By David Raleigh
The possible relocation of flooded families is not a priority for government, the Minister for Agriculture has said.
Speaking during a visit in Clonlara, South East Clare, where families have been evacuated following the winter storms, Minister Simon Coveney said it was "far too early" to start relocations.
"I don't think that we are looking at that option at the moment," he said.
The minister met angry homeowners as he donned a wet suit in Springfield, Clonlara, where up to six feet of floodwater has marooned many.
"We need to look at more effective ways at managing (the River Shannon) flow to prevent flooding in the future," he said.
"And, only when we have done that, will anybody concede that we have to start relocating people," he reiterated.
Minister Coveney, whose native Cork City was severely flooded in 2009 after the ESB released huge excess rainwater from the Inniscarra Dam, added that there had to be a change in how the River Shannon is managed.
"We need to look at whether significant silting in parts of the Shannon are causing additional problems that could be prevented if we could move some of that silt," the Minister said.
"The management of the Parteen Weir and Ardnacrsuha needs to be looked at as well," he added
Minister Coveney said there has been widespread public consultation, in terms of CFRAM, but the government now needed to act on suggestions for flood defences.
"We do need to move beyond consultation and talk. The government has committed to spending nearly half a billion euro on flooding over the next five years," he said.
The minister told reporters: "The priority actually needs to be managing floods through the winter, as opposed to generating electricity, and I think that is the priority of the ESB, to be fair."
He said he attended a meeting in Athlone on Saturday night where people called for "a single authority" to manage the river, "so that we would get coordination" along the Shannon, which would also "include the management flows by ESB".
The minister said he "understands the engineering challenges of what the ESB face, both at Parteen Weir and at the hydro-(electric) power station at Ardnacrusha", but he asked, "whether we can improve the (ESB) management and communications".
"Obviously that needs to be put to the ESB," he said.
In response, the ESB said: "In relation to the single authority, that is a matter for Government and ESB will support the Government in whatever it decides in this area."
It added: "ESB works very closely with the OPW and Waterways Ireland in relation to ESB's operations on the Shannon and has regular contact with the local authorities along the river as well."
"The Minister is correct - at no stage during flood situations is ESB's priority on generating electricity - rather it is on maximising the flow of water away from the vulnerable areas down stream," the ESB added.
It said: "Communications with all relevant stakeholders is good."
The ESB agreed it needed "to find new solutions that are more effective, in terms of letting water in the River Shannon escape more efficiently into the sea, so that we don't have the kind of flooding levels that we are seeing at the moment."