I am glad to have the opportunity to make brief comments on the flood damage and to sympathise with all those, including homeowners, commercial property owners, farmers and business people, who suffered because of the dreadful weather over a number of weeks. My first thoughts are with the people who suffered but we must then think about introducing new legislation to help people. With regard to flooding of the River Shannon, there is always a question of who is responsible. With so many agencies and bodies, I feel the Office of Public Works, OPW, should be the lead agency. The point has been made by experts in the area. With regard to the Rivers Suck and Shannon, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, fishermen, people who use the river for water sports and those concerned with habitats must all be considered. They are all important in their own way but if we do not stress the need for a lead agency such as the OPW, no progress will be made.
The Government must support people who are in a serious situation, particularly those who have been unable to get insurance for many years because their homes were flooded on so many occasions. Fianna Fáil is examining fresh legislation to help those who are uninsured based on measures introduced in the United Kingdom. We must have a better task force on emergency planning. Everyone is doing their best and there are great examples of it in agencies and local authorities. In recent weeks, we have seen the solidarity of neighbours and communities who have helped out when people had nowhere else to turn. We must examine the European Union solidarity fund because it should be in a position to assist local authorities and provide a one-stop shop approach via the national co-ordination group.
I have seen estimates of the cost inflicted by the storm, calculated by local authorities at €100 million. It is a staggering figure and we must try to get as much money as possible through Europe or from the national Government. I do not know much about the coastal counties because I do not represent a coastal constituency, but I saw what happened in Galway city. I was taken by the story of one business person. I say this in the presence of the Minister of State with responsibility for small business. The person had a cafe that was flooded on a number of occasions. The person decided to open only the top storey of the building. Damage along the coast was huge, with surging tides and winds. Cities such as Cork and Limerick witnessed rivers bursting their banks and businesses damaged. I would like to see as much money as possible spent on flood defences. We have other options in respect of the EU solidarity fund. The Government should prioritise areas at risk. Flood defences are very important.
I am disappointed that a figure of €50 million was mentioned to alleviate suffering.
This is not enough, given the scale of damage. I was a bit taken aback when people approached me about the fund as I discovered there were seven pages of instructions on how to fill the form and six pages in the form. All that was really needed was for a person to call to the people who have suffered so much, as personnel from the Department of Social Protection have done very well. I am not sure if there is a need for all the paperwork involved. I hope the response will be speedy because of the serious problems being faced.
The question of insurance is very important and it is one of the first asked of people when they had flooding and sought humanitarian assistance. Most people did not have insurance and they should be the first to qualify in that area. I hope the Minister and the Government will have some success in seeking funding from the European Union solidarity fund. Some €13 million was secured by the Irish Government in November 2009 when we experienced devastating flooding and we should be able to get such funding again. A Fianna Fáil delegation met the European Commissioner responsible for regional development, Mr. Johannes Hahn, in January to discuss accessing the funding as quickly as possible to invest in addressing infrastructural damage.
I spent some days in south Galway examining some very serious cases. I will mention the particular case of Mrs. Annie Connolly from Ballynastaig in Gort. She is a very spirited woman who told me she would not leave her house, although I could see the water coming in from the rivers around it. It reminded me of Yeats, and as a Sligo man, the Minister of State would appreciate that. I am talking about Kiltartan Cross, Coole and Thoor Ballylee, and all the wonderful places about which Yeats wrote. These wonderful places have been flooded, with the people from the Office of Public Works pumping out the water. I spoke to that woman today and only for those people and county council putting in sandbags, Mrs. Connolly, who lives on her own, would be flooded. It is a matter of keeping the water out, although she had to leave the house eventually because the electricity supply was disconnected. Only for her neighbours providing a digger, the water from Coole would have come into her house. I am thankful that has been avoided and I hope the good weather we had today might continue.
I should also mention Kiltiernan national school, which is the south Galway area. It was flooded in 2009 and I hope the Minister of State and his Government will consider drainage at the river because families are marooned in the Ardrahan area. Steps will have to be taken. The council has tried to raise the roads, which is good, and the OPW and the council have made a great achievement in doing what they have so far. I hope we can prioritise the areas at risk and the question of insurance is very important.
This is the third occasion in my memory that the south Galway area has been flooded. We have seen very serious flooding in 1995, 2009 and in the past few weeks and months, and our position has not really got any better. Ballinasloe has done a bit better, as we had very serious flooding in 2009. Remedial work was done, with €1 million spent on flood defences, and that has been a great benefit to the town. As I indicated earlier, small businesses are probably the first to suffer when a town is under siege by water as people cannot move overnight. I have already mentioned the case of the café owner in Galway city who can only use the top part of a building.
This is a timely debate but we must also spend money in a continuous fashion on flood defences. I hope the Minister of State and his Government will succeed in getting the European money and prioritise the at-risk areas. We should not have continuous flooding in areas like south Galway, as has happened three times since 1995. Other areas are also very bad but it is sad and depressing that no progress has been made in south Galway since 1995.