Cathaoirleach of Westmeath County Council, Councillor Paul Daly, has called for a one-day conference on Athlone's flooding issues to be held once the damage caused by Storm Desmond has been cleared up.
Councillor Daly said the conference is urgently needed to discuss the situation and to make plans for the future defence of the town. Cllr Daly said he is determined that the issue will not evaporate alongside the retreating flood waters, and that the people most affected by this are not forgotten about "until the next time". He said "sitting on our hands" is no longer an option.
Councillor Aengus O'Rourke supported the Cathaoirleach's call for a one day conference, but warned there is no point in such a meeting taking place unless key decision makers from central Government and the relevant agencies with a say in the Shannon are in attendance. Councillor O'Rouke went on to say that there are far too many stakeholders in maintaining and containing the river, which makes a fully coordinated response to flood situations all the more difficult.
He added that many of the people he has spoken to that have been affected no longer have any sentimental value on their homes. They cannot avail of home insurance and as a result see little point in taking pride in a property they believe will be flooded every few years. Cllr O'Rourke called for those houses in question to be condemned so that the families in question can move away from the affected area.
Mayor Tom Farrell said: "We have now had two 100-year floods in the space of six years, and we now need to see action from the OPW that will have an impact on the ground. The time for studies is over. This has been a wake-up call for everyone involved." Mayor Farrell added that he hoped applications for funding for people and businesses affected is straightforward, and said that all Municipal Districts from along the Shannon should be invited to any conference being held in the New Year.
Sinn Féin Councillor Paul Hogan also supported the call for a conference. Cllr Hogan expressed his frustration regarding the amount of time that has passed since the 2009 flooding without any real progress being made in terms of flood defences. He said that the council had conversed with then Minister Martin Mansergh after 2009, who told them that money was available for flood protection, but the process has been completely held up by the impending CFRAM report on the river. He said funding is and has been available through Europe, and that now is the time to access it.
Fine Gael's John Dolan said "It is time people are number one" in discussing the issue, and that the time for action is "here and now".