Tuesday, 20 April 2010
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this very important item tonight. I am delighted that the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, is present because he represents much of the area that has been flooded in County Galway in the past.
Just because we no longer see headlines about flooding in County Galway it does not mean it has gone away. Flooding still exists in many parts of County Galway some three or four months later. I welcome the list of small schemes proposed in County Galway in conjunction with Galway County Council and the OPW. I pay tribute to the OPW personnel who have adopted a very sensible attitude and consultative role in progressing many of these schemes. The schemes are now sensibly recognised as flood relief and not drainage. Many of the small schemes announced are related to the Dunkellin catchment area. The proposal means that the obstacles that caused much of the problem in the catchment area in the past can readily be removed, which would eliminate many, if not all, the problems that have caused such devastation to the family homes and farm lands in the areas concerned in County Galway. Rock removal and bridge reconstruction will allow relief of many of the problems.
South County Galway has a different problem. The 1997 Peach report recommended that the Tarmon area alone was the one most suitable to be addressed. I am asking the Minister to revisit the issue and investigate the possibility of having minor works carried out there to alleviate some of the problem. This was the single area in which work was recommended to proceed then on the basis of the cost-benefit analysis. Unfortunately the funding provided on that occasion was returned to the Exchequer and no works were carried out. I want a simple answer on this one. All that is required in this area is to relieve the surplus water and not drainage. The area in south County Galway should be re-examined to ascertain what can be done at low cost. Local experience has shown that a simple channel or piped length of watercourse would eliminate the constant threat under which these people live from the periodic surplus waters during flood time.
What will the Department do to provide for many farmers whose land was flooded in the November floods and still remains flooded? These farmers have found that their lands are totally useless and have not yet had the spring growth. Many farmers had reseeded the lands destroyed by the earlier floods about five weeks ago and had it all washed away by the most recent downpours. This means that they will lose this year's fodder harvest. I ask the Minister to examine the serious situation faced by many of these farmers who have lost out for a second time and will have serious problems later in the year.
It is now suggested that part of the cause of the constant flooding in this area of south County Galway is the Coillte drainage system in the Slieve Aughty mountains which allows the rain to come down to the lowlands in torrents like never before through its vertical drainage system. The Government should investigate in consultation with Coillte alternative contour patterns of drainage rather than the vertical system which now exists causing the problems. At present these forests are being felled and cleared, which allows an ideal opportunity for the OPW to investigate without additional cost.
The remit of the HSE to administer humanitarian funds was to make dwellings safe and habitable. How much has been paid out to these householders to do that? Most of the houses flooded in County Galway, in Ballinasloe, in Meelick, Eyrecourt and along the Shannon banks can be made habitable but not safe as they will be flooded again unless the works are carried out. Will the Government consider the relocation of some of these families in County Galway and the flood protections in Ballinasloe as well as the management of the water levels in the Shannon basin so that they will not suffer the inevitable floods if work is not carried out? It would be much better if humanitarian funds were combined with insurance compensation, which would go a long way to provide a safe dwelling in an upland area.
The people want to eliminate the serious problems for the future. Given the number of agencies with an interest in the environment in the area, will the OPW under the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, take the lead role to convince these groups that people's livelihoods are more important than the flora and fauna? When will the legislation giving this power to the Minister of State be before the Dáil?
There seem to be crossed wires between the Deputy and ourselves in that the subject matter of the Adjournment debate was "the humanitarian support provided to date three months after the major flooding of 2009". That was thought to refer to the humanitarian funds being administered by my Department. I do not have any details on OPW works, because it was not considered to be what the Deputy was going to raise this evening. However, I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, and ask him to come back to the Deputy directly. I apologise, but the way the matter was worded, it was thought to be similar to a motion raised on the Adjournment in the Seanad in the past few weeks by one of the Deputy's colleagues-----
All I can talk about is the humanitarian aid. If the Deputy is interested I can read that.
The bulk of the overall cost of repairing the damage caused to individuals' homes by last November's flooding is being met through insurance policies held by the people affected. The insurance industry is currently in the course of discharging its financial obligations to its policyholders. However, in recognition of the devastation suffered by people in many areas of the country as a result of these floods, the Government set up a humanitarian assistance scheme. The scheme has two objectives. First, it provided financial and other assistance, without an income test, in the immediate aftermath of the flooding. Second, it provides income-tested financial support for the replacement of essential household items and home repairs in cases not covered by insurance.
The HSE's community welfare service has been providing support to households since this flooding occurred. Up to 9 April 2010, it had made 2,809 payments to 1,259 individuals to the value of €1,100,616 throughout the country.
The €10 million is there, if there is a legitimate case for it.
The largest payment to an individual was in excess of €20,000. Most of these payments have been in respect of immediate needs, such as clothing, food, bedding and emergency accommodation. The community welfare service will continue to make these payments as long as they are needed. Such emergency payments under the humanitarian assistance scheme are made without delay and without regard to the household income, as the primary objective of that type of payment is to address the person's immediate needs.
Payments have also been made in respect of essential household items such as carpets, flooring, furniture and white goods. Payments in respect of longer-term needs, such as meeting the cost of repairing homes and making them habitable again, take somewhat longer as homeowners must first establish the cost of repair, which explains the small amount of money paid out to date. Homeowners and builders are not in a position to do this in the immediate aftermath of a flood for practical reasons and, consequently, relatively few large-scale claims have been made at this stage. However, with the passage of time, individuals are now in a better position to assess the extent of the damage to their homes and, consequently, it is expected that more large-scale claims will be received over the coming weeks. As homeowners establish the cost of repair by securing builders' estimates, the extent of the loss is verified, usually by a loss assessor in cases where significant amounts are claimed, and details of the amounts that can be provided under the humanitarian assistance scheme are then sent to the homeowners in question.
While the timescale for determining applications for humanitarian assistance claims is dependant, among other things, on the availability of the required information, there is no backlog of undecided claims. According to the information available from the HSE, there are fewer than 50 applications currently being assessed and only four claims refused, none of which was because of household income.
The level of payment available under the aid scheme to any qualified individual depends on the severity of the damage to that person's home and the extent of the loss experienced, as well as household income and general family circumstances. The scheme provides hardship alleviation as opposed to full compensation. As on previous occasions, commercial or business losses are not covered by the scheme, nor are losses which are covered by household insurance. Applications under the scheme are being income tested to ensure that available assistance is prioritised for those who are most vulnerable. The basic objective of the income test is to determine the household's capacity to meet the costs of restoring the home to a habitable condition, with an underlying principle that individuals and families with average levels of income will qualify for assistance.
In conclusion, from meeting people who have been flooded, including many in my own constituency, I believe the income limits imposed are very generous and have not caused any major difficulty.