Defence Forces to play bigger role in flood crisis

Simon Harris says saving homes should ‘trump’ EU rules on protecting wildlife

The Government considers large-scale deployment of the Defence Forces, Coast Guard and Civil Defence. Photograph: Eric Luke

The Government considers large-scale deployment of the Defence Forces, Coast Guard and Civil Defence. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

The Government is considering a large-scale deployment of the Defence Forces, the Coast Guard and the Civil Defence to help “exhausted” volunteers deal with the flooding crisis.

With another bout of intensive rain falling overnight, experts from the National Coordination Group have warned that the severe floods experienced throughout the State could last for a further fortnight at least.

“I have seen staff volunteers who have worked flat out for a month now and are exhausted,” said Simon Harris, Minister of State for the Office of Public Works.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has asked all responsible Ministers to bring memorandums to the Cabinet meeting next Tuesday setting out their response to the flooding crisis.

In advance of this, Mr Harris has warned that projects to ease the flooding situation along the river Shannon may require the Government to breach EU habitats directives on wildlife.

Dredging

“Some of the suggestions will breach the EU directives,” said Mr Harris, adding that humanitarian concerns must “trump” any such regulations.

“Yes, we have obligations under directives and that’s important but the most important thing is people, their homes and their livelihoods,” he said.

Separately on Tuesday, the Taoiseach will meet all agencies responsible for the river Shannon, with a view to seeking interim solutions to the 66 areas identified as vulnerable to flooding.

The case for deploying the Army and Coast Guard has been made by, among others, Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly on the basis that the flooding has affected most regions in the State, has continued longer than anticipated and is likely to persist into mid-January.

Mr Harris said more than 1,000 Defence Force personnel had been deployed already but it may now be time for the relevant local authorities to request more help.

“We are worried about fatigue and exhaustion” among local authority workers and volunteers, he said.

Rainfall was expected to be at its heaviest in the south and southeast, reaching a peak at noon today, with status yellow warnings in place in Cork, Kerry, Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny, Carlow, Tipperary, Wicklow and Dublin.

The flooding threat has been exacerbated by a significant cooling of temperature forecast for the next few days.

Black ice

Gerald Fleming

Jim Casey of the Office of Public Works said many parts of the country remained in a “severe flood situation”, with particular concern about towns along the Shannon, and in the south and southeast.

The Shannon was continuing to rise along its full length, Mr Casey said, but the area of greatest concern was Athlone.