'The floods are gone away, but the emergency is not' - Minister of State opens flood-relief scheme in Skibbereen today
The minister with responsibility for battling floods has said the water from last winter's storms may have receded, but the "emergency" remains.
Seán Canney, the new Minister of State at the Office of Public Works (OPW) has said his priority is to speed up the building of flood defences and to develop an early-warning system. Independent Alliance TD Mr Canney, who is to opening a flood-relief scheme in Skibbereen today, has criticised the length of time it takes to bring such projects to fruition.
He said the flood prevention measures in the Co Cork town and others like one at Dunkellan in his Galway East constituency were planned after the major floods of 2009 and are "just beginning to happen now. That's something we need to address."
He said the Government has committed €430m towards flood alleviation. He also wants an early-warning system that would kick in when heavy rain is forecast to allow agencies that control rivers to try to lower water levels in preparation. It would also make sure homeowners have sandbags in place.
"The floods are gone away, but the emergency is not," he said. "If we get rainfall on the magnitude we had last December we will have the problems revisiting us." He said flooding will never be eliminated but "we have to learn from the past."
Mr Canney is sharing the brief with his Independent colleague Kevin 'Boxer' Moran, with the pair famously deciding who would serve for the first year with a coin toss. Both men have experience helping flood-hit homeowners in their constituencies. Mr Canney said he's working, along with Mr Moran, on solutions for people "living in fear" of floods and that "two heads are better than one".
The OPW still controls many of the garda stations closed in recent years. Mr Canney said there will be a review of the future of Stepaside station - in his Alliance colleague Shane Ross's Dublin constituency - as well as those in Corrandulla, Kilconly and Menlough. However, he stressed Garda authorities will make the decision on whether or not they should be reopened.
Mr Canney branded Irish Water "a fiasco", and said under the new Dáil arithmetic, no similar project could be pushed through by guillotining legislation.
His Independent colleagues in Government, John Halligan and Finian McGrath, made headlines over their opposition to water charges. Mr Canney - who is a member of a group water scheme - insisted the controversy didn't get them in trouble, saying: "they expressed their opinions and that's what Independents do". As a first-time TD, he said adjusting to Government is "probably easier for me".
When he was canvassing, he told voters who questioned what an Independent could do in the Dáil that he hoped to influence Government policy. "Luckily, that is what happened," Mr Canney said.