Dáil debates

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Topical Issue Debate

Flood Prevention Measures

6:25 pm

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank Deputies for their contributions and for allowing me the opportunity to address the House regarding the severe weather which affected the country over last weekend and well into this week. I pledge my willingness to work with Members on all sides of the House to address the many challenges facing communities right across the country. I take this opportunity, too, to express my heartfelt sympathy for all those householders and businesses affected by the flooding. I assure them the Government will do everything it can to assist in getting their properties and lives back to normal as soon as possible. Storm Desmond, which affected the whole country but particularly the western seaboard and the River Shannon, was a severe weather event dominated by record high-intensity, short-duration rainfall together with storm-force gales, with the greatest impact experienced along the western seaboard from Donegal to Cork. Indeed, parts of the country had the equivalent of one month's rain within a 24-hour period. Local authorities, the Defence Forces and all other relevant parties are clued in to the situation. Mr. Seán Hogan, the excellent senior official who chairs the national emergency co-ordination committee, is keeping local authorities very much aware of the current weather situation.

The short-term impact of this extreme rainfall was predominantly fluvial flooding of roads, transport networks and hard surfaces in urban and paved areas.

As the road drainage and urban drainage systems became overwhelmed, the flooding extended to a fluvial event and affected properties in multiple urban centres of the north west, west and south, including Ballybofey, Sligo, Crossmolina, Craughwell, Ballinasloe, Bandon, Skibbereen, Kenmare, and Tralee. The national co-ordination group for severe weather, which is chaired by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, has been meeting almost daily since last Friday, initially to assess the forecast and the associated risks and later to deal with the aftermath of the storm. All local crisis management arrangements through local authorities were put in place last Thursday. Every county has a severe weather protocol, which it was instructed to activate at that stage, and the full services of the Civil Defence and fire services as well as local authority staff were deployed over the weekend. I believe there were 7,000 front-line staff on call and on duty throughout the weekend. I take this opportunity to extend my appreciation to all the emergency responders and volunteers in local communities who worked tirelessly over the weekend. I understand 97 members of the Civil Defence were out in Donegal alone and 9,000 sandbags were filled in Deputy Calleary's constituency of Mayo. Much of this was done by volunteers and I commend their efforts to deal with a very difficult situation.

I welcome a number of decisions taken by the Government today, including the humanitarian assistance scheme, the €5 million that will be given to the Red Cross and which needs to be administered as quickly as possible. The Minister for Defence, and Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, will provide clarity on that and on measures that have been put in place to support our farming community. I assure the House that the Government is absolutely and fully aware of the problems of flooding and prioritises the need to find effective and workable solutions to the problem on a national basis. In this regard, the Government is starting the final part of its proactive planning programme to develop feasible flood risk management solutions for those 300 areas across the country at most significant risk from flooding.

Through the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme, the Office of Public Works, OPW, has completed extensive and systematic hydraulic modelling and hydrological examination for each of these 300 areas, including 90 coastal locations. To date, the CFRAM programme, which is being implemented with the co­operation of progress and steering groups involving local authorities, has surveyed and modelled 6,700 km of watercourse. It has produced approximately 40,000 individual flood maps, including those required by the EU floods directive. It has also held extensive public consultations, inviting comments and meeting local representatives and local communities to explain the CFRAM programme, as well as exhibiting and proactively discussing draft flood maps to gain any additional local insight and knowledge to inform their development.

The OPW, informed by the draft maps, is currently and actively engaging with local communities towards developing feasible options for both structural solutions, such as flood defence schemes, and non-structural solutions to address the known fluvial and tidal risks. This is not just another report; this is a process of introducing proactive schemes and finding solutions, where possible, for these 300 communities throughout the country. I am out of time, but I plead the indulgence of the House for a moment. The Government is taking up the suggestion of Deputy Ó Cuív that we need to be putting more schemes into the planning process so that we have a constant pipeline of schemes to invest in, because we are going to see more severe weather in this country. The final flood risk management plans - not maps but plans and solutions - for these 300 areas are on target to be completed by the end of 2016. The CFRAM programme is the core implementation strategy for the Government's flood risk policy. It is also the principal vehicle for implementing the EU floods directive. Engineering consultants have been appointed by the OPW to implement the programme, through six regional studies. Local authorities and other stakeholders are involved and steering groups are in place.

This is not a report. This is about trying to predict flood hazard and coming up with solutions, and I look forward to working with all Deputies. This only works if there is money behind it. That is why we have put in place, through the capital plan, €430 million to be spent on such capital and flood projects between 2016 and 2021. To date, as a State, successive Governments have spent €410 million since 1995, and we will be spending more in the next five years on capital flood relief schemes than we have in the past 20 years. That is a sign of commitment, as a Government and as a State. However, there are currently up to seven flood relief schemes in construction - we are not waiting for CFRAM to be completed. There are a further 27 schemes at various stages of design, including those in Cork city, Bandon, Skibbereen, Crossmolina, Claregalway, Enniscorthy and others.

I want to address the situation with the Bandon flood defence scheme briefly. There has, understandably, been much comment and criticism from local residents over the delays in bringing the scheme to construction. Following the major flood event in the town in 2009, the OPW, along with Cork County Council, commenced work on devising proposals to deal with the problem. In late 2010, consultants were appointed and the process of designing a scheme commenced. Designing a flood defence scheme is very complex and it takes many years to get from A to B, but it is vital that the best possible solution to the flooding problem is found and this requires very detailed analysis of hydrological data and assessment of all possible options. The process of procuring contractors to carry out the scheme can also lead to delays. This, unfortunately, is what happened in Bandon, where there were legal challenges to the process in both 2013 and 2014. The proposed scheme, however, is now at tender stage for a civil works contractor, with tenders due in January 2016. This should allow shovels to be in the ground in Bandon in the middle of 2016. The scheme will be submitted very shortly to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform for confirmation under the Arterial Drainage Acts. The Minister will be required, under environmental legislation, to carry out an independent assessment. I will be monitoring this very closely and give Deputies my personal commitment that I want to see this scheme completed in the timeframe I have outlined. There are a number of other schemes I will come back to in response to some of the specific queries.


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