Enda Kenny has said he cannot play God when it comes to the weather, as his Government was criticised in the Dáil for not acting quickly enough to address flooding.
The Taoiseach said the recent floods have been “absolutely devastating for many communities”, but added that he cannot predict the weather.
“I am not God and I cannot predict the extent of rainfall. That is one of the reasons we have invested in far more sophisticated, long-term weather forecasting,” he said referring to plans to set up a national flood forecasting system.
Around 600 families have been forced to leave their homes since Storm Desmond hit in early December, with up to 400 businesses also impacted and thousands of acres of land still submerged in flood water.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin accused the Government of a lack of preparation, saying the emergency response plan had not been updated since 2007.
“All of your response was post event; very little of what you have said is on the state of preparedness of people on the ground,” said Mr Martin. He said more is demanded than just turning up to survey the damage and said there had been a €34.5m underspend by Government last year out of the allocated flooding budget.
More than five hours of Dáil speaking time was dedicated to issues around flooding on the first day back after Christmas and the issue was also raised during leaders’ questions.
Mr Martin’s views were echoed by many others, including Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, who said: “The Irish Government has failed to take account of the warnings, co-ordinate the relevant state agencies effectively and speedily; or adequately plan for a future in which these storms are regular features of our autumn and winter.”
Independent TD Mick Wallace said the Government could not be held responsible for the rain, but do hold responsibility for dealing with the flood crisis. He said there had been a “panic attack” on the issue of dredging, but said that this was not necessarily the answer and, instead, flood defences are needed but “there has been a huge lack of interest in this area”.
“There is no interest in dealing with long-term projects like this, because they don’t see past the next election,” said Mr Wallace.
Reacting to criticism from the opposition, Tánaiste Joan Burton said: “I don’t think that flooding should be a political football.”
Mr Kenny said the National Co-ordination Group had met 30 times since December 3. He said five flood protection schemes are under way and 26 more are at the planning and design phase, with €420m being dedicated to flood defences in the next five years.
Mr Kenny said: “Of the 7,000 properties protected by the OPW’s completed major urban schemes, less than 20 were affected by flooding.”
Environment Minister Alan Kelly told the Dáil December had been the wettest month on record. He noted a link between extreme weather and climate change.
“While we cannot stop the weather, we certainly can prepare better,” said Mr Kelly.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved