Galway chief blames Department of Environment for lack of flood warning

‘It is totally wrong to say that this city council did nothing or we were under prepared’

Cars in the flooded car park near the Galway Atlantaquaria in Salthill during Storm Eleanor. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Cars in the flooded car park near the Galway Atlantaquaria in Salthill during Storm Eleanor. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

Galway City Council chief executive Brendan McGrath has strongly defended the work of council staff and management in trying to deal with the flooding crisis which hit last week.

He hit out at the Department of the Environment, who he says excluded Galway City Council from a key warning they provided to every other county on the western seaboard.

Mr McGrath said the council reacted to the information given to it by government agencies as they prepared for the arrival of Storm Eleanor on January 2nd.

At a fiery meeting of Galway City Council on Monday night the council delivered its initial report into the ‘1 in 200-year flood event’ that occurred when a combination of high tides and strong winds saw homes, businesses and roads flooded in minutes.

Mr McGrath stopped short of answering calls from councillors to apologise to the affected locals on behalf of the council, but he said he would shoulder the blame for any decisions made.

“That flooding happened to businesses and households is severely regrettable. It is totally wrong to say that this city council did nothing or we were under prepared,” said Mr McGrath.

“Yes, there are umpteen learnings to be made. If you want to hang someone for this hang me based on the decisions I made on the information I received.

“I don’t know about you but I am not a clairvoyant, I do not have the capacity to see things that are not projected. I can only relay on the information that’s available to me and the advice that we received. We reacted to that.”

The council’s report was only furnished to councillors in the final minutes of their seven-hour meeting, which prompted angry scenes before ‘informal discussions’ about the flooding incident was held for almost another two hours.

The council’s report into the storm damage suggested that a forecasting and monitoring system should be developed to ensure accurate and timely warnings are delivered to the public, while it also called for the development of an emergency response plan to manage such severe weather events.

Flash floods

Galway was hit with flash flooding when high tides and high winds combined during an orange weather warning for Storm Eleanor. Several businesses and homes were flooded in the storm surge, and in the aftermath of the flooding the council was criticised for its reaction.

According to the council’s report a change in the wind direction from south to north and an increase in wind speed from 17 knots to 59 knots in a 27 minute period was a major cause of the flooding, and that it was the wind speed and not the high tide alone that caused the flooding.

According to Mr McGrath the information available from the OPW on the previous night (Monday) and the Tuesday morning suggested that the tides of Tuesday and Wednesday morning would surpass Tuesday evening’s – even making allowance for a storm surge.

“In severe weather management you relay on the information and the advice that’s made available to you. We had an orange warning from Met Éireann for Munster, Leinster and South Galway. The Met Éireann warning was only extended on Tuesday afternoon

“Do I regret that that information was wrong? Of course I do. Do I sincerely regret that any business got flooded? Of course I do. We do not have the capacity to keep back a 6.6 metre tide, which is what occurred.

“I want to compliment the efforts of our outdoor staff and the leadership provided by Uinsinn Finn (Senior Engineer) and the entire team of the transport department. People rolled up their sleeves and did whatever they could do to alleviate the situation on the one hand and prepare for what we expected the next morning when we thought it was going to be worse.

“You ask why we didn’t convene our inter agency coordination group? Because the Department of the Environment didn’t notify us. They notified the western seaboard counties, but if you look at that Galway city was omitted from it.

“We acted on the information and the best advice we had available to us, and all of that suggested that what was predicted for Galway city at high tide at 5.12pm on Tuesday evening would not cause any flooding in Galway.”

A request for comment from the Department of the Environment on Tuesday met with no response.

‘Inexcusable’

Speaking at the City Council meeting Fianna Fáil Cllr Ollie Crowe said the local authority had misjudged the potential damage of the storm and that the city was ill-prepared for its impact.

He said the Council’s failure to hold an emergency meeting prior to Storm Eleanor which flooded the city last week was “inexcusable”.

“I’ve made many mistakes in my life but I stand up and say I’m sorry. I’m calling on the city council to stand up and say they’re sorry,” said Cllr Crowe.

“We need to put in permanent solutions. It’s a joke. Someone could have been stone cold killed and I’m not happy with it.”

“The Office of Public Works informed Galway City Council at 11.46am that there were high tides approaching that evening, and that there were very strong winds coming in. There is a duty of care on the local authority. Galway City Council did not provide that duty of care to residents or businesses.

“There was no local emergency committee meeting held here last Tuesday even though other local authorities in Sligo, Mayo and Donegal and other counties along the western seaboard held them.

“Extreme weather was promised and Galway City Council’s emergency committee never met. That to me is inexcusable.”

The council’s report on the floods confirmed that the initial surge of water came via the Docks onto Dock Road, before it quickly moved down Merchants Road, Flood Street, Quay Street and Spanish Parade. A separate flooding event occurred in the Claddagh area, which flooded Fr Griffin Rd, Raven Terrace and Dominick Street.