Kenny rejects criticism of slow flood response
Weather warning issued as concern grows in Athlone where Shannon has risen 7cm
Tánaiste Joan Burton (right) and Minister of State Ann Phelan in the water after their boat capsized in Thomastown, Co Kilkenny as they went to visit the flooded home of Shem Caulfield (left). Photograph: Dylan Vaughan
Boxer Moran with Taoiseach Enda Kenny on the banks of the east side of the River Shannon in Athlone. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Concerns are growing that more rainfall in the coming days could lead to further flooding along the river Shannon and in other areas.
As the Government attempted to quell criticism of its response to the recent severe weather, Met Éireann issued a new warning that up to 35mm of rain would fall in counties Cork and Kerry in the next 24 hours.
Forecaster Gerald Fleming said there would be further bouts of heavy rain on Friday, Saturday and also on Sunday. He said last month was the wettest December since records began some 50 years ago with parts of Cork experiencing three times the average amount of rainfall for the month, and Dublin Airport more than double.
Galway City Council chief executive Brendan McGrath said the water level in the Shannon was about 5cm off a high point recorded in 2009 when land along large sections of the river was severely flooded.
The river was some 10cm above the level recorded at the start of last month during Storm Desmond, which resulted in widespread flooding.
“We remain very concerned in relation to the Shannon at Athlone,” Mr McGrath said.
There has been a 7cm increase in the water levels of the river Shannon over the past 48 hours and Mr McGrath said if the level of the river continued to rise, more work would be required to fend off any further potential damage to property.
Mr Kenny on Thursday visited Athlone where he denied claims that he had been far too slow in responding to the damage caused by extensive flooding across the country in December. It was the first time he visited flood-affected areas outside his Mayo constituency.
He also promised he would visit other affected areas over the next few days.
Mr Kenny’s public appearance, which involved a helicopter tour of stricken areas, was seen as a response to criticism from Opposition leaders including Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, both of whom have criticised him for not visiting flooded areas sooner.
The Taoiseach said he would chair a special briefing to relevant Ministers from the National Emergency Co-ordinating Group this morning and that the flooding issue would be the priority item on the agenda for the Cabinet’s first meeting of the year next Tuesday.
Mr Kenny spent part of the morning aboard an Air Corps helicopter surveying the extent of the flooding before visiting rural householders affected by the floods.
He also met emergency crews in Athlone who have been working to prevent the Shannon breaching the flood defences.
Tánaiste Joan Burton, who visited Co Kilkenny, said that a major plan might be needed to deal with such severe weather events in the future.
“I think there’s a national conversation required because the difficult weather conditions are happening more frequently and with greater severity,” she said.
In defence of the Government’s response, Mr Kenny said his Cabinet colleagues had made numerous visits to flooded areas. “I have been to Crossmolina, Ballina and Foxford. I have had daily briefings from the [national emergency] co-ordination committee.
“I am in constant contact with the relevant Ministers. There have been many visits by Ministers,” he said.
“Clearly the countryside is saturated. There are thousands of locations where water has rested and has not drained away.”