Cost of storm damage could run to hundreds of millions

MEPs say EU Solidarity Fund may help with the cost of repairs to coastal defences

Clean-up operations are under way across the country after strong winds and high tides caused major damage to homes, businesses and roads.

Tue, Jan 7, 2014, 18:48

The Government’s emergency group on severe weather is to ask local authorities to submit estimates the cost to repair damage to roads, promenades and coastal defences caused by the recent storms.

The group, which met this afternoon, said the estimates will form part of a preliminary report on the damage caused, which will be brought to Cabinet next week.

The estimates are expected to exceed the figure of €45 million in available emergency funding, and may be as much as the €244 million cost of the floods in November 2009.

In a statement after its meeting this afternoon the inter-agency coordinating group said the funding of repairs would be considered “ in light of priorities arising from the reports of the local authorities”.

However Irish MEPs have said money is available from a €500 million-a-year EU Solidarity Fund to help defray the costs of major natural disasters.

Since its inception in 2002, the fund has been used for 56 disasters covering a range of floods, forest fires, earthquakes, storms and drought. A total of 23 European countries have so far benefited to the tune of €3.5 billion.

Ireland West MEP Jim Higgins said he has been told the fund would be available to address the clean-up, but only if the Irish Government “applies immediately”.

While the storms are expected to abate today, a major clean up and restoration effort is needed in coastal counties in the west and south, from Donegal, through Galway, Cork and Waterford.

The Office of Public Works has said €45 million will be made available for restoration and improvements to flood defence works, and the Department of Transport is to relax spending restrictions on €332 million in regional and local road grants which are to be advanced to in coming weeks.

However MEP Jim Higgins warned “further funding needs to be found” and he urged the Government to ask the EU for assistance.

He said “the EU Solidarity Fund has an annual budget of €500 million and provides emergency funding following a major disaster in a member state. In 2009 we were granted €13 million from this fund following the devastating flooding”.

Mr Higgins warned “the clock is ticking. Any application for funding has to be received by the Commission within 10 weeks of the date of the first damage caused by the disaster.”

He concluded, “EU funding is available, all we need to do is apply”.

“Cleaning up is about more than getting us back to where we were four weeks ago; we also need to install improved flood defences to avoid repeat circumstances. Areas where people will struggle to obtain affordable flood insurance must be a priority,” he said.

Ireland South MEP Sean Kelly has also proposed tapping the Solidarity Fund and has written to EU regional policy commissioner Johannes Hahn to request an urgent meeting.

The National Coordinating Group on Severe Weather, which streamlined reaction to severe flooding in 2009, will oversee plans from the Office of Public Works, the Departments of Transport, Environment and Health as well as local authorities and the HSE, as they address damage caused by the tidal surges and high winds of the last week.

The initiative to tap the EU for funds comes is in advance of any indication from the insurance industry as to the probable total cost of the storms, which is due in about three weeks’ time.

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