The President saluted the resilience, backbone, and courage of the family-run businesses of Cork City centre during a walkabout yesterday of the areas worst hit by last week’s double flood.
Michael D Higgins also expressed a wish to see urgent action to prevent future flooding in the city.
“In Cork, you have so many family businesses who have kept the doors open in difficult economic times, and to be faced with this next challenge was so tough,” he said.
“But many of them were open again within 24 or 48 hours and saying they weren’t going to be defeated. “People have just shown fantastic resilience and I think the message that has gone out is one that will go well out beyond the flood.
“I think it’s important now that we learn from what people have experienced and that we prevent what can be prevented and act quickly.”
The President arrived at the Imperial Hotel first, which was also damaged by the floods, for a briefing by city manager Tim Lucey. Mr Lucey said the President was particularly struck by the level of co-operation between the various statutory and voluntary agencies who responded to the flood.
President Higgins then set off on the walkabout with Lord Mayor Catherine Clancy, Labour TD Ciarán Lynch, and Cork Business Association director Claire Nash, to meet Paul Montgomery, who owns The Oliver Plunkett Bar.
He met civil defence staff Veronica Forde, Tim Dennehy, and Stephen Galvin, and Cork City Fire Service representatives Noel Heaney, acting third officer, and David Spillett, assistant chief fire officer, who were all involved in the emergency response last week.
With the smell of damp hanging in the air in some shops, and the hum of dehumidifiers in others, the President chatted with several traders on Oliver Plunkett St during the hour-long walkabout.
After popping in toRonan and Mary Kennedy in Diana O’Mahony’sjeweller’s on Winthrop St, and stepping over flood barriers still in place in Winthrop Arcade, he wished Colette Mulholland in Ellis’s Flower Shop well into the build-up to St Valentine’s Day on Friday.
He then met Finbarr Cotter, whose Newbridge Silverware outlet was under 60cm of water this time last week. “He wished us well in the run-up to Valentine’s Day and I said we were hoping to bring a bit of romance back in to the city,” Finbarr said. He has been told he will have to replace the warped bottom sections of all the shop units.
“They tell us €400m is too much for a flood barrier, but it wasn’t too much for the bank bailout,” Finbarr said.
The President chatted to Pam O’Regan in Saville Menswear and spent timein Keane’s Jewellers, before he signed two copies of his book, Renewing the Republic, in Liam Russell’s bookshop.
Bookshop owner Bríd Hughes told him the book was selling very well.
“I’m threatening another one,” he quipped.
The President also saw the extent of the devastation inside Ms Nash’s own restaurant on Princes St — while the front of the restaurant is open, repairs are still ongoing to the rear.
Scoil Mhuire student Zara Khan, 16, from Rochestown, who volunteers in the Marymount charity shop, managed to get a selfie with the President before he visited the GPO, where branch manager John Linehan showed him how high the water levels reached.
Afterwards, he said he was impressed by how traders helped each other.
“It was the very best of Irishness, in my view,” said the President.
“Everyone is saying they don’t want any unnecessary delays [to flood defences].
“People who have shown such resilience deserve the best possible response in the shortest time.”
A free parking initiative is running in the city for the next four weeks in a bid to boost trade after the floods.
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