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Thursday 26 April 2018

Ministers finalise aid package as flooding victims vent fury

The 2nd army battalion works in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, to hold back rapidly rising waters in the wake of Storm Desmond
The 2nd army battalion works in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, to hold back rapidly rising waters in the wake of Storm Desmond
Denny Murphy holds the flag where the hole should be on the first green on the Killeen Course at Killarney Golf Club
Garry Fitzgerald and Jonathan Fitzgerald from Blennerville battle to keep the water out of St Pat’s GAA Club
The 2nd Army battalion plants sandbags in Ballinasloe, Co Galway to hold back rapidly rising flood waters in the wake of Storm Desmond. Photo: Hany Marzouk
Winds drive waves over the wall on the coast road in Westport, Co Mayo
Severe flooding around Strabane, Co Tyrone
A seal reclines on the footpath opposite the cathedral in Ballina, Co Mayo, after being forced out of the water due to Storm Desmond

Ralph Riegel and Paul Melia

A multi-million euro flood aid package will be considered by the Government today as senior Cabinet ministers defended Ireland's flood defence budget.

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney toured the Storm Desmond-ravaged town of Bandon in west Cork and vowed that help will be provided for householders and businesses nationwide.

But furious traders warned that the latest flood was "totally avoidable" and blamed interminable delays in implementing Bandon's long-awaited flood defence scheme.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly insisted everything possible was now being done to help flood-hit communities.

"The national coordination team is in place and I dialled into the meeting. There are real issues around the country," he said.

"We don't know what (damage) level we'll be looking at. We have assessments going on, and I have instructed local authorities to do that work. I expect we will have a better handle on the scale of this and costs in 24 hours."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Government was already committed to major repair works.

"Remedial work will be carried out at 300 locations nationwide and all the reports from local councils will be discussed (at Cabinet) tomorrow," he said.

Because further storm conditions are expected for tomorrow, the overall financial assistance for homes and businesses has not yet been calculated.

But one government source expects the Cabinet to agree a multimillion euro package of relief works which will be channelled through local authorities and voluntary organisations.

However, sources emphasised that the greatest need will be in assisting businesses which cannot get flood insurance cover.

The Government's response to the flooding crisis is being led by OPW minister Simon Harris, as well as Defence Minister Simon Coveney, Environment Minister Alan Kelly and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin.

Tánaiste Joan Burton's Department of Social Protection is overseeing hardship payments for humanitarian purposes.

Meanwhile Limerick, Clare and parts of the Shannon basin are again on high flood alert after further heavy rainfall.

The flood threat in Limerick and Clare has been complicated by necessary water releases by the ESB from below Parteen Weir. Westmeath County Council triggered its emergency response plan amid fears of flooding in Athlone.

Flooding is now also expected in Cork city environs as the ESB confirmed increased discharges from both the Inniscarra and Carrigadrohid reservoirs.

The ESB - at the centre of a high-profile legal case over responsibility for the disastrous 2009 River Lee floods - insisted it was "closely monitoring the situation and is in constant communication with local authorities".

The IFA is demanding emergency aid for farmers in Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Roscommon, Leitrim, Westmeath, Clare and Donegal who are facing a flood-related fodder crisis.

Mr Coveney personally toured the flood-ravaged town of Bandon and insisted to furious locals that Government aid will be provided.

"There is a lot of anger here and I can understand that. One woman was in tears talking to me about the damage. So of course it is heartbreaking," he said.

"I do not want to over-promise in that (aid) regard," he said.

"We will hopefully have a proposal on the table that we can discuss at Cabinet to get that right.

"The Government is very much aware of the difficulty that some businesses are facing today, particularly those that do not have flood insurance.

"Getting hit like this so close to Christmas is hugely damaging."

He said traders in some towns face "a nightmare scenario".

"We are now looking to see if there is some way in which we can help particularly in towns like Bandon because this is the second flood they have had in six years."

"The last time most of the businesses did have flood insurance. They cannot get flood insurance now even if they are willing to pay."

Irish Independent

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