An fliuch mor

Writing in the aftermath of the 2009 floods, I warned that flood and emergency management needed an overhaul lest the waters return. I prefer to be wrong.

The economic damage of the 2011 floods will probably be smaller than in 2009. But this time, two people died. Ciaran Jones was a hero who put himself in harm’s way to help others. Cecilia de Jesus drowned in her home. Why is there no gauge on the Poddle linked to an evacuation alarm?

Flood management is about the prevention of floods. No flood management system is perfect, so emergency management is needed to manage the residual risk. Last Monday, both flood and emergency management failed Dublin.

Ireland is behind schedule to meet its EU obligations to assess flood risks and develop management plans. But why do we need the EU to tell us to protect our property and life? Flood protection design standards are low compared to other countries, and once-in-fifty-year defenses are breached remarkably often. Cities abroad are working hard to create retention basins and drainage channels for storm water. Dublin, a spacious and green city by comparison, has not done so.

Preliminary analysis by Met Eireann shows that the rainfall of the 24th October in Dublin was not unprecedented. More rain fell on 11th June 1963 and on 11th June 1993. A city like Dublin should be robust to events like that.

People have short memories, and politicians even shorter. After each flood, there is a call for better protection. That fades as the waters retract. Priorities change. The recent protest against the Clontarf flood defenses is a good example.

Last Monday also say failures in emergency management. Met Eireann issued a severe weather warning on Saturday. It was not accurate but extreme rainfall is fiendishly hard to predict. The warnings were actually fairly close to what came to pass. But while we have a tried and tested system for real-time weather prediction, we do not have a system that tells us where the water is likely to go once it has hit the ground. In fact, there are few gauges on rivers and streams. For instance, the OPW collection of hydrometric data omits the rivers Dodder, Poddle and Slang, where most of the mayhem was concentrated. The gauges that are there, are not linked to an early warning system.

A gauge on the Poddle would have warned that the water was rising dangerously high. The alarm could have been raised in Harold’s Cross. Celia may have had a chance with a few minutes warning.

A number of county councils now use MapAlerter, a service that sends out email and SMS messages to everybody in a particular area in case of emergency. Dublin does not use this system or any other.

Met Eireann issued a severe weather warning on Saturday. 48 hours later, the keys to flood gates and sand bags were still missing. That is just not good enough. Local flooding occurred to the untrained eye around 5 pm. The weather radar showed more rain coming. The emergency plan was invoked at 9 pm only, less than one-and-a-half hour before high tide. Why so late?

Water moves fast and with force. You have to act before the flood barrier breaks. In 2011, as in 2009, emergency workers followed the water. They did all they could, but there is little that can be done at that stage. Barriers need to be reinforced before they break. People need to be evacuated before the water reaches them.

In Cork and elsewhere, locals have done much to prevent a recurrence of the awful events of 2009. The national government has been less forthcoming. Dublin did not learn from what happened in Cork. The response to the 2009 floods was hampered by the Byzantine structure of flood management at the national level. The 2011 floods were local, and the line of command clear.

And now? Media attention will wane. There will be a few angry debates in the councils and the Dail. We will wonder why a shopping centre was build in a flood plain. We will wring our hands about the lack of accountability in the civil service. A committee will investigate and make sensible recommendations that will be ignored. Instead of waiting for those wise words, it is obvious what needs to done and now is the time to do it.

Early warning systems need to be put in place as a matter of urgency. That is fairly cheap and does not require intrusive intervention to awake the NIMBYs. The government should stop dragging its feet on the catchment flood risk assessment and management programme. Real-time hydrological prediction models must be developed, and not just for fluvial floods.

All this costs money. But Science Foundation Ireland has a large budget, not all of which is spent wisely. Let it fund the best hydrologists in the world to study Ireland. There are harebrained government subsidies in the areas of energy, transport, sport and what not that can be transferred to flood management without any great loss except to the cronies of governments past.

Heavy rains are inevitable. Flood damage is not.

39 replies on “An fliuch mor”

“The government should stop dragging its feet on the catchment flood risk assessment”

How many ghost estates will that create, when even more housing granted by councillors who overrode planners is revealed to be in flood plains?

We’ve a civil service that is colonial in nature. It will never accept any direction that comes from either within itself or sourced in Ireland.

@Al: Touché! I smiling at RT’s commentary. Though if you think about it, its quite unfunny.

@ViH: I might draw a distinction between the political crud that rises (or is assisted to rise) to the top of our CC and the ‘lower orders’ in the same institution. The entire structure is as visible as a black cat in a coalmine.

