Flood victims and farmers have reacted angrily after it emerged that government officials charged with tackling the flood crisis did not meet for up to six years.
During the period from 2009 until the middle of last year, there have been five major floods, two people have died, and thousands of homes, farms, and businesses have been destroyed.
However, inspectors in the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (C&AG) office found officials in control of “flood risk and response” did not sit down together from 2009 until July 2015.
The Interdepartmental Co-Ordination Group, which met from 2006 to 2009, did not sit down together again until last summer.
A second group of government experts overseen by the OPW and charged with assessing and managing flood risk based on the study of river catchments, did not meet for four years up to November 2014.
The catchment flood risk assessment and management (CFRAM) programme was also to produce flood hazard and risk maps and draw up management plans within guidelines and timeframes set out by a 2007 EU Floods Directive.
However, its work was delayed and, by a March 2014 deadline, the OPW had only submitted flood hazard maps for 50 of the 300 areas that it was required to cover. It has still yet to deliver all the flood risk management plans for all river basins, but the OPW says it hopes to do so by the end of the year.
The OPW also told the C&AG that the initial stages of the CFRAM programme involved technical work that did not necessitate a meeting of the group.
From 2005 to 2014, €329m was spent on flood defences and research and another €430m is being spent over the next six years on similar prevention projects. However, the C&AG warned money was still being spent without using all the available comprehensive analysis of flood risks.
“In order to derive maximum value from the limited funds available, it is essential that funding allocation decisions are evidence-based,” it said.
“However, 12 years on from the report of the Flood Policy Review Group and eight years after the EU Floods Directive, substantial capital expenditure continues to be incurred on an annual basis, without the full benefit of the comprehensive analysis and strategic plans.”
Tom Turley, flood project chairman with the Irish Farmers’ Association, said: “We have these high level interdepartmental groupings that have met six times and it shows the complete and utter lack of interest of successive ministers.”
Mr Turley, who farms in east Galway in the Shannon catchment, said water is still being pumped from flooded homes in the Curraghboy area of Roscommon, months after the record rains from Storm Desmond.
“This report brings it all home. The fact that they have not met shows a complete lack of interest or urgency or a sense of will to stop this problem,” he said.
Simon Harris, minister of state with special responsibility for the OPW, defended the lack of CFRAM meetings.
“Prior to my reconvening of the group, I would like to affirm that the work of the programme was ongoing during this period as it was mainly technical in nature,” Mr Harris said.
The C&AG also found there were no detailed project budgets in the OPW for four pilot flood relief projects on the rivers Lee, Dodder, and Suir, and an area in Fingal/East Meath.
While initial estimates for the four pilot projects totalled €3.5m, the C&AG found that expenditure to the end of 2014 was €8.9m.
“In all cases, expenditure to date on the pilots has significantly exceeded the indicative estimates,” the C&AG found. “In the case of the two pilot projects managed by local authorities, the examination found that no service level agreement had been put in place between OPW and the relevant local authorities prior to commencing the projects.”
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