Sunday 25 February 2018

Simon Harris: Taoiseach isn't doing the Bertie Ahern and putting on the wellies

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Bertie Ahern surveys the damage to homes after the River Tolka burst its bank in Dublin in November 2002
Bertie Ahern surveys the damage to homes after the River Tolka burst its bank in Dublin in November 2002

Kevin Doyle Group Political Editor

OPW minister Simon Harris has defended the lack of public appearances by Enda Kenny, saying: “The Taoiseach isn’t just putting on the wellies and doing the Bertie Ahern standing in a puddle of water saying ‘look at me taking action’.

“The Taoiseach is taking action. He’s putting the funds in place, the €430m more than we’ve ever put in place before.

“He set up the inter-departmental group on flooding which will report in spring. Whoever is in government in spring will have a range of options in relation to forecasting, flood insurance and other things.”

Mr Harris added: “And himself, Minister, the Tánaiste and whole of government put in place the Red Cross fund. So we’re actually taking action here. Maybe that’s not conventional enough for people.”

The minister said he is in daily contact with Mr Kenny about the crisis.

His comments follow Rural Affairs Minister Ann Phelan declining to defend the Taoiseach’s absence from the flood-hit communities, saying she doesn’t know his schedule.

Simon Harris
Simon Harris
Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Junior Minister Ann Phelan

Enda Kenny is coming under increasing pressure to visit town and villages left devastated by the string of storms that have swept across the country since November.

Ms Phelan who has spent the morning in Kilkenny town of Graignamanagh said the effect of Storm Frank was like a tsunami.

“It’s really devastating, what we’ve seen this morning. We have had flooding in the past but I have never seen anything like this,” the Labour minister said.

“At 2am it was clear as day but by 5am it was the very same as if a tsunami had hit.”

Speaking on RTE Radio’s Today programme Ms Phelan described the scene as “like a warzone” and warned that water levels in the River Barrow are still rising.

Asked if she would like to see the Taoiseach play a more visible role in the response and meet with the affected homeowners, Ms Phelan said:  “I’m out here with my people this morning. I listened to how difficult it is for them to operate.”

She added: “I not quite sure what the Taoiseach’s schedule is at the moment but I’m out this morning.”

Mr Kenny’s absence over the Christmas period has been in spark contrast to British Prime Minister David Cameron who has spent days meeting with affected communities.

The Taoiseach’s office have said that he visited flood victims in Mayo in recent days.

But the IFA Connacht regional chairman Tom Turley said Mr Kenny needs to do more.

“Previous leaders of our country did go out when we were flooded before – including Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen – but this Taoiseach hasn’t been out with his people. Whether we like it or not, he’s out leader,” Mr Turley said.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly and Minister of State Simon Harris are to visit Athlone today to view some of the damage in the Shannon catchment area.

And Ms Phelan said she expects Mr Harris to travel to Kilkenny as well today.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly added: “In fairness, I don’t think this is about photoshoots. We’re gone past that cynicism and I’m sure the media is gone past it as well.

“I’m sure the Taoiseach has shown his face on the ground. Already he has visited areas in the west. I’m sure he will be out and about.

“This is a whole of government issue, it’s a whole of country issue. There are a number of ministers out and about today and will be out for the rest of the week.”

Online Editors

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