Labour Blog

Labour Blog

The water has subsided - let's prioritise flood protection-Minister Alan Kelly

Posted on January 21, 2016 at 02:11 PM

Alan Kelly

Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly has written in today's Irish Independent about the devastating flooding that has happened in the last few months and how we need to prioritise a long-term plan for flood prevention. You can read the original article here.

As the flood waters of the Shannon and other areas have partially subsided, now is the best time to reflect on how best to make our towns, villages and homes more flood resilient and how we must adapt to more severe flooding events.

In the midst of the bad weather, it is of course very important for politicians and Ministers to meet people affected, lead from the front and ensure that all steps are being taken to respond to their harrowing experiences when homes or businesses have been destroyed.

However, meaningful leadership is needed now so that we develop a plan for dealing with the problem, not just cynical photo-ops. If you want an example of politicians moving on and forgetting what just happened, look at last week’s Fianna Fail Ard Fheis, where Michael Martin failed to even mention flooding in his speech and list of promises, despite him vilifying the Taoiseach for not being on the ground in the midst of the flooding.

Our recent flooding events were an eye opener and game-changer, palpable evidence before us that not only is climate change real but it is affecting us in more and more profound ways in our own local communities. The overall cost of the recent floods could reach as high as €100 million.

Climate change is real. We can and will work hard to address its causes. But we must address its effects too. We experienced much of an entire December’s rainfall in just a few days driven by the mildest and wettest December ever.

We are going to have to face up to the fact that more frequent extreme weather events, like the flooding we have seen, will have a significant bearing on our country, our lives and our communities and we must take remedial action to better prepare. That’s why I was determined to get the Climate Change Act passed, which will set a plan for how we will both mitigate our carbon emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change.

We also need to be very sceptical of any politician that claims they have a quick and immediate solution to the problem of floods.

No politician controls water flows, climate patterns or can reverse historical patterns of development in both urban and rural areas that evidently have not taken sufficient account of the fact that flooding events are becoming more severe and more complex.

To be effective, flood defences need careful expert design by engineers, hydrologists and ecologists and with input from local communities with historic knowledge of water flows, a process that can take some time.

Yesterday, I met with the EU Environment Commissioner, Karmenu Vella, to appraise him of the major and widespread impact that flooding has had on communities and infrastructure over a significant area of the country, and outline the Government’s immediate disaster and emergency response to the threats to people’s lives and livelihoods, as well as the longer-term plans to mitigate future risks likely to arise, as the impacts of climate change increase.

We will have to complete certain works more quickly in order to protect people’s homes and businesses. EU Directives do not prevent us doing what is necessary, but they can sometimes make the process more complex and time consuming and such is the damage created by these floods that we simply must agree a series of actions with our European partners that we believe are necessary and in the interests of the country.

We may not be able to protect everywhere and will likely need to relocate people from where they currently reside because of the floods to come. Multi-year and multi-generational political leadership, planning and action is needed now.

It is unlikely, when the election is called, that many politicians will be out in their wellies standing in puddles looking for votes. In the midst of a national crisis, the debate tends to become hugely emotive and action is promised. However, just remember that the real opportunity for action is when the water subsides.

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