Cash aid for flood victims is 'under review'

Cowen feeling pressure to announce relief package

Ralphn Riegel, Conor Kane and Aidan O'Connor

A MULTI-million euro flood relief and humanitarian assistance programme for householders and businesses devastated by torrential rainfall will be discussed by the Government today.

However, Taoiseach Brian Cowen warned yesterday as he toured flood hit parts of Cork, Clare, Galway and Tipperary that the national focus must remain on restoring vital services to families devastated by the floods.

As pressure grows on the Government to match previous relief funds, Mr Cowen would only say these matters were under consideration.

"The immediate concentration in the last few days has been simply to ensure that the worst effects were mitigated, were abated, were avoided and people are now moving to a clean-up phase. We have to assess all of that and, of course, insurance comes into that as well," he said.

The threat of another deluge remains and parts of Clare were on high alert last night as water levels rose steadily in the river Shannon.


Met Eireann warned that embattled householders in Cork and Galway face the prospect of even heavier rainfall tomorrow.

Despite paying out several million euro to flood-stricken families over the last 15 years, the Office of Public Works (OPW) is no longer responsible for providing humanitarian aid to homeowners. The scheme is now backed by the Department of Social and Family Affairs and administered by local community welfare officers.

In 2004, the Government authorised the OPW and the Irish Red Cross to administer a €5m humanitarian relief fund for householders caught up in severe flooding in Cork city, Arklow, Clonmel, Enniscorthy and Wexford. In 2002, it paid out over €13m to households in Dublin under the same scheme.

However, hundreds of businesses will not be included in this scheme and only homeowners will qualify to receive vital funding.

While the Government has pledged not to cut investment in flood relief, Mr Cowen would not be drawn on how far today's package will go.

The Irish Insurance Federation said that the cost of the devastation caused by the flooding will take weeks to assess and will have an impact on all premiums next year.

Opposition parties will raise the flooding crisis in the Dail today and press the Government to extend aid to devastated businesses as well as to private homes.


The Labour Party is calling for jobs to be saved by extending the relief package to flood-hit businesses.

Fine Gael will table a motion tonight for the introduction of a flood alert system that warns all emergency services ahead of adverse weather warnings -- similar to a system used in the UK and Wales.

Meanwhile, Mr Cowen refused to be drawn on demands by Fine Gael environment spokesman Phil Hogan for an independent inquiry into the precise cause of the flooding -- particularly in Cork where a water release by the ESB from the Inniscarra dam has proved hugely controversial.

"I am not getting involved in whether anything like that occurs at all. I am dealing with the immediate situation. But obviously we will see what assistance can be given on a humanitarian basis," he said.

Mr Cowen toured the most devastated parts of Cork -- and was personally briefed on the situation by Cork city manager Joe Gavin and Cork county manager Martin Riordan.

Despite nurses, doctors and patients having to be ferried to and from Mercy University Hospital by army personnel, the hospital continued to provide vital services.

Mr Cowen began his whistle-stop tour of flood-hit towns and cities yesterday with a helicopter visit to Clonmel.

Town clerk Billy Doyle confirmed that the flood levels around the stricken parts of Clonmel have been receding since the weekend, with most roads now re-opened to traffic.

Mr Cowen admitted that planning authorities needed to "learn from experience" and make sure that mistakes are not repeated.

He pointed out that the Government has committed €38m to flood protection projects around the country this year.