The Eagle has been keeping its famous Eye on the watery goings on in Skibbereen’s nearest big city, The Capital of the South, Cork. This is a city on, and of late frequently in the River Lee. During the boom years of the Celtic Tiger there were only two truths in Ireland: One there is only so much land (and property on it) so it can only go up in value and secondly, we have so much water it is a Civil Right to use it and waste it for free. Well the truth on property has changed with the Great Irish Property Crash as the dodgy borrowed money to finance it all (and gombeen Irish Property speculators in Spain, Bulgaria and Budapest, to name a few) evaporated and the free water proposition has not worn well either.
Irish People have never paid for water since domestic rates were abolished in typical pork barrel politics to win votes by Jack Lynch (Cork’s favourite son) in the seventies when he was the last Fianna Fail Leader to gain a majority largely on his promise to abolish domestic rates. As GBS observed “when you rob from Peter to pay Paul you will always have Paul’s support.” The result of the subsequent under investment is a ramshackle network of unsafe Local Authority facilities and over stretched sewage treatment plants. All this is exacerbated by unplanned over-development facilitated by widespread corruption in the planning process, overuse of low grade septic tanks and discharge of untreated effluent to lakes, river and sea. Whatever about the fields much of the water in Ireland is green.
Now as Ireland has been battered by storm after storm the Government strategy on flooding has been found wanting, that is to say non-existent. I am reminded this is the country where Éamon de Valera was re-elected for over 40 years promising to drain the Shannon, whatever that meant?
So all of Ireland was transfixed last week by the flooding in Cork City which left the City as Ireland’s answer to Venice and looking to twin with Atlantis. 18,000 homes were left without running water for a week creating great hardship for the people. The pumping station at the Lee Road was flooded and no domestic water supply was possible. Emergency water points were set up in shopping centres to fill the buckets, bottles and pots that people turned up with. News reports showed stressed householders concerned about gathering enough water to flush their toilets.
Indeed Cork could offer a new tourist experience last week, a stroll along the quays in three foot of water whilst bonding with a local seal at eye level! The centre of Cork City consists of a series of islands surrounded by the River Lee. Over time, the waterways between the islands were covered over to form the main streets. The city between the North and South channels of the Lee was built flat on a marsh, where flooding is inevitable.
As the poet (and local English settler on Irish land) Edmund Spenser wrote:
“The spreading Lee, that like an island fayre
Encloseth Corke with his divided flood”
In 2006 Cork City Council published the Assessment of Needs report for the Water Services Investment Programme. It states quite clearly: “Flooding from a number of sources has been a problem for a number of years. Difficulties have resulted from tidal flooding and also from river flooding. With significant changes in climatic conditions and the possible advent of climate change scenarios, new strategies need to be put in place to effectively manage the flooding risk. . . Significant works will be required on the Glasheen, Bride and Lee.”
Now that Cork has been awash and having done nothing constructive on flooding (and many other areas of infrastructure) during the Boom Years of the Celtic Tiger the Irish Government has done what it does best, a knee jerk reaction to spend public money without any possibility of a plan or a budget. It has boldly promised a “50 Million Euro plan to make Cork flood proof starting in 2015.”
A bold statement and a very definite budget considering none of the design work has even begun and the politicians do not have a clue as what the solution may look like? As somebody who does know Professor Robert Devoy of UCC’s Beaufort Institute, a coastal expert, observed the options for flood defences for the city would be expensive. Following Minister Hayes’s announcement, he said the €50m figure would have to grow as the scale of the flooding due to climate change increased. “Realistically, one is going to have to look at a much larger amount of money”.
Will they be seeking an EU grant to move the centre of Cork off a flood plain between two rivers and rebuild it with the help of friendly developers on land owned by local politicians and their friends – or as we call it in Ireland “an Irish solution to an Irish problem.” The Eagle will keep its Eye on this one but won’t be surprised if The Cork Flooding Master Plan turns out to emulate the success of Draining the Shannon. We will keep you updated for the next 40 years.