Friday 24 November 2017

Taoiseach to put minister in charge of floods action

An Air Corps photo shows the extent of flooding still affecting Athlone. Photo: Defense forces
An Air Corps photo shows the extent of flooding still affecting Athlone. Photo: Defense forces

Niall O'Connor, Kevin Doyle and Adam Cullen

Kenny rejects claims that new Shannon taskforce is 'nothing more than a charade'.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny will appoint a minister with specific responsibility for floods if he is re-elected for a second term.

Mr Kenny last night said a ministerial portfolio will be responsible for coordinating "the action plans that are going to be put in place".

But the Fine Gael leader insisted that the flood crisis, which has now lasted 31 days, will not delay his election plans.

"We'll have the election early in spring and I'm sticking by that," he said during a trade mission to Amsterdam.

Last night, Coalition sources said that Mr Kenny has spoken of the idea of giving a minister the extra responsibility of dealing with floods in the future.

One source suggested that certain responsibilities from the departments of the Environment and Communications, as well as the Office of Public Works (OPW) could be transferred into a single ministry.

Pressed on the issue, Mr Kenny clearly indicated plans for a minister to be given dedicated responsibility for flooding.

"While I wouldn't presume to determine the outcome of any election, whoever the people do elect, that given the nature of this particular problem, that it deserves to have a more focused ministerial attention in the future.

"If it falls my way, I intend to address that in a co-ordinated fashion from a ministerial point of view," the Taoiseach told reporters.

Meanwhile, Mr Kenny defended the Government's response to the flood crisis and stood over the Cabinet's decision to set up a taskforce for the River Shannon.

It's emerged that the taskforce is only likely to meet every three months as a single body and on potentially another two further occasions with outside bodies such as the Irish Farmer's Association (IFA).

However, there is no detail yet in terms of what powers and functions will be given to the taskforce, which will be made up of a plethora of agencies such as the ESB, Bord na Mona, Inland Fisheries and local authorities.

The terms of reference for the taskforce will be published within a fortnight,.

Several Government backbenchers have warned that they will not tolerate a body that is lacking teeth.

But Mr Kenny insisted that the criticism from the Opposition over the approach to establish the new body is unjustified.

"I reject the assertion that the Shannon management group is nothing more than a charade and a photographic session.

"It is taking the estuary of the Shannon, the entire Shannon base, and managing it through a range of opportunities and responsibilities that many of the agencies have, and what you need is an effective working strategy that will allow for major or minor works to be carried out over the period of this year, next year and the year after and for many years to come," Mr Kenny said. "It [the response so far] is not enough and we will continue to do more and when we have an assessment from the local authorities in respect of roads and bridges we will respond appropriately," he added.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, OPW Minister Simon Harris insisted the new taskforce could have its powers and remit extended in the future.

"What we don't want to do is create another quango, if we were to do that the Opposition would be jumping up and down trying to criticise us," he said.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Joan Burton has said flood-hit families will be able to review their property valuations in a bid to lift the burden of the local property tax.

Ms Burton says while permissions have been put in place to defer the tax, she would prefer to see flood victims first have their homes revalued.

"There are permissions of course to defer, but I would like firstly to see the valuations being examined," she said.

And business owners who are in receipt of support through the Red Cross will also be shown leeway in terms of filing returns.

Irish Independent

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