The 1963 inundation was magical! South Dublin was saturated in 75 mins! There is a marvellous pic in one of the newspapers of the time, of a CIE person thigh deep in water on the Merrion Road. The passengers in the stalled bus behind him, having scarpered onto the upper deck to escape the flood.

Brian Snr.

Total and abysmal failure by tweedle dum and we elect tweedle dee to replace them. Change by tiny increments is all that the vast majority of people in this country can handle. Firmly held political and religious dogmas are at the core of our belief system. An inability to think outside the boundary of rigidly held viewpoints and the attitude that widespread fraud and corruption, petty and otherwise is business as usual. Sure Peadar is only doing what every one else was doing, why are they picking on the poor man.
There is an epic comedy under way that if it is put on screen will supersede the Quiet Man.

I don’t think it is correct to claim that the Dundrum Shopping centre was built ‘on a flood plain’.
The dear old Slang river is what Italians would cal a ‘torrente’ – and obviously was not properly culverted.

over on Twitter, bprop notes that “Cork quay walls still not repaired 23 months later. Wall near Mercy nearly collapsed: would have certainly killed many”

I referred to Cork because they did improve their early warning systems. Still untested, and let’s hope it stays that way.

Richards point has relevance to something coming down the tracks.

Labour have promised a constitutional convention in 2012?

Would it be high hopes to wish this convention looks at the manifestation of governance in this state and seek to develop it in terms of effectiveness?

@Richard Tol
Well done on a very powerful contribution.

Unfortunately with our establishment it is two lives lost in vain I fear. What if it had been an Intel executive instead of that poor woman I wonder? If a multinational boss were to even gently complain about it we might see some action.

“Would it be high hopes to wish this convention looks at the manifestation of governance in this state and seek to develop it in terms of effectiveness?”

Clontarf residents are supportive of appropriate flood defences and utterly oppose the appalling solution proposed by Dcc on the basis of the destructive effect it will have on leisure amenities along with unacceptable personal security and visual impact on a scenic part of our city.
Residents memories are not short in relation to flooding impact- in fact a reminder of flooding caused by poor drainage maintenance happened last monday.
Dcc are certainly not up to any reasonable mark in its obligations to citizens.

@ Vinny

Should the conflict here result in a situation where the Residents get what they want, and the DCC state this is less than effective, should DCC be absolved of responsibility and liability should flooding occur?

Not that this will arise, but how can DCC win here?

Take the remaining sheep off our hills and let it recover from the mad EU sheep subsidy vandalism.
Sheep numbers have almost halved since 1997 at 8.132 million to todays 4.642 million but the damage has been done in the 80s with very significant bog slippage and the multiplication of peat hags.

The economic return from extensive grazing is minimal but the potential damage is great.
A programme of light birch planting to create a seed stock is needed at perhaps the 300m – 500m altitude with agricultural activity limited to summer cattle booleying.

Excellent post.
let’s just install that gauge on the Poddle
You might need to write a letter to Minister for the Environmnent. You might need to specifically ask for a timetable for this. And then if that doesn’t work – an open letter.

Unsure how familiar you are with the ‘flood defence’ proposal from DCC for the Clontarf seafront.
1.The proposal has wrapped into it a water main for the Baldoyle area – this has the advantage for DCC of ‘killing two birds with one stone’ and in the process visually and environmentally wreck the seafront.
2.The original proposal had a much lower height apparently – but then ‘the two birds with one stone strategy’ came into play – hence the typical engineering solution – stuff the thing through and hang the consequences.
3.There are many other ways of ensuring flood defences are adequate without this proposed monstrosity.
4.As regards DCC or any other bunch of so-called public servants accepting accountability for anything that goes wrong – you must be joking – they are all past masters at ‘absolving’ themselves of any responsibility and duly allocating any failure to match reasonable performance standards as being down to ‘systemic causes’ – no-one is to blame,we all keep our jobs and head down the road for the big pay-off!
5.Clontarf residents and users of the prom from all parts of this island and from abroad will not accept destruction of a lovely amenity to satisfy DCC failure to constructively engage in the matter of flood defences.
6.Speaking of ‘engagement’ with residents – how about this – notice in paper announcing consultation – December 4th.2008 – detailed submission to Bord Pleanala – December 5th 2008!


“If a multinational boss were to even gently complain about it we might see some action. ”

What happened to that German ambassador who spelt it out to a crowd in Dublin in 2006 or 07 ?
The rot permeates everywhere. Look at Suds .

@ Richard,

Brilliant post. Compassionate and horrifying at the same time. Will anyone be held responsible for the policy failures led to the needless loss of of two lives?

