Wednesday, 17 June 2020
Climate Action and Low Carbon Development: Statements (Resumed)
I am pleased to present to the House the annual adaptation transition statement on the policy measures adopted by the Office of Public Works during the past year. Deputies are aware of Ireland's history of flooding, including the widespread severe floods from rivers and turloughs over the winter of 2015 to 2016, the flash floods in the Inishowen Peninsula and in Mountmellick, County Laois, in 2017 and the floods along the River Shannon earlier this year. Deputies also aware of the OPW's catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme, which is the largest national study ever undertaken on our risk from significant flooding events and it has followed best practice in the area. The programme studied the flood risk for two thirds of our population. It looked not only at flood risk and its impact today but also studied its impact in two potential climate change scenarios. These scenarios are in line with the most recent evidence from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and research that has been undertaken in Ireland.
To date, the OPW has completed 46 flood relief schemes at a cost of €400 million. These include schemes in Clonmel, Kilkenny and Fermoy. They protect approximately 10,000 properties, with approximately €2 billion worth of damage avoided to date. In May 2018, the Minister of State, Kevin Boxer Moran, was pleased to announce with the Taoiseach a €1 billion investment in flood risk management as part of Project Ireland 2040. This is supported by the evidence from the CFRAM programme that provided 150 additional flood relief schemes. With the provision of these schemes, the Government can protect 95% of properties assessed to be at significant risk from flooding from rivers and the sea.
Since 2018, the number of food relief schemes under design and construction in partnership with local authorities has trebled to 92. This means the OPW and local authorities have completed, or are working to protect, 80% of those properties to be protected during the ten year programme. The development of these schemes includes consideration of, and planning for, adaptation measures aimed at maintaining the same level of protection to these communities from the changing flood risk due to climate change. All schemes are designed and built in line with international best practice to avoid causing flood risk elsewhere. The design of the schemes is informed by detailed environmental assessment, public consultation and economic appraisal and they goes through the full planning permission process under the appropriate legislation.
The panel on climate change has reported that for a 1.5°C rise in temperature the global mean sea level could rise by approximately 1 m by 2100. These estimates for climate change will have significant impacts on flooding and flood risk in Ireland.
In the context of this IPCC report, the OPW prepared a climate change sectoral adaptation plan for flood risk management between 2019 and 2024 in line with the requirements of the national adaptation framework and the climate action plan of 2019. The plan was consulted upon before being approved by Government last October. It sets out a long-term goal for adaptation and flood risk management to promote sustainable communities and to support our environment through the effective management of the potential impacts of climate change on flooding and flood risk. It includes a range of actions: enhancing our knowledge and understanding of the potential impact of climate change for flooding and flood risk management; adapting our flood risk management practice to effectively manage the potential impacts of climate change and future flood risk; and aligning adaptation with regard to flood risk across sectors and wider Government policy including, in particular, planning. The main actions at the moment focus on: assessment of risk from climate change; the inclusion of adaptation in flood relief schemes; and the consideration of potential future flood scenarios in planning and development management. Progress is now being made.
Maps of future flood extents under climate change scenarios have been published on the web portalfloodinfo.ie. The OPW is providing funding to the eastern and midlands climate action regional office for further research. Assessments have begun into the adoptability of those completed flood relief schemes. The design brief for future schemes now includes a requirement to consider a plan for adaptation needs and work towards the establishment of a national flood forecasting and warning service is ongoing to build resilience for the future.
It is also important to talk about the measures we have put in place for those properties at risk where investment in a flood relief scheme is not feasible. The minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme remains an important measure for addressing this risk. In 2019, the OPW approved almost €5 million in funding to local authorities for nearly 50 such schemes. This brings the total committed investment under the scheme to more than €39 million for nearly 900 projects protecting some 7,000 properties. Two thirds of those are in areas outside of those communities studied by the CFRAM programme. The work of the cross-Government interdepartmental flood policy co-ordination group, chaired by the Minister of State, Kevin "Boxer" Moran, is also focused on climate change adaptation measures for future flood risk management. Significant progress this year has been achieved by Met Éireann, overseen by the OPW, towards establishing the flood forecasting service.
In conclusion, the work by the OPW in the past 12 months in adopting measures to adapt for climate change has been significant. In particular, the delivery of flood relief schemes and the publication of the sectoral adaptation plan demonstrates our continued approach to addressing the possible impact of climate change in our planning to manage flood risk, the delivery of flood relief schemes and working across Government to manage risk in the future. I am confident that our focus on climate change in flood risk management will allow our investment today to cope with and be adaptable to deal with the impact of climate change in the future.
The impacts of climate change are already evident for us all to see. In recent years, Ireland has witnessed heavier rainfall, stronger, more destructive storms and more flooding events than at any time previously. If we consider the impact of Covid-19 on our economy and our society in recent months, we need to multiply that when we consider the potential impacts of climate change on our country and indeed the world. It is highly likely that climate change will significantly increase the flood risk in Ireland due to rising sea levels, increased rainfall in winter, more heavy rain days and more intense storms.
It is crucial, though, first to tackle the causes of climate change rather than simply protecting against its impact. This week the respective parties have agreed a programme for Government. It now proceeds to each of their memberships and that programme for Government sets out an ambitious programme to fight climate change. It is critical that we tackle this crisis now, before the damage done to Ireland and the planet is irreparable. There will be a massive retrofit programme and upgrading more than 500,000 houses with better insulation and energy-saving technology. There will be increased spending on cycleways and walkways, making it easier for children to cycle to school and for many workers, too. There will be an ambitious capital programme and investment in public transport and renewable energy, while the electrification of the transport system will of course be accelerated. There will be a major drive to realise the immense potential of Ireland's offshore renewables.
The carbon tax income and the increases that will be forthcoming will be ring-fenced for a just transition and to protect people on lower incomes and in fuel poverty.
The draft programme for Government contains a number of measures which will be very important in supporting a just transition in the midlands. This will be even more critical given the announcement yesterday that Bord na Móna has further suspended peat harvesting and further accelerated the decarbonisation of its product and is now bringing forward the commencement of work on the enhanced peatland rehabilitation scheme. I welcome the commitment by Government on foot of that decision by the board. Having received legal opinion, the Government brought forward €20 million from within its own funds in order to accelerate that rehabilitation scheme, which has the potential to create an atmosphere whereby those jobs will not be lost immediately or anything like it into a four-year programme.
These measures will play a vital role in implementing the recommendations of the just transition commissioner's report. We have provided in the programme for Government to place his office on a statutory basis, and given clear commitments to grow the size of the just transition fund. Work must begin immediately, given yesterday‘s announcement, to ensure the release of funding for reskilling, amongst the proposals being considered on foot of the recommendations from the just transition commissioner in his report last month. It is critical that we bring people along with us and that we make the transition to a low carbon economy. Not only is this morally imperative but I believe that people will be much more on board with the transition if it is just and fair.
Given the commitments in the programme for Government, we cannot be naive to the impacts climate change is already having and will continue to have on the 300 communities studied by the CFRAM report throughout the country. According to the OPW, some 80% of the properties investigated are at risk of flooding and two thirds of the population within it are at risk of being impacted by such flooding. These figures will likely increase in the years and decades ahead. Under the CFRAM programme, projects already completed and in the pipeline should protect 95% of the properties mentioned that are at risk of flooding.
It is critical that this programme for Government, therefore, is passed and that a Government is formed and that funding is provided by the OPW so that it can fully implement the CFRAM programme and continue the work that has gone into producing it in recent years.
In terms of the contribution of the OPW to climate change, obviously much needs to be done. I need to talk parochially, in terms of my own constituency. I ask the Minister to comment on some contributions by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, about a fortnight ago in answering to Deputy Feighan, my constituency colleague, about Sligo Garda station. As the Minister knows, it was part of the Government’s plan to build a new station there, to the extent that it paid €1.35 million for a site.
