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Varadkar chatting to locals.
Eye of the storm

'You've let us down': Midleton locals confront Taoiseach over lack of flood protection

One business owner in the Cork town said that she is looking at over €100,000 in damage to her property alone.

LAST UPDATE | 19 Oct 2023

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR was confronted in Midleton today by concerned families and business owners whose properties were damaged by the extreme flooding that hit the town during Storm Babet.

While he was talking to media in the town centre, locals interrupted to ask him what will be done to ensure that businesses can access relief funds quickly. 

“€5,000 is not going to cover it. It will go nowhere. I’m looking at €100,00 worth of damage to my property alone. It is just devastation,” Sinead Morrissey, the owner of Bertelli Menswear in the town told Varadkar. 

Over 100 properties were flooded in the town, and many people were evacuated from their homes, as army personnel, civil defence volunteers and firefighters worked together to get people to safety. In some instances, preschoolers and elderly residents were ferried to safety in small boats. 

Varadkar donned his wellington boots, and visited the local fire station before heading into the town centre to meet with locals. 

“It is very hard to know what to say.

“I’ve visited a few places affected by flooding in the past but this is particularly bad. Water levels came very high, the water came very quickly, a lot of it was dirty, so understandably a lot of people are very upset, and very angry,” he said. 

IMG_6285 (1) Varadkar inside of a local business speaking with the owners.

He explained that €10,000,000 has been set aside by the Government to help repair the damage to public infrastructure and private homes and businesses that were impacted by Storm Babet. 

Initially, applicants will get a grant of €5,000, and then on further application additional funds of up to €20,000 can be released. 

Varadkar acknowledged that the Government will have to look at raising this upper limit in light of the extent of damage in Midleton, and emphasised that the financial package that has been set aside will not be capped at €10,000,000 if more money is needed. 

“I’ve asked the council to carry out an assessment of the damage, particularly of public infrastrastructure, the damage to roads and bridges, and we will have to make a special allocation to cover that,” Varadkar said. 

Morrissey, who has seen her business flooded for the second time in eight years, told the Taoiseach that people in the town need to know they will be able to access funds quickly. 

WhatsApp Image 2023-10-19 at 15.20.56 Sinead Morrissey outside of her shop.

She said she engaged with local authorities two weeks ago to ask about flood preparedness as she’d seen news reports about increased rainfall, and thought “we are going to be in trouble here”. 

“Please tell us there is going to be a better relief fund, because we really need it. 

“We are very hardworking people, we are salt of the earth, we are not asking for anything extra we just need you to get us back on our feet,” Morrissey told Varadkar. 

“It’s a great town, I visit regularly,” Varadkar told her, after promising that action will be taken to make sure the relief fund is accessible.  

“And we really appreciate you coming. But we really need help. We pay our rates, and we expect you to look after us. We weren’t protected, we’ve been let down,” Morrissey told him in reply. 

A man from the town told Varadkar that locals have had to personally pay out €3,000 to hire skips for the cleanup this morning. 

“We payed for the skips and the trucks. We were told that the council was meeting at 12pm to sort it out, but no one arrived, no one helped. 

“It’s a bureaucratic paperwork-based system, we need assistance and we need it now. We have businesses that won’t reopen, they need the help now, so they can open next week, not in a few months,” he said. 

Midleton Flood Relief Scheme

Speaking from Midleton today, Varadkar said that the Government hopes to see a planning application lodged for a flood relief scheme in the town next year. Other schemes have been successful in areas like Mallow and Douglas. 

“You cannot cut corners with these schemes. 50 flood relief schemes have been put in place in places like Douglas, Togher, Bandon, and they work. Another 90 are in progress. 

“There are environmental issues with each of them, and there are often objections which can see them end up in court, and then the process is dragged out further,” he explained. 

Midleton gets hit by flooding that is caused by both river and tidal events, as well as groundwater flooding. 

The engineering firm Arup has been appointed to develop the flood relief scheme in the town. 

Stage 1 of the process has been complete.

Kevin Morey of Cork County Council told The Journal that the flooding witnessed in Midleton yesterday was “shocking”. 

“We appreciate that people are absolutely devastated,” he said. 

Morey added that there has been a huge response by Cork County Council crews, alongside personnel from the army, emergency services, and volunteers. 

“There was a huge interconnected effort, and I think the community appreciates that. Our focus right now is on the clean up and helping impacted people to cope,” Morey said. 

He said that while the flood relief scheme is the only viable long-term solution for the town, local authority officials are already in talks with the Office of Public Works to see what “interim measures” could be taken to protect people from flooding. 

“We want to help to bridge the gap between now, and the flood relief scheme being realised,” Morey said. 

- Midleton reporting from Niall O’Connor. 

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