Fresh from a rousing appearance on RTE’s Prime Time, which nearly had Miriam O’Callaghan in tears, Bridie Willers is determined that this flood will not take away her spirit. And spirited the former Fine Gael councillor certainly is. Her home in Ardrahan has taken in water on numerous occasions in recent years, the latest flood cruelly arriving on Christmas morning, and frankly she has had enough.
“The water was rising for weeks beforehand, I was watching it day by day inching closer. We were pumping round the clock for a full week before it actually came in. This year I was all bravado, I said I wasn’t going to leave, I even hired a portaloo and had it out in the yard and I had my gas ring. But when it came in I couldn’t stick it, I thought I would be able to but I wasn’t. My neighbour went to visit her daugher for Christmas, luckily she has opened up her home to us and I am here a fortnight now and will be probably there at least two or three more weeks. It’s the pits.”
The stress of it all is not good for anyone’s health. There is only so much one can take. She admits that earlier this week she was at ‘breaking point’ and was forced to take a trip to the local GP in search of something to alleviate her growing anxiety. It is the not knowing that she find hard to cope with. What does the future hold?
“The future is very bleak. I can’t really put any gloss on it. The months of March to September/ October time are fine, but come the winter, you are living on your nerves. We were lucky my neighbour was away and she is in a position to take us in, but that might now always be the case, or who’s to say her house won’t flood next. The water is up to her driveway, there are houses under water this year that never flooded before.”
Reports complete yet no action taken
She is sick to death of that dreaded phrase, ‘cost/benefit analysis’. It basically means the cost outweights the benefit. This is one of the reasons that major drainage works have failed to be implemented in South Galway despite numerous reports being carried out as far back as the 1990s. She questions how one can put a price on the psychological welfare of a community? There are 40 familes in South Galway out of their homes, children cannot go to schools, farmers livelihoods have been washed away, animals lives put at risk, I could talk all day about the effects of it. We are in this situation because of the negligence of the State. Successive governments have chosen to ignore the problem. There is no will there to sort it out, and I am beginning to question if the expertise is there either.”
The mention of ‘relocation’ has really got her ire up. “I don’t want to leave my hom7
e, If anyone wants to accept relocation it is up to them, but personally I don’t. It is not the solution and is only ignoring the problem. The water will not go away, it is coming further and further inland every yea7
r. We are so near the sea, why can’t the excess water be drained out? Surely it is possible to put mechanisms in place to mitigate the damage. The best compensation anyone could get would be the implementation of solutions.”
Dejection, frustration, and anger are words she uses to describe the range of emotions she is going through. “When I think about the solutions that could be implemented, if there was just some government that would take control of the problem. I don’t want to hear about wildlife, it is not comparable to human life. Any government worth its salt can overrule the OPW and The National Parks and Wildlife Service and just get the job done.”
Along with the mental strain, there is a huge monetary cost associated with a house flooding. “The mess that is up there is unreal, the place is covered in debris. We managed to save the furniture this time, but the place will need to be fumigated and sterilised when the water goes back. I will have to have the heat on day and night to dry it out. That all comes at a cost. The Department of Social Protection were quick to offer help and they have offered assistance with buying oil but it is limited.”
She believes she is ‘luckier than some’ in that it is just her home that is affected and not a farm as well. “Our situation is bad, but nothing in comparison to the extreme hardship and mental anguish of farmers trying to save their livestock. On Christmas Day a neighbour of mine had to call in help to get his cattle to dry ground. Fifteen people arrived - men that should have been home with their families on the day that was in it - to load the cows and calves on a truck. They are spread out around, anywhere that is safe, but the farmer was devastated. It was one of the saddest sights I have ever seen.”
The attention is firmly focused on the floods for now, but as is the nature of things when it passes on the fear is real that the situation will be forgotten about once again. “The big hullabaloo is there now but I am realistic enough to know we are a rural community, low on the scale of priorities, but surely we have as much right as anyone to live peacefully and safely in our own homes?”