Cabinet must show leadership following devastating floods

NOT surprisingly, as the Government meets in Cabinet session today to draw up a flood emergency strategy, the despairing prayer on the lips of those struggling to keep flood waters at bay is that their terrifying ordeal will never happen again.

While such sentiments are understandable, they are unrealistic given the total lack of an overall strategy worthy of the name. There is also a feeling that nobody is really in charge of the present crisis, a point made forcefully yesterday by the Church of Ireland bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross.

According to Bishop Paul Colton, who has visited flood victims in the Co Cork towns of Mallow and Midleton, there is no evidence of overall national co-ordination in the emergency response to flood victims. In a damning comment, he said: “I’ve heard of the National Co-ordination Committee, and I am sure they are working away. But one would like to see the signs of it in local areas. I saw emergency services, council workers, and local politicians, lots of people doing the hard work. But people were looking for somebody who was in overall charge. There seemed to be little co-ordination, little sense that someone was in charge… someone with an overview.”

That is a withering indictment of the Government’s failure to prepare plans to deal adequately with a major flood emergency. This despite repeated warnings that fierce storms and torrential rain are part and parcel of the phenomenon of global warming caused by emissions from fossils fuels and greenhouse gases. As a result, water levels are now higher than they have ever been on Lough Ree since records began in 1932.

Nobody could remain unmoved after hearing the sense of desolation and sheer exhaustion in the voice of Clonmel woman Liz O’Brien, interviewed on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme. This is the ninth time her home has been flooded by the River Suir bursting its banks once more. For the first time, she and her husband have sat down together and decided they just can’t go on. “The smell in the house would take your breath away,” she said. “It would catch in your throat.” Suffering from chest problems, she sees “no light at the end of the tunnel this time”.

Meanwhile, people living in some of the worst hit areas of the midlands are also struggling to keep the rising flood waters of the River Shannon out of their homes. While people in Limerick blame the ESB for putting their homes under further threat by spilling more water over the weir at Parteen, over 100 residents in Athlone were forced to leave 60 apartments when the ESB cut off their power supply for safety reasons after a transformer was flooded.

It is easy to understand the widespread anger and frustration over the lack of decisive action by the powers that be. What ministers today must grasp is that while people are waiting for long promised food defences to be built, what they really want to know is that they won’t have to wait weeks for the armed forces to be called out. The army and navy should be on standby, ever ready with pumps and sandbags in advance of a major flood alert.

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