The El Niño weather pattern not only has a seasonal name (from the 18th century Peruvian fisherman observed an irregular warm current that would appear around Christmas and they called it El Niño de Navidad, the "little Christmas boy" or "Christ child"), it links my current location in Kuala Lumpur with my hometown of Bandon, Ireland (there is a Bandon in the US state of Oregon which was founded by settlers from its Irish namesake). While extreme weather has been a factor in the increased frequency of flooding in Bandon, the town is also another Irish victim of common environmental vandalism, in particular during the Celtic Tiger bubble period.

 

The biggest town in West Cork and the gateway to the region from Cork City, the Republic of Ireland's second biggest urban area, saw its population grow 40% to 6,600 in 1996-2011. The population was unchanged at 4,700 in 1991-1996. In the early 1800s, the town had a population of about 10,000 and it was one of the main economic centres in the south of the island.      

It's striking that a rise of 0.5°C above the historical baseline of the sea in the equatorial east Pacific Ocean can create so much havoc elsewhere. This year the monsoon in Southeast Asia has been both drier, and average temperatures have been higher, than normal.

Finfacts Sept 2015: Global warming alert as El Niño may be strongest since 1950

In recent decades Bandon has been seriously impacted by flooding and flood warning alerts have been raised again in recent days — serious floods were rare until recent times and have been made much worse by planning and environmental vandalism.

In earlier times, the Bandon Milling & Electric Lighting Co, a family business of Joseph Brennan, first head of the Department of Finance and first governor of the Central Bank, operated at the northern bank of the salmon weir as the River Bandon entered the town. West of the weir the river flowed through a marshy area known as "the bogs" that flooded in the winter and beyond the bogs was the walled estate of Castle Bernard, (1865 picture; the main residence was burned during the Irish War of Independence in 1921, and a house was later built near the castle ruins) owned by the Earl of Bandon, which had sluices to regulate the flow of water onto the floodplain.

Bandon was developed as a walled settlement for English planters after the final defeat by English crown forces of Gaelic Ireland at Kinsale near the estuary of the River Bandon in the early 1600s. It became the location of the first Protestant church to be built on the island of Ireland (Christ Church is located on the town's North Main Street) and it was said that even the pigs in the town were Protestant.

In the early months of 1689, Irish forces supporting the dethroned James II, Catholic King of England and Ireland, accepted the surrender of the inhabitants of Bandon. James landed at Kinsale from France in March 1689, and demolition of Bandon's perimeter wall began —  Heritage Council's report on Bandon's surviving town wall.

Parts of the wall have survived to modern times, including a remnant, which was a key flood defence that was  located on McSweeney Quay by Weir Street,  on the southern side of the weir.     

Office of Public Works (OPW) data show that in the 51-year period 1960-2011, of 10 high flood events, 5 of them occurred in 2004-2011.

Declan Waugh of EnviroManagement Services in a 2010 report prepared for Partnership for Change and the Bandon Working Together Association, wrote:

The lack of any local area plan for land use or catchment water management, inappropriate development on a floodplain, the removal of an important flood sink for the town, poor engineering design of flood embankments and removal of part of the historic town wall all contributed to increasing the risk of flood damage and flood water levels in Bandon town.

From the early 2000s, a shopping centre was built on the bogs and part of the surviving town wall was removed to provide car access to what was named the Riverview shopping centre.

At the same time upstream, in Dunmanway, the River Bandon was dredged increasing the flood risk to Bandon while beyond the former Brennan Mills, apartments were built on the northern banks on what were once the sloping back gardens of houses on North Main Street.

The back gardens of onetime family houses and business depots of businesses on South Main Street, the main shopping street, were also built on after Charlie McCreevy, finance minister 1997-2004, had extended special tax breaks for regeneration in large city centre areas to the whole country.

Coupled with these developments, the removal by farmers of field ditches and defosteration increased the risk.

In 2009 Bandon town was hit by a massive flood and with a general election due to be held in early 2016, the political promise machine is in overdrive. This time real action is promised to rectify official vandalism.

Pic on top: A 8 Dec, 2015 Twitter image of flooding on Bandon's South Main Street, from Jim Daly, Fine Gael TD, noting "1st time in history of state compensation approved for businesses affected by flooding."

Daly's party colleague, Brian Hayes, minister of state with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW), was in Bandon, on 11 June, 2012, to launch the public exhibition stage of what's called the Bandon Flood Relief Scheme. Speaking in Bandon Town Hall, Hayes said:

Bandon has a long history of flooding and I am pleased to be able to announce that this scheme, when completed, will provide 100 year flood event protection to approximately 150 homes and 200 commercial properties and will provide a solution to the ongoing flooding concerns for the people of Bandon.

Hayes in the interval has moved to the European Parliament and 42 months have elapsed since the announcement of the 100 year flood plan while the Government he abandoned is as clueless as its predecessors when it comes to long term planning and the balance between property interests and the common interest.   

Hayes' successor, Simon Harris said this month that neither he nor the people of Bandon would rest until the flood scheme, which is due to commence in 2016 with a completion date of 2018, is delivered for the West Cork town.

The Irish Examiner quoted Harris:  

The current position is that tender documentation has been issued to a shortlist of contractors to undertake the civil works contract. The tenders are due back in early January, after which the assessment process will take place. The assessment process, tender report, approval process and the necessary cooling-off period will be progressed as quickly as possible and the works are due to start in 2016. The scheme will be constructed over the 2016-2018 period.

So tenders are conveniently due back early next week and then will be assessed. Beyond the lies or spin, work on the project will likely start at the earliest 4 years after the announcement by Hayes — the people of Bandon should be happy with slow-motion government and Jim Daly may well find himself canvassing for reelection in the 2016 general election, knee-deep in flood water. 

RTÉ News video interview with Simon Harris and Maria McLaughlin, Bandon Flood Group, 7 Dec, 2015.

The Government has requested a loan of €200m from the European Investment Bank to fund 6 drainage schemes including the Bandon plan. Apart from money, it's evident that relying on the Office of Public Works (OPW), a junior minister and local authorities out of their depth, to respond in the conventional slow-motion post-disaster way, is not adequate.

New thinking, courage to implement what is being done in some European countries to restrict, ban or mandate both public and private defences (e.g. elevated floors) on flood plain areas, coupled with new national structures, are urgently needed.

Ireland, environmental vandalism, Bandon flooding

The salmon weir post the flood scheme works. Apartment block on right is on site of the former Brennan Mills

Bandon, Ireland floods, El Nino

The weir is in background. Note housing on both banks of River Bandon