Dr Martin Mansergh, the Minister of State at the Office of Public Works (OPW), was speaking in Skibbereen, Co Cork, at the weekend at the launch of the National Flood Forum – a nationwide group that aims to support, and lobby for, flood-risk communities.
“I followed with close interest, while I was attending a resumed Budget Council in Brussels last Monday, the news coverage of their floods,” the minister said.
“The question was asked whether a public authority could be sued, and the answer given was that in such exceptional circumstances it could always invoke ‘force majeure’.
“I reject the argument that, regardless of what the natural disaster may be, it should always be possible to find a public authority or agency to blame and to sue.
“In a week in which the IMF has arrived in Dublin, I will not be giving my support to calls that are designed to open up potentially limitless areas for compensation from the state and the taxpayer, no matter what private consultancy reports may be commissioned.”
His comments, it appears, were directed at flood victims in Cork city, who on Friday marked the first anniversary of the November 19, 2009, flood.
An estimated €150 million of damage was caused to state and private property across the city after the state-owned ESB released millions of tonnes of water from its Inniscarra dam.
Joe Noonan, the solicitor advising some 50 individuals affected that night, is awaiting the outcome of an independent engineering report on the disaster before outlining a range of legal options. Several flood victims have begun collecting money to fund a possible legal action.
The minister defended his role over the last 12 months and said flood risk management is his highest priority.
He said the agency is focused on Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management Studies (CFRAMS), which have been completed on the Lee, Suir and Dodder catchments, and in Fingal East Meath.
This approach is now being extended to all major catchments in Ireland, he said.
He also cited incidents in Cork, Galway and Tipperary, where another authority – the Inland Fisheries Board – tried to stop or delay the dredging of rivers.
“Everyone needs to understand that, while every effort will be made to accommodate the different legitimate interests involved in river management, with due regard to national and EU law, protection of homes, lives and livelihoods must in the last analysis take priority,” he said.
A strategic review of flood forecasting should be completed next year, he said.
The OPW has already allocated €12 million to local authorities in 23 counties for 160 small-scale flood projects.
A further €50 million is being spent on flood protection in Co Cork alone, including projects in Mallow and Fermoy.