AN Oireachtas committee has called for full review of ESB’s role in the management of water levels on the rivers Lee and Shannon because of what it called a “conflict of interest”.
Environment committee chairman Sean Fleming said the rainfall on the River Lee last November, preceding the devastating floods, should not have caused the level of property damage downstream.
However, he said there was poor communication, a lack of clear leadership and a conflict between ESB’s desire to keep water levels high for power generation and local authorities who wanted to keep it low.
“There is a clear conflict of interest between the role of the ESB, the Government should ensure there is a review of the ESB’s role because they do have a conflict of interest in relation to the issues that can lead to flooding,” he said.
And the committee said a full investigation into the failures which submerged the western side of Cork City needed to be carried out.
It said its members did not have necessary technical expertise to pick apart the disputing versions of events put forward by the various bodies during the committee’s deliberations.
This investigation, it said, should be given four months to report and seek to establish the extent to which communities in the Lee basin were put at risk by the amount of water discharged from dams up stream.
Committee member Ciarán Lynch said it was not in a position to apportion blame but there were many unresolved questions.
He said the volume of water being released greatly exceeded the amount Cork City Council had been warned about earlier on the day the flooding happened.
And he said the failure of the relevant authorities to communicate key information put lives at risk.
Mr Fleming, a member of FF, refused to say its criticism of the nature of the response was directed at the Government.
“The inadequate response was between the relevant state agencies,” he said.
He also said the Department of the Environment had to explain why the ESB was not involved in the planning and implementation of the major emergency framework or the Cork city emergency plan.
The committee said it was not good enough to react to weather emergencies after they happen and a contingency plan should be developed in advance.
It called on the Government to ensure a senior minister or secretary general of a department, with the clout to bring agencies together, should be put in charge as a figure head for any emergency response situation.
ESB said it welcomed the committee’s report and claimed the company had acted at all times in line with its management procedures to “maximise public safety and alleviate flood damage”.
“The company issued adequate warnings,” it said.
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