@ Vinny
1 Ok, but I dont see a logical connection between 2 Birds 1 stone aka cost savings and the visual and environmental wrecking!
2 This point confuses me- is there a water main in the defense wall?
3- Is there cost equivalence between all options?
4- My question was to the entity DCC rather than individuals within DCC
5- Your point needs to be developed further here, what is the constructive engagement you would like?
6- Accepted, perhaps if Local Authorities had powers to tax seperate from Government, than the people would have more power through refusal to pay?

@Al, Vinny
This thread is not about Clontarf. I refrained from writing a post about that because I am not familiar with all the ins and outs.

Three things struck me, though:
1. The protests arose after rather than during the planning process.
2. A local issue quickly became a national issue.
3. Sea walls are ugly, and big sea walls are big and ugly. There are three alternatives. One is a moveable barrier (like in Venice) but the potential flood damage is too small to justify the expense. Dunes are the other alternative, but this is alien to the Irish coast and would violate EU legislation on nature conservation. The third alternative is to live with flood risk.

@ Richard, Vinny

I cant claim to be to familiar either.
Perhaps a solid perspex barrier?
Or a mural on the back of the barrier of what would have been seen?

10 young lads with 12 bottles of buckfast and a weekend as a trial.
I have not doubt of the integrity of the elements, but the construct?
Of course, it can be done right,…, in other countries…..

The Clontarf ‘sea defense’ issue is interesting, but how about the other shoreline – Seapoint/Monkstown to Ringsend/Irishtown.

There is a rather important railway line along part of this shoreline, and it gets a fair bashing each time there is a ‘southeaster’. A simultaneous high-tide would overtop part of the the seawall along Strand Road (part of Sydney Parade Ave is below high water level). DCC have constructed a large bund at Merrion Gates railway crossing, presumably to prevent seawater flooding down the rail line.

My guess is that (to safeguard Dublin) a continuous sea wall (5 m high and 30 m wide) will need to be constructed from Monkstown to Sutton with a flood barrier (a la Thames) to permit shipping access to Dublin port. Hence Clontarf barrier may be moot. From Sutton to where for the northern half of the seawall defence?

Brian Snr.


Polar meltdown is not going to be good for Dublin, Jaysus. All that snot green scrotum tightening stuff will be coming in several notches higher . Maybe the Govt will decamp to Baltinglass.

@Richard Tol
It was not my intention to hijack your thread!Your references to ‘nimbyism’ and unaccountability of public bodies/poor allocation of scarce resources to solve recurring problems triggered my comment.
In short no ‘nimbyism’ in Clontarf – a flood defence mechanism is common ground but the proposal by DCC is entirely unacceptable.A proposal which failed to be given the appropriate level of public consultation before being passed by Bord Pleanala – hence the protest post planning permission.
Even local councillors who are and were in office are claiming that they were unaware of the revised proposal!
The water main is encased in the flood defence barrier.
I note Richard’s link to alternatives and Brian Woods sr proposed solution.
That’s the kind of thinking and discussion that should have happened and should happen now!
Enough said!

There are two gauges on the Dodder and one on the Slang.
They are not operated by the OPW.
They are maintained by the EPA and can be viewed at

Why there are two disparate authorities undertaking river flow measurement and recording is another question for the government

But Science Foundation Ireland has a large budget, not all of which is spent wisely. Let it fund the best hydrologists in the world to study Ireland. There are harebrained government subsidies in the areas of energy, transport, sport and what not that can be transferred to flood management without any great loss except to the cronies of governments past.

Yes, because studies into energy and transport are clearly “cronyism”.


It’s almost as bad as someone who “estimates that the worst economic impact of climate change will be the increased cost of air conditioning.

Ireland’s flooding problem in the Dublin area is largely due to the increase in paved surface area that has occurred in the past two decades. Bogs, woodland and to a lesser extent pasture shed water slowly. Roofs, driveways, footpaths, parking lots and roads shed water quickly. Flash flooding is a given in Dublin from now on. The problem can be addressed at the source by reducing hard surface area or by building a number of 16 foot diameter drains from the Western suburbs to the Irish Sea.

Poor planning aided and abetted by politicians eager for “campaign” contributions is a gift that will keep on costing us.

“We have a civil service that is colonial in nature.”

The public administration F ups we have been subjected to would have led to the whole menagerie being fired in the colonial era. People were held accountable in the old days.

Today we have politicians who have been bought and paid for directing planners who approve during the week what they wrote for a fee for a developer over the weekend.

It is called business as usual in Ireland.

Padraig Pearse, Michael Collins and others are rolling in their graves.

@Mickey Hickey
DCC could also ensure that the drains leading to and part of rainflood prone areas be maintained rigorously.
Does anyone remember the days when the roadsweeper with his two-wheeled parrow cleaned the gulleys,opened the drains and emptied out all of the rubbish,leaves etc?

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