The Government has been accused of propagating myths and blaming Brussels to cover its lack of action to prevent flooding.
An all-party meeting of TDs and MEPs with European Commission officials learned other countries often take emergency action when people’s lives and livelihoods are involved.
However, the Irish Government only did so once over the past two decades — when it was forced to because a citizen threatened action over the building of the Dublin Port Tunnel.
“It is clear that for too long we have been sitting on our hands and done nothing, using the excuse that Brussels wouldn’t allow it,” said independent MEP Marian Harkin after the meeting, which was initiated by MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan.
“These myths have been well and truly blown apart today.”
The commission confirmed that governments are responsible for taking all decisions and action on flood risk management.
The only exception is where the work damages a priority habitat and the government informs the commission and agrees to protect another area to compensate.
Other countries, particularly Britain and Germany, have often made use of this exception to deal with their extensive flooding, said commission officials.
They rejected just one such request over the past 20 years.
The rule refers specifically to priority areas that make up around a tenth of the 14% of Ireland listed as protected.
In the case of the Dublin Port Tunnel, alternative land was designated, said the commission.
Ms Harkin said the same action could have been taken for the Galway bypass, but instead of applying for the exception, the Government allowed it to go to the European Court, costing the taxpayer millions of euro in the process.
Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness, who represented the Government at the meeting, said: “It is clear we have the flexibility we need to implement action to address the issue but that a holistic approach — and not just local plans drawn up in isolation of the knock-on impacts downstream — is needed to ensure the action taken delivers the required result.”
The commission said while dredging was possible, it is not the most favourable approach as it can negatively impact other areas, moving the problem elsewhere.
Rewetting bogland and planting trees other than Sitka spruce could be part of the overall solution.
The commission does not need to be consulted about measures in emergencies.
“It is clear decisions could be taken to carry out works immediately where sufficient data has already been gathered to make these decisions,” said Ms McGuinness.
The EU-mandated Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management is being drawn up by the Office of Public Works, she added.
Ms Harkin pointed out the Government was due to have this completed last month but missed the deadline.
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