Thursday 22 March 2018

Red Cross in talks to fast-track €5m flood aid

Houses under threat in Leitrim Village
Houses under threat in Leitrim Village

Ralph Riegel and Niall O'Connor

The Government is liaising with the Red Cross over how to fast-track a €5m flood relief package and ensure storm-hit families receive aid before Christmas.

Office of Public Works Minister Simon Harris and Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney acknowledged flood aid bureaucracy, which makes direct flood relief payments to business owners virtually impossible, will have to be circumvented.

Government ministers are meeting with Red Cross officials over how best to now expedite aid to the needy.

The Cabinet is also examining a €2m investment in an enhanced long-range weather forecasting system with better co-ordination between Met Eireann, local authorities and emergency services.

However, it has emerged just over one-fifth of a multi-million euro humanitarian fund set up to assist families affected by flood damage has been spent by the Government, the Irish Independent has learned.

Coalition sources have expressed surprise at the low take-up of the €10m scheme, which was set up to assist householders who cannot afford to meet essential needs, including structural repairs.

Just €2.15m has been drawn down from the scheme, which is under the auspices of Joan Burton's Department of Social Protection, since its establishment in 2012.

Some €127,000 has been paid out in 2015 to date - but this figure is expected to rise significantly as a result of the recent severe weather conditions.

Cork flood protection campaigner, Barry Keane, warned the current flood aid system is far too cumbersome.

"After the disastrous floods in Cork city in November 2009, some families didn't get assistance until early 2010. That is far too long," he said.

Mr Keane also argued that the Department of Social Protection should play a far greater role.

Last night, a department spokeswoman told the Irish Independent that staff are now "assessing and meeting the demand for assistance" by members of the public affected by Storm Desmond.

"It is the experience of Community Welfare Service staff that it can take some time for persons affected to make contact with the Department," the spokeswoman added.

Mr Coveney also admitted mounting Government concern is focused on how to help small businesses.

"It is not straightforward because in terms of the legislation that is connected to flood relief compensation or humanitarian payments or so on - it specifically talks about supporting households and not businesses," Mr Coveney said. "We are looking at ways in which we can support businesses. Getting hit like this so close to Christmas is hugely damaging."

Irish Independent

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