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Friday 24 November 2017

Damning report on response to floods and snow

Paul Melia

Paul Melia

CONSTRUCTION work has yet to begin on flood defences in some of the areas worst hit by last November's catastrophic flooding that left large parts of the country underwater.

The Office of Public Works (OPW) said yesterday that contractors had yet to be hired to build projects in Cork, Tipperary and Clare despite funding being approved, while other schemes in Meath, Carlow, Waterford and Kildare are still at the planning stage.

The admission came after a damning report criticised the government response to the flooding and sub-zero weather crisis in November, December and January.

It said the state's response lacked leadership and the necessary structures were not in place to deal with a major emergency.

A "complex and confusing" system, the all-party Environment Committee found, meant planning for emergencies was "unsatisfactory", while it was "untrue" that the State was properly resourced and able to cope with the crisis.


The report raised serious concerns about the national emergency plan -- known as the Framework for Major Emergency Management -- put in place in 2008 that set out how the crisis was supposed to be handled.

"A fundamental concern is that it is complex and confusing to those unfamiliar with it," the report said. "While it has many merits, the fact that it cannot provide a clear, unambiguous and consistent answer to the question of 'who is in charge?' in an emergency situation is most unsatisfactory."

Unprecedented rainfall in late October and early November 2009 resulted in severe and prolonged flooding across many parts of the country, with land, homes and businesses flooded, while hundreds of people had to be evacuated from their homes.

The following month, the coldest winter since 1963 caused widespread travel disruption and damage to roads and property. Water was cut off to thousands of homes as pipes burst, many of which were poorly laid.

Insurance claims for damage to property have amounted to almost €550m, while the damage to roads is put at €180m.

"We believe that the extent to which people were affected and impacted could have been lessened with better planning and coordination," committee chairman Sean Fleming said. "There seems to be a distinct lack of clarity regarding who is ultimately in charge."

The report said the number of bodies responsible for waterways in Ireland was "breathtaking" and communication between agencies must be improved.

Critically, it also called for an independent investigation into the release of millions of tonnes of water into the River Lee by the ESB from the Inniscarra Dam which worsened the flooding in Cork City.

The ESB said it issued adequate warnings about the volume of water being released -- a claim denied by the city council.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen yesterday insisted the state's response was adequate, and that he was "satisfied" with how the emergency was tackled.

"The response of the emergency services was outstanding. Let us also emphasise that there was also a wonderful community response," he said.

Environment Minister John Gormley, who was responsible for co-ordinating the response to the flooding crisis and who also worked through the Big Freeze while his cabinet colleague Transport Minister Noel Dempsey was on holiday, said lessons would be learned.

He added that there were demarcation issues between both departments, where the responsibilities of each overlapped.

The report praised efforts by agencies, individuals and communities on the ground who worked during the severe weather to help those worst affected.

Irish Independent

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