UNFORTUNATELY, there is no quick-fix solution to the high incidence of flooding events of recent years, but a lot more needs be done – and quickly – in the shorter term to help the tens of thousands of people whose lives have been so severely disrupted at such a huge cost to their pockets and, more seriously, to their mental health which is being tested to the limits of endurance.
The Bandon community has shown remarkable and admirable resilience in the face of two major flooding events in the space of less than four weeks. Just as the Christmas shopping season was about to get under way in earnest in early December, the deluge of rain brought by Storm Desmond caused the River Bandon to burst its banks and flood the town, which had suffered a similarly-disastrous flood in 2009 and which led to a flood relief scheme being promised. The works were due to begin in mid-2014 – which in itself was a long-enough five-year wait – but they have been further delayed by legal issues, continuing to leave the town badly exposed to the further flooding, which has surpassed locals’ worst fears.
By the end of our wettest December on record, just as Bandon traders were gearing up for the January sales, insult was added to injury last week when the sixth significant storm of the winter, this time called Frank, caused a further deluge, which proved more severe than the one earlier last month, testing the limits of the patience of residents and the business community who are unable to obtain insurance against flooding.
The Bandon Business Alliance is keen to hold the Office of Public Works (OPW), whose remit it is to design and commission the flood relief scheme, to a promise that the long-delayed works will get under way by June 30th, 2016. They have threatened to withhold the payment of commercial rates due to Cork County Council if this does not happen – even though the local authority is not directly responsible for the works.
However, the Alliance feels that the Council cannot absolve itself from any responsibility to the commercial ratepayers of Bandon who contribute €1.1m per annum to its coffers and obviously hopes that the threat will put moral pressure on officialdom generally to get its act together on this issue. With the general election due within the next few weeks, it is also an opportune time to start pressurising politicians to act more decisively.
Skibbereen’s flood defence scheme has also been delayed significantly and, while tireless community efforts to keep the latest bouts of flooding at bay have largely been successful, some houses and businesses did get flooded, illustrating the urgency of getting the scheme back on track. Drainage works in Clonakilty have helped, but the threat remains and Bantry had an incidence of flooding also last week.
Many country roads have been impassable due to flooding in recent weeks and, when the waters abate and the extent of the damage to them becomes known, Cork County Council will be facing a hefty bill to repair them. While the Shannon river basin, spanning a number of counties, has been the worst-affected nationally and there are talks of a special authority to tackle the ongoing problems, there is a need for a properly-accountable national body to tackle flooding more pro-actively than is being done at present.
The political response, from the Taoiseach down, has been slow with the Cabinet only this week – a full month after Storm Desmond struck – starting to seriously address the problems caused by December’s flooding. No doubt, many promises will be made in the weeks leading up to the general election to people in flood-hit areas who are at their wits’ end, but it’s action they want and not just words.