AFTER THE DELUGE

28 October 2011 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The many Co Monaghan residents and businesspeople engaged in extensive clean-up operations at the present time after this week’s severe flooding will undoubtedly be the focus of widespread community support and practical assistance.
It is always a heartening by-product of emergency situations of this type to witness how the characteristic of altruistic neighbourliness – often regarded as being hunted near to extinction by the social changes that have happened in Ireland in recent decades – reasserts itself unbidden with commendable force and effectiveness.
The victims of flooding in this county deserve such neighbourly support and are undoubtedly appreciative of it.
But those particularly vulnerable because of their geographic location to having their lives disrupted and livelihoods imperilled by the effects of extreme rainfall – and the great many other people subjected to inconvenience and personal risk on our roads at such times – also merit the consideration of wider State support when such emergencies arrive.
It is very clear that, when it is immediately required in flooding scenarios or when severe winter weather strikes, the level and effectiveness of such supports as are currently available is exposed as woefully inadequate.
This is not to unwarrantedly criticise our local authorities, who this week, as they always do in the midst of crisis, go well beyond the limits of their resources and normal working duties to mitigate the impact of the problems that arise at community level.
It is as well that the local Council workers who step into the front line in such circumstances do not expect thanks as their recompense – because they very often don’t receive it.
They occasionally have to bear the brunt of public frustration and anger, and that they do so by and large with equanimity confers additional credit upon them.
Does the blame attach then to the administrative staff and elected representatives of our local authorities for not having adequate pre-planning measures in place to deal with what are becoming increasingly common extreme weather events?
To some extent, yes – but there are powerful mitigating factors in play here.
Local public representatives know the areas they represent well enough to identify the locations particularly at risk from flooding and this information has been collated in recent years by officialdom into a comprehensive blueprint of vulnerability.
But money is needed to remedy the problem areas – and the response from central government to appeals in this regard from Co Monaghan in recent years has been niggardly to say the least.
This unsatisfactory situation is maddeningly compounded by the Byzantine complexity that has been allowed to build up over the years as to where the responsibility for the drainage of particular river systems and watercourses resides.
Monaghan Co Council have for some time been attempting to resolve issues of responsibility in this regard with the Office of Public Works.
In a prescient discussion at the last meeting of the authority, Acting Co Manager David Fallon confirmed that the Council had passed on full information on the problem flooding areas in the county to the OPW, who were currently “looking at areas of significant risk.”
Undoubtedly the problem areas identified bore the brunt of this week’s deluge – surely a case of the OPW fiddling like Nero while the ‘Rome’ of vulnerable Co Monaghan communities drowned rather than burned.
At Sinn Féin councillor Sean Conlon’s instigation, a proposal went from the Co Council to the OPW seeking to definitively establish where responsibility for flooding problems lay in the county.
It is nothing short of scandalous that such a request has to be made – and even if it is responded to promptly and comprehensively at the November meeting of the Co Council, it will be of little comfort or practical aid to the many Co Monaghan people who suffered in this week’s downpours.
We would suggest that instead of the laborious process of preparing Flood Risk Management Assessments that is currently underway throughout the country, this week’s events demand that such strategic considerations be put aside for a time until practical, tactical responses are put in a state of preparedness by the responsible Government agencies.
Local communities, and local authorities, know only too well where the “areas of significant risk” are – the long-standing Shambles River problems and their calamitous impact on the centre of Monaghan Town during periods of heavy rainfall is a classic instance.
What is needed is a plan of action that would see such problems effectively effaced.
There is a great opportunity for the Government here – they could make a significant contribution to unemployment by instituting a nationwide programme of works to do away with the drainage and other impediments contributing to flooding disasters.
Times of crisis deserve such responses – and it would be very difficult to convince those whose lives were so severely impacted by this week’s rainfall that such a crisis did not exist, or is not likely to recur in the near future.

ENDA’S
ENDORSEMENT
Hopes for a more expedient and practical response from the Government to making Co Monaghan less vulnerable to flooding might have been inadvertently enhanced on Monday when, in the midst of the deluge, Taoiseach Enda Kenny came to the area to view progress on the Monaghan Education Campus development at Knockaconny.
We are confident that Mr Kenny did not get his feet wet – but his head was surely turned by the already prodigious progress being made at the site of the former Monaghan Military Barracks to deliver this hugely important project.
The development received its vital initial impetus under the previous administration, but it is under Mr Kenny’s watch that it will come to fruition and in that regard his personal inspection of its unfolding genesis has a value well beyond the symbolic.
As we have editorially emphasised previously, this is an initiative possessed of a potential for Monaghan Town and the county as a whole that is limited only by the vision of its custodians.
A significant economic fillip to the locality has already been delivered by contractors Sisk, who are apparently proving as good as their word in the utilisation of employment and services from the project’s hinterland.
Such benefits will incrementally appreciate when the campus is functioning.
The status of Monaghan Town and county stands to be altered by the success of this development, which can change the nature and perception of our locality in a very profound and positive way.
This is obviously a view shared by the Taoiseach, whose Government has a vital role of supportive guidance to play if the campus is to reach the full fruition of its promise.
Enda’s endorsement is certainly significant.

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