Wednesday 21 July 2010

State’s response to floods ‘poor and confused’

A REPORT into the devastating flooding that affected thousands of homes last winter has said the state’s response to the crisis lacked leadership, coordination and communication.

The report has also suggested it is not good enough to have national emergencies spearheaded by people who are neither a senior minister nor a secretary general of a government department.

The authors, the Oireachtas Committee on the Environment, also said the effort to coordinate state agencies during the crisis was confused.

The committee has also called for a full independent investigation, by technical experts, to be carried out into what caused the flooding in the worst affected area, Cork’s River Lee basin.

The report also suggested the state was not properly informed of the risks, managed them inappropriately and was insufficiently prepared and resourced.

However, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said he believed the Government’s response to the flooding of November 2009 "went well".

"I was very satisfied with the Government response. It was immediate and when we saw the prolongation of the adverse weather conditions we put in place emergency measures and contingency procedures, so I believe all in all things went well. If there are things that could be improved for the future, and I’m sure there are, we’ll wait to see what is in the report," he said.

Environment Minister John Gormley said he also believed there was "real leadership" shown at the time. Committee chairman Sean Fleming disagreed, however. He said there was a distinct lack of clarity about who was in charge and the reaction was disjointed and confused. And, in contrast to past agricultural emergencies, when the relevant ministers were prominent, he said the members of Government were absent last winter.

However, the Fianna Fáil deputy refused to finger the Government for ultimate responsibility. He said the confused response of state agencies and the rain were primarily to blame. And he said the ESB had a conflict of interest in flood management because it wanted to keep water levels high for electricity generation.

Elsewhere, the committee said a single authority, the Office of Public Works, should be given ultimate responsibility for all aspects of management of the River Shannon.

It also called on Mr Gormley to complete and publish his department’s delayed review of the flooding catastrophe. It said it wanted this published quickly but the department was not able to do this.

However, the committee’s report was immediately criticised by victims of the flooding who said it failed to hold anybody accountable.

The solicitor advising several victims of the flood which struck Cork city, and honorary legal adviser to the Cork Flood Action Committee Joe Noonan said there was no will to find out what happened and ensure a re-occurrence was prevented.

He said the report should have found out who was accountable.

"The Oireachtas committee report draws no conclusions about the responsibility for the flooding of Cork," he said.

Irish Examiner

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