Shannon’s flood defences were a topic for debate at the recent meeting of Clare County Council following the recent severe weather.

The west of Ireland was buffeted by storms as a result of Hurricane Ophelia and Storm Brian, without doubt, climate change and the severe weather events are becoming the norm. This issue was revisited by Clare County Council when Cllr Gerry Flynn called on the local authority to plan for the reality of global warming.

Independent Shannon councillor last raised the issue of flood defences in December 2016. At the time he learned that the embankments surrounding Shannon were built in an ad hoc fashion and were never formally designed to meet a particular standard.

In fact the council’s senior engineer had stated that, “an urgent strategic approach is required to ensure that the current structural status of the Shannon embankments is defined as soon as possible so as to determine the extent of all necessary works required to secure the future integrity and protection of the town, the industrial zones and the airport”.

With no sign of the “urgent strategic approach” since then, Cllr Flynn tabled a motion at the October meeting urging the council to strengthen and build flood defences in those areas identified by the CFRAM studies. He also wants the Government to implement a National Flood Insurance Scheme that will give peace of mind to home and business owners in flood risk areas.

Cllr Flynn believes the public is “being crucified” as a result of the CFRAM studies to the extent that many people can no longer get flood insurance for their homes and business premises.

Responding to the issues raised, senior engineer Tom Tiernan said the council is already proactive on the issues referred to. In this regard, a series of Flood Action Plans are ready to be activated at several locations where significant flood events have impacted on property.”

Mr Tiernan said the CFRAM study and a number of severe flooding experiences over the years are determining prioritisation of inland flood relief schemes.  He said 80% of Ennis is now defended with the final 20% to be facilitated by the Ennis South Scheme in the near future.

In Shannon, he said a technical assessment of the town’s embankments will be carried out over the coming months to determine whether they are fit for purpose to fulfil their defence role in the event of a severe coastal weather event.

Noting the engineer’s claim that the council is already proactive, Cllr Flynn commented, “If it’s so proactive, then how come I had to put down this motion again? Rather than simply reacting to situations, we need to take this more seriously.”

The motion was unanimously supported. Cllr Cathal Crowe has witnessed heartbreaking scenes when the River Shannon burst its banks and flooded homes in south-east Clare. As a result, countless homes are being denied flood insurance cover.

Cllr Crowe spoke about the sale of a house in this area falling through because the prospective new owner could not get insurance on the property. He claimed insurance companies are penalising entire communities and cited the example of Shannonbanks where no house has ever flooded yet 500 homes cannot get flood insurance. “It’s typical of many places where communities are condemned for insurance purposes based on small events or no actual flooding event at all,” said Cllr Crowe.

FG councillor John Crowe stated, “It is entirely wrong that the address of a property should be the deciding factor when it comes to whether it qualifies for insurance cover.” Cllr PJ Ryan also noted that people living in the Shannon area have been refused flood insurance because of the CFRAM report even though their homes have never been flooded.

In his summation, Cllr Gerry Flynn said the CFRAM study has become the deciding factor for insurance companies. He added, “I know that a considerable area in Shannon is deemed at risk of flooding so people can’t get flood insurance.”

Cllr Flynn also referred to the affordable housing scheme at Glaise na Rinne, an area deemed at flood risk, and the decision by the council to put on hold the development of a further 21 units. “Those houses were built at an average cost of over quarter of a million euro each. At the time I didn’t support this as I felt it was the wrong location. I think the council needs to consider what measures can be put in place to protect people who bought those houses as they seem to have very little chance of getting insurance.”

Commenting on the Shannon embankments, Cllr Flynn expressed frustration that the engineer’s response indicated no significant progress since he last reported in December 2016. At that time Mr Tiernan said the council was concerned that the CFRAM report provided “very little comfort regarding the integrity of these embankments or their capacity to defend the town and airport from flooding in the event of further severe weather events occurring”. Mr Tiernan also pointed out that the OPW is responsible for the embankments surrounding Shannon Town while the airport authority is responsible for its own embankments.