Galway County Council officials have been asked to explain why they are continuing to give permission for the construction of new houses on flood plains after three Claregalway families who were forced to abandon their homes received a sympathetic hearing at the European Parliament this week.
After hearing of the hardship cases endured by the three families, European officials have asked the local authority to explain how it failed to deal with their needs after they were forced to flee their homes in the flooding of November 2009.
The families themselves are said to be continuing to grant permission for the construction of new homes in the Caherlea area where 13 families were forced to move out during the severe flooding 17 months ago.
The case of three of the families was heard by a committee of the European Parliament in Brussels this week, when EU officials pledged to seek an explanation from the local authority. The Council has been given three months to respond.
As the families were not in a position to travel this week, Jim Higgins, MEP (FG) outlined to the influential Committee on Petitions how they suffered severe financial hardship when flooding turned the entire neighbourhood into a huge lake in November 2009.
“The Committee at the European Parliament has confirmed plans to write to Galway County Council, the Irish Government and Ombudsman in relation to the hardship these three families have found themselves in,” said Mr Higgins this week.
Families were forced to evacuate their homes after their properties were destroyed and the previous Government refused to provide any financial assistance or help them to relocate in the wake of the flooding.
“The Committee on Petitions was very sympathetic to the Galway families. However, as a Commission official pointed out, there is no EU Directive to cover this issue. Therefore, the responsibility for aiding these Irish citizens falls on Galway County Council and the Government,” said Mr Higgins.
One of the householders, father of two Henry Conboy, said on Wednesday that he could not believe the Council had recently granted planning permission for the construction of a new home just 100 metres from his timber framed house.
Mr Conboy, his wife, and two young children, aged four years and just three months at the time, were forced to abandon their ‘dream home’ at the height of the flooding and were unable to move back in until nine months later.
They, and the other two families who took the petition to Europe, are seeking to be relocated as they claim to have had four ‘near misses’ since the devastation caused in November 2009.
“I have been checking planning permissions around this area and I cannot believe that permission has been granted for a new house 100 metres up the road,” said Mr Conboy. “If you look at the OSI maps, the lay of the land here is actually very low. Water will continue to come this way and we have no faith that major flooding won’t happen here again.
“It gradually happened over a couple of days and we had a three month old child in the house at the time. We had sandbags outside but the flooding breached them. When we woke up the morning, we could hear the water gushing in under the floors. Our neighbours had a 4×4 and I stayed on for a few hours to rescue what I could.”
It was only after abandoning the house that Mr Conboy discovered that his secondhand home had previously been flooded in 2006 and he is now questioning why any new houses were allowed to be built in a flood plain.
“We got flooded, which is our problem, and it took us nine months to move back in because it took the timber frames so long to dry out. We had to get dehumidifiers in there. Thankfully, we were able to move in with my wife’s mother,” he said.
“We had to pay a lot of money for a house we could not live in. But this is an issue for everyone. It is about the future of planning in this country. People have to ask how building could be allowed on flood planes.
“Some of the 13 families, including all three who had the petition heard at the European Parliament, would like to be relocated, because we don’t believe the threat of flooding has gone away. We’ve had four very close calls since then.”