Legislation to speed up flood-defence projects will be implemented if necessary, the minister responsible for flooding has promised.
Independent Alliance TD Sean Canney has admitted that in the past flooding “wasn’t treated as being an issue” and said the current Government must now make up for years of inaction.
“I think the responsibility I have now is to make sure that projects happen as quickly as possible and in order to do that I have a three-or four-pronged approach,” said Mr Canney.
It was recently revealed that flood-relief pilot projects have overrun by millions of euro, with some still incomplete almost a decade after they were due to finish.
Last month, OPW chairwoman Clare McGrath told a meeting of the public accounts committee meeting that four pilot flood projects which commenced in 2005 had run almost 200% over-budget, with two of these yet to be finished despite having a completion date of 2007.
In an interview with the Irish Examiner, Mr Canney said a “lot of lessons” have been learned from the pilot projects. He said that, if required, he would bring in planning legislation to “speed up the process by which projects are brought forward, from when a project is talked about at inception to when that project is brought to site”.
“At the moment I have looked at projects that have come to site and it has taken seven years to get that far. People are shocked.
“That will take primary legislation and secondary legislation and that will be happening this year.”
Mr Canney placed the blame on previous governments and said the challenge for him now is to ensure the €430m available for flood-prevention projects is spent to help communities who have been repeatedly hit by floods.
“Flooding wasn’t treated as being an issue, it was treated as once in a 100-year event and if it happened once in your lifetime it was tough luck,” he said. “But it happened for the second time in six years in Ireland and that demonstrates that it is not going away.”
He said flooding is not a new phenomenon, that he had recently been given a local newspaper report of flooding in his local area in 1956. Mr Canney said he had met with the OPW in recent weeks to find a solution to flooding in the same area — six decades on. “That’s reality, that’s the way it has been but I think things have changed now,” he said.
Mr Canney has already asked officials to rework an interdepartmental report around future flood-prevention policies after he was frustrated that the initial draft contained little recommendations.
“What I am getting is a bit light — everything is being reviewed, it’s being monitored. It was more or less a collection of what has been done, it’s a historic thing,” he said of the report, expected to be brought before Cabinet in the autumn.
He has likewise had some “tough” meetings with insurers and members of the Shannon Flood Risk Working Group since entering office. “It is frustrating, but I would say it’s probably the first time they have been challenged and are being brought in here on a regular basis.”
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