Sunday 22 July 2018

Varadkar rejects criticism of speed of floods response

Labour claims Government was 'caught on the hop' by deluge

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visits the Glentogher River. Picture: Caroline Quinn
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visits the Glentogher River. Picture: Caroline Quinn

Ian Begley

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has rejected criticism of the speed of the Government's response to the flooding disaster in the north-west.

Speaking as he visited the communities devastated by flooding for the first time, Mr Varadkar insisted the Government and State agencies responded to the disaster promptly and promised relief efforts will be further escalated.

Reacting to the destruction he saw in Donegal, Mr Varadkar also said the country was "blessed" that no one was killed or seriously injured.

His visit came after officials from several Government departments met in Dublin to discuss support that's to be provided to Donegal County Council and as members of the Defence Forces arrived in Donegal to assist clean-up efforts.

Labour's rural affairs spokesman Willie Penrose criticised the pace of the Government response, saying it's "incredible" that it took almost three days for the meeting of Government agencies to be convened. He argued that after major floods elsewhere in recent years "the State should be better able to respond to events like this within 24 hours".

He added: "We're an island nation surrounded by water - we shouldn't be caught on the hop like this."

A child’s toy is carried from a home. Picture: Caroline Quinn
A child’s toy is carried from a home. Picture: Caroline Quinn

However, Mr Varadkar insisted that he's satisfied with the response, adding that it needs to be "sustained and escalated in the coming days".

He said he didn't think it is "particularly relevant" that he hadn't visited the scene before Friday afternoon, adding: "I don't think there's been any shortage of Government interest in this. Probably half the Cabinet have been here in Inishowen in the last couple of days."

Read more: 'There wasn't time to save anything - we've nothing now'

Read more: Some have led from the front, but is the flow of cash there to stem the deluge?

Labour’s Willie Penrose. Picture credit: Damien Eagers
Labour’s Willie Penrose. Picture credit: Damien Eagers

He also rejected criticism that it took State agencies three days to meet after Tuesday night's flash floods. Mr Varadkar said the emergency services provided the immediate response as they conducted rescues and that it's only after this "that you can actually start to assess the damage and pull people together".

Asked if the €430m budget for flood relief schemes around the country will be increased, Mr Varadkar said: "I don't think the budget for flood relief can ever be enough." But he said there's likely to be scope for increases in the years ahead.

Separately, Flood Relief minister Kevin 'Boxer' Moran pledged that Donegal County Council will be provided with "whatever funding is necessary" to deal with the damage caused by the floods after the meeting of Government agencies in Dublin. The Department of Social Protection is administering a fund to help householders who were hit by the floods and was last night assisting up to 60 families.

It was also agreed that a Red Cross scheme to help small businesses and sports clubs will be opened.

Mr Moran also urged insurers not to blacklist areas that have been hit by the floods.

His plea came after the Irish Independent reported on fears that insurers will withdraw future cover for people whose homes have been damaged.

Fianna Fáil TD Eugene Murphy said Mr Moran's appeal wasn't enough, and that legislation should be brought in to compel insurance companies to cover homes protected by flood defences.

Junior Finance Minister Michael D'Arcy said the "once-in-100 year" deluge in Donegal is "absolutely not justification" for the affected areas to be blacklisted and that he'd be raising the issue with insurers.

Read more: Confusion as soldiers sent to help locals are delayed

Read more: Weather events that once occurred on a Biblical time-frame are now seen every year 

Irish Independent

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