Wednesday 26 October 2016

Paul Melia: Piecemeal solutions will not address our long-term flooding crisis

Published 06/01/2016 | 02:30

The meeting of the National Emergency Co Ordination Group in Agriculture House yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath
The meeting of the National Emergency Co Ordination Group in Agriculture House yesterday. Photo: Frank McGrath

After the wettest December on record, more than 30 days of crisis meetings, deployment of thousands of local authority staff across the country and families facing the loss of their homes, the best the Government can come up with is a 'coordination' group for the River Shannon.

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Nothing suggests you're out of ideas like a coordination group or, better yet, a taskforce. What makes this measure even more ridiculous is that the Office of Public Works (OPW) - the State agency responsible for flood protection - has been given two weeks to suggest what this coordination group should do, and what powers it should have.

It's not like the Government doesn't know the solution. The OPW has completed in-depth analyses of every river catchment in the country, the Shannon included, and has identified 66 flooding blackspots on our longest river.

The Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management (CFRAM) programme provides a long-term strategy and specific measures needed, so the only thing this Government, and future ones, need to do is sign cheques to get the defence schemes under way. And not just on the Shannon, but in the other 234 at-risk areas across the country.

The question of a single authority for the River Shannon has been kicked around for decades.

Around one-fifth of the country's rivers drain into the Shannon, and its catchment extends to some 18,000 square kilometres, flowing through 18 local authority areas.

A number of agencies play a role in its management, including local authorities, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and the ESB, which manages Loughs Ree, Allen and Derg as part of its mandate to generate hydroelectric power.

Do these disparate groups not already meet?

And what is a coordination group going to achieve unless it has money and powers to issue directions?

Some decisions are welcome, in particular the establishment of a long-term flood forecasting system.

But why is the Taoiseach meeting with the insurance industry for yet another chat about a lack of cover for people in at-risk areas? The time might be better spent asking insurers to contribute towards the cost of defences - after all, less flooding means fewer claims.

Money for road repairs is welcomed, but guess what? There's already a €3bn backlog of repairs needed across the network. Will money be available for those?

It shouldn't take a pilot project to see if flood gates work, they either do or they don't.

Help for farmers and community groups is welcome, but overall there's a touch of the keeping everyone happy about this grand plan.

What might help prevent a repeat of the misery of the past month is for political parties to agree to ringfence funding for flood defences as part of a national effort to eliminate risk.

There's a sense that this response is an attempt to show leadership at a time of crisis. A bit more vision and long-term commitment would better serve those living in vulnerable areas.      

Irish Independent

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