Bishop of Cork criticises lack of leadership to co-ordinate aid for flood victims

There is no one in charge of the emergency response to the recent floods, with a lack of overall co-ordination on the ground, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork has said.
Bishop of Cork criticises lack of leadership to co-ordinate aid for flood victims

Revered Paul Colton, the Bishop of Cork, Cloyne, and Ross, also said there are some immediate situations of emergency need which just can’t wait for grant aid forms to be filled out and processed.

Bishop Colton, who has launched a flood fund appeal to help people in Bandon and Midleton in Co Cork, praised those working on the frontline, but said there appeared to be little co-ordination at national level.

“The response to this has, hugely, been about self-help and neighbourly-help. Without it, there would have been people homeless and going hungry in recent days,” he said.

“But I think that kind of response is far too risky in this kind of situation. I know this flooding happened at an ‘awkward’ time, over the Christmas holidays, but we need to be able to respond to emergencies at ‘awkward’ times.

“I’ve heard of the National Co-ordination Group, and I am sure they are working away, but one would like to see the signs of it in local areas.”

He said while local authority workers, emergency services and defence forces personnel have responded well, he said people were looking for somebody who was in charge.

“There seemed to be little co-ordination, little sense that someone was in overall charge,” he said.

His criticism came as Taoiseach Enda Kenny attended a briefing with the National Co-ordination Group yesterday morning.

At a Cabinet meeting today, Environment Minister Alan Kelly is expected to seek approval to radically increase the allocation to local councils to cover the cost of storms Desmond and Frank. He also plans to develop a national flood-warning system, dramatically increasing the accuracy of where and when floods are likely to happen.

Minister for the Office of Public Works, Simon Harris, said the €5m fund to help small businesses who couldn’t get flood insurance, and the €10m humanitarian fund run by the Department of Social Protection are sufficient at this stage to meet demand. Mr Harris also said the Government is examining ways of helping people to protect homes from flooding by way of grant aid. He said some people may have to be relocated, because their homes are liable to repeat flooding.

As President Michael D Higgins visited flood victims in Galway and Wexford, frustration turned to anger over the State response. Miley Cotter and his family have been left homeless after their bungalow in Clasharince, a mile west of Castlemartyr in Co Cork, was marooned by a sea of water, which has forced the closure of the main N25 Cork to Waterford road for almost a week.

He managed to assess the damage properly for the first time yesterday after two days of pumping reduced water levels by just four inches.

“Everything is gone. It’s just utter devastation,” said Mr Cotter.

He also criticised the lack of national c-ordination and said he had warned the authorities early last week that unprecedented flooding was on the cards.

“We rang the council in Youghal and told them the field across the road was flooding and the road was in danger. They said they’d look into it, but no-one came near us,” he said.

“Then, on December 28 and 29, the water encroached onto the road and just kept coming. We tried desperately to fight it. We were ready with buckets and mops but we just couldn’t stop it.

“We didn’t know where to turn. There didn’t seem to be anybody in charge. We got an emergency council number from the gardaí, but there was no-one there.

“I went to a council depot for sandbags and the place was locked...We were on our own. Nobody seemed to have a plan. Every room in the house is destroyed. It just happened so fast, we couldn’t save anything.”

He, his wife, Margaret, and their children, Barry, 27, and Laura, 20, were evacuated by the army. After two nights in the Midleton Park Hotel, the family is now at the Castlemartyr Resort.

The family didn’t have flood insurance and Mr Cotter said he hasn’t had time to apply to the State’s humanitarian fund. “Anyway, every bit of documentation I had is floating in the house,” he said.

In nearby Midleton, the Tidy Towns committee coordinated a response using Facebook, matching offers of help to those in need.

Meanwhile, President Higgins has warned about using the crisis as a political football. He lashed out at personal criticism by Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice of his time as a minister when he signed the European Habitats Directive in 1997, a move which saw huge areas in south Galway designated special conservation or protection.

“Let’s grow up and be responsible,” said Mr Higgins. “They [local people] really don’t want the unfortunate experience they’ve had since the middle of December to be used as some kind of football.

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