Fears grow River Shannon could burst its banks

National Emergency Co-ordination Group meets over flooding response

Undated handout photograph  issued by the Defence Forces  of flooding along the River Shannon near   Athlone, Co Westmeath. Photograph: Defence Forces Ireland/PA Wire

Undated handout photograph issued by the Defence Forces of flooding along the River Shannon near Athlone, Co Westmeath. Photograph: Defence Forces Ireland/PA Wire


The focus of flooding concern has turned to the country’s major rivers, especially those on the south, south-west and west, not least the Shannon.

The National Emergency Co-ordination Group, which met today, will tomorrow brief the Government, through Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan, on how the various Government department and State agencies are coping and co-operating with what the exceptional rain and tidal surges have been throwing at communities.

The chairman of the group, Seán Hogan of the Department of the Environment, said today that local authorities in affected areas believed that worst of the tidal flooding was past - for the moment.

However, there was growing concern at river levels, and fears that waters will rise even higher than at present as a result of rain now and in the coming week.

“The threat from tidal flooding seems to be receding for the moment we are concerned about the further threats that exist. An enhanced level of threat exists in rivers,” said Mr Hogan.

He was speaking at the National Emergency Co-ordination Centre in Agriculture House in Dublin midway through an information sharing meeting to give key flood response players a chance to learn from each other and also identify areas of need.

The meeting was attended by representatives from the Taoiseach’s office, the departments of social protection, tourism and sport, health, and enterprise, the Health and Safety Authority and the Health Service Executive, An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces, Civil Defence, the Coast Guard, local authorities, the Revenue Commissioners and the departments of finance, and public expenditure and reform.

Mr Hogan said the current situation did not constitute a national emergency and he commended the efforts of agencies at local level, and the degree of co-operating between people, in trying to cope with flooding.

“We have been reviewing what has been going on in response to the emergency. That’s been managed locally and we think reasonably well,” he told reporters.

“I would always advise people to keep an eye on what’s happening locally in their own environment. Keep your eyes open on the river, on what’s going on. While we might be able to predict generally that there’s issues and troubles, the rainfall as we’ve seen, you can get rain happening in areas which will cause local flooding which won’t be picked up by any warning system and so people do need to keep an eye on their own particular immediate area,” he said.

“Listen and if there are any warnings being issued by the local authorities, keep an eye on your own local environment.”

Liam Basquille, princial officer in the Office of Public Works, said the level of water in the Shannon was of special concern now and for the days ahead.

“The Shannon is a particular source of concern because of the nature of the Shannon,” he said. “It is a very flat river that doesn’t allow for the flow of water at a very rapid pace. So the Shannon is always in our radar as a potential threat for flooding. On the other main river systems, we are monitoring the situation very closely.”

He said there is a comprehensive system and network of river level gauges throughout the country and that information is available at waterlevels.ie.

“All the main catchments are being looked at very closely and some of those rivers, like the Blackwater and the Suir, in the main urban centres like Clonmel, already have river defences in place and they are working.”

Gerald Fleming, head of forecasting at Met Éireann, said it was too early to say whether the current spate of rain and tidal surging was related to climate change.

He said weather was “not linear” and did not necessarily move at a steady rate from A to B.

“We might see no changes in our climate for 30 years and then suddenly a step change into something quite different,” he says. “We don’t know these things. When we look at weather events, the sort of weather events we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen them before.”

He added: “We had a very quiet period through the first decade of this century but if you look back into the 1990s, there were certainly comparable, or more severe, events. So we’re not looking at anything we haven’t seen before.”

Mr Fleming said that time would tell if extreme weather events seen lately were part of a more general change in pattern in the Irish climate. He said it would be “our grandchildren or great grandchildren who make that call”.

“It’s impossible when you are in the middle of something like this to have that perspective,” he continued. “And so we cannot really tell whether this is part of the natural variability of weather or there is some underlying climate change which, if you like, is pushing us towards a greater likelihood of these events. That will only become clear in time.”