Repairing damage to flood protection works will be priority
Funds to flood infrastructure will be allocated before general repairs, Brian Hayes says
The Government will prioritise funding for flood protection works damaged in the New Year storms before committing monies for general repairs to other infrastructure in lists submitted by local authorities, Minister for State at the OPW, Brian Hayes has said.
Mr Hayes said clearly the priority would have to be given to repairing damage to flood protection works such as rock armoury, protecting infrastructure such as roads. Focusing first on the roads would mean that there was a serious risk of repeat damage, he said.
He asked local authorities to give priority to flood protection repair work in the lists that they are submitting to central Government. These lists will be submitted in the coming weeks for funding to assist with the general clean-up and repair work to the damage caused in the storms.
“It’s too early to say the full scale of the damage but if there is any positive in all of this, it is that it happened early in the New Year and we have very significant budgets in departments such as transport, environment, social protection and my own department.to spend on repairs.
“This is not a problem of funding - it’s a matter for the local authorities to do the assessment, that will take a number of weeks but once they do the assessment and get the applications into us, we will turn them around in lightening speed time and I’ve given that commitment,” he said.
Asked about comments by Ireland West MEP, Jim Higgins that Ireland needs to apply immediately to obtain funding from the European Solidarity Fund of € 500 million, Mr Hayes said the Government has ten weeks to make that application.
“There’s a ten week window from the time of the event happening to the time of the application and we will be looking at that very closely and obviously we want to get the assessments in as quickly as possible so we can avail of that EU Solidarity Fund.
“The last time we obtained such funds, it was, I think, €13 million out of €500 million so it’s quite small but obviously if money is there we will be tapping into to make sure that we can use those funds as part of our own funds in the relief and repair effort.”
Mr Hayes was reluctant to be drawn on the total cost of the damage caused by Storm Christine when it hammered the Irish coastline from Donegal all the way around to Wexford but he said a clearer picture would emerge at next week’s Cabinet meeting.
“No one knows and it would be wrong to predict what the full cost is at this stage - in my view, we will need more funds in this area but things will become clearer at the cabinet meeting next Wednesday when we have an initial first assessment from around the country.”
Mr Hayes said the figure of €45 million quoted in some reports was simply the funding that the government had already committed this year as part of its pledge to spend €250 million over five years on flood protection but he expected more than that to be spent this year.
“We have no option but to spend money on flood relief - we have €250 million over five years - we will spend at least €45 million this year on flood relief and we will continue to ramp up that expenditure,” he said.
“We need to spend money on flood relief schemes as compared to other European countries we are not as well prepared - a lot of important investment has gone into flood relief in places like Mallow, Fermoy, Kilkenny and Clonmel and in all those cases, it’s worked.”
Speaking in Cork, Mr Hayes was asked about criticisms over the delay in introducing a major flood relief scheme for the city but he said that it was more important the scheme be completed properly so that it is effective rather than rushing it and getting it wrong.
“In terms of Cork we have a very complicated and complex scheme, the Lower Lee Flood Relief Scheme, in the offing and we hope to have a preferred scheme route decided upon in the second half of this year,” he said.
“But we need to get it right - our consultants are working on it and obviously when we have that preferred scheme chosen we will go for substantial public consultation and on to planning - we need to make progress for Cork because these flood events happen too often.
“This is not a problem of money in terms of the major relief scheme which we intend to bring on in the next year or two and I’m confident that when it is in place, it will make a huge difference to the city - Cork needs to be protected.
“At the same time we have to make sure that we can commit funding to minor works schemes as we have done here in Cork when we gave €1 million for work on the quay walls and if the local authorities here need money for minor works schemes, we will fast track it to them.”