Data from the EU’s space station and advice from experts will be on tap to help Ireland manage flooding in the future, but the country may not benefit from funds, said Environment Minister Alan Kelly.
He had long discussions with Karemu Vella, the Environment Commissioner, in Brussels and explained that although the OPW will miss the March deadline to have flood management plans finished, they will be ready later this year.
The minister rejected claims that EU environment laws were to blame for the lack of action over the past years to prevent and mitigate flooding.
Minister Kelly said they agreed to set up a working group between his team and experts in the Commission to deal with future issues.
They identified short-term and long-term proposals on how to mitigate against flooding in the future, and will share data and forecasting, including data from the Copernicus space agency to predict flooding in advance.
On funds available to help countries repair damage done by natural disasters, Mr Kelly said it was clear that Ireland will not meet the conditions necessary to qualify for significant funding, as the damage would need to amount to 0.6% of GDP which is €760 million.
He was not sure the country would qualify for a lesser sum of aid under an application for a specific region of the country as victims of “an extraordinary regional disaster”.
Under this the sums available would be around 1.3% or €130,000 per €10 million worth of damage.
“We will not qualify for the larger sum and it is too early to say yet if we will qualify for other funds, but we have a team working on it — but it is not something on which we are relying.”
Responding to a suggestion from Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy that the damage so far was estimated at €100 million, the Minister said that assessments were coming in from local authorities but there was still a lot of water on the ground and it was difficult to get an accurate figure for roads damage, which would be the highest cost. But they would have an estimate in time to make an application to the Commission perhaps focusing on river basins as the grounds for the aid.
He agreed with a comment made by junior minister Simon Harris that since the storms were having a similar effect on both Britain and Ireland that the Commission should be willing to take a joint application of funds.
Minister Kelly said that his department will consider it, but he did not believe they could rely on such an approach just now. “I do believe that there is a necessity to look at how you apply, especially in relation to geographical borders”, he said referring to the border with Northern Ireland.
He said it was also clear from the meeting that EU directives, including on habitats, did not militate against coping with flooding. “It is evident they have and will help Ireland to alleviate flooding into the future,” he added.
The Commission further explained there was flexibility where countries suffering significantly as in the case of the floods were entitled to take immediate action without having to refer to Brussels.
Farmers and others were particularly vocal blaming the EU Habitats directive for failure to act and in particular the government’s interpretation of the rules. “I am not willing to engage in a blame game, we are talking about human suffering and real effects on business, the Directives helped Ireland and the Commission has explained that we have flexibility in emergency situations to act.”
Without the EU legislation he believed the damage could have been greater. “I would challenge a discourse that emanates from some quarters in Ireland that these Directives are the reason we don’t take certain action,” he said.
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