Wednesday 26 October 2016

Litany of neglect and failure over flooding

Published 06/04/2016 | 02:30

'When the floods struck last winter, we saw the best of rural Ireland and the worst of official Ireland.' Photo: Lorraine Teevan
'When the floods struck last winter, we saw the best of rural Ireland and the worst of official Ireland.' Photo: Lorraine Teevan

When the floods struck last winter, we saw the best of rural Ireland and the worst of official Ireland. Communities stayed awake night after night and supported each other, displaying all that is unique in the country.

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At official level, there were big promises and pledges. But commitments cannot be met in fragments, as has been seen in the years of neglect and failure by government after government to put flood defences in place; or to provide vital infrastructural investment.

No wonder towns and villages all across the country feel they have been betrayed.

Today, we learn of another litany of neglect and failure to meet critical obligations. It is astonishing to learn that the very group tasked with managing flood defences didn't even meet for six years.

The inter-departmental group stopped meeting in September 2009. Coincidentally, that was the very year the International Red Cross characterised flooding in Cork as being on the scale of a world disaster. In fact, it was so severe, damage totalling €244m was done across the country.

It has also emerged that €330m was spent on flood defences, but we have yet to learn whether taxpayers have had value for the expenditure.

The report was published only yesterday, even though Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has had it since January 8. This was a full month after Storm Desmond wreaked such havoc, ruining lives and livelihoods all along the River Shannon.

This is another story of breathtaking incompetence. Independent TD for Longford/Westmeath Kevin 'Boxer' Moran said he was horrified to read the contents of the report. He won't be the only one.

Such lax standards must be answered if failures are to be avoided in the future. These revelations will give further credence to the growing sense of a rural/urban divide. Those whom have signally failed, either through inaction or incompetence, must be called to answer.

If there is no chain of accountability, there will be no responsibility, and thus the cycle of failure will go on.

Why set up a review when the result is determined?

He never took up his seat in Westminster, but Gerry Adams clearly learned a lot from the civil servants in Whitehall during his time as MP for West Belfast. The semi-fictitious, archetypal permanent secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby beautifully summed up the workings of the mandarins in 'Yes, Minister': "The civil service never sets up a review, the results of which it cannot determine."

Adams sounded remarkably similar with his description of the 'independent' commission on water charges his party proposes to set up. The 'independent' commission would be blocked from making certain recommendations, such as the retention of Irish Water and water charges.

So the 'independent' commission is to come up back to Sinn Féin to confirm the party's own views. Not that it matters. The 'independent' commission will never be set up anyway as Sinn Féin are only interested in opposition.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil has drafted legislation to scrap water charges in six months and replace Irish Water with a new body to be in place within 12-18 months. There are sweeteners included for those on group water schemes to keep the rural Independent TDs on side.

But there is scant detail on chasing those who have not paid and no sign of a refund for those who did pay up.

As Sir Humphrey said: "A cynic is what an idealist calls a realist."

Irish Independent

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