Tuesday, 5 December 2006
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this important matter for the people of Crossmolina. Last weekend there was major flooding in the Crossmolina area in which many homes and business were badly damaged. Several years ago there was a similar flooding in Dublin. On that occasion the Government was obliged to provide a package for those affected. I want a similar package to be put in place for the people of Crossmolina.
That is an unusual arrangement. I was put out of the Chamber once before over a similar arrangement. I understood the Member called for the Adjournment was given five minutes. I will not disagree with the House's wishes this time. I am disappointed the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, who is responsible for the OPW, has not attended the Chamber for the Adjournment.
In October 2004, I contacted the Minister of State concerning the development of a major supermarket near the River Deel at Crossmolina. The OPW had not been notified about it. The developer informed the OPW when contacted that he had planning permission from Mayo County Council. He assured it that he would restore the river to the same state it was in prior to the development. In February 2005, I again contacted the Minister of State about this development and was informed the matter was being taken up with the developer.
In May 2005, the Minister of State informed me the OPW had received correspondence from the developer that all works had been carried out in accordance with the planning permission. In January 2006, I was informed the OPW had not received notification of this development at the planning stage. At this stage, the developer informed the OPW that the development was within planning permission. The OPW then contacted Mayo County Council which stated the development did not comply with planning permission. As part of its comments on the retention application, the OPW has recommended the council to get a hydrological analysis of the alterations to the flood plain.
Did the OPW receive this plan? Did it get the developer to comply with the planning permission? What will it do to prevent future flooding in Crossmolina? It is unbelievable that a development can be built without planning permission and that Mayo County Council did not notify the OPW. This is negligence on the part of the OPW. The OPW must provide the necessary funding to send an inspection team to Crossmolina. It must ensure the developer restores the river to its original state or else he should be prosecuted. This developer has applied to retain what he had. Within six months the council sought further information but he had to withdraw it because the information did not come back. The people of Crossmolina suffered last Sunday because Mayo County Council and the OPW did not do their jobs. The people of Crossmolina must pay their taxes, make a living and look after their homes. They have been let down by the State. The State must put in place a package for those affected.
I wish I had more time to speak and that the Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, was in the Chamber to answer why a developer could disturb the state of a river and neither the local council nor the OPW did anything about it. It is a disgrace. There is flooding across County Mayo yet no one is responsible, neither the OPW nor Mayo County Council, nor the Moy Development Commission, for drainage work.
The flooding that occurred last Sunday in Crossmolina should never have happened. I downloaded a document from the OPW website entitled, Extreme Flood Events — The Irish Experience. It lists several areas which are notable for flooding and provides a detailed analysis of these rivers flooding. They include the River Dodder, the River Lee, the River Brosna, the River Clare, the River Griffeen and the River Deel in Crossmolina.
How was it that the River Deel could flood again? The damage caused when it flooded in 1989 came to several hundred thousand punts. The damage last weekend is estimated at more than €100 million. Up to 20 houses were flooded up to a depth of three feet. Even the priest's house was flooded and Sunday mass was cancelled for the first time. The Minister saw on the television news an interview with a man who has a carpet showroom in which the stock was destroyed causing at least €200,000 worth of damage. That is a terrible situation which, based on the events of 1989, should not have happened.
People have recently raised concerns about the flooding of the pedestrian walkway in the town. That should have been sufficient warning that something needed to be done. Although the flood was predictable and inevitable, there were no sandbags available. It is only a matter of time before another flood occurs. There is no provision for a flash flood, as there is in Dublin, where the citizens will be well looked after. We saw the Taoiseach in his wellington boots in Dublin but we did not see him in Mayo. There is an urgent need for a hydrological survey of the system to identify what needs to be done. It is obvious what needs to be done and the Office of Public Works has a major responsibility to resolve this matter.
I call for a fund to be established to compensate the affected people of Crossmolina for the damage to their premises, the loss of their livelihoods and the destruction of their businesses. How many times must this happen before it is resolved? This financial package should not be delayed. There must be more than words from the Minister. There should be an immediate assessment by the OPW followed by a quick payout to those in great need. I implore the House to ensure that this never happens again.
