Mansergh 'confident' Budget cutbacks will not affect flood relief programmes

Sat, Nov 21, 2009, 00:00

REACTION:MINISTER OF State for the Office of Public Works Martin Mansergh said he was “very confident” that the flood relief schemes would not be affected by forthcoming budget cuts.

He was speaking in Clonmel amid Opposition calls for better flood management and a better early-warning system to be introduced to limit future damage.

Dr Mansergh said that he had met “for an hour” Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan earlier this week to discuss next year’s Budget for the OPW “which has already taken very substantial cuts and would take further cuts”. But he was “very confident” that major flood relief schemes already under way – in Clonmel, Fermoy, Mallow, Ennis and on the Dodder in Dublin – would continue.

Dr Mansergh added that national spending on flood defences had “increased substantially over the last three or four years”. Those already built in Kilkenny and Carrick-on-Suir had “held up well” this week.

Surveying the flooding caused by the Suir river bursting its banks, he said “it would be wrong to think that [the flooding] was all due to climate change” and pointed out that there “was a long history of flooding in Clonmel”.

But he said that “it is arguable that some planning decisions might have restricted the flow of the river or closed off places where it could harmlessly flood”.

He said similar poor planning decisions were “a problem” across the country. He said new Government guidelines on planning would “restrict building on flood plains which people have been a bit flaithiúlach about, and in certain places they still want to do it”.

Fine Gael South Tipperary TD Tom Hayes criticised the “lack of planning by central government in dealing with known flood threats”.

He claimed that “the Clonmel flood reliefs programme has been on the Government’s agenda for years now” and should have been “fast-tracked”.

Green Party deputy leader Mary White, a TD for Carlow-Kilkenny, criticised Carlow County Council for not having started work on a relief project on the Barrow river in Carlow town despite approval from Minister for the Environment John Gormley for funding of €19.4million. Mr Gormley said yesterday scientific evidence pointed to a future rise in adverse weather conditions, while not directly blaming climate change for this week’s flooding.

“All of the scientific evidence shows that we are going to experience more flooding, that we are going to see extra precipitation in some areas.

“Can you say directly it’s directly attributable ? That’s always very difficult but in general we are going to see more incidents of this sort.”

A debate on the need for a new national flood alert system will take place over two days in the Dáil next week. The motion for a debate has been tabled by Fine Gael environment spokesman Phil Hogan who said his party was proposing “a system of flood alert codes that results in co-ordinated preventative action from local authorities, civil defence, the Office of Public Works and the emergency services”.

Labour Party spokeswoman on the environment Joanna Tuffy said the recent events highlighted the need for sustained capital investment.

A spokesman for the OPW said €38 million had been invested on strategic long-term flood risk planning and major schemes.