*Makes call for a single local director of flood responses
Speaking in the Dail last week, Longford Westmeath TD, Gabrielle McFadden has demanded urgent action in the aftermath of the flooding crisis.
During a special debate on the flooding in the Dail, Deputy McFadden praised the community spirit shown during the flood relief efforts but said now is the time to learn the lessons from the crisis.
She acknowledged that several Ministers; Minister Coveney, Minister Harris, Minister Hayes, Minister Humphreys, Minister Kelly and of course the Taoiseach accepted her invitations to see for themselves the extent of the flooding. She said the political will is there to take action. “But we need that action now”, she said.
She urged the Government to implement a wide range of measures, including:
– A single local director of flood responses. What is needed, she said was a ‘go-to’ person for organising volunteers, temporary accommodation, food and fuel or flood relief donations
– Earlier involvement of the army in flood relief efforts
– Clearing the overgrowth of the man-made cut at Meelick, to allow freer flow of water from Lough Ree to Lough Derg
– A review of the decision made in 1979 to increase by two feet the levels on Lough Ree for navigational purposes
– Cessation of Bord na Mona pumping water into the Shannon at times of flooding
– A dredging of the obvious build up of silt at Meelick and beyond the Parteen weir
– Elimination of property tax for houses devalued by flood risk
– Compensation for farmers and non-rateable businesses to get back on their feet
During the Dail debate, Deputy McFadden emphasised the need for greater local co-ordination. “When the flooding started initially in Athlone, everywhere I went, I was asked why the army was not called on earlier. Minister Simon Coveney fully agreed with me. I rang Westmeath County Council but they felt they were coping with the crisis.
“I asked Minister Coveney that the army man the pumps, both in the town and the outlying rural areas, to give people a much needed break. I still had to go back to the council to get this done. When I requested that the army prepare food for volunteers, again Minister Coveney agreed. I had then to go back to Westmeath County Council to request the same thing. While the Council staff worked way beyond the call of duty, in the absence of a single local co-ordinator with authority to make decisions on the ground, people experienced delay, frustration and a sense that officialdom did not seem to be on their side, which added to their distress.
“I want to make it very clear here today that while we all want to protect birds and wildlife, the protection of people’s homes and livelihoods must take priority. When I was younger, members of my family had a pub in Coosan, called The Thatch, on the shores of Lough Ree, and they can still remember workers dredging the river coming in for their breaks. We all know that maintenance of the river has been neglected for decades.
She said the government have allocated an additional €10m in funding for the clean-up operation, and called for the unblocking of drains and sewerage works that councils don’t normally do on private property. “This is a crisis situation”, she said “and I believe councils have a moral obligation to help private home-owners on this occasion. And she urged Westmeath County Council and Longford County Council to avail of the OPW’s €500,000 funding programme to implement immediate temporary flood defences.
Deputy McFadden concluded by reminding people that Athlone was and continues to be, open for business during this crisis, and that we need to maintain the positive image of our region that we as a community have fought so hard to win.