By Daniel McConnell, Irish Examiner Political Editor
Environment Minister Alan Kelly is to seek approval from Cabinet tomorrow to radically increase the allocation to local councils to cover the cost of Storms Desmond and Frank.
The news comes as President Michael D Higgins visited areas of Wexford and Galway affected by flooding.
Mr Kelly had before Christmas made €8m available to councils to meet the cost of the emergency response to the flooding crisis and the major clean-up which will have to take place as the water subsides.
Major damage has been suffered by bridges, culverts and roads across the country as a result of the flooding, with Government sources suggesting the final bill could run into “tens of millions”.
Minister for the Office of Public Works, Simon Harris, confirmed today that the allocation earmarked by Government before Christmas will not be sufficient to meet the cost of dealing with the floods.
“The fund that will absolutely need to be increased is the fund for local authorities for the clean-up cost. Minister Kelly last week said €6m of that has already been drawn down and since then there has been significantly more damage,” Mr Harris said.
The Wicklow TD said the €5m fund to help small businesses who couldn't get flood insurance and the €10m humanitarian fund run by the Department of Social Protection are sufficient at this stage to meet the demand of those affected.
Mr Kelly is also set to bring a memo which will pave the way for the development of a national flood warning system, which would dramatically increase the accuracy of where and when floods are likely to happen.
Mr Harris also said the Government is examining ways of helping people protect their homes from flooding by way of grant aid and also said some people may have to be relocated because their current homes are liable to repeat flooding.
“It is not a once size fits all solution. 300 areas across the country have been identified as being at risk of flooding,” he said.
“Where engineering solutions are possible for those 300 areas we will have solutions published by the summer.
But what about an area either for geographical reasons or engineering reasons a solution is not possible. In those cases, I think there are two possibilities. The first is for Government to put in place grant aid to help people protect their own home,” he said.
“In some cases relocation is likely. The Government is not in the business of telling people to relocate, but in some cases where people want to move, it is a very serious option that we will have to look at,” he said.
Mr Harris also said he had “heard concerns” about introducing a single authority to take charge of the River Shannon with a view to prevent flooding.
“It sounds good but I have heard in practice it is not good, but I am not ruling anything in or out,” he said.
Mr Harris and Taoiseach Enda Kenny attended a briefing with the National Co-ordination Group this morning. Before the Cabinet meeting, the Government will hear from different agencies involved in the River Shannon.
Mr Harris said the Office of Public Works has identified 66 flood risk areas along the river and plans for each area should be in place before the summer.
More rain fell in December than would normally fall during a whole winter, breaking records at weather stations across the country, Met Éireann said.
Met Éireann meteorologist Gerald Flaming said the country was now starting to experience more normal weather patterns with a relatively dry day expected on Tuesday and about 15mm to 20mm of rain expected on Wednesday – normal for this time of year.
But he said the recent rainfall was unprecedented and it remains to be seen how normal rain will affect flooding when it falls on saturated ground. Speaking at a National Co-ordination Group briefing, he also said that black ice on roads could become a problem as temperatures fall over the coming days.
Jim Casey of the OPW said the mid-Shannon catchment area continues to cause considerable concern with the water there at record levels. He added that Lough Derg and areas downstream are now at 2009 levels.
He said levels on the Erne and Moy rivers have also risen in the past 24 hours and that the Brosna, Barrow, Suir, Slaney, Nore, Munster Blackwater and Bandon rivers still pose a significant flood risk despite having fallen somewhat.
The AA said roads in Munster and Leinster continue to be worst affected with the N25 in Cork and the N18 Limerick to Galway road closed in parts. The N4 in Carrick-on-Shannon in Leitrim also remains closed.
“There are a huge amount of regional road closures in place,” a spokeswoman said, adding that drivers have been urged to adhere to road closed signs to avoid getting stranded in floodwaters.
Brendan McGrath from Galway City Council said efforts to control floodwaters and provide assistance to the public were ongoing, particularly in areas including Carrick-on-Shannon, Athlone, Clare, Limerick, Cork and Kilkenny.
He said local authorities in Cork have dealt with 1,683 emergency calls since Christmas Day. Meanwhile, 1,736 members of the Defence Forces have been deployed to since the flooding started.
As of Sunday, about 260 houses were affected by the flooding with a further 230 threatened. About 130 homes have been marooned and cut off while 23 apartments were evacuated at Bastian Quay in Athlone.
Residents along the River Shannon face further flooding as water levels downstream of Lough Derg continue to reach 2009 levels. Westmeath County Council said the water level in Athlone is now 4cm above the maximum level reached in 2009 and is putting increasing pressure on defences in the town and rural areas.