Cowen confronted by residents during visit


TAOISEACH BRIAN Cowen was berated by angry residents during a visit to a housing estate badly affected by flooding in Athlone, Co Westmeath, yesterday.

Mr Cowen briefly visited the Parnell Square estate on the western bank of the river Shannon as part of a half-day tour of flood-hit areas in Offaly, Galway, Roscommon and Westmeath.

As the Taoiseach made to leave after visiting one house, several residents criticised him for not taking the time to see the full extent of damage on the estate. They accused him of visiting the estate as a “publicity stunt”.

Two local people, Gillian McArdle and Paul Kelly, had asked Mr Cowen to wear waders, or to use Mr Kelly’s rowing boat, to visit the flooded streets of the estate. Mr Cowen declined the request saying he had to return to Dublin. Mr Cowen told Ms McArdle he was aware of the offer but did not have the time. He said he had come to help and could understand why people were upset.

After Mr Cowen had left, Ms McArdle, holding a pair of waders and a poster that stated that flood barriers were needed, said she was disappointed Mr Cowen had not visited the worst-affected houses.

“I have the waders in my hand. We had a boat there ready for him. And he goes to a house there with just puddles,” said Ms McArdle.

She said 30 or 40 houses had been severely affected since water came rushing in last Friday and she could not enter her own house without wearing waders.

“They are not listening. He just walked off there. It’s pure publicity. He didn’t care,” she said.

Mr Kelly said there were some houses under four feet of water. “People of 70 and 80 years of age are trapped in their house. They can’t come out,” he said.

Earlier, Westmeath county manager Daniel McLoughlin said that since last Thursday, the local authority had been battling against rising waters in the Shannon. He said that only 19 people had had to be housed by the local authority as a result of being forced from their homes. Others were staying with relatives or neighbours, he said.

“There are 250 houses affected, of which 92 are flooded. We have been working with the Defence Forces and the Garda and our own staff to bring out 18,000 sandbags over the past four days. The area affected is still the same area, only getting a little bit worse. Our concern is also the rural area where 34 houses are flooded.”

He said it would take at least two days of no rainfall for the situation to stabilise.