Emergency planning in this country is developed on the ‘lead department' principle. This means that each department is responsible for planning for emergencies that fall within its area of responsibility. The Framework for Major Emergency Management is the document that sets out a structure enabling the Principal Response Agencies (An Garda Síochána, the Health Service Executive and Local Authorities) to prepare for, and make a coordinated response to, major emergencies resulting from events such as severe weather. In an effort to alleviate the problems caused by the recent flooding around the country, the Defence Forces have assisted an Garda Síochána, in their role of Aid to the Civil Power and have assisted local authorities and the HSE in their role of Aid to the Civil Authority.
Requests for aid to the civil power are normally made by a member of an Garda Síochána not below the rank of Inspector. Requests for assistance to local authorities were received from county engineers and directors of services. Requests for assistance from the HSE were received from Chief Emergency Management Officers. Approximately 150 Defence Forces personnel have been deployed in the field 24/7 with approximately 600 personnel involved in rotations and additional stand-by personnel. Stand-by personnel are at one and two hours notice to move. All Brigades, DFTC, the Naval Service and the Air Corps are contributing to the relief effort.
A very wide range of assets have been deployed including boats, troop carrying vehicles, high clearance vehicles, 4×4s, and Heavy Drops (Dropping container loads of water at various locations). They are also providing pumping facilities and have two water purification plants on stand-by. The LE Orla is deployed in Cork providing communications and back-up support and also Rigid Boats. The Naval Service is also providing back-up to Army Engineers and providing pumping capacity. The Air Corps has provided aerial reconnaissance support to local authorities and air transport. They remain on stand-by, for reconnaissance, transport, rescue and recovery tasks. The Office of Emergency Planning is providing support to the interdepartmental group and the National Emergency Coordination Centre has been active throughout the crisis.
Civil Defence, which comes under the aegis of my Department, has also been fully engaged in supporting the emergency services in accordance with their roles and capabilities under the Emergency Management Framework. Major activities include evacuation, transport, rescue, pumping, sandbagging, transport, welfare and manning of control centres. The major Defence Forces commitments were as follows:
The main locations where the Defence Forces have provided assistance include Cork City, Limerick (Shannon Banks), Ennis, Ballinasloe, Athlone and now Athy. Assistance has also been provided in Bantry, Carlow, Clonakilty, Clonmel, Kilkenny and Longford. The main effort was in Cork City where there are in excess of 200 Defence Forces personnel deployed giving assistance to the local authority with engineer support (Lee Fields pumping station), support to the local population with distribution of drinking and sanitation water to approx 22 locations on the North side of the City, assistance to the HSE (Mercy Hospital) and sandbagging duty. They also deployed portable lighting.
The Naval Service provided engineer support in the form of engineer teams with water pumps. The LE Orla is providing back up assistance incl communications and catering. RIBs are being provided to support river search. The Defence Forces responded to requests for assistance from Roscommon County Council to evacuate civilian personnel due to flooding from the Shannon in the Athlone area (Clonbunny, Clanowen and Carrick O'Brien). The Defence Forces have the following resources committed (either deployed or on stand-by for deployment) to providing assistance: 600 personnel, 77 trucks and specialist vehicles, 4 water pumps, 6 RIBs or boats, 1 Naval Ship, 1 helicopter, 50,000 sandbags. The Air Corps provided assistance to the civilian authorities in the form of inspection by air of badly affected areas.
While support was concentrated in the South and the West, being the areas worst affected by the floods, the Defence Forces also provided assistance to the civil authorities in parts of Leinster. The Defence Forces have met all demands placed on them in response to the current flooding crisis. As in all cases of services that the Defence Forces can provide in emergency support, the services are demand-led and provided on an "as available basis", having regard to both current and contingent Defence Forces operational commitments. The capacity of the Defence Forces to assist the authorities in dealing with major emergencies is kept under constant review.
The work of the Taskforce on Emergency planning in providing support for improved emergency planning and response across the whole of Government has been a key enabler in ensuring that we have appropriate arrangements in place to respond to major disasters like we are witnessing today. As Chair of the Taskforce on Emergency Planning, I would like to take this opportunity to thank and congratulate the Defence Forces, Civil Defence, all the emergency services, Departments, agencies and volunteers who responded magnificently and who have contributed so extensively to tackling this major emergency which has wreaked devastation on so many communities in the South and West of the Country.