Homeowners and businesses across the Midwest are bracing themselves for the worst as further heavy rainfall is forecast and the tide on the already swollen River Shannon due to rise by a another metre over the course of the next week.
Many residents are angry and are quite rightly wondering why the ESB waited until the water levels in Lough Derg were at such a critical level before deciding to release the excess water through the Parteen Weir. This decision led directly to the flooding of much of South-East Clare and directly led to 100 homes being evacuated in Clonlara, Montpelier, O’Briens Bridge and Shannon Banks. Twenty families in Shannon Banks still cannot return to their homes.
The company appeared to have been caught completely unprepared even though they have had plenty of advance warning. There were four houses in O’Callaghan Mills in Clare which have been cut off from the outside world for the past three weeks! Residents have only been able to access their homes by boat throughout this time.
While the ESB’s lack of accountability and communication certainly played a big part in the crisis along the banks of the Shannon, it doesn’t tell the full story.
A town like Ennis, while low-lying, hasn’t been prone to this kind of flooding until recent years. The primary cause of the flooding in this case has been the brash development of the River Fergus’ flood plains in places like Cappahard, which are now bearing the brunt of the high water level.
Listening to Fianna Fáil ministers lament poor planning decisions and regulations as Martin Mansergh did as he toured the distraught areas of Ennis was particularly galling. It was Fianna Fáil’s policies of tax breaks for their rich developer friends that provided the major impetus for the development of these lands.
Although this storm has been described as a “once in 850 years” event the unsettling truth is that unless immediate remedial action is taken by the government and the local authorities, with climate change we will see “once in a millennia” disasters on a much more regular basis.
However, the contrast between how these homeowners are being treated by the government with that of the speculators and the developers couldn’t be starker. While this scrooge-like government is making a paltry €10 million available for the people whose homes have been destroyed, the speculators and developers who inflated the bubble, caused the current economic catastrophe and built these homes in exposed wetlands are being bailed out to the tune of €54 billion by way of NAMA.
This wouldn’t come as any shock to the people of Newcastle West in county Limerick who suffered from severe flash floods 16 months ago that uprooted trees and ripped up road surfaces when the River Arra burst its banks. Then, as now, there was no government relief for the victims. Local people were left to fend for themselves.
This too has been the case in the current crisis, where communities and ordinary working people have responded with extraordinary courage and togetherness. Volunteers at the GAA club in Clonlara managed to fill over 1,000 sandbags in a matter of a couple of hours late on Sunday night and Boy Scouts helped distribute them. With the supply of sandbags running out people started to use pillow cases, shopping bags and anything else they could find.
The capitalist establishment’s lie about our “lazy and inefficient” public sector has also being exposed. Emergency public workers displayed their immense value when they deferred their strike action throughout Clare and worked through the nights evacuating people and securing homes and businesses from the rising waters.
During the boom there was little money provided for necessary infrastructure projects such as proper flood defences and drainage schemes, the funding of big developers took precedence. Today we are seeing the consequences of this policy, where ordinary working class people who are already locked into overpriced mortgages on the back of the bubble are now faced with losing everything.