Friday 25 May 2018

'The State will spend €430m over next five years to tackle flooding threat'

Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Peter Cavanagh
Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Peter Cavanagh

Simon Harris

I have seen at first hand the devastating impact of the floods on people's lives, the relentless battle to protect homes, businesses and farms, the exhaustion and despair when destruction cannot be prevented.

It is important to acknowledge that the month of December alone has seen unprecedented levels of rainfall, with the entire expected rainfall for winter falling in one month alone.

The Government is very conscious of the need for fast action, and I want to assure those affected that we are doing everything in our power to assist people in getting their lives back to normal.

We are sensitive to the need for fast action and the particular difficulties faced by businesses who cannot get insurance. That is why we established a €5m fund which is administered by the Red Cross and can be accessed without any bureaucratic delay. Similarly, there is a €10m aid fund available from the Department of Social Protection to assist householders in distress.

The Department of the Environment and Local Government has provided €8m to support the work of local authorities in dealing with the flooding, and emergency fodder supplies are being made available by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for the worst-hit farms.

The Government also stands ready to help local authorities once the clean-up is under way.

This is an example of whole-of-Government approach being taken in dealing with this crisis.

The National Co-ordination Group for severe weather has been meeting on a daily basis to assess the forecast and associated risks, and to co-ordinate efforts to deal with the aftermath of the storms.

This brings together all the relevant Government departments and bodies, like the Defence Forces, An Garda Síochána, HSE and the ESB, and ensures essential inter-agency co-operation.

I would like to pay tribute to the immense voluntary effort of so many in communities around the country helping their neighbours and friends in trouble.

I would also like to commend the local authority and Defence Forces personnel, Civil Defence, the gardaí, the HSE and all those who are working day and night to protect life and property, and who are now also engaged in the recovery work.

Responding to the crisis and dealing with the aftermath have required, and will continue to require, a gargantuan effort from all involved, but we must also look forward to how we plan for the future.

The good news is that the Government's capital investment plan will see us spend €430m in the next five years - which was more than in the past 20 years - on flood risk investment and flood works.

The OPW has already completed 32 major flood relief schemes, seven are ongoing, five are due to start in 2016 and 22 are at design/planning stage. The OPW is completing and advancing works in many areas, including Crossmolina, Skibereen and Bandon.

Today, the Cabinet will meet and flooding will be the number one item on the agenda. Each Government department will report on its own area of responsibility, and bring forward its solutions, as requested by the Taoiseach.

Prior to Cabinet, there is a meeting to discuss the specific issue of the management of the Shannon.

No government can ever guarantee that people won't suffer adverse effects from severe weather events but we are determined to use the engine of a stable economic recovery to invest well for the future.

Simon Harris is Minister of State with Special Responsibility for the Office of Public Works

Irish Independent

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