President warns against using flood crisis as political 'football'

President Michael D Higgins has warned about using the flood crisis as a political football.

On a tour of parts of south Galway before heading to see clean-up works in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, the President hit out at criticism of him signing the European Habitats Directive in 1997.President warns against using flood crisis as political 'football'

Mr Higgins spent about three hours with farmers and local people in Labane, where hundreds of acres of land is under several feet of water and the main Galway-Limerick road has been cut to one lane for several weeks.

He praised the community spirit and residents’ efforts in dealing with the floods while lashing out at personal criticism by Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice of his time as a minister which saw huge areas in the south Galway region designated special conservation or protection.

“Let’s grow up and be responsible,” President Higgins said.

“They (local people) really don’t want the unfortunate experience they’ve had since the middle of December to be used as some kind of football.

“Now let’s all use our intelligence to give us the very best result.”

Mr Higgins called for a balance to be struck between the demands for environments to be protected under conservation rules and the need for flood defences.

Some farmers warned huge swathes of their land will be submerged until March while other local people explained how they have been marooned and others cut-off by flooded rural roads.

Mr Higgins said he had talks with Minister for Public Works Simon Harris before seeing the devastation first hand while he will also meet Taoiseach Enda Kenny on January 14 where he will discuss the crisis.

Mr Higgins said he will also be meeting people in Europe where the issue will be discussed.

“I’ll certainly be trying to see how we can in fact actually be prepared as best we can ,” the President said.

“Really that’s the issue. This notion of trying to reach back is really after hours stuff.”

The President said the community response to the flooding in Labane and surrounding areas was rural Ireland at its best with many people m ore concerned about their animals and the impact floods will have on farmland rather than the effect on their property.

Vast tracks of land in south Galway have been underwater since mid-December and Galway-Limerick traffic has also been disrupted with a stretch of the main road down to one lane at Labane amid floods four feet deep.

A few miles further south where the new Limerick-Galway motorway is being built scores of acres are in flood.

The President’s visits followed 160 people abandoning an apartment complex in Athlone on Sunday night after flooding hit an ESB substation and power supplies were cut.

At the time the Shannon was 3cm above the peak reached in the devastating floods of 2009.

Another 260 homes have been evacuated around the country and at least another 230 are at risk of floods.

Although it is expected to take several weeks for waters around the country to abate, particularly in rural areas, Met Eireann has forecast some respite from heavy rain this week.

While showers will be a factor in some areas, most of the week is expected to see cooler but fairer weather apart from Wednesday when heavy falls will feature.

Meanwhile, the ESB has warned the flow of water through the Parteen Weir on the lower Shannon could pass 500 cubic metres per second if levels on Lough Derg reach levels not seen since the 2009 floods.

With scores of homes downstream of the weir and along the old path of the Shannon near the Clare-Limerick border already flooded or surrounded by water energy chiefs warned they could face yet more misery.

The response to the flooding crisis is expected to dominate tomorrow’s cabinet meeting.

Mr Kenny and Mr Harris attended the daily meeting of the National Coordination Group in Dublin.