Last December, the Minister for Justice and Equality confirmed in the Dáil that it would go ahead and it was part of a public private partnership with Macroom, Clonmel and Sligo. As the Minister will know, it is an environmental disaster and I doubt it even has an energy rating for how bad it is because it goes back over a century. Can the Minister confirm, and I hope this is correct, that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, in some way and perhaps inadvertently, misled the Dáil when he said that the Commissioner had decided that this Garda station was now going to be done up in situinstead of building a new one? As I said, the Minister for Justice and Equality confirmed here on 19 December to the then Deputy, Tony McLoughlin, that it was going ahead but that seemed to change when answering to Deputy Feighan in recent weeks. Can the Minister outline what financial reason underpins this in terms of resources being scarce, €1.35 million being spent on a site and the need clearly established for a new station with Macroom and Clonmel? What implications does this have, if it is true, for the projects in Clonmel and Macroom going ahead and for the public private partnership? On the basis that there may be a new Government of several parties in the coming weeks, will the Minister be receptive to the approaches of myself and Deputies Feighan, Harkin and Martin Kenny in our demands to see that station built?
I will be parochial as well and mention the particular case of the Glanmire flood relief scheme, which is ongoing as the Minister knows. Glanmire was flooded back in 2012 and after the initial shock that the residents there received, they were delighted that the flood prevention scheme was approved. The scheme was meant to be completed at this stage and it is running approximately two years behind schedule. Can the Minister clarify the precise timeline for the completion of that scheme and can he confirm that the funding is still in place for it? All this time we have been led to believe the file is sitting on the Minister's desk, ready to be signed off and to commence. I ask for clarity on that.
The Dunkettle interchange is another scheme which is a bit behind schedule. It is out for retender and the tenders are due to come in this September. A number of residents have contacted me and they live in the middle of what is to become the new Dunkettle interchange. They do not live outside it or beside it but bang in the middle of it and approximately ten such houses remain. They went to the trouble of speaking to a hydrologist and commissioning their own report about concerns they have with flooding. The hydrologist suggested a number of mitigation measures and I have submitted that report to both Cork County Council and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII. As of yet, I have not received a response. I was hoping I could also submit that to the OPW. The OPW has a remit to deal with culverts and storm water so I was hoping I could pass the hydrologist's report to the OPW as well today.
I want to raise the issue of the increasingly severe conditions we are seeing year-on-year. Last night, my home town of Enniscorthy saw as much rainfall in less than an hour than it had seen in the previous month with some serious flash flooding. There is a flood relief scheme for Enniscorthy and almost €50 million was put aside by the Minister in last October's budget for same. The programme was meant to be sent up by Wexford County Council last October for approval by the Minister by December to go to tender this summer. Unfortunately, for some reason it appears the scheme did not arrive with the Minister until this March and because of that there is a now a further environmental impact assessment, EIA, review as I understand it from Wexford County Council before it can proceed to tender. I understand the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is also carrying out a tender process for the independent experts who can carry out these new EIA reviews that need to be carried out under a new EU regulation. Can the Minister give an update on what the timeline is for those independent inspectors for that tender to be carried out? We are now told that a programme for this flood relief scheme that was to be approved by the Minister last December will take at least another six to 12 months to be signed off on. That is disconcerting when one sees the level and increasing frequency of flooding in Enniscorthy. Businesses and houses are being damaged and destroyed on a regular basis.
I listened to what Deputy MacSharry had to say about Sligo Garda station and the different issues that have been raised with that. I am not in a position to give the Deputy an update on the matter in the Dáil this afternoon as I am primarily in here to answer questions on flood risk management but I know this is an important matter and I will follow up on it with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, and with the different Members who Deputy MacSharry has referred to in order to clarify where that very important policing and Garda station project stands.
On the status of the Glanmire flood relief scheme, I am aware of this particular project and it has been raised with me on many different occasions. Following a detailed review of the submissions by environmental consultants, a request for supplementary information for both schemes has been made by my Department to the Office of Public Works. My Department needs this information back before we are in a position to make a decision on that particular scheme. On foot of the Deputy raising this matter with me, which has been raised with me on a number of occasions, I will find out the exact status of that information and revert to him to let him know what impact it will have on the decision-making on a project that I know his community has a huge amount of interest in.
I refer to the points Deputy James Browne raised about the status of the flood defence scheme in Enniscorthy for the River Slaney. My Department will progress the formal confirmation process, having regard to the regulations for decision-making on schemes such as that which were introduced in 2019. As the Deputy said, we have a tender process under way for environmental consultants but we are looking to begin the next phase of public consultation on this project as soon as we can and I will come back to the Deputy with detail on the timing of the tendering process for environmental consultants.
I am sharing time with Deputies Ó Murchú and O'Rourke. Listening to Deputy Cowen, it is unusual to hear Teachtaí making what are programme for Government speeches on the floor of the Dáil even before the programme for Government has been accepted by the membership of their political parties. It is an unusual departure. It is also interesting to hear Deputies MacSharry and O'Sullivan raise issues in their constituencies that were not nailed down in the programme for Government.
This debate is on the annual transition statements on climate action and low carbon development for the OPW and I have a number of questions on Government buildings so I might go over and back with the Minister in the short time we have. Government buildings are under the control and management of the OPW. Who monitors and records the energy rating of Government buildings?
When they record that, are reports then done on what the average rating might be for Government Departments? How much was spent on retrofitting Government Departments in recent years, even over the lifetime of the last Government, to improve the energy rating of Government buildings?
I accept that because the Minister is not really responsible for this matter and the Minister who is responsible for it cannot be here but my point is that this is meant to be a new departure in how we hold Government and Ministers to account on climate action. It is the transition statement on what Government Departments and agencies have done to mitigate climate change. One of the core functions of the OPW is to manage Government buildings. The Minister in the Chamber should be in a position to tell us how it manages that, what level of work has been done in recent years, how much money has been spent and, maybe more importantly, how much money will be spent in the future to retrofit Government buildings. I imagine the State would want to lead by example and make sure the buildings it manages and controls are retrofitted to the highest energy rating and the highest levels of energy efficiency and to lead by example in mitigating climate change.
I appreciate and accept that the Minister is not the line Minister, who probably should be here, but in the short time I have left, I ask him to write to me about that detail because it is important.
We may soon have a new Government.Deputy Cowen mentioned retrofitting, which is very important for public and private housing and other private buildings, and the State has both an obligation and a role to play in this area. We now have to look at Government buildings and what we will do to improve their energy efficiency.
I take the Deputy's point. A lot of work is under way on the retrofitting of Government buildings. As the Deputy said, if we have a need and a duty to retrofit, for example, housing for which the State has a responsibility, there is an equal need to retrofit other buildings for which we are responsible in order both to save money and to reduce the harm they could do to our environment. I will write back to the Deputy with the figures for the cost of the programmes that have been put in place to date and of the programme for the continuation of that work.
I want to commend the Minister of State, Kevin Boxer Moran, on the work he has done with the OPW in dealing with local authorities. If possible, I ask the Minister to pass that on. As a Louth county councillor, I met the Minister of State a number of times. He has done some works and site visits. At Balmer's Bog, for example, the preliminary works are already about to start.
