From Barry Roche, Southern Correspondent, Cork 7 April 2016
The outgoing Government has been accused of "arrogance beyond belief" by a member of the National Flood Forum after it emerged that an interdepartmental group set up to oversee the national co-ordination of flood risk management and flood response did not meet for six years.
Jer Buckley, PRO of the National Flood Forum, said the report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Seamus McCarthy, made for shocking reading with the revelation the Interdepartmental Co-Ordination Group did not meet between 2009 and July 2015, when it was reactivated.
The report also found that a steering group established to oversee the CFRAM (Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management) programme did not meet for a four year period up until November 2014.
Mr Buckley was highly critical of the government and in particular Minister of State, Simon Harris who has responsibility of the Office of Public Works which is charged with co-ordinating and managing the implementation of government programmes relating to flooding.
“It’s arrogance beyond belief - the government keeps on setting up these expert groups but they don’t let anybody from a flood community be it a rural area or a town or a city to sit on these representative groups,” said Mr Buckley.
“If there were representatives from the National Flood Forum or the IFA included in these groups, you can be assured the groups would be properly monitored and we wouldn’t have to wait four years for the Comptroller and Auditor General to discover that they haven’t met in years.”
Mr Buckley said that the only time that the government took the issue of flooding serious was “when it’s on the national airwaves or in the press” and he described the handling of the whole issue by Mr Harris as “a thundering disgrace”.
However Mr Harris defended his handling of the flooding issue in a statement in which he outlined the purpose of the Interdepartmental Co-ordination Group and pointed out that government had provided €430 million for flood risk management in the 2016-2012 Capital Programme.
“I note some comments regarding meetings of the Interdepartmental Co-Ordination Group. I would like to affirm that the work of the programme was ongoing during this period (2009-2015) as it was mainly technical in nature,” said Mr Harris.
“It is now meeting on a regular basis and I presented an interim report on progress to Government in January of this year and it will continue to drive the whole of the Government approach to the programme and report in mid-2016 in line with the draft flood risk management plans.”
Meanwhile OPW Chairman, Claire McGrath also sought to explain the lack of meetings, pointing out that the group was established to give “strategic direction” to the national CFRAM programme.
“As the whole of future government policy initiatives would be informed by the delivery of the CFRAM outcomes, the group did not reconvene during the period of the CFRAM programme,” said Ms McGrath in a statement.
Ms McGrath said that the CFRAM programme has assessed 300 areas at significant risk and impact from flooding which involved the modelling 6,700 km of watercourse, taken climate change into account and consulted with the public on up to 40,000 flood maps.
The OPW's CFRAM programme will deliver plans by mid 2016 to manage the risk of flooding and would deliver the same level of protection to properties at risk as it has done so far to 7,000 properties in flood defence schemes put in place in Mallow, Fermoy and Clonmel, she said.