The Red Cross Humanitarian Aid Fund was heavily criticised in the Dáil last Thursday due to the fact that many businesses affected by recent flooding are being told they are ineligible for assistance under the fund's criteria.
Fianna Fáil Deputy for Longford-Westmeath, Robert Troy, criticised the scheme for failing to take into account legitimate tax-paying businesses which have been affected by flood waters but are not located in rate-paying areas, thus disqualifying them.
Deputy Troy told members of the Dáil he has "a real issue with legitimate, tax-compliant businesses being refused access to the Red Cross scheme". He said he knows of three businesses situated in a non-rate paying area of Athlone who have been badly affected by the recent flooding event yet have been refused financial assistance.
He said: "It is not that these people are not meeting their obligations but they have not been able to access the Red Cross funding despite the fact they have legitimate businesses that have been flooded and devastated". The Deputy went on to criticise senior members of Government who visited Athlone the previous week and reassured concerned business people that the criteria for assistance would be reviewed.
"The sad part is that the Taoiseach, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister of State, Deputy Harris, all came and met each and every one of these people and they promised that the criteria would be changed in order that people could avail of the funding," he said. "It is simply not good enough that four weeks after the most senior members of the Government visited Athlone, these people still cannot access funding to help them repair the damage that has been caused by the flooding, which is totally outside their control."
Deputy Troy called on the Government to urgently review the fund's criteria so that people can access "the money to which they are entitled".
"It is a damning indictment of this Government that Ministers came to Athlone four weeks ago, made promises and, today, those promises have not been honoured," he said.
Joe McHugh, Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaelteacht, told Deputy Troy that all funding provided for the Red Cross Fund comes from the Exchequer, which means a certain level of financial accountability and control is involved: "As with any funding provided by the Exchequer, there is a requirement for governance and accountability," he said. "There has to be prudent management and financial controls.
Minister McHugh did add that it was his understanding that Minister for Defence, Simon Covney, is willing to review the criteria of the fund in terms of exceptional cases.