Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers (Resumed). - Flood Damage.

Michael Ahern

Question:

13 Mr. M. Ahern asked the Minister for Finance what plans, if any, he has, under the auspices of the Offices of Public Works, to provide funding following recent flooding incidents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8614/96]

The provision of funding to assist the victims of the recent flooding in the south and south-east was the subject of an application by me to the EU whom I visited in January of this year and from whom a response is awaited. In the meantime, I have already stated that I will be allocating funding to the flood victims by way of humanitarian aid from the existing resources in the Office of Public Works. I have also requested the Irish Red Cross Society to assess the extent of the problem.

The Irish Red Cross Society has already publicised its involvement in this humanitarian aid scheme and has sent out application forms to interested parties. I understand it will very shortly be placing advertisements in the national and local newspapers regarding the scheme. Pending its assessment of the situation and the decision by the EU on the question and the extent of its assistance, I am not in a position to be more definitive about the level of Exchequer assistance which will be made available.

Did the Minister meet the head of the EU budget committee earlier this month and, if so, what promises, if any, were made? How many applications for aid have there been so far under the scheme announced by the Minister?

The matter is complex. I will try to outline it. In January I met a Mr. Williamson, Secretary General in the Office of the President of the Commission. He said he was impressed with the arguments put forward by both Ireland and Portugal which also suffered flooding and that he would make a recommendation to the Commission and the Parliament on the subject. He explained then, and the problem still exists, that there was no budget line in the 1996 budget for humanitarian aid of this kind, contrary to the situation in 1995 when there was a budget line from which my predecessor was able to obtain some funds for the west.

The chairman of the budget committee of the Parliament, Mr. Samland, was not disposed towards introducing a budget line for this purpose, but I met him last week for a general discussion about the 1997 EU budget with which we will be very involved. I spoke to him and to the rapporteur, Mr. Brinkhorst, at length about this, and they have promised to look at the matter again. They are coming here on 15 May for a general meeting about next year's budget and have undertaken to give me some feedback about whether they can introduce a budget line to deal with this by 15 May. That is the current position.

I am not aware exactly how many people have made inquiries to the Red Cross, but I understand it is in excess of 100.

Is it the Irish Red Cross Society who will be handling the aid being provided from the Office of Public Works?

Yes. The precedent is clear enough. Last year, following the extensive flooding in the west, the humanitarian aid from the EU was specifically conditional on the Red Cross being responsible for disbursing those funds. The Government, which added funds to those, used the same mechanism and will be following that precedent this year.