Dublin: The only story being covered these days in Ireland is Storm Frank, the near hurricane from the west which swept in over Ireland this New Year’s week and left a massive trail of destruction and flooded homes behind it.
The Irish are weary already of this winter from hell with little hope of improvement as the clear cases of planning corruption become evident.
I encountered the edge of Storm Frank on Tuesday walking from Leopardstown Racecourse in Dublin to the parking lot a mile or so away. I was drenched, bedraggled, and almost blown off my feet for that fifteen minutes or so as the wind and rain shipped up out of nowhere.
A Nor'easter we’d call them in New York, and they seem to be increasing in number, hitting Irish shores with increasing frequency.
Already there has been Storm Abigail, Barney, Clodagh, Desmond and Eva, and now it’s Frank’s turn with another whirlwind named Gertrude spinning away in the Atlantic.
It is only a recent phenomenon to name storms and happened when the Irish weather service Met Éireann and the Met Office in the UK came together to bring home greater public awareness "of warnings for medium and high-impact windstorms affecting Ireland and the UK."
They stated: "This scheme is focused on large-scale, cyclonic windstorms with potential for significant land-based wind impacts – often systems which develop rapidly and/or move quickly towards us.”
Gerald Fleming, Head of Forecasting for Met Eireann, explained that the wet and wild conditions would persist well into next week and that the damage would take three months to properly calculate.
Flooding has clearly been the biggest problem brought by the storms and therein lies the rub.
Between 1997 to 2005, at the height of the Celtic Tiger, tens of thousands of houses were built across Ireland.
Many estates were erected in known flood plains where it was only a matter of time before the storms and flooding hit.
It was a time of massive corruption where a nod and a wink and a brown envelope stuffed with cash got a builder pretty much what he wanted. Flood plains were the least of their worries.
As the Irish Examiner wrote:
“So who allowed houses to be built in floodplains? Again you got it – local politicians and planning officials. We’ve seen it all over Ireland. In fact, we in Ireland have housing areas that flood regularly and cannot be insured and we have empty housing estates galore to show for their competence, or lack thereof.”
A fellow journalist told me of a major shopping center in the West of Ireland built on flood plains that has been submerged in the latest floods. It is happening all over Ireland.
The insurance estimates of flood damage are $2.5 billion, when you include freezing conditions, and damage over the past decade, according to Insurance Ireland, and rising sharply.
Of course the next disaster to strike will be people unable to get insurance or sell their homes because they are built in the path of floods.
I spoke to a former government minister who mentioned a constituent who wanted the flooding dealt with on his estate but did not want word to leak out—pun intended—because of the catastrophic blow to the property value.
Minister Howlin and others getting lift in Enniscorthy pic.twitter.com/FbuqCmSWeP— Damien Tiernan (@damienrte) December 30, 2015
After all, who wants a house that raw sewage may be floating through after some upcoming winter storm?
With a general election coming up rapidly, set for mid- to late-February, the government is perfectly aware of the consequences of the storms and an angry mood spreading among the electorate. That is why two senior ministers held emergency talks with the flooding experts on Wednesday.
As of Wednesday evening, however, “Where is Enda” was one of the top trending topics on Twitter in Ireland as concerned Irish citizens asked why the Irish leader had not been seen.
Reacting to criticism from the opposition that Taoiseach Enda Kenny was ignoring the flooding, Minister Simon Harris stated:
“While understandably the media like to see politicians doing photocalls and getting out and about, the Taoiseach will visit areas – already has visited a number of areas in the west – and will visit a number of areas in the coming days.
“I have been in daily contact with him. I will have visited four towns by the end of today. The Taoiseach isn’t just putting on the wellies and doing the Bertie Ahern, standing in a puddle of water saying ‘look at me taking action.’ He is taking action.”
Thank you communities in Athlone, Thomastown & Graignamanagh for meeting with me to discuss #StormFrank & ways forward. Leaving Kilkenny now— Simon Harris TD (@SimonHarrisTD) December 30, 2015
Kenny probably knows there is little they can do. Like King Canute trying to stop the tides, they are helpless as the rains fall and more Celtic Tiger chickens come home to roost.
The bad news is planning corruption is still big business. An RTÉ Investigates report recently showed three prominent councilors interviewed in real time, prepared to sell their votes and contacts for a fictitious windmill farm.
Worse, instead of admitting the bribery, they all stated they were induced and therefore did not need to resign. It seems the Celtic Tiger writ still runs in parts of Ireland anyway.