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Friday 15 December 2017

People more important than fish – minister

Plans for dredging as Government urged to help families relocate

Springfield, Clonlara, County Clare
Springfield, Clonlara, County Clare
An aerial view of flooding downstream from the Parteen Weir

Ralph Riegel and Niall O'Connor

The Government insisted that "people are more important than fish" as a minister vowed that all river dredging options will be examined in a bid to ease the severity of flooding.

But Office of Public Works (OPW) Minister Simon Harris warned that dredging cannot be undertaken in areas where it might interfere legally with long-delayed flood relief projects such as Bandon in West Cork.

He also warned any dredging would have to be undertaken "within the law" given environmental issues including the protection of fish stocks.

Mr Harris acknowledged the River Shannon requires a long-term water management strategy complete with investment in complex flood-prevention schemes.

The scale of damage is now so severe in Limerick, Clare and the Shannon basin that one Clare TD called for a relocation grant for people willing to quit flood-prone homes.

Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley warned some flood-hit families have "reached the end of their tether - I think there has to be an 'out' for them."

Speaking in Clonlara, where severe flooding has occurred seven times in the past 25 years, he warned: "There is a necessity to look to compensate people who might no longer wish to live in a place like this."

Mr Dooley acknowledged "not enough" work was done during successive Fianna Fáil-led governments to tackle flood plain issues.

While water levels continue to rise on the River Shannon following another 24 hours of torrential rainfall, Met Éireann offered a glimmer of hope that today "will be wet but not in a significant way."

"Today will bring occasional showers over Munster and south Leinster but further rain elsewhere with a few heavy bursts in places. The rain will become slow-moving over Ulster by early evening as another band of rain will move into the southwest," Gerald Fleming said.

The National Co-ordination Group (NCG) said water levels are still rising on the Shannon, but are now doing so at a reduced rate.

Levels in virtually all other river systems nationwide are now falling, though there remains a flood risk in Limerick, Clare, Galway, Cork, Kerry, Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny. Cork city and vulnerable county towns yesterday avoided further flooding despite torrential rainfall and high tides.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly will today brief Cabinet on the challenges facing local authorities as a result of the flood damage.

The costs incurred are expected to run to tens of millions of euro due to the significant damage done to roads and other public infrastructure, as well as overtime costs associated with staff and contractors.

In Sligo alone, an estimated €1m will be required for road restoration. Donegal County Council has said its bill has to date run to €1.89m. Galway City Council said it expects to spend €35,000 to deal with damage.

OPW official Jim Casey said the Shannon at Athlone had risen by 2.5cm - around 50pc the rate of increase recorded on Sunday.

Water levels on Lough Derg have also risen marginally, though the ESB believes they are now stabilising.

The ESB yesterday maintained its current water discharge rate at Parteen Weir of 440 cubic metres per second. Locals greeted the decision not to increase Parteen discharges as a glimmer of hope, though a severe flooding risk remains for east Clare and Limerick - where the council had supplied 10,000 sandbags over the past 48 hours.

However, it is expected that water levels on the River Shannon and Lough Derg will peak over the next 24 hours if Ireland can avoid further extended bouts of torrential rainfall.

The NCG said local authorities, gardaí, the Defence Forces and Civil Defence will remain either deployed or on standby given the ongoing flood threat.

The Government also bluntly warned that it will not tolerate the Irish insurance industry only granting flood cover to 75pc of traders and householders in areas that received expensive OPW water management projects.

In Bandon, which awaits an OPW scheme, 90pc of traders do not have flood cover.

One Bandon trader, tax consultant Colin Mulhall, has proposed a special levy on all insurance policies to ensure flood cover is provided in high-risk areas until flood relief schemes are completed.

"Insurance companies should consider the implementation of a minimalist levy similar to what was charged when PMPA went out of business to ensure that businesses that are prone to flooding can get insurance cover," he said.

The Government appealed to flood-hit Irish traders to lodge claims with Irish Red Cross offices immediately, so that individual €5,000 payments under the State €5m aid scheme can be sanctioned by Christmas.

Mr Harris said severely flood-hit traders should also make their case in detail for a secondary payment of €15,000, which is also being made available.

The Wicklow TD visited Bandon and Skibbereen yesterday to "stare in the whites of peoples eyes" and assure them that the Government was doing everything possible to tackle a flooding threat that dates back to 1965.

"I am not here to sell anything - I am here to level with people," Mr Harris said.

"We have a national flood plan and we have 300 areas that have been identified as at risk of flooding."

"We are going to spend €430m on flood relief over the next five years, which is more than in the previous 20 years."

Irish Independent

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