Emergency EU funding for floods ‘highly unlikely’

Minister with responsibility for OPW says rules governing emergency funds discriminate against smaller states

  Simon Harris: welcomed €200 million investment in Ireland by the European Investment Bank to tackle flood-prevention measures, the first time the EIB has funded flood-related infrastructure in Ireland. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Simon Harris: welcomed €200 million investment in Ireland by the European Investment Bank to tackle flood-prevention measures, the first time the EIB has funded flood-related infrastructure in Ireland. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

It is “highly unlikely” that Ireland will qualify for emergency EU funding to tackle the recent flooding, Minister of State Simon Harris has said as he called on the EU to revise the current rules governing EU emergency funds.

Speaking in Brussels on the fringes of a meeting of euro zone finance ministers, Mr Harris said the current rules, which require that the total damage amounts to 0.6 per cent of gross national income, were discriminatory against smaller EU states.

“I do feel that the thresholds are too high; I do feel that they are particularly too high for smaller countries. The idea that you would have to have 0.6 per cent of gross national income, which in Ireland’s case would amount to €980 million roughly for 2016, seems too high. Ireland has suffered significantly, communities have suffered significantly . . . I do think it is somewhat discriminatory against smaller states.”

The EU Solidarity Fund is an emergency fund established after floods in central Europe in 2002. While Ireland secured funding from the facility in 2013, the size of the fund was reduced in the EU’s 2014-2020 budget cycle.

Mr Harris welcomed an announcement by the European Investment Bank (EIB) of a €200 million investment in Ireland to tackle flood-prevention measures, the first time the EIB has funded flood-related infrastructure in Ireland.

He confirmed that this loan financing would form part of the government’s overall spending target of €430 million over the next five years. The funding, which will be channelled through the Office of Public Works (OPW), will be used to tackle flood-prevention and protection infrastructure across the country across the next five years. It will not be used to tackle flood repairs or post-flooding initiatives.

Speaking in Brussels, EIB vice-president Jonathan Taylor said he expected 30 projects to be funded by the investment, which was agreed with the Irish authorities in December.

“We have done lending for flood-prevention and flood-protection in other European countries, but this is the first time we will invest in flood-related infrastructure projects,” he said, adding that discussions had taken place with the OPW on how the funds should be distributed.

The EIB provides loans to EU countries to invest in infrastructural projects, providing long-term financing at low interest rates. Last year it provided €755 million of loans for new projects in Ireland, including the expansion of Dublin Port and the extension of the M11 from Gorey to Enniscorthy.

It said it would make its first investment in Ireland under the so-called Juncker plan – the European Commission’s flagship €300 million investment plan – in the coming weeks relating to primary healthcare centre facilities. The €200 million loan for flooding-related infrastructure projects will be matched by about €240 million in exchequer funding.

Mr Taylor said while it fell to the OPW to identify projects, all projects must adhere to EU law, including the habitats and water framework directives.

Meanwhile, Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly is to meet EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella next Wednesday to discuss possible EU responses to the recent flooding.