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Council says extra flood defences in Skibbereen were due 'this week' but Storm Ellen arrived first

A Status Red weather warning was in place last night as the county was lashed with heavy rain and strong winds.

Council workers installing the trash screen.
Council workers installing the trash screen.
Image: TheJournal.ie

Updated Aug 20th 2020, 10:18 PM

CORK COUNTY COUNCIL has defended flood prevention efforts in Skibbereen, saying that part the last flood defences were due to be completed  over the next week

Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard earlier called for a full investigation into flooding in the town Skibbereen, which devastated over two dozen businesses and homes due to Storm Ellen.

A Status Red weather warning from Met Éireann was in place locally last night as the county was lashed with heavy rain and strong winds. 

Speaking today in the West Cork town Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard said the devastation caused by flooding in the area could have been avoided if infrastructure which had already been manufactured had been installed in time. 

Video footage taken today showed council workers installing a trash screen, which is a piece of equipment used to stop large debris entering and blocking water systems.

Lombard said the reason this was not installed prior to Storm Ellen was due to Covid-19 restrictions.

He said: “A trash screen is now being installed at an area known locally as The Cutting in Skibbereen. The grate was ready to be installed and it is unacceptable that these emergency works are being carried out in such a reactive emergency way when the damage has been caused.

“There is a duty of care to homeowners and businesses in Skibbereen to have cleared culverts and drains.”

The Senator said he had been told by a council official that the grate had not been installed due to Covid. 

“This is not acceptable as government directives at the beginning of lockdown was that vital infrastructure works such as water and power could continue.”

In a statement this evening, Cork County Council said that most of the flood prevention efforts were focused on the town’s main river, the Ilen, and its tributaries. 

The council said however that a number of other locations were identified as potentially being at risk from flooding at that The Cutting was one of them. 

“The OPW provided funding for a minor works project to construct a screen chamber where the overground drain entered into a piped drain. This entailed construction of a large concrete chamber with a specially manufactured screen arrangement,” the council said. 

This part of the project was interrupted by Covid-19 but is now nearing completion with screen installation currently underway. The screen was completed and due for installation this week with the entire process expected to take another week to complete. 

“Unfortunately it was not possible to complete this work before last night’s unusually severe summer storm, where the rate of rainfall reached 40mm an hour resulting in exceptional rainfall which overwhelmed the storm drain system.”

Weather alert

Lombard added that council staff could not mobilise yesterday because of the red weather alert, but that private contractors were still working at the same time. 

Fianna Fáil TD Christopher O’Sullivan, who represents Cork South West, tweeted last night that “this shouldn’t be happening in Skibbereen”. 

He explained that €18 million has been spent on flood defences in the area. 

Cork County Engineer Kevin Morey told RTÉ’s News at One today that the drainage system in place was “overwhelmed” by last night’s deluge.

Morey, who said he had spent much of the day in the town, told the programme: 

“The flood scheme was focused on preventing the flooding from the main river, the Ilen, and its tributaries, and there were tidal effects as well.

“That scheme is substantially complete and serves that purpose, but as that scheme was being delivered, we identified a number of areas where there are surface water effects as well in the town where there might be surface drains that could have the potential to cause flooding.

“One of those that was identified was at a location just off of Bridge Street. The unfortunate thing is that there is a minor scheme on the way to deal with an issue where an overground drain goes underground at that point to address the potential for that getting overwhelmed.

“That minor scheme is almost complete, but sadly for the people on Bridge Street, not complete in time for this event.”

Local reaction

Businesses were this morning counting the cost of yet another flood in the area. 

Local publican James Cahalane said he was “sick and tired” of dealing with the fallout from floods that he was thinking of selling the family business, an iconic pub which has been owned by his family since it was established in the late 19th Century. 

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IMG_4395 James Calahane of Calahane's Bar. Source: TheJournal.ie

He told TheJournal.ie: “This keeps happening. Over and over again. I’m fed up. This is a terrible time for pubs anyway and now we have this. I’m thinking of selling it but who wants to buy a pub, especially these days. 

It can’t keep happening. It’s just not fair. We’re here now today brushing out the water. It was nearly up to my knee last night. I don’t want to keep worrying that my business is going to be knee-deep in water when I come to open the doors.

Mairéad Casey lives in the town and said she is also “exhausted” hearing about the damage caused by the floods. 

“Luckily, we managed to escape the worst of it. But, you’re just exhausted with worry when you hear there’s a storm on the way. You’re checking high tides and you’re looking out the window every hour hoping to God that it doesn’t start seeping through your front door. 

“We got hit by it about three years ago as well. It really just destroys your home. Everything needs ripping out. It can’t go on.”

Senator Lombard has now called on the Minister for Local Government to order an investigation and to get to the root of the problem. 

- With reporting by Lauren Boland and Rónán Duffy

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