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Opinion: Apportioning blame for the Great Flood

October 19th, 2015 9:33 AM

By Southern Star Team

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IN November 2009, the Great Flood of Cork devastated low-lying areas of the city: the Carrigrohane Straight, the Western Road, the Mardyke, the Marsh and Middle Parish, Washington Street and the Grand Parade.

To make matters worse, the Lee broke its banks along several city centre channels and a quay wall collapsed at Grenville Place, necessitating the partial evacuation of the Mercy Hospital. The city’s main water treatment plant was affected and more than 60,000 citizens were without normal water supplies for several weeks. 

Huge damage was done to the Courthouse on Washington Street. Mardyke and South Parish homes were badly flooded, and city traders estimated that more than €130m worth of damage was done to their businesses.  For Cork it was a short, sharp and nasty encounter with a malevolent Mother Nature!

Not to be forgotten either was the fact that University College Cork was also the target of Nature’s winter fury. Prestigious buildings and installations such as the Enterprise Centre, the Granary Theatre, the entire Mardyke sports complex and the internationally-famous Lewis Glucksman Gallery were disastrously swamped and damaged.

And, while Corkonians at first tended to point an accusatory finger at naturally occurring phenomena, the Uneeee claimed the scale of the flood damage was exacerbated by the ESB’s unprecedented discharge of water from the ESB dams at Inniscarra and Carrigadrohid. 

 

Literary allusion

The ESB insisted that it acted responsibly in how it managed the release of water and alleged contributory negligence by UCC on account of the construction of low-level buildings in the flood plain of the River Lee. 

Mr Justice Max Barrett found against the ESB for having failed to give adequate warnings of the water discharges.  He said ‘the ESB could, and should reasonably have reacted to weather forecasts on and from November 16th, 2009 so as to spill water from the dams earlier and in greater amounts than it did and, thus, created the space for more water at the Lee reservoirs … The ESB could and should reasonably have maintained lower water levels than it had in the reservoirs leading up to November 19th 2009.’ He also said the ESB ‘failed to give anyone, including UCC, adequate or timely warning about the events ESB knew to be presenting’. 

Then, in a judgement worthy of Solomon, he ruled that the ESB stood guilty of wrongdoing and so did UCC. He deemed the ESB 60% liable for the flood damage to the College campus and that UCC was 40% liable ‘for failing over years to act on mounting information of flood risk to its properties and continuing to construct properties on the River Lee flood plain.’

With a charming literary allusion that would have warmed the cockles of our one-time English prof (the terrifying BG McCarthy who long ago shuffled off this mortal coil), he described in the following way the many warnings the University had received about building on a flood plain: ‘To borrow from Oscar Wilde, if once is misfortunate and twice is carelessness, when it comes to at least 50 failures to respond to a known flood-risk, one appears to the court to have strayed from Lady Bracknell territory and well into the realm of significant and serious contributory negligence’.

  

Early warning systems

It was an assessment certain to achieve fame in the Long Valley and the High-B, places where disputation on knotty legal matters is grist to the mill for the pointy-headed habitués. They remind anyone prepared to listen that at an international UCC seminar on flooding (held some months before the deluge) experts had advised on the importance of effective early warning systems so that people could be prepared for extreme events. 

When the ‘extreme event’ happened, it caught UCC unawares. Result:  submersion of 30 acres of the magnificent 80-acre campus.

For its part the ESB argued that it acted at all times in the interests of public safety and that the unprecedented volume of rainfall, which led to flooding in the Lee Valley, forced the ESB to release water from its dams. 

In a statement last weekend, the ESB declared that the actions of its staff in the management of the Lee dams protected Cork from the worst of the flooding and that the company complied with best international practice and with their statutory duties. 

In consultation with its legal advisors it decided to appeal the High
Court judgement. 

And now for something completely different! How delightful to see opportunities opening for the scions of illustrious family dynasties? For example, the little-uns of Michael Ahern and Ned O’Keeffe who were former mini-ministers!  

You see, the dads have passed the torch to the ‘childer’ and it is the youth who now cry ‘freedom’ to the tired, poor, huddled masses of East Cork. 

Michael Ahern expects his daughter Barbara to be added to the FF ticket under the gender quota regulation (a third of all the party’s Dáil election candidates must be female). He wants her to stand for election beside the already selected Cllr Kevin O’Keefe. The latter’s old man is former Minister Ned-O, remembered for trying to ban a children’s film about a pig in case it caused harm to Christmas ham sales! 

If elected, daughter Barbara would represent the southern end of the constituency because, according to dad, it wouldn’t be ‘wise’ to leave 47,000 people out there without a candidate (so much for young Kevin!). According to proud dad, Barbara was ‘born into politics and worked in the constituency from an early age.  She was listening to people on the phone and making representations as well. So she knows exactly what it is like.’ 

Ah yes, who would have thought that once things like idealism and the pursuit of noble goals to improve the lot of mankind were the factors that drew young people into politics!  How silly they were. 

 

Out of range

Here’s a good one!  Residents in Cobh welcome the trans-Atlantic liner trade for a variety of reasons – the money the passengers spend in the town, the boost to tourism and, particularly, for the truce between locals and Haulbowline matelots that comes into force every time a liner visits the town.

Since Fine Gael’s Simon Coveney authorised a shooting range at Haulbowline for members of the Naval Service learning how to discharge weapons, people in Cobh have been driven demented from the noise.

But now, whenever a liner docks in the town not a shot is fired.  This came about after disembarking passengers hit the deck in terror – particularly Americans – on hearing bursts of automatic gunfire. 

Tourist interests duly made the appropriate complaints and, fair dues, the matelots agreed not to do their shooting on days the liners were in the harbour!

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