Junior Minister Simon Harris has denied claims by the opposition that the budget for flood defences is €8.7m less this year than was allocated in 2015.
It comes as Environment Minister Alan Kelly is to meet with the European Environment commissioner today to discuss the recent flooding crisis.
Fianna Fáil Finance spokesman Michael McGrath has said figures provided to him by the Government show that the OPW’s budget for flood relief works in 2016 has been cut 14%. It has also been confirmed that €13m in the budget for flood-relief works in 2015 was never spent.
However, minster with responsibility for the OPW Simon Harris said: “There is no issue in relation to under-funding of the flood relief programme. I can assure the deputy that the OPW has had and will continue to have sufficient funding available to it to meet its requirements for flood relief in any year.”
He said the 2015 figures contained money directed into storm damage which had not been spent in the previous two years and said it had been decided to disperse these funds to local authorities.
Mr McGrath said listening to government ministers in recent weeks, “one could be forgiven for thinking that money was not an issue” when it comes to building flood defences.
However, he said “many people will be shocked” to learn that the OPW’s budget for capital flood relief works in 2016 is 14% less than the 2015 budget. Mr Harris said the €13m under-spend on the flood relief programme in 2015 was due to delays in the planned commencement of construction of certain capital projects.
However, he said this funding would be carried over which means it is “not lost to the flood capital investment”. The Government is due to agree on the terms of reference for the Shannon River Basin Management Co-ordination Group in the coming days.
However, it is thought that the group will be given the power to make recommendations on changes to legislation and will be asked to appear before a relevant Oireachtas Committee, most probably the Environment Committee. The Taoiseach is waiting to hear from insurance industry members around the issue of flood cover for those living in at risk areas.
While Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe is still awaiting estimates of the level of damage that floods caused to roads and bridges but yesterday said he expects this information from local authorities in the coming days. Mr Kelly will today meet Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella to raise the major impact that flooding has had on communities and infrastructure.
A spokesman for the minister said Mr Kelly will be asking the commission to review how certain EU wildlife and water directives have been applied to Ireland. The minister will also look for improved European meteorological services for better forecasting.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved