Seanad debates

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

3:00 am

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus chomhghairdeas dhó ar son a portfolio nua, social protection. The Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, is very welcome and I am delighted to be addressing him because he is now the appropriate Minister for this Adjournment topic, namely, the need for the Minister for Social Protection, arising from the recent flooding crisis to ensure that humanitarian aid is provided to all flood victims so equity prevails.

The Minister is aware of this issue, because I am raising the case of the 26 families that have been displaced. The majority of them are still out of their homes as a result of the pre-Christmas flooding in areas such as Lisheenavalla, Caherlea, Claregalway, Moneymore and Carrowmore. The Minister is familiar with the fact that equity has not prevailed in the sense that it was seen as a very miserly act that a €10 million fund was set aside by the Government to provide humanitarian aid, yet a means test application form, eight pages long, was presented to these victims to ascertain whether they would qualify.

This matter was brought to my attention in two ways. First, in my own area the young children of the Maree Foróige club organised a cake sale and disco for the flood victims after hearing about the plight of one of the families. I began to receive calls from other families to say they were delighted that they were being treated equally. The children who are only 12 to 15 years old set out to raise €3,000. Although, when divided between 26 families, it amounts to little more than €100 each, it was a lot of money for the children to raise. In addition, the principle to be applied when the money was being disbursed was that each family would receive the same amount. I am glad to note the Red Cross did the same.

I am shocked to hear there has been inequity across the country with regard to the humanitarian fund. My colleague, Senator McFadden, has told me all flood victims in Athlone received humanitarian aid, while I was told by the Minster of State, Deputy Mansergh, that all flood victims in Clonmel, except for one hotel owner, had received aid. No one in Galway has yet received it. The problem is that some of the families affected were discouraged from applying for humanitarian aid on the basis that they would not qualify on income grounds. Of course, if one did not apply, one did not have a hope of receiving it. I make the point that every family should apply and that each one should receive some humanitarian aid, regardless of their income. They did not cause the flood problem but they have been totally displaced. One mother has told me that her life is worse now than it was immediately after the flood. She is paying for heating and electricity in the rented house in which she is living and has spent over €2,000 since November on heating bills in her other house. She is going back with absolutely no guarantee that this will not occur again.

I realise a survey is under way but there is no guarantee that this will not happen again. Reinsurance is a big issue. The families involved have not yet received their home insurance payments and the problem is that it is more than likely they will not be reinsured. Hibernian Aviva has already refused a home owner in Cloonarkin Drive in Oranmore, an area that was not flooded, house insurance cover on the basis that he lives on a flood plain. We could be in real trouble with insurance companies.

The families involved are very disappointed. They consider a means test would be extremely invasive on the basis that they have already been invaded by a flood. It was the Department of Social and Family Affairs which required this. Deputy Ó Cuív is the new Minister for Social Protection. I ask him, on behalf of victims in Galway and throughout the country, to create a precedent and ensure they will qualify for humanitarian aid without having to complete the ridiculously long form issued. The families were touched by the fact that the former Minister, Deputy O'Dea, received €100,000 in disappointment money on resigning his Cabinet seat. Their point to me was that they were very disappointed that they were getting no money.

I have made my point and look forward to the Minister's response. Humanitarian aid should be provided for all flood victims who have been displaced from their homes in the form of an ex gratia payment in order that they will not have to pour out the story of their entire lives. Many of the families involved are receiving counselling. I met them with a psychologist and know their children and mental health have also been affected.


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