We are dealing specifically with climate change. It is not that startling to state that we are looking at the possibility, or rather, beyond the possibility, of dealing with the actuality of greater rainfall, greater storms and greater flood risk difficulties. I am very glad that there is room within the CFRAM and flood protection plans for adaptations. Deputies have spoken about being parochial. I am going to be incredibly parochial. We are talking about 300 communities and 3 million people across the State whose homes are at risk of flooding. I think everyone is aware that County Louth has a fair number of coastal areas and has suffered from a significant amount of flooding over the years. We have welcomed the CFRAM proposals. I will look for an update from the Minister on the specifics. It is a matter of the timeline and the deliverables. I accept that the local authority is involved in this, but it is also a question of whether room is allowed, possibly even within the proposed new programme for Government, for what will happen in the future regarding a need to adapt not only the plans but also the costings. We are talking about Dundalk and what is called Blackrock south. I think what was envisaged for the area was costed previously at approximately €40.5 million. Then we are talking about Carlingford-Greenore, which is costed at up to €24 million. Drogheda is costed at in or around €17 million, combined with the possibility of Baltray. Then there are question marks over Annagassan and Termonfeckin. I want to see where they are because they are proposed just on the basis of funding, etc., but with the greater difficulties we have of climate change, we need to ensure that we completely secure these areas and the communities that live in them. I refer to Dundalk in particular. I would not like to see my house go underwater. People in my estate, Bay Estate, and surrounding areas already have difficulties with insurance. I do not want to get into the ins and outs or rights and wrongs relating to the activities of insurance companies, but this is an issue many people are dealing with across the board. Could I have an update on the costs and the future-proofing? I would also like an update on any interaction there has been with Louth County Council. The latter is awaiting OPW authorisation in order that it can appoint consultants to start these works. I would like that to happen as quickly as possible. Our constituency also covers parts of coastal Meath and Mornington. I would like an update on the CFRAM works there.
The big thing is to ensure that these works happen within a dedicated timeline because, as time goes on, the dangers and difficulties will become greater. We need to ensure that this all happens as quickly as possible and that if there are particular danger areas and quick wins, they can be seen, attested and put into operation as soon as possible.
Perhaps in the time left to the Deputy he could restate the full list of projects on which he wants updates in terms of potential costings and timelines. I think we have them all noted, but if he could read them out again we would be very happy to share that information with him as well as the engagement the OPW has had with his local authority. I have seen at first hand the impact of flooding in my constituency and community and I well understand the concerns he has raised. If the Deputy restates the projects on which he wants updates in terms of timelines and costs, I will ensure the OPW makes that information available to him.
They are Dundalk and Blackrock south, Carlingford-Greenore, Drogheda, Baltray and Ardee. Could we also have an update on Annagassan and Termonfeckin and the Meath-Mornington CFRAM operation? That would be brilliant. What are the guarantees in the context of ensuring that this all happens as we move from the current Government to the next?
If all those projects are listed in the CFRAM programme, and I assume nearly all of them are, that means that this Government and, I believe, future Governments will be committed to their delivery. I think the things that are more likely to cause a shift as to when they will happen are the tendering and planning processes for them and the number of different stakeholders who, quite correctly, want to share their views on projects such as these and the knock-on impact that has. In my experience of dealing with these matters, and this may be the case for the Deputy as well, those are the issues that tend to cause the most prolonged delays to projects, as he will have heard in the exchange I had with a number of other Deputies earlier. I do not anticipate, however, that the programme for Government would lead to the detail of such projects being changed in any way.
I welcome the opportunity to address this topic. Like a number of previous speakers, I am familiar with the important work of the OPW on flood relief, particularly from my time as a county councillor in Meath. I worked on the CFRAM and FEM FRAM programmes in the east Meath and Fingal area up towards Ashbourne. I commend that work. In my experience, we had works in Ashbourne, which are ongoing, as a result of flooding in 1986 and 2002, before my time, but when I was a councillor, we had very bad floods there in November 2014 and a flood alleviation scheme as a result. Like everything, it did not come quickly enough and there was not enough money and so on, but I commend David Keyes from Meath County Council and the officials from the OPW and the Department who worked with local public representatives and local residents to move that project along. I hope it will meet its completion date.
I have a couple of questions. The first broadly concerns the role of the OPW, not just in flood relief but also its management of a number of very important sites, including heritage sites, which are vulnerable to climate change. I spoke to the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, during an earlier session about this matter. What plans does the OPW have regarding heritage sites and the mitigation of the threat of climate change, whether in terms of flooding, extreme weather events or other issues?
The other point I wanted to raise was the important role of the OPW as a notifiable body in planning. We have seen the bad aspects of planning in the recent past with houses built on flood plains. What efforts will be made by the OPW working with local authorities to ensure we do not see those situations again? My fear is that we will continue to see them.
I thank Deputy O'Rourke for his questions. The OPW remains committed to how we can mitigate the risk to our natural heritage and heritage sites by flooding that is arising now or that could happen in future. If Deputy O'Rourke has any particular sites or projects in mind, he should share them with me and we will give him an update on them.
Deputy O'Rourke asked about the contribution of the OPW. I believe the most significant contribution the OPW makes to the issue that Deputy O'Rourke is raising regarding the inappropriate location for construction of homes is the publication of the maps that show flood risk. This creates awareness by the public of where flood plains are. Sharing that information with local authorities is the most important contribution that the OPW can make in addition to the other responsibilities of the office.
The Tara management plan is a work in progress. Another issue has arisen that is quite local. It is relevant especially in terms of the new dispensation that we are all ambitious for in getting people walking and cycling. We have been involved in the Ashbourne linear park project for many years. This is a cross-party project. Meath County Council is ambitious for it. We have had a difficulty in dealing with the OPW because the office wants access to the waterways. Will the Minister contact the OPW and ask officials to sit down with Meath County Council officials and local public representatives to try to iron this out? There is a happy medium whereby we can keep the OPW happy in terms of its access. This is a resource that the community wants. We want to deliver it but a barrier exists.
I will come back to the Deputy on the plan for Tara. I will ask the OPW to meet local authority officials and local representatives to discuss the linear cycleway in Ashbourne. I am aware of the project and I know there is considerable local support for it. It could be a great amenity. I will ask for that to happen.
I am delighted to see the Minister in the House to discuss the annual adaptation transition statement and the policy measures adopted by the OPW.
There have been issues over the years. In 2009 one of the most difficult times I recall as a politician was when we had flooding of the River Shannon. I remember going to businesses and houses and standing up in water. As a politician I felt helpless. At the time no one seemed to be in charge of the River Shannon. It was supposed to be the ESB but most of the local authorities and the OPW looked the other way.
I am glad that in the past ten years we have come a long way in trying to address this serious problem. We had climate change and lack of management. I wish to compliment Leitrim County Council, Roscommon County Council and all the workers along with the OPW and the ESB for coming up with better management of a situation that had been embarrassing. In 2015 we had flooding in Leitrim villages, Carrick-on-Shannon, Roosky and many other places. The local authorities have done much work on this.
There is considerable onus on local initiatives. Over the years I have met with various local people who have had an interest in, and knowledge of, the river. The River Shannon is a complex system. The people in Roosky blamed the people in Dromad for letting the water go. The people in Dromad blamed the people in Carrick-on-Shannon for letting the water go. The people in Carrick-on-Shannon asked for the water to be held in Lough Allen. I am glad that we have a management system in place working with all the various people.
I have met the two or three Ministers responsible for the OPW when we were in government from 2011 to 2019. Brian Kenny, Liam Farrell and John Dunne are from Carrick-on-Shannon. They have come up with constructive solutions. Under the catchment flood risk assessment and management programme, funding was provided to the local authorities in counties Leitrim and Roscommon to take out trees around Jamestown south of Carrick-on-Shannon. I have no doubt this helped to alleviate the flooding in Carrick-on-Shannon. It was really bad at the Cortober end, where there is a huge shopping complex. I have no doubt that helped. We took into consideration that funding became available. The local authority did much work on the Cootehall Road. We met the Cleaheen and Cootehall residents. The two local authorities did a good deal of work in raising the road. It all helped.
We have to deal with the major issue of climate change. We have been able to manage the rivers so far, but it is like putting a finger in the dyke trying to determine the best solution. Unless we can manage the Shannon better, we will be in a difficult situation.
There is an issue regarding turloughs. In my town of Boyle in Roscommon we have Ann and Vincent Brady. They have an issue regarding turloughs. They are still not satisfied. The Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, Kevin Boxer Moran, has done great work but this is an outstanding area. I appeal to the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to look at exploring whether we can get funding to address this problem with the turloughs. I looked at the River Shannon and it seemed to be fine. Then, the next thing was that we saw a turlough - it was like a lake. It is an outstanding issue. I know much good work has been done but this is outstanding and it needs to be addressed.
I welcome the €5 million that was approved for local authorities for 50 local flood relief schemes. That certainly helped. It brings the committed investment to €39 million for over 800 local authority flood relief projects throughout the country.
We are talking about CFRAM and people who are for and against the CFRAM programme. In Carrick-on-Shannon it was proposed to have a glass wall of 1.5 m.
Ironically, I did not realise the Minister was due to speak in the House today. Last Monday, I had the local engineer out where the Shannon comes up to a house in Cortober. We are trying to get a bank built. I wish to thank the local engineer, Michael Conlon, and all the staff there for the work they have done. At the toughest of times we have seen the best of the businesses, residents and local authority staff. I could not thank them highly enough. They were out at all times. It is great to see that at the toughest of times local authority members are out working trying to resolve the problems.
Deputy MacSharry rightly raised the Garda station. I understand this is about climate change but the situation needs to be addressed. Last December a parliamentary questions was answered by the Minister for Justice and Equality to the effect that a new Garda station was definitely going ahead in Sligo. The Garda Commissioner has seemingly vetoed that political decision, which is unusual. The rank and file gardaí in Sligo Garda station are disillusioned because promises were made by Garda management and there were political decisions. They feel seriously let down. They believe it is unusual that the Garda Commissioner would veto a decision by the Minister for Justice and Equality. I would like to get answers to that because I tabled a parliamentary question two weeks ago, when the Garda station was going ahead. The first I heard of this was when the parliamentary question stated that the stations in Clonmel and Macroom were going ahead while Sligo was not.
Rank and file gardaí in Sligo deserve better. As the Minister knows from launching the 2040 development plan, it is a regional town. The people of the north west deserve better.
A value for money report needs to be done. If a site is bought for €1.4 million in order to locate a new state-of-the-art Garda station for the brave men and women of An Garda Síochána at a time when the Garda is also spending millions of euro on a barracks that neither I nor the Garda believes is fit for purpose, there must be a value for money report. Whoever is in government, I will fight to ensure we get that new station. It was promised.
Before I go any further, I want to get answers to my questions from the Garda Commissioner or the Minister for Justice and Equality. I look forward to the Minister, Deputy Donohoe's reply.
I thank the Deputy for his various questions. It is great to hear his acknowledgement of all the work being done by his local authority in dealing with the various flooding risks in his constituency. He detailed as well as I could all of the work that has been done to deal with the flood risks associated with the River Shannon. A great deal of funding and collaboration has gone into trying to reduce the future risk of flooding. It is great to hear from the Deputy the impact that has had.
Of the two questions the Deputy put to me, the first related to Sligo Garda station. He said that there were questions he wanted answered. As I told his constituency colleague a moment ago, I am not in a position to answer those questions now. The Deputy will appreciate that, given the subject of these statements, but I will follow up with the Minister for Justice and Equality and the OPW to help the Deputy to get the information he needs.
Regarding the question of turloughs and the work that is under way, additional focus has been placed on this matter since 2016. Sixty-five monitoring stations were deployed at various turloughs across the country. Twenty turloughs now have permanent telemetric sites located within them in order to track what is happening and evaluate the kinds of risk they pose. I understand that a follow-up project is now under way, entitled GWClimate, to assess the potential future risks that could develop at the turloughs. I noted the Deputy's comments in respect of a particular turlough. I will ask the OPW to revert to him with an update on that site.
Recent data and mapping analysis has found that 60,000 homes will be vulnerable to coastal flooding by 2050. Areas of Dublin, Louth and Clare are expected to be the most affected. I am glad to see mention in the Minister's statement of further funding for that issue. Another study has found that Ireland will be among a number of countries that will bear the brunt of increased flooding and that the frequency of extreme flooding is likely to increase from a one-in-100-year event to possibly a one-in-50-year event. The same researchers have called on governments to concentrate on the robustness of their flood management strategies and ensure communities and people are safeguarded.
Has the Minister consulted the insurance industry about whether it has witnessed in recent years an increase in compensation payouts on flood insurance policies? What are his plans to assist those households that are unable to obtain flood insurance?
I have met the insurance sector. I met all of the CEOs of our insurance companies this year. I met Insurance Ireland a number of weeks ago. I had another meeting this morning with the Alliance for Insurance Reform. In those meetings, all of the focus was on the cost of insurance and some other policy areas. My understanding, though, is that there has been a definite increase in the cost of paying out for flooding across the country as the frequency and severity of those floods have increased over time.
In terms of what we will do to support homes and businesses that are unable to get insurance, the main work is happening at local authority level in the form of putting in place flood relief measures. Local authorities are working with insurance companies to get that work recognised as reducing the risk of flooding. The Deputy will be familiar with this from our own constituency. For example, the OPW has done work in the East Wall and North Strand areas. While it has not brought back the insurance that our constituents had previously, more of them are now able to access insurance than could do so in the aftermath of the flooding that happened a number of years ago. While the premia are still higher than they would want and I would hope, it is positive that the insurance sector has recognised particular projects in making insurance cover available. I hope that as work on, for example, the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, project continues across the country, it will be recognised by more insurers in the insurance cover they are willing to make available.
I thank the Minister. He mentioned our constituency. The transition statement identifies that the most profound health impacts of climate change will arise from severe weather events, ultraviolet radiation and poor air quality. My colleague, Deputy Costello, gathered some data on schools at the start of the year. They showed that additional traffic doubles the level of nitrous oxide, NOx, during the school term. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, says that Dublin city centre's air quality in 2019 was likely to have breached EU and WHO guidelines and that this was due largely to our reliance on fossil fuel motor vehicles for transport. The EPA's report included advice from the WHO suggesting that we lift young children above the level of vehicle exhausts. I suggest that reducing car traffic would be a more practical option than carrying children around on our backs.
In spite of this, the OPW seems to have little inclination to do anything about car traffic through or on its properties. A case in point is the Phoenix Park. During the shutdown, we had a window onto what the park should look like - a natural haven. In a short space of time, my colleague on Dublin City Council, Mr. Michael Pidgeon, garnered more than 7,000 signatures for a petition calling for the park to be closed to through traffic. Despite this, the OPW's first reaction was to propose reopening the gates to traffic. As a result of that decision, we have seen in the past few days the main avenue become gridlocked with traffic and the associated NOx emissions. Will the Minister of State or the Minister outline what plans the OPW has to reduce fossil fuel motor vehicles travelling through its properties, in particular the Phoenix Park?
I spoke to one of the OPW commissioners about this matter this morning. As the Deputy knows, given that we both represent a constituency adjacent to the Phoenix Park, the current state of play is that both main gates are open, which means the park is being used for access in the way the Deputy described.
The OPW is considering a number of options where the gates and parking are concerned. It has informed me that the kinds of issues it is seeking to deal with fall into two groups. First, we have a hospital, the Garda HQ and a number of other State facilities located inside the Phoenix Park. The OPW must take account of that in any of its decisions. Second, when making decisions on accessing the park, the OPW must consider the effect on the movement of traffic through communities that either live near the park or use Chesterfield Avenue to access the city centre. I spoke to the commissioner this morning. The OPW is considering options. As the Deputy will appreciate, though, any decision it takes will have many consequences.
I am well aware of how great the Phoenix Park was for many during the highest phase of our lockdown.
I would love to see the park being used in a manner that is more conducive to recreation and in the greenest possible way. The issues that were outlined by the OPW this morning are important and deserve full consideration before further decisions are taken.
I thank the Minister. Upgrading our homes, offices and public buildings to ensure that they use less energy will be one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce emissions and limit climate change. The OPW, with its property portfolio of approximately 2,500 buildings, including more than 200 large Government and State agency buildings, must lead the way in this regard. While it is important that energy-efficient design be incorporated into all public sector projects from the early design stage onwards, we should also ensure that we upgrade and reuse existing public buildings in preference to new-build construction where possible. Through OPW refurbishment projects, the Government can ensure that it plays a consistent and exemplary role in driving the energy efficiency agenda.
Under action 62 of Climate Action Plan 2019, the OPW was to take the lead in examining how and when fossil fuel heating systems could be phased out of public buildings, including disallowing the installation of any new fossil fuel heating systems. This examination was due to have been completed by the end of 2019 but I see no update on this action in the first climate action plan progress report issued in October 2019. Can the Minister confirm that the action has been completed and provide some detail on the outcome?
My final question takes us back to the Phoenix Park. Last year, the OPW proposed a redevelopment plan for the park that included the addition of retail, significant new construction within the park, the relegation of Natura 2000 biodiversity quotas and the construction of new permanent car parks. This proposal was met with a great deal of opposition from the general public and, to its credit, the OPW took much of that opposition on board. However, the OPW should be taking the lead in protecting biodiversity as part of its climate targets as well as reducing emissions from its built heritage properties. It should not require a public campaign to ensure it does so. Are there processes in place to have material proposals from the OPW reviewed by independent consultants in respect of their potential impact on things like habitat loss, biodiversity, native wildlife, historic landscapes and flooding?
I am not aware that the OPW is looking to take any further action in respect of the Phoenix Park in the way the Deputy has described. In terms of the processes that are necessary for the OPW to go through in order to do the kinds of things the Deputy has noted, it is required to make everything public. Doing so can lead to better evaluation and scrutiny of what the OPW is looking to do. Anything it seeks to do that requires planning permission has to be done in a very public and transparent way. However, there are not processes or structures in place whereby anything the OPW looks to do is automatically a cause for independent review or for consultants to become involved. If that does happen, it is because the OPW has to go through the planning process or is required to go through a statutory process.
I thank the Minister for his statement. It understandably had a clear focus on flooding and it must be acknowledged that there has been a great deal of work done in that area in recent years. I commend, in particular, the outgoing Minster of State, Kevin Boxer Moran, on his work. He brought with him to the role a personal credibility on the issue which he practised as Minister of State. We have seen him in some very well-circulated media photographs up to his waist in floodwater but he always backed up those kinds of high-profile media photographs with actual policy and action and he was always very accessible to Deputies during the last Dáil. I commend him and his work very highly.
My first question relates to the role of afforestation and strong afforestation schemes in flood mitigation measures. What is the current thinking in the OPW in this regard? Every community in the country can point to a location, be it a very small stream or a system as large and complex as the River Shannon, where there has been increased flooding and damage in recent years. What is constantly put forward as a solution is a strong afforestation scheme on banks to absorb soakage. I am very interested in the Minister's answer to this question.
Where I am a bit disappointed in the Minister's statement is in the area of coastal erosion and protections. We have 7,500 km or thereabouts of coastline and the vast majority of that coastline is unprotected. The eastern seaboard in particular is going through a long-term and continual recession and attack. This is part of the climate emergency, with shifting sea trends, melting polar ice caps and fluctuating temperatures. All of that is having an impact on our sea flows and tides. Where coastlines are vulnerable is where the most damage is being done.
One of those areas of severe vulnerability is the Donabate-Portrane Peninsula, which is between the Rogerstown Estuary to the north and the Broadmeadow Estuary to the south. Within the Donabate-Portrane Peninsula is the Burrow in Portrane, which is a peninsula on a peninsula. The damage there has been well documented down through the years but it has seen untold damage over the past seven to eight years. I credit the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, who visited the site at the invitation of my predecessor, former Deputy Brendan Ryan, and the outgoing Minister of State, Kevin Boxer Moran, who visited a couple of years ago, for getting work done and getting Fingal County Council to start providing, at first, short-term measures and then a plan for long-term solutions. Unfortunately, that is not happening in the way it needs to happen.
What are in place at the Burrow in Portrane are what are called seabees, which are large hexagonal concrete structures designed to protect the properties and habitat there. They have been placed along a middle stretch of the beach but do not extend down to the south end where there are public toilets that are 2 ft away from falling into the sea. Something this pandemic has brought about is a discussion on how much we need public toilet facilities throughout the country. They were taken away in the 1970s and 1980s and we need them back. In the case of a popular amenity like the beach at Portrane, if that public toilet becomes further compromised and falls into the sea, it will take an extremely long time to replace it. Beside the public toilets is a premises containing a thriving business, Piper's takeaway, in which two families, including four children, are living. Their property is under massive stress. There is a green space and an access way to the beach, which are also under imminent threat. An extension of the seabees 100 yd south to protect this area is urgently needed.
North of where the seabees are currently located, we need further protection for the properties on Beach Lane. The residents there have always been two or three steps ahead of the OPW, the council and the public representatives on this issue. They can see what is happening with their own eyes. As I said, two Ministers of State have visited the location and I am now extending an invitation to the incoming Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW to visit the site at his or her earliest convenience. I ask the Minister to leave that request on the desk for whomever the new Minister of State will be. We have already seen one house fall into the sea and we cannot see any more. We cannot let the good work that has been done be totally undermined by the fact that it has not been done completely. These areas are under imminent threat.
The Burrow is a special area of conservation but the very habitats that are supposed to be conserved are under threat. The little tern project is under way there, which requires a shingle beach to be protected as the little terns nest on it and their eggs are camouflaged in the shingles. If the erosion and secretion of sand continues on the beach, all of that will be taken away. The dunes that have already evaporated have taken away habitat for other birds and butterflies, damaging biodiversity in the location. Coastal erosion is not the only problem. In addition, the whole peninsula is prone to flooding. We have areas such as Corballis, which is on the Broadmeadow Estuary side of the peninsula, where families have been blocked in by regular flooding.
It is an area of extreme vulnerability. I ask that the incoming Minister and his or her Department increase their focus on it.
The Minister has not mentioned this but I would like it to be clear that we cannot countenance a policy of managed retreat when it comes to coastal erosion. We do have in our power the ability to provide protections and defences against this onslaught. We cannot continue to lose more of our land to the seasons. The OPW needs to be more proactive in terms of working with the local authorities. It needs to push the local authorities further and to work shoulder-to-shoulder with them. The OPW has provided funding but it needs to take a more active role in the delivery of these projects.
Deputy Cowen mentioned the draft programme for Government and said that it is ambitious. I am not here to take a pop at any draft programme. It is a draft and it has not been agreed yet but the reference in it to progressing a national policy on coastal erosion and flooding having regard to climate change needs to be bolstered and strengthened. Communities throughout the country need to see stronger commitments in regard to coastal erosion.
In March of this year a memo was brought to Cabinet in regard to a high level interdepartmental group on the management of coastal change, which is jointly chaired by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the OPW. The work of the group was initially to scope out over a six month period an approach to the development of a integrated whole-of-government coastal strategy. What is the status of that work?
I thank the Deputy for his gracious comments regarding the Minister of State, Kevin Boxer Moran, which were echoed by a number of other Deputies this afternoon. He was an incredibly energetic and dedicated Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW. He made an enormous contribution to address the issue of flooding and in reducing the risk of flooding. Much of the progress we are discussing today is due to his efforts.
On the Deputy's question regarding coastal erosion in Donabate and Portrane, the OPW has and is engaging intensively with Fingal County Council on that issue. A long-term plan is being prepared to manage the issues raised by the Deputy and a number of his constituency colleagues on behalf of the community they represent. The OPW has informed me that consultation on that plan will commence shortly.
On the Deputy's question regarding the role of afforestation in flooding risk, he is correct. I understand that the OPW refers to this as soft engineering. With regard to the Shannon, the OPW believes work that has happened regarding the natural surroundings of the Shannon can be helpful in dealing with flood risk in the future. On the interdepartmental group, I recall the discussion on that which took place in March of this year. I imagine it is in the early phases of its work, but as has been the case with much else I imagine that work has probably been delayed due to Covid. I will get the information on it and communicate it to the Deputy.
I do not know the details of the planned consultation but I imagine the OPW will want to ensure the voice of the local community is heard. When the consultation is being designed the Deputy's point will be borne in mind. Where a local community is not aware of what is happening and does not have an opportunity to have its voice heard this creates difficulties further down the line.
I welcome the flood risk management section in the annual transition statement. The document highlights that there will be an increase in extreme weather events resulting in an increased risk of flooding. Flooding has caused irreparable damage to communities and businesses in areas, including west Cork. We desperately need a proactive, whole-of-government and sustainable response.
To deal properly with flooding we must consider the broader landscape. As well as taking into consideration our emissions and climate action commitments, we need to take action on planning, afforestation, piecemeal interventions and inadequate supports that have made communities more vulnerable. Too often, poor planning combined with inaction over years has resulted in communities flooding and then accepting highly-invasive and expensive infrastructure when simple and more robust measures combined with good planning could have avoided and alleviated flooding.
Flood management plans and a culture in the OPW indicate a preference for flood containment measures, which is hard engineering works that significantly impact on the natural and cultural landscape, such as massive permanent walls and embankments. Management plans such as the one for the Bandon-Ilen river basin in west Cork include environmental considerations but allow significant damage to biodiversity and fisheries. No reference is made to the larger environmental impacts such as the emissions associated withconsistently building massive concrete walls.
There is an insufficient use of a watershed approach which integrates flood protection, stream and wetland habitat restorations and water quality improvements. Instead of looking at flooding in a piecemeal fashion we should be addressing it on a watershed scale. Cork’s River Bride in Blackpool is a clear example. Years of minor schemes and developments, including building on flood plains, has contributed to recent flooding and the only solution offered is to culvert, which will destroy a rich wildlife corridor flowing through the city.
We should be planting protection forestry along rivers to preserve water quality and assist in flood management. We need to protect and restore our wetlands as natural defences for fluvial and coastal flooding. Only this week I received calls about damage being done to the Garrylucas wetlands near Kinsale. Retention or storage upstream, throughattenuation and controlled flooding of a natural flood plain, as well as sustainable urban drainage systems, are proven methods of addressing flooding with less of an impact on landscapes and towns. In flood management plans and schemes, the flood containments and increasing-the-flow-capacity of a river are prioritised over small-scale, nature based measures. We should be working with the landscape, using and enhancing natural defences, not working against it.
How committed is the Minister and the OPW to using soft engineering measures such as retention or storage upstream, instead of flood containment options and can the Minister cite examples of where schemes have predominantly used retention-storage upstream over flood containment?
As an activist in local campaigns and a former county councillor, one of the most frustrating things has been the disregard for the opinions of local communities. Local and State authorities just steam-roll through decisions, leaving people no option but to fundraise large amounts of money to appeal these decisions in court. Surely, it should be the other way around. The burden of responsibility should be on central and local government to value and use local knowledge. If we want local democracy we need to foster local participation and not just consultations that can be ignored but real community-led planning. We need to listen to communities to develop workable solutions based on knowledge of the land and the cultural and natural heritage.
Research from UCC’s Dr. Alexandra Revez has highlighted the limited nature of community participation in flooding management processes and the need for greater consideration of social justice and environmental issues. In recent times there has been concern across west Cork about excessive works which irreparably damage natural spaces and tourism amenities. However, official insistence and desperation among communities have forced these schemes through. This situation is now playing out in Cork city. There is heavy opposition from community and businesses to the flood relief scheme and there is little sign of their input being taken into consideration. The OPW and other State bodies should have the highest standards and best practices for public involvement. The OPW should empower communities and work with them. Will the Minister re-evaluate our flood management systems to ensure local communities are included in a much more substantial way?
The annual transition statement makes reference to a coherent whole-of-government approach in addressing flooding but developments on flood plains, inappropriate afforestation and the loss of urban green spaces show this is not the reality. A response from the State requires action on planning, tackling insurance companies that are not providing adequate cover for whole communities and support for families and businesses who are terrified when flooding is forecasted. Insurance, in particular, is an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed. Flood relief schemes are only one part of the solution. In west Cork, towns such as Bandon, Skibbereen and Schull need comprehensive responses that address their needs not higher walls. What assurances can the Minister give that there will be a whole-of-government approach, including robust planning policies and insurance reform?
I thank the Deputy for her questions. I know that all of the projects to which she referred have been a cause of much local debate within her constituency.
The OPW does its best to get the balance right between facilitating public consultation and debate and delivering projects to reduce flooding and the risk of flooding. Both of those objectives also have public support. I know from engaging with the OPW that it wants to ensure we make more use of our natural habitat and assets in reducing flooding risk, but there are still flooding risks that require engineering and construction. The projects the Deputy has highlighted are examples of that. The OPW believes the engineering and construction work it has proposed is proportionate and needed.
I understand that a significant amount of work has now gone into the Bandon flood relief scheme. As the Deputy acknowledged, the dredging of the riverbed was a matter of debate and was criticised by environmental campaigners. Inland Fisheries Ireland has collaborated with the OPW on the scheme. The OPW hopes this project will be completed, subject to some High Court proceedings.
The OPW has also done a huge amount of work on the lower Lee flood relief scheme. As the Deputy will be aware, it is the largest ever such scheme in our State. It aims to protect approximately 2,000 properties. The OPW has done a lot of work to address concerns about its visual impact. It hopes to be in a position to move ahead with this project because of the role it will play in reducing flooding risk for so many homes and businesses.
Has the OPW looked into using a more whole-of-government approach with regard to planning or using more soft engineering as a prevention method rather than always dealing with the problems of building on floodplains and so on? Has the OPW started to look into methods such as a watershed approach? Is that on its radar or could the Minister cite any instances where we have used more soft engineering approaches?
I will follow up with the OPW on that question. I am sure it has used the approach the Deputy has described on many occasions. I will share that information with her.
The OPW tries to adopt a whole-of-government approach in many different areas and on many different challenges. The difficulty it has is in managing the issue of flooding and floodplains on which citizens live. Those homes were built because that kind of approach was not used in the past. The OPW is doing its best now by making flood maps publicly available to try to reduce that happening again in the future.
As regards instances in which the natural habitat and surroundings are used to reduce flooding risk, I will get some examples and have them sent on to the Deputy.
Is it possible to get an analysis of the release of emissions through the production of concrete for big flood relief works in Ireland and west Cork specifically? Would it be possible to get a figure on something like that?
I am not sure. In fact, I doubt the OPW has information that is so specific to the use of concrete in construction work it has done. I will certainly ask. I can guess where the Deputy is coming from but I am not sure the OPW will have that information.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House today. I accept that he may not have the same level of detailed knowledge as the Aire Stáit on this matter. If he cannot answer a question I would be happy for him to come back to me on it. One issue I know is close to the Minister's heart and which we spent many a long hour in rooms together discussing is the voluntary home relocation scheme. I thank the Minister for his help in getting that scheme established. After the flooding we saw last winter, in the last few months I have come across three families which had been flooded previously in 2015-16. In one case, the local authority was unaware that the family had previously been flooded. The other two families had hoped that the mitigation measures on the River Shannon would address their need to relocate, but they have not. That scheme has now been closed and it would be helpful if that could be revisited and a small bit of flexibility granted for some of those families that were caught out in 2015-16.
When the Minister and I discussed the voluntary home relocation scheme we also looked at two other issues. One was the introduction of an individual home protection scheme where individual home protections would be far more successful than people having to actually move. There were a number of pilots for that but the scheme has not yet got off the ground. I ask the Minister to provide me with an update on it.
The other issue we discussed was the voluntary farmyard relocation scheme, which was also committed to at the time. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine was to look into it and my fear is that he is still looking into it. When I questioned him on it this time last year, he said the Department was still considering it. We have had two 100-year floods within the catchment area of the River Shannon, in 2009-10 and 2015-16, and there was very severe flooding again last winter. A number of farmyards that are vulnerable to flooding need to be protected or relocated. I ask the Minister to ensure that particular scheme is expedited.
I also ask the Minister to update the House on the progress of a number of active schemes. As he knows, €8.6 million has now been committed to a flood relief scheme for the town of Ballinasloe. Consultants have been appointed to look at flood defence walls and embankments, at increasing the flow capacity of the east bridge in the town, at constructing two lock gates on the canal and at the maintenance of the channel. I ask the Minister to update me on where that scheme is at. I also seek an update on the scheme in Athlone, particularly for the Bogginfin area just north of the town where flood relief measures are to be introduced. Consultants have been appointed but there does not seem to be any progress on it. Similarly, when will consultants be appointed for the flood relief scheme in Roscommon town? I ask the Minister to update me on some of those issues if possible.
I thank the Deputy for his various questions. As he will be aware, the first public consultation for the Ballinasloe flood relief scheme took place in March and it is hoped to complete the feasibility study for this project and bring the scheme to public exhibition in the third quarter of next year. Subject to the consent process under the Arterial Drainage Acts, it is currently estimated that construction will begin in early 2023 and it is anticipated that the work will take around two years to complete.
That is where that project stands.
On the Roscommon flood relief scheme to which the Deputy referred, the OPW and Roscommon County Council have met recently to discuss the status of that project and the OPW has informed me that it is looking to progress it at the earliest opportunity. I will ask the OPW to revert to the Deputy with some specific timings on that.
On the different schemes to which the Deputy referred, I remember all of the discussions we had, including in respect of the relocation scheme and the need to move particular properties. A number of homeowners availed of the scheme, which is why it was set up. I will follow up on the reason for its closure because I recall the debates the Deputy and I had. He correctly stated that it is more cost-effective and appropriate to ask and encourage a small number of families to move rather than putting a large amount of investment into schemes that would be very expensive, particularly in view of the number of homes that would be protected.
The Deputy also referred to minor works. I think we are talking about the same thing but if we are not, I know he will tell me so. I refer to the minor flood mitigation work programme. I understand that for 2019 alone, €5 million in funding was made available to local authorities for that programme and that this led to 50 different flood relief schemes being put in place. I am sure the OPW is planning to continue that scheme.
I thank the Minister and welcome the minor works scheme, which has been very successful throughout the country. The Minister's officials can revert to me on individual home protection schemes and the farmyard relocation scheme, neither of which has got off the ground as yet.
I want to move on to a couple of other matters. The first is the fact that a number of communities are marooned during severe flooding because they have no road access in and out of their areas. That can last for a number of weeks or even months, as happened in Cóis Abhainn in south Roscommon, and people can be impacted by turloughs where the water can be lying on a road for a considerable period. There has been engagement between the OPW and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport regarding a number of individual roads in Roscommon, Westmeath, Galway, Cavan and Sligo in order to provide a specific scheme to protect and secure access for those communities. The Minister might provide an update on that matter. When I entered office, I authorised Geological Survey Ireland to work with the OPW on a groundwater and turlough flood monitoring programme in Roscommon, Galway and Longford.
I refer to a comment by the chairperson of the OPW, Maurice Buckley, who came before a committee in 2018 and stated that the projected wetter winters, particularly in the west of Ireland, could give rise to increased groundwater flooding associated with turloughs. We have a particular problems with turloughs called Lough Funshinagh in south Roscommon and Correal outside Roscommon town that have threatened and flooded homes in the past. There were serious problems in these areas last winter. We have solutions for the turlough in Castleplunket, but we have to work up solutions for the turloughs in Bushfield and Lisserdrea outside Boyle in Roscommon. In tandem with that, we need to have an effective cost-benefit analysis for turloughs because the water remains for a considerable period and the current cost-benefit analysis does not reflect that. Homes are marooned and flooded and land is flooded for months and, in the case of Lough Funshinagh in south Roscommon, years.
I asked the Minister of State, Kevin Boxer Moran, about the cost-benefit analysis relating to turloughs to which the Government is committed and last month he told me that nothing has yet been done. I ask the Minister that this specific provision be expedited.
If the Deputy lists the particular road projects he is referring to and makes that information available to me, I will come back to him with an update. On Lough Funshinagh and the difficulties with turloughs, the OPW has provided funding to Roscommon County Council to explore whether any feasible engineering options are available. The OPW expects a final report from the county council on those options in the near future.
I thank the Minister for taking this debate. He referred to flooding. There has been a lot of talk over the years that climate change is the cause of rivers flooding and that it will create more havoc. I do not agree. Our rivers are flooding because they are not being cleared. As the Minister knows, farmers cannot clear rivers due to the fact they will lose their farm payments because of cross-compliance. The River Flesk is one such example in Kerry. I am very grateful to the Minister of State, Kevin Boxer Moran, who came when I asked him to visit Glenflesk and Castleisland. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked him to visit other places and he met us. As a result, we got money to clear part of the Flesk. Until then, houses were being flooded. The N22, a national primary road, was flooded several times in 2015 and 2016. Since the river was cleared last year and despite there being several floods, no roads or houses were flooded.
Consultants said that clearing the river would only make a difference of a few millimetres. The fact is that the river was lowered by metres. The road is not in jeopardy and the emergency services can go back and forth to hospitals in Cork and Tralee. The national primary route into Kerry is no longer flooded. I have to thank the Minister of State for agreeing to and giving us the funding to clear the river. Following several years of deputations by me, Councillor Maura Healy-Rae and the residents of the entire Flesk area to Kerry County Council, that was the result. The remainder of the Flesk needs to be cleared. The Laune between Killarney to Killorglin badly needs to be cleared. The Lake Hotel was flooded and the owner had to pay millions to repair it. I ask the Minister not to allow that to happen again. The main river in Castleisland was cleared out 60 years ago and it was grand until a few years ago. It needs to be cleared again. However, CFRAM has suggested spending millions on building a flood plain near the town to hold water. The Brogeen, Glashoreag, Gweestin and other rivers need to be cleared.
When we are talking about rivers, we must talk about pollution. There is a lot of talk about the environment. People think that I do not appreciate the environment; I certainly do.
I do not subscribe to this thing of climate change, but I sincerely ask this. There is no mention that I can see in the programme for Government of sewage treatment plants that need to be built where there are none in places like Kilcummin, Currow and Scartaglen. Places like Castleisland have been waiting for 40 years for an extension to the treatment plant and we are talking about pollution there during wet weather. They have to clean out the septic tanks fortnightly or monthly when there is wet weather in Castleisland. That has been going on for 40 years.
Tobin Consulting has done CFRAM reports in places like Glenflesk and applicants are being denied planning permission. It is unfair because they are citing that a particular field could be flooded in 100 years or 1,000 years. The people who want to build houses for themselves will be long gone before ever a flood will come again, but if the river is kept cleared it will not flood. That is what I want to drive home to the Minister.
I am very disappointed with the programme for Government - the Green Party's programme for Government. Planning permission for people in rural areas is to be denied except in towns or villages where there is public transport. We do not have public transport like people in cities have. The quadrupling of the carbon tax to €100 per tonne will have a massive adverse effect on people in rural areas who do not have the same options for transport or heating as those in urban areas.
We are hearing a lot about offshore renewable energy. Why does the Government not just start with the easy things such as solar panels? Many farmers in Kerry have been granted planning permission for solar panels, but there is no scheme to pay them for their electricity at present. They have been waiting for three or four years for some planning guidelines to come that are being promised day after day but have not come. They are also waiting for the scheme to pay them for the energy that they would supply.
