Flood risk management in Ireland: the role of public participation
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While growing vulnerability to floods globally emphasizes the need to pursue research in this field, the relatively recent engagement in Ireland with this escalating social problem is notably found wanting in both the areas of policy and research. In addition, attempts to engage with the complexity of social issues within this emerging body of knowledge have lagged behind in the face of a much stronger technical and hazard centred approach to flooding. The frequently social blind perspective adopted is problematic as it offers very limited understanding of the causes, consequences and potential solutions to flood problems. Opening up many of the hidden social and political dimensions associated with flooding in Ireland, the key concern in this research is to critically explore existing frameworks with specific focus on the role of public participation within existing strategies. Adopting a social constructivist approach to carry out two in-depth case study evaluations, the research makes use of thematic and discourse analysis to critique the nature of policy and institutional perspectives on flood management, and to understand the many relationships being forged with communities through the experience of flooding. The findings highlight a number of institutional weaknesses which are seen to inhibit the development of adequate flood management solutions locally with damaging implications for vulnerable communities. The existence of weak institutional structures which lack in coordination and effective statutory powers to effect change are identified as problematic in this context. Engaging more critically with the use of risk based frameworks, the findings also highlight the dominance of risk as a managing tool which is largely carried out by expert-driven knowledge and limits the capacity of communities to contribute meaningfully in ongoing strategies. The targeted approach suggested by the risk paradigm is set against the noted large discrepancies between public expectations and state interventions, and the discussion relates these to evolving concerns over social justice and environmental rights debates. While the evidence indicates many challenges and current limitations in terms of community involvement in on-going strategies, the research has noted that challenging instruments of decision making such as the risk management approach provides an essential means to understand the underlying rationale and values informing these instruments and importantly to look for change if they are largely unrepresentative of the real experiences of flood impacted communities and if they hamper the process of effectively coping with flooding in real-time contexts.
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