Frequency and impact of severe weather will increase, says author

Anne Sheridan


Anne Sheridan

Flooding at World's End, Castleconnell in recent days.  Picture: Ken O'Neill
FLOODING is not a new phenomenon in Limerick, but the one constant in recent years has been the lack of clear-cut answers – and whether anyone can hold back the tide.

FLOODING is not a new phenomenon in Limerick, but the one constant in recent years has been the lack of clear-cut answers – and whether anyone can hold back the tide.

Last year’s devastating floods in King’s Island and swathes of the city’s northside were blamed on a myriad of forces, which together produced the perfect storm.

Last weekend’s flooding in Corbally has produced another storm – this time an effort between various authorities, such as Waterways Ireland and Limerick City and County Council, to blame the other for not opening the gates of the canal to release water on Saturday evening. Responsibility was passed from Waterways Ireland to the council, and the buck has been passed ever since, further enraging affected residents that no one is claiming responsibility, or taking the area in charge. Sinn Fein councillor Maurice Quinlivan said this was a “man made storm, not an act of God, or a freak of nature”.

Eighteen months earlier efforts to blame the flooding in King’s Island on a specific, and specifically man-made cause, were fruitless, though the release of water by the ESB then was as great. They then again denied any fault, though their role has been questioned.

That debacle led Martin Kay, PhD, who has 19 years’ experience in maritime aviation and search and rescue, to produce a book, quite aptly titled The Limerick Flood of 2014 - Climate Change and A Case of Unpreparedness.

It criticised the council’s response to the disaster, and asked if the city will be adequately prepared for the next natural emergency. Clearly, we now know that the answer is no, given what has been dubbed a “comedy of errors” last weekend.

Mr Kay was critical of the volumes of water released by the ESB at Ardnacrusha and from the Parteen Weir on the morning of the flood in February 2014, and the days leading up to it, which he said was “bloody lethal” given the simultaneous combination of other adverse weather effects. He also believed the council’s answers just didn’t add up.

At the time, council manager Conn Murray said that services simply couldn’t cope with the “unprecedented” water levels, due to the combination of torrential rain, high tides and strong winds. It was, he said, a case of “extraordinary flooding”.

Fianna Fail deputy Willie O’Dea put it bluntly this week. “Nobody, including the Government, has any control over the weather, so we just have to hope for the best obviously. It shows that areas that we never anticipated would have any problems have now encountered problems. Any place, at all, is literally vulnerable now. We are just hoping for the best.”

But Annacotty resident Anthony Clifford, who has now been affected by flooding on two occasions, believes the global warming excuse is a wash-out, and firmly levels the blame at the hands of the ESB, and bad management.

“It seems clear to me that the people of the lower and upper Shannon are being sacrificed to the privileged economic rights of the ESB. Their property and lives has been needless damaged and the flooding has been worse than it should be,” he told the Limerick Leader.

He believes that there should be an independent investigation into the way the ESB manage the water levels at all hydroelectric dams in the country by specialists from outside Ireland. “If there is more than ‘normal’ rainfall in the catchment, the ESB is not able to cope and have to flood the lower Shannon because they have kept the levels too high for electricity generation,” he claimed.

Mr Kay said “these incidents of extreme weather are going to increase. They used to happen every 100 years, then 50 years, now it’s going to be every few years. If it’s going to increase at this scale of impact then we have to, as a matter of urgency, look at infrastructural issues, and flood defences, to operational issues. Is our council up to the mark? Global warming is absolutely a factor, but we were lucky last weekend we didn’t have strong south-west winds.

“Really, this is not a one-off. It’s going to happen again.”