There is a lot of talk about carbon and the people are scared of their lives about what will happen to them in the next number of years if this Government goes ahead. They are absolutely terrified. People need their cars and they need surety. They need something that is affordable and reliable. When we reach such time as the electric cars prove themselves, then people will buy them and will give them a fair chance. However, it is wrong to be forcing people down the road that they cannot drive anything except electric cars. That is the wrong way to go about it.
They are talking about heating and stopping people from cutting turf. We cut turf every year and it is not an easy job. People have to cut it, turn it, foot it, stook it, bring it home, bring it into the fire and then take out the ashes. Many people are proud to do that, and they cannot afford anything else. While they are able to do it, they will do it. One elderly man said to me the other day, "I suppose I won't be able to do it for much longer. I'll have to get oil or something else." They are proud to do that and that is all they can afford. It is wrong to stop people from doing such things. Maybe the next generation or the generation after will not look at a bog or go there. Maybe there will be different ways at that time. It is wrong to be forcing things on people and it is wrong the way this Green programme for Government is being put out there. People are terrified of it.
Deputy Donohoe is a Minister in the present Government, and it is prophesied that he will be a Minister in the next Government as well. It came out this morning that publicans can only allow a person to stay in a pub for 90 minutes. How can publicans be reasonably asked to monitor that? A fellow comes in for a pint or whatever and maybe he goes out smoking or something and there are a few around. It is not possible for someone inside in the bar to keep tabs on every fellow. After 29 June he is supposed to ask for a meal, but he will come in and sit down and the publican will show him the menu. He may say that someone else is supposed to come and join him. While he is waiting, he will have the pint and maybe have a second pint drunk before the second person comes. How are publicans and restaurants supposed to manage that?
I do not have enough time, but people out there are very suspicious that there is no costing for the programme for Government. The Minister has been dealing with finance for the past four years. He cannot sell something to the people without giving the figures and facts showing where the money will come from.
Tá mé ag roinnt mo chuid ama. I thank the Minister for the written speech. It is always very helpful to get a written speech and to go through it. I realise that a lot of work has been done. I have the greatest of respect for the OPW except in regard to its policy of renting buildings. That comes back into the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I understand there is a review of that, but that is for another day.
I was a councillor and saw the initial CFRAM work. An enormous amount of work is involved. I did not realise that the work done covers two thirds of our population. We read all about the cross-Government interdepartmental flood policy co-ordination group. What we really want is somebody to drive it. We know it goes across Departments. It was chaired by the Minister of State, Kevin Boxer Moran. I pay tribute to that Minister of State and also to the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, both of whom were very hands-on Ministers of State. When did it meet last? Are minutes available? Have the problems arising and plans for the future been identified?
Tied into that, I ask the Minister to clarify something else for me. Another Deputy asked about coastal erosion. Twenty-one years ago, I became a councillor and one of the Minister's Fine Gael colleagues was to the fore in asking for works to be done between Sáilín and Silverstrand Beach. Twenty-one years later, no work has been carried out and we are still talking about a foreshore licence. I checked before I came to the Chamber. Other than knowing that nothing has happened, I have no idea where we are. Does that come under the Minister's remit? Does it come under the cross-departmental committee? That was identified as essential in preventing coastal erosion.
I imagine that if the Minister of State, Kevin Boxer Moran, is listening to this debate, he is listening rather ruefully given the amount of recognition he is receiving here this evening for all his great work.
The interdepartmental group meets regularly. It was chaired by the Minister of State, Kevin Boxer Moran.
I do not know when it met last. It is a fair question to ask. I will find out and share that with the Deputy. I will get the OPW to write to her with that information.
Are the minutes available for it? They are internal minutes and I imagine they are available in some format for the Deputy if she wishes to see them. The proof of how active that interdepartmental group has been is the large array of projects we are discussing this evening. In my years of sitting beside the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW and watching that person answering questions on particular flooding projects, I have been really struck by the progress that has been made and the number of schemes that are in the planning process or that are being built. That is a consequence of the workings-----
I am just going to answer the next question from the Deputy. The next question put to me by the Deputy was on the status of the coastal strategy. At the end of last year a group was put together to deliver that strategy. The group is chaired by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Office of Public Works, the OPW. I will come back to the Deputy on the status of that work.
The Minister might comment on this issue. Flooding is completely related to climate change, bad planning and to a lot of other factors. One of the factors is climate change and resulting rise in our water levels. We then go to biodiversity. I have gone from Billy to Jack with regard to a biodiversity officer in Galway city. Given the Minister's role in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is he aware there is a moratorium in Galway city - I have the email confirming this - and that it cannot employ a biodiversity officer? Is that email from the Minister's Department or from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, or has Galway City Council imposed a moratorium and cannot employ a biodiversity officer?
The Minister's luck is in. He has three Deputies from the same constituency of Sligo-Leitrim, north Roscommon and south Donegal, namely, Deputies MacSharry, Feighan and myself, all raising the same issue, which is the promise of the new Garda station in Sligo. I will not labour it as I have heard the Minister's responses. I was very pleased to hear the Minister refer to it as a very important policing and Garda station requirement. I must add, however, that there is extreme disappointment among the public in Sligo and especially among the gardaí at the waste of money, at a site left idle, at the effective downgrading Sligo as a policing location and crucially, for those who work there, at a building that is not fit for purpose. There is talk of upgrading it. I do not know if the Minister knows Sligo Garda station, but I do. One would freeze there in the winter. I want to lay down a marker. Before there is any talk of upgrading that building, which is what I believe is proposed, there needs to be a full assessment of a full retrofit. There is a commitment in the programme for Government for ten times the amount of retrofitting. I am not an engineer but I can put a small bet that the cost of a full retrofit on Sligo Garda station would probably be greater than the cost of any new build. I want the Minister to consider that a new build would be the best solution and the value for money solution.
Deputy Feighan raised the issue of flooding on the Shannon. Earlier this year my Dáil colleagues were in Carrick-on-Shannon several times watching water rise, businesses being flooded and land being flooded. I have been on the Sligo-Dublin train several times and have looked gingerly out the window as water has lapped at the very edge of the train tracks. They were pumping in Carrick-on-Shannon but the problem is that because of the typography and the levels there was nowhere for the water to go. Water and walls just will not work in Carrick-on-Shannon. The water will seep under any wall. I know there are no simple solutions but these flood risks can be alleviated or at least mitigated by dealing with some of the pinch points on the Shannon.
In 1883 a weir and a lock were built in Jamestown which even at that time were not built according to plan. To this day, that causes a problem when the river is in flood. Trees have fallen in and there is silting. The Minister does not know the area but not far away at Knockvicar there is a weir three times as long. This gives the Minister some idea of the issues they face.
The bottom line is that the Shannon is a piece of infrastructure to which nothing has been done since the foundation of the State. Somebody remarked to me that not a teaspoon of water has been taken out but millions of tonnes of silt and peat have been deposited. The flow can be speeded up at Jamestown. When people hear this, they throw their hands up in horror and say "What about further down the river?". The flow at Jamestown is 140 cu. m per second, in Athlone, it is 500 cu. m and at Parteen, it is 800 cu. m. I put it to the Minister that there is flexibility there to do that.
We also need to look at the water levels in Lough Allen. There are solutions and at the beginning of this year people in Carrick-on-Shannon expected that some of those solutions would be put in place. It has not happened. What can be done?
Flooding can never be gotten rid of but we can mitigate the risks. If those risks can be mitigated using some of the measures I mentioned and perhaps others, although forgetting about the building of walls in Carrick-on-Shannon, then I ask the Minister to consider them.
I thank Deputy Harkin. The Deputy heard my response on Sligo Garda station. I know where the building is. I have not been in it but clearly the kind of debate we are having about it here today would not be happening unless the building itself needed an awful lot of change. I heard what all of the Deputies had to say about that. Deputy Harkin referred to Jamestown. I am not in a position to respond to the very specific set of questions the Deputy put to me on that. I will write to the Deputy to give her answers to the questions she has raised.