Flood prevention funding increase necessary, Varadkar says

Government will provide necessary support in wake of flooding, Taoiseach says

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (second from left) with Minister of State Joe McHugh, Donegal county senior engineer John McLaughlin and council foreman Edward Ruddy when he visited workers at sites of destruction in Donegal. Photograph: North West Newspix

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (second from left) with Minister of State Joe McHugh, Donegal county senior engineer John McLaughlin and council foreman Edward Ruddy when he visited workers at sites of destruction in Donegal. Photograph: North West Newspix

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has accepted that funding will have to be increased in future to prevent major flooding events such as this week’s flash floods in the northwest.

Mr Varadkar flew to the Inishowen peninsula by Army helicopter on Friday afternoon to witness at first hand the damage caused by Tuesday night’s floods.

He said he had been taken aback by the scale of the damage, where 100 people had to be rescued, and an estimated 500 homes had suffered flood damage.

“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,” he said.

There were plans, he said, to increase the €430 million budget which has been set aside for flood defences until 2021 under the new 10-year capital programme.

The budget was already “very substantial”, he added, but nonetheless indicated it was always possible for further increases. It needed to be balanced against other priorities such as health, housing and roads, he said.

‘Strong’ response

One of the purposes of his visit, he said, was to give assurance that the “response from central Government will be very strong” and provide any assistance that is needed.

“The key thing now is the clean-up 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 [Donegal] council to carry out the necessary repairs and the Red Cross [scheme] 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.

Mr Varadkar’s first stop was in the town of Carndonagh, which was one of the worst-hit areas during the torrential downpours. He visited several other towns, including Buncrana.

Near Carndonagh, the Taoiseach met farmer Phil Doherty and his family. Mr Doherty told him: “We were lucky enough in that our house was not damaged but a lot of the fields were badly hit and the river beside our home burst its banks and will need to be repaired.”

In the town the Taoiseach, who was accompanied by Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty, met business owners whose premises had been damaged by the floods. Among them was Sarah Quigley-Burns, who owns the Little Acorns creche in the town. She has 104 children enrolled at the creche, which was devastated by the flooding.

She explained to the Taoiseach how she wanted to open next Wednesday but may be subject to inspection by Tusla. She stressed that she was always compliant with all regulations but just needed some help to put her creche back in order.

Army personnel

As the Taoiseach toured the peninsula, the first of the influx of Army personnel from the 28th battalion at Finner Camp arrived in Inishowen.

A total of 30 soldiers arrived on Friday to assist residents, with a promise that more would follow.

The visit followed a meeting of the State’s cross-agency emergency co-ordination group in Dublin. Speaking after the meeting the Minister of State with responsibility for flood defences, Kevin ‘Boxer’ 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”.

Mr Moran also said insurance companies should not blacklist households who made claims for flood insurance.

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

Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan said on Friday that 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.”

Earlier this week, two-thirds of the average rainfall for August fell during a nine-hour period in counties Donegal, Derry and Tyrone.