Saturday 12 January 2008

Flooding must be a wake-up call, says Gormley

FLOODS and storm damage must serve as an urgent wake-up call to Ireland that adaptation is required if we are to cope with the worsening impact of global climate change.

Environment Minister John Gormley warned last night that national flood relief programmes must be fast tracked if Ireland is to ensure that vital national infrastructure is able to cope with the escalating impact of climate change.

A massive clean-up operation began in Fermoy yesterday as residents, insurers and local authorities faced into a damages bill which could run to tens of millions.

Mr Gormley warned that, if climate change predictions are correct, Ireland may have to cope with much more severe storms and flooding in the coming years.

"This is very important because I think people have to realise that climate change is not something that is going to happen in the future -- climate change is now. It is happening right now," he said.

But the opposition said that serious flooding, hitting Mallow and Fermoy worst, could have been minimised if flood defence programmes had been speeded up.

Mr Gormley said that recent floods are indications that our weather pattern is changing -- and Ireland must adapt its crucial infrastructure to cope.

He said the clock is now ticking on how Ireland prepares for severe changes in climate.

"We have to do this as quickly as possible and I know this from my own area because I live in Ringsend which is also subject to flooding. We have to accelerate that," he said.

Mr Gormley stressed that while national flood relief programmes are a matter for the Office of Public Works (OPW), he wants to see environmental and engineering assessment reports accelerated.

But the serious flooding has prompted complaints from the opposition about a three-year delay in getting flood prevention schemes in place.


Labour Cork East TD Sean Sherlock said the €30m plan for Mallow was only partly completed and was missing its most important elements -- defensive flood barriers and demountable walls to protect the town from flooding from the River Blackwater.

"A scheme that was initially mooting as taking five years to complete is not even at the halfway mark and it's now three years later. We're waiting for the next tranches of funding for it now."

He also expressed scepticism about the announcement that long-awaited flood relief scheme for Fermoy, first announced in 2005, would go ahead.

Back in 2004, Clonmel suffered from serious flooding and there were calls for a €30m flood prevention scheme to be put in place.

Among those highlighting the problem was Fianna Fail's Martin Mansergh, who told the Seanad that it was a "serious and high priority".

Yesterday Mr Mansergh, now a TD for Tipperary South, said he was disappointed at the delay in the scheme, which only began construction last September.

Homes in Mallow and Fermoy were left under almost 15cm of stinking sludge after the River Blackwater floods receded -- while Cork Co Council, Eircom and the ESB began a detailed assessment of the extent of the damage caused both to infrastructure and utilities.

A number of businesses lost valuable stock -- and several confirmed that they were unable to secure flood insurance cover over recent years because of the risk posed by the River Blackwater.

One premises has now been flooded six times in the past 11 years.

In some homes, water levels approached 50 cm.

Ralph Riegel Michael Brennan
Irish Independent

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