Recent flooding and subsequent damage could have been lessened in Co Cork if a government recruitment embargo had not resulted in a lack of ‘on-the-ground council staff’ being deployed during Storm Frank.
The county council had 1,258 outdoor staff in 2008, but it now engaged 878, said Sinn Féin councillor Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire.
Scores of staff who came to work voluntarily at the height of the storm were praised yesterday. However, several councillors said if there had been more outdoor employees, they would have been able to open roadside drainage channels and help relieve flooding and damage to roads.
Mr O Laoghaire said staff had to seek time in lieu for the combined 29,010 extra hours they had worked but he felt they should be financially compensated.
Fianna Fáil councillor Kevin O’Keeffe said staff had worked around the clock and were exhausted. He said some staff were diverted to put up flood defence barriers in Fermoy when the work should have been done by the OPW.
Fianna Fáil councillors Christopher O’Sullivan and Pat Murphy said there was an urgent need to get the embargo lifted and get more staff out clearing roadside drains and gulleys. They claimed it would prevent millions of euro in water damage to roads.
Fine Gael councillor James O’Donovan agreed and he was praised by Sinn Féin councillor Rachel McCarthy for the Trojan work he did in Bandon. “James was four hours filling sandbags and then he went out cleaning ditches,” she said.
Fianna Fáil councillor Bernard Moynihan said the council has top-class engineers to oversee work, but not the money to do it.
Fine Gael councillor Michael Hegarty said it would help if a huge amount of debris in rivers flowing into Midleton was removed, while Independent councillor Mary Linehan-Foley said that a number of roads in east Cork remained impassable and she wanted a report prioritising road repairs.
Independent councillor June Murphy said engineers had expressed serious concern about youngsters walking on barriers in Fermoy and mothers putting children on them so they could see the flood. “It’s a case of one false move and you’re gone,” she said.
Council chief executive Tim Lucey said he would seek more funding and more resources. He said the situation was so bad, three of the eight municipal authorities had just reported in that 42 roads remain impassable in their areas and he was still awaiting news from the other five.
“I can’t pull a rabbit out of a hat to create more resources. I can’t turn around and wave a magic wand and it’s getting worse because of the current condition of our roads,” Mr Lucey said.
Meanwhile, some councillors criticised the council’s emergency response telephone line, which is contracted to a Dublin-based call centre. Fina Gael councillor Anthony Barry said he failed to get through to the number and so had the gardaí in Cobh.
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