I also welcome the opportunity to raise this issue. On Monday I spent five hours in Crossmolina inspecting the extensive damage caused by this flood. It damaged local businesses in the lead-up to Christmas. Deputy Cowley mentioned the furniture store and many hardware shops and businesses selling seasonal items will not have the opportunity to make money at Christmas time as a result of this damage. Many residences were also damaged forcing people to move out of their houses before Christmas, which is a terrible tragedy for them. As a result, elderly people need the help of the State.
I call on the Government to examine why this happened. On Monday I met officials from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the OPW, both of which are investigating why this flood occurred. We need to know the answer to that question and identify where the responsibility lies. I commend the fire service, the Garda and Mayo County Council which were on site. However, bringing sand bags to houses at 9 a.m. which were already under a couple of feet of water was no good. I compliment the emergency services for their excellent work.
I seek relief funding for those affected by the flood. Although many of the businesses have consequential loss insurance, many people, particularly in the context of houses, may not have insurance or access to financial support in time. I ask that the Government come to their aid. Through the health service, the Minister should ask community welfare officers to provide the necessary immediate support to get those people over the Christmas period. That is something positive he can do.
I also ask that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government provide money to carry out remedial work. The history of the flooding of the River Deel goes back many years. Some 50 to 60 years ago the town of Crossmolina used to flood once or twice a year. During the 1970s extensive work was carried out on the Moy drainage. Millions of pounds were spent and, as a result, flooding stopped until 1989, when there was a severe flood. There has not been a flood in the town in the 17 years since then, but something has happened and we need to know what it is so that remedial action can be put in place ensuring that these people will not be exposed to this type of hardship again.
I propose to take the three matters together.
I am glad to have this opportunity to express my concern, and that of the Government, to the people of Crossmolina affected by the flooding at the weekend. In particular, I wish to sympathise with people whose homes were flooded. This is a particularly traumatic and unpleasant experience and one of which Deputy Parlon has a particular understanding, having spoken in the past with victims of similar flooding. We hope that people will not have lost valuables or other irreplaceable items and that it will be possible for them to recover from the worst effects of the flooding. We are also conscious that a large number of people whose homes or businesses were not flooded were indirectly affected by the flooding and I want to express our concern for those people also. I acknowledge the work of local authority staff and members of the emergency services who are the frontline responders when unpredicted events like this occur and who do magnificent work in very difficult circumstances.
The OPW no longer has responsibility for the provision of humanitarian aid in situations like that which occurred in Crossmolina at the weekend. In line with the recommendations of the flood policy review group report of 2004, responsibility transferred to the Department of Social and Family Affairs, which was considered the most appropriate agency to deal with the issue given the nature of its remit and its nationwide network of offices and staff. I understand the Department is already considering the request for financial assistance and I will ensure the terms of these motions are brought to the attention of the personnel dealing with the matter.
The Minister of State, Deputy Parlon, is also aware that apart from the immediate impact of flooding, there is a longer term effect as people fear a recurrence. In this regard officials from the OPW were in Crossmolina yesterday to see the situation at first hand and to gather information that will be essential in trying to determine the cause of the flooding. That process is ongoing. Early indications are that the flood in the River Deel at the weekend was the fourth highest on record, though somewhat lower than the level when flooding occurred previously in 1989. The river flooded its banks at a point upstream of the section which is maintained by the OPW under the Arterial Drainage Act 1945. The OPW scheme is maintained in proper repair and effective condition as required by the Act. However, the OPW has no power to undertake works in the area where the flood occurred and did not undertake the work referred to in Deputy Ring's contribution.
The OPW will be considering what measures can be taken to provide protection to what is now the accepted standard, namely, to defend against a flood event that has a 1%, or a once in 100 years, probability of occurring. It is likely to take some time to produce a design for such a scheme. In the meantime the OPW is also considering whether it may be possible through short-term measures to provide more immediate improvement in flow conditions on the River Deel. Contact has already been established between the OPW and Mayo County Council in this regard and this will continue. The discussions between the OPW and the local authority will also consider what mechanisms might be used to implement any measures considered likely to be beneficial.