Fianna Fáil Environment Spokesperson Barry Cowen has said the promises being made by the Taoiseach and government ministers about the level of funding that will be available to local authorities to respond to the impact of adverse weather “cannot be taken seriously”.
Deputy Cowen explained: “Following the storm and flooding damage in the winter of 2013/2014 the Government told local authorities to spend what was necessary to respond to the crisis and the Department of Environment would reimburse their budgets. Figures released to me show 37% of the funding sought by local authorities wasn’t paid out. How are businesses and local authorities expected to believe the money will be paid over this time?”
Of the €21.6m in estimates from Local Authorities, just €13.7m was recouped by them from the Department of Environment.
Deputy Cowen said: “The figures show for instance that Clare County Council’s estimate to the Department was €6.2m but it only recouped €1m. There are other major discrepancies. Limerick City estimated €430,000 yet the department paid out over €1m.
“I also believe the situation is much more serious than the Government is letting on. I believe the figures supplied to the Dáil are incorrect or incomplete and the Government is misleading the public on the extent to which it has supported local authorities in responding to the impact of adverse weather events. The figures supplied to me show Offaly County Council seeking and receiving €15,000 for the winter of 2013/2014. I know for a fact that the council submitted extensive material to the Department of Environment setting out that it spent almost €440,000 dealing with the impact of the storms and flooding two years ago and seeking reimbursement for that outlay.
“Given that Minister Alan Kelly, either knowingly or unknowingly, has provided information which is not fully accurate about how much local authorities previously sought from his Department in response to the last series of storms we had to deal with, I will be seeking detailed information from the council’s myself. However this is likely to take some time as many local authorities are under huge pressure trying to respond to the current crisis.
“We’re witnessing a lot of similar patterns from the Government at the moment. They’re heavy on spin, heavy on spend, or least heavy on the promise of spend, in order to get them through the election cycle. It’s happening in health, it’s happening in housing, and we’re being told there are buckets of money to get the flood and storm damage sorted as well.
“The damage that has occurred in recent weeks has been severe. For homes, for businesses and for roads, particularly in rural communities. The case for restoration spending is clear. Local Authorities will be under huge pressure to frontload spending of their budgets in the early part of the new year. But my concern is because the Government failed to deliver on its previous promises to reimburse councils they will not be able to take on the costs again themselves.
“The Government needs to make the funding available now. It needs to ring-fence the money needed to support local authorities instead of telling them to spend what they need to and apply to be reimbursed afterwards. They’ve seen first-hand how that has worked out for them two years ago.”