Saturday 17 March 2018

'Local authorities can't shoulder flooding emergencies' - Minister

Micheál Martin at a destroyed bridge in north Donegal. Photo: North West Newspix
Micheál Martin at a destroyed bridge in north Donegal. Photo: North West Newspix
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Fianna Fáil "remains to be convinced" on the need for a new agency to spearhead the response to emergencies such as the floods in the north west.

OPW Minister Kevin 'Boxer' Moran wants to take responsibility for co-ordinating managing clean up operations away from local authorities.

"It has become very clear to me in witnessing at first hand a number of major emergencies in recent years that it is no longer the best approach to leave all the responsibility on the shoulders of the local authorities. Managing a major catastrophe requires a great deal of outside help and intervention," he said.

The Westmeath TD has briefed Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe on what he sees as the need for an agency bringing together relevant organisations including gardaí, Defence Forces, Civil Defence, the HSE and the various Government departments.

"We didn't go to Donegal for a photograph and nothing else happened. We have to learn from what happened. It's just a different scale," Mr Moran told the Irish Independent.

He declared the situation in the north west a "national emergency" but criticised the fact it took five days for the existing National Co-ordination Group to meet in Dublin.

"I'm not having a go at any particular agency or group. It's time now we make some changes for how we deal with these events. Two years ago we had severe floods in the midlands. We haven't learned a huge lot from that.

"If you've a proper agency set up then the local authority doesn't have to put a call into the minister, the Army, to seek money for skips, to get other outside help. It'll happen automatically," Mr Moran said.

However, Fianna Fáil's OPW spokesman Eugene Murphy, who spent yesterday visiting the worst affected areas in Donegal, said he doesn't believe a new agency is necessary.

"I won't totally criticise the idea but I'd be concerned it could become another layer with somebody in Dublin with a different set of rules.

"At the end of the day it's the Government's job to get this done. What local authorities need is resources. Manpower has been cut back," he said.

Mr Murphy said that a week on from the torrential downpours that caused mudslides and extensive flooding, people in Donegal remain "very downbeat".

"What I've witnessed is so heartbreaking for people," he said. "There is just devastation. It's just appalling. Homes gone completely. Businesses in serious trouble. I don't know how there wasn't a loss of life here. It was an absolute miracle."

Mr Moran said his proposed agency would have a wider brief than just emergency response, also looking at potential risks from events such as coastal erosion.

"It's time flooding wasn't talked about in a way we as politicians go into a town and then walk out," he said.

He added that a 'emergency tsar' could be appointed to front the body. "It could be someone from a department or the chair of the existing co-ordination group. I'm not saying this for Boxer Moran's name going up in the lights, I'm saying it because of the suffering I saw in Donegal," he said.

Yesterday Micheál Martin visited the scenes of devastation,

"When an emergency like this emerges and a devastating storm occurs the State has to get involved and help communities to get back on their footing. It will take funding but given the nature and scale of the damage I don't think anyone would begrudge funding being put into these areas," he said.

Irish Independent

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