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Speech of An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar T.D., At the Launch of Flood Risk Management Plans Shamrock Lodge Hotel, Athlone, Co. Westmeath Thursday, 03 May 2018

 

Minister, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

I am delighted to be here in Athlone, to join Minister Boxer Moran in launching the largest ever study of flood risk management in the history of this country.

Flooding hits families, businesses, and communities on an emotional level as well as on a financial one. Our Partnership Government, of Fine Gael, Independent Alliance, and Independent Ministers, recognises the devastating impact of flooding for so many communities across the country, and we are determined to do help.

We have made two things immediate priorities. The first is to improve the co-ordinated response to flood events, the second is to ensure greater long-term planning in assessing managing the flood risk.

CFRAMs - The Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management Programme is designed to target the right measures in the right locations.

As a result, we have invested €350m on 42 major flood defence schemes that has protected almost 10,000 families and homes.

In Project Ireland 2040 we have committed almost €940 million to managing the risk of floods over the next ten years. The 29 Flood Risk Management Plans we are launching today will fund 118 schemes. Together, they will protect a further 11,500 families and homes.

We will also continue to implement the Minor Flood Mitigation and Coastal Protection Works Scheme, a successful initiative that delivers local solutions around the country.

Past experience says that information is one of the most valuable resources when it comes to preparing for, or dealing with floods. So, we are establishing a national flood forecasting service so that people know what is happening, and what is likely to happen. This will help guide our local and national responses to flood events.

Our 10 year Programme will support sustainable development and employment in the towns and cities affected. It will also provide investment certainty to the engineering and construction sectors so that they can plan long-term and help deliver on our objectives.

The new website we are launching, floodinfo.ie, shows the most up to date maps of flood risk across the 300 communities studied. These flood maps will greatly inform decisions on the planning and development of our cities, towns and communities and so achieve the aims and objectives of Project Ireland 2040.

Since I became Taoiseach last summer, I have seen first-hand the impact of the floods last summer across the country in Donegal, and Mountmellick. I know the damage caused by recent Storms Ophelia and Emma.

Not so long ago these were rare events, to be talked about for decades afterwards. Now they are becoming more frequent. It is very likely we are seeing the impact of climate change. The Plans being published today - like all of our flood relief schemes – have been designed to take account of all those changes.

We want to ensure that all future flood risk measures reduce the vulnerability of the country to the effects of climate change. So the implementation structures being put in place under the National Adaptation Framework - launched in January by Minister Naughten - and through Local Adaptation Plans – have been designed with this in mind. These flood maps will also inform the planning for adaptation and climate resilience by other sectors and by local authorities.

While in recent years we have seen some of the worst of Irish weather we have also seen the best of Irish community spirit, with people looking out for their neighbours, helping and supporting each other. As we work through the delivery of these measures over the coming decade, that community spirit will be vital.

To our local authority staff and volunteers, I want to once again thank all of you for performing this extraordinary community service, often in difficult and dangerous circumstances.
We need that community spirit when we are planning to protect a community from a significant flood event, and we need it again when we are responding to one.

So today, I want to call on all communities to get involved during the next phase of work, as the detailed design of these 118 flood relief schemes is finalised. Work with your Local Authority to ensure these schemes are appropriately designed. We want them to be integrated within communities, based on what you want and what you need.

The Government will continue to monitor closely the implementation of these Plans for our future. While today’s Plans are informed by the assessment of 80% of the properties at risk from the primary sources of flooding in Ireland - river- and sea-flooding - as a Government we are not complacent about other flooding risks.

Over the last six years we have been working to indentify these, including through the Minor Works and the once-off Voluntary Homeowners Relocation Schemes.

We will, over the coming months consider any possible support to individual homeowners to protect their homes, in addition to other community protection measures.

The OPW annually maintains up to 12,000km of river channel protecting 650,000 acres of agricultural lands. The next step is to ensure that we better assess the flood risk in more rural areas. This will be part of the next study of flood risk in Ireland, starting later this year.

While I have the opportunity, I want to pay tribute to the OPW and the Local Authorities, and all the organisations and national bodies that who have worked together to develop these Plans. You have provided us with a way of planning for the future with confidence and for that we thank you.

To conclude, let me assure you that delivery of these Plans is a Government policy. We are determined to help communities, and help families and householders.

Athlone’s native son, Count John McCormick, loved to sing about the ‘The meeting of the waters’. He believed that the ‘storms that we feel in this cold world’ could be overcome by bringing our strengths together.

I believe that ambitious plans we are launching today do exactly that. They give us confidence, they help us plan for the future, and they bring our collective strengths together to serve families and communities in good times and in bad.

Thank you.