we're actually taking action here. Maybe that's not conventional enough for people," he said.

Similarly, Mr Kelly said: "In fairness, I don't think this is about photoshoots. We're gone past that cynicism and I'm sure the media is gone past it as well.

"I'm sure he will be out and about. This is a whole of government issue, it's a whole of country issue."

Irish Independent

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