Sunday 25 March 2018

Our politicians are also looking out for better weather

Flood warnings in the town of Ballinasloe yesterday
Flood warnings in the town of Ballinasloe yesterday
John Downing

John Downing

'The first politician into the flood zone could well end up owning all the misery."

"Pumps and sandbags are occasionally 'showbiz' rather than doing anything real."

"Government ministers attending the flood must know they risk collecting all the locals' wrath."

"Officials fare better dealing with the media than politicians as there is a less robust set of engagement terms." The above are just four random maxims for the political management of weather disasters. Such maxims - along with many others - take on a particular relevance with a general election just weeks away.

This is most certainly not meant to make light of the utter misery inflicted by floods. Nor, is it an attempt to mock politicians, some of whom I know suffered flooding themselves, while most of us will know somebody who has been visited by the flood horror.

It is to say that weather forecasts are concentrating elected politicians' minds very keenly right now. The problems associated with flooding are self-evident but remedies are scarcer than hens' teeth.

And some of those "remedies" have unintended consequences. We mentioned that pumps can sometimes be "showbiz" - that is to say "showing cause" at the scene of the flood rather than doing anything practical.

Self-evidently, there has to be somewhere for that pumped water to go. Sometimes it just floods right back, and worse again, it can flow in another direction and add to someone else's misery.

In a situation where people are distressed with a stricken home or business, and facing ruinous costs of all kinds, one has to walk very lightly indeed. The cries: "Where are the pumps? Where are the sandbags?" do not always require an answer.

Attempted answers are often met with: "Yourself and your pumps" and "You and your sandbags."

There is an old news maxim that two guys having a fight is what it is. But if you add a television camera, you're headed towards "a riot". The same holds good of a flood scene. The experience of a wellington-clad government politician, getting a good piece of a flood victim's mind outside his or her home, takes on a completely other dimension when you add a television camera. Such images can remain in the public mind long after much else about our politician has disappeared from view.

At such times, it is better to be in opposition than in power. But being in opposition is far from a "get-out-of-flood card".

Fianna Fáil leader Michéal Martin was happy in his Dáil work yesterday, castigating the Government flood response as slow and ineffectual. Back in 2009, he was a senior and experienced minister when flood waters lashed his native Cork city.

Mr Martin champions a not-for-profit insurance government scheme for unfortunate people who cannot get insurance. Will those of us who agree still be enthusiastic when we see a home insurance levy?

Remedies are few and slow. Yes, there are early warnings, there are evacuation procedures and some new flood defences which happily stood the test of this latest deluge. The longer term plans can bear fruit, as exemplified by places like the centre of Fermoy.

For now, our politicians, like the rest of us, just wish the rain would stop.

Irish Independent

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