Kerry residents weary of failed ministerial flood promises

Victualler Mary Kelly speaks to Junior Minister Brian Hayes and Labour TD AJ Spring. Picture: Domnick Walsh

BALLYLONGFORD

Sandbags still mounted against front doors; bare floors; mops, buckets and heaps of soiled furniture inside — clear signs of the deluge that swamped homes in Ballylongford twice since Christmas.

However, it was calm and deceptively sunny, without a hint of rain, when the Minister for the Office of Public Works Brian Hayes and a bevy of politicians of every hue visited the north Kerry village yesterday.

However, the people of Bridge St, Quay St and Sand Quay are worried about what the high tides of early March will bring. And they let Mr Hayes know they want both immediate and long-term action to resolve the flooding problem.

Bridge St resident Micheal Dennehy, who still had a 1.2m-high board supported by sandbags at his front door, has grown tired of promised action over the years, having been flooded four times since 1999.

“In ’99, we were told it was an 80-year occurrence that would not happen again,” he told Mr Hayes. “In ’02, we were told, it was 10-year flood that would not happen again, but now we’re having a flood every four weeks and are still being told the same conditions will not happen again.”

Floods in Bridge St — the village’s worst-hit area — were the highest in memory, rising from nine inches to more than 1m in 15 minutes. According to residents, a bridge at the top of the street over the Ballyline River does not have the capacity to take water in high spate.

Mr Hayes tried to give an assurance that engineers were aware of the problem, but Mr Dennehy replied: “I don’t think they are.”

Flanked by his son, Rory, and other suffering neighbours, Mr Hayes produced a 2011 OPW report which said the bridge was not the problem.

Victualler Mary Kelly wanted to know what was going to be done and how soon. After being flooded twice recently, she said she just could not face it again.

“It’s just not on,” she said.

Mr Hayes told reporters the priority in dealing with the problem nationally was two-fold — flood defences and people’s homes.

He also said county councils had money at present to deal with the situation and additional funds would be made available after the Government had considered detailed submissions from councils next Tuesday. The worst-affected councils would be prioritised, he said.

“We need a timeline and a realistic budget to address as many problems as possible and make sure funding is spent to maximum effect,” said Mr Hayes.

While in the area, Mr Hayes got involved in a political spat with Fianna Fáil county councillor John Brassil, who said the council had not got “one cent” in emergency funding, and ministers were using visits to flood-hit areas as photo opportunities.

Mr Hayes hit back at what he described as “silly, stupid remarks” by people looking for cheap headlines in the run-up to the May local elections.

Mr Brassil, however, said that, as an engineer, he had 20 years’ experience in flood defence work and wasdisappointed and insulted by the minister’s remarks.

As things cooled down and the politicians drifted away, Ballylongford Development Association chairman, Noel Lynch, calmly set out the needs of the 400-strong village as seen as by the people.

Short-term, he said, there was a need for two-tonne sandbags to be placed along the banks of the Ballyline to prevent it from overflowing; long-term, a proper report should be carried out with a view to raising the river banks so as to provide a permanent solution.

Mr Hayes also visited Fenit, Castleisland, and Castlemaine in Co Kerry to view damage caused by the elements.

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