Dáil debates

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Flood Prevention Policies: Motion [Private Members]

 

10:00 am

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes:

— that the Programme for Government contains a commitment to maintain a multiannual investment programme in flood relief measures to protect flood risk communities;

— that the objective of the European Union (EU) Floods Directive (2007/60/EU) is to establish a framework for the assessment and management of flood risks to reduce the negative consequences of flooding on human health, economic activities, the environment and cultural heritage in the EU;

— that the EU Floods Directive (2007/60/EU) crucially requires all member states to fully assess whether all water courses and coast lines are at risk from flooding, to quantify the overall risks and map the associated flood extent, assets and humans at risk in these areas and to take adequate and coordinated measures to reduce such flood risks;

— that flooding has far reaching negative and devastating impacts, such as emotional stress, the loss of individual homes, farms and businesses, severe associated health related issues and dramatic declines in economic competitiveness of impacted communities and regions;

— that while there has been significant social, infrastructural and economic damage caused by recent and repeated flooding across all regions, rural Ireland has been disproportionately impacted;

— that the essential and basic maintenance of Ireland’s rivers and streams is not occurring;

— that it is increasingly clear in Ireland that the current approach to flood insurance is not fit for purpose, and as such, the Government must provide proper consultation for homeowners and businesses who through no fault of their own have been flooded, as little or nothing has been done so far to address this issue and ensure urgent improvements to the current and future availability and affordability of flood insurance;

— the issue of flooding in Ireland is expected to increase in the coming years, this is evident by the current major flooding and the reoccurring flooding over the last 15 years;

— that there is a significant misunderstanding displayed by certain agencies about the ‘once in 100 years’ flood, as it means a one per cent chance of severe flooding every year;

— that the issue of flooding along the Shannon catchment is likely to worsen, both through frequency from year-to-year, and the volume of water that is spilling over banks, gathering on people’s land and threatening or destroying their homes;

— that the number of staff available to the Office of Public Works (OPW) has reduced significantly in the past few years and this is one of the primary reasons ongoing flooding is occurring in specific areas;

— that the Irish Government has failed to drawdown any available funding from the European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF), created as a relief fund to support regions impacted by severe floods across the EU, since 2009 where €13 million was allocated to Ireland from total allocations of some €5.5 billion, meaning Ireland is now the third lowest recipient of support under the scheme despite many severe flooding events here