Donegal flooding: Taoiseach visits areas hit by floods

Minister pleads with insurers not to blacklist people from areas devastated by flooding

Drone footage recorded on the 23rd August shows the aftermath of the heavy rainfall at Swan's Park in Buncrana up to Cockhill Bridge and beyond. Video: Windy Day Media

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has visited Donegal to view the damage caused by extensive flash flooding in the county this week which ruptured roads, caused land-slides and flooded as many as 400 homes.

Mr Varadkar travelled by Air Corps helicopter to Inishowen Peninsula on Friday afternoon to see the affected areas, talk to families affected by the flooding and speak to rescue and emergency crews on the ground.

His predecessor Enda Kenny did the same in December 2015 when he spent a day travelling by helicopter to visit 10 counties, all of which had suffered extensive flood damage.

Mr Varadkar is said to have decided on Friday morning that a visit to the affected areas was necessary.

On Thursday night, he posted a video statement on his Twitter account pledging that the State would use all available resources to assist with the clean-up and recovery operation.

Speaking to the media on Friday, Mr Varadkar suggested that funding allocation for such natural disasters including flood relief will have to increase.

“I think you have to see it to see the scale of the damage that has been done and what really occurs to me is that it’s extraordinary that nobody was killed or seriously injured and I think we were blessed that nobody was injured or killed.

“The key thing now is the cleanup and the clean-up is well under way and the Army has now been posted here and are helping with that.

“I’m satisfied with the response so far and that has to be sustained in the coming days and additional funding will be made available to the council to carry out the necessary repairs and the Red Cross and that that is open to businesses and sport and voluntary bodies who don’t have insurance.

“There will be a very strong central Government approach to assist the people of Inishowen in the weeks ahead because it is going to take weeks to put things right,” he said.

The Taoiseach also suggested that with an increase in the number of natural disasters across the country, the €430 million budget for flood relief may have to be increased.

“It is a very substantial budget but I don’t think a budget for flood relief can ever be enough and perhaps the same applies to health and to education and to roads and so many different areas.

“But thankfully because the economy is performing strongly and because of the recovery that has happened in recent years and so many more people are working we are going to have additional revenues in the years ahead.

“If we continue to manage the economy well so additional revenues will allow us to increase that budgets in years to come and I’m sure that will be done.”

The Fine Gael leader rejected claims he was late in visiting the area, saying he did not think it was “relevant’ that it took him three days to arrive in Donegal.

“I don’t think there has been any shortage of Government interest in this issue, I think half theCcabinet have been Inishowen so I think the most important thing is the Government response and I think the response from Government is going to be very strong in providing any assistance that is needed.”

The visit follows a meeting of the cross-agency Emergency Co-ordination Group in Dublin on Friday morning. The meeting was attended by Minister of State for Housing and Urban Renewal and Minister of State with responsibility for flood defences Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran and chaired by Sean Hogan, National Director of the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management.

In a statement, the group said: “Departments have been working together and with Donegal County Council to address the priority issues affecting households and businesses as well as infrastructural issues relating to roads, bridges and accesses.”

Speaking after the meeting , Mr Moran insisted the Government would provide whatever funding was required to help the local authorities in Donegal with what he described as a “disaster zone”.

He also said that insurance companies should not blacklist households who make claims for flood insurance.

“That is another issue that is cropping up, people are paying their insurance, insurance companies are being clear in their understanding - they’re sending out documentation, pages long, people not reading everything that’s in the small print - the detail is in the print, we need to start working with the insurance companies - I would ask and plead with the insurance companies not to black list people.”

Separately, Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe has said 30 members of the Defence Forces will be deployed to help the clean-up operation and to bolster flood defences in the event of further heavy rain. It is not yet been clarified when they will begin operations.

“There is absolute devastation. It is almost biblical to see the damage caused.” He rejected a criticism that it had taken too long to call in the Defence Forces. “The situation had to be assessed first,” the Minister said.

The decision to send 30 personnel was an operational matter between the Department of Defence and Donegal County Council, he added. It was better to see 30 people being deployed properly and effectively than to have 150 people “standing around doing nothing”.

‘”If it is assessed that more are needed, they will be deployed. Thirty people on the ground will make a big difference.”

Government Chief Whip Joe McHugh, a local TD in Donegal, also confirmed the Red Cross had been asked to administer a scheme which will give assistance to businesses and also to non-commercial entities whose premises are adversely affected by the floods.

“Having witnessed first-hand the damage caused to businesses in Inishowen, it is important that we in Government respond and that is what we are doing today,” Mr McHugh said.

He said he had visited farmers in north Inishowen and east Donegal late on Thursday night to see the destruction caused by the torrential downpours on Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning.

He also visited Dunree boxing club and Cockhill Celtic football club as well as business owners in Carndonagh.

“Tsunamis are associated with catastrophic sea surges but what happened in Donegal earlier this week was similar; it was a tsunami from the skies which dropped millions of tonnes of water directly into the heart of communities,” he said.

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty has activated the €10 million Humanitarian Assistance Scheme to help people whose homes have been damaged but cannot meet the costs of repairs.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on flood relief Eugene Murphy criticised what he said were the “empty words” of Mr Moran and called for legislative protection for homeowners to be extended following devastating flooding in Donegal.

He said Fianna Fáil had published a Flood Insurance Bill 2016 which extends insurance cover to homes and businesses in areas where flood defences have been built by the Office of Public Works.

“Minister Moran has been calling on insurance companies not to blacklist areas at risk of flooding. However homeowners and businesses need much more than just empty words from Minister Moran. It makes more sense to take legislative action to deal with this issue,” he said.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the flash flooding witnessed in Donegal would become an increasingly regular weather phenomenon in Ireland.

“”This sort of intense rainfall is in line with the predictions of Irish and international climate scientists. Unfortunately, their message is that this is only the beginning,” he said.

“Our response must be to ensure that climate change is factored into the River Basin Management Plan which is open to public consultation until next week, ensuring that we manage river catchments and design our drainage system to cope with these more extreme events as much as possible.”

Two status yellow weather warnings remain in place for Connacht and the North West until later on Friday evening.

Earlier this week, two thirds of the average rainfall for August fell during a nine-hour period in Counties Donegal, Derry and Tyrone. More than 100 people had to be rescued from cars and houses and hundreds of houses suffered major water damage in Donegal.

Any affected by flood damage can call the following numbers for assistance:

Donegal County Council: (074) 91 53900

Derry Strabane Council: (048) 71 253 253

For information on Exceptional Needs Payments for flood damage call the Department of Social Protection, Buncrana office: (074) 93 64600