Farm Ireland

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Response to flooding has been akin to sticking a bush in a dam

Taoiseach Enda Kenny visiting Justin Flannery's beef farm in Peterswell, East Galway that has remained under water and has been badly impacted by floods. Picture: Hany Marzouk.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny visiting Justin Flannery's beef farm in Peterswell, East Galway that has remained under water and has been badly impacted by floods. Picture: Hany Marzouk.
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

Usually on a Wednesday morning, I am sitting at my laptop in my kitchen, trying to cobble this column together. But last week I went for a walk, a long one down the farm. I had nothing written but it was the first bright morning in what seemed like forever and I just had to be out in it.

The fields are saturated but only patches are under water. I looked up. Instead of the gloomy greyness that has been weighing heavily on the land, the sky was high and it was blue. And the grass was green. It was like switching from black and white TV to colour. It was cold but a crisp coldness rather than a damp one. Invigorating rather than exhausting.

There was a sense of spring in the air. I know there has been growth throughout the winter - one lady told me how her early daffodils started to appear in September when the late ones were not long gone - but this morning had a sense of rebirth, a fresh start.

High in the sky, amidst the wisps of cirrus clouds, I could see six planes and their trails, most of them travelling East to West. It was a magnificent sight and I momentarily wondered what stories lay before and adventures behind the many hundreds of people on board.

But my thoughts turned quickly to an area to the west that's much closer, to the many people along the Shannon whose homes, farms and businesses have been decimated by floodwaters.

Everybody has faced some inconvenience from the rains and most farms have encountered difficulties due to the rapid filling of slurry tanks. But the overwhelmingly feeling is one of counting blessings.

I have never been in a flooded house but, almost every day for weeks, we have been reading and hearing stories of more heartbreak due to flooding. It got to the stage where I nearly stopping turning on the news because it is so upsetting, to see lives being turned upside down and livelihoods wiped out.

What makes the ongoing hardship all the worse is the sense that, even when the floodwaters do eventually abate, they will be back. Instead of guarantees that this won't happen again, there is the inevitabile sense it will.

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In 2009, people were told it was a once in a lifetime event. Now we already know that its more than once in a decade and likely to become even more regular.


Of all the human emotions, the one we need most is hope. Hope that some hardship will end, that some justice will out, that some corner will be turned. Your home is supposed to be your castle. I know it sounds very biblical but its hard to see how these people will ever feel safe within their own four walls again.

So whats to be done? In the long term, there are issues surrounding climate change. But we also need shorter-term solutions, including flood barriers and dredging. Many people can't get insurance so couldn't afford to move even if they wanted to.

As for the response at national level, virtually every arm of government and every possible agency is now involved but unfortunately it feels like a bush in a gap; or a dam, in this case.

Large groups are cumbersome beasts which move slowly. How does bringing all these agencies together change anything? It is not like they didn't already have each other's phone numbers. Or know what needs to be done. It is not more talking that's needed, it is more action.

When the waters have abated and the general election is over, will this be again moved to the backburner?

The one thing that has been mooted for years is a single authority for the Shannon.

It could be said that now is not the time to be hasty and perhaps there is a certain naivety in thinking that this would be a magic wand. But it is hard to see how a multiplicity of agencies with a host of different priorities will ever sort it out.

However, if the current crisis - with all the human hardship over the emotive Christmas period and high profile coverage on the cusp of an election - can't make this come about, it's hard to see what can.

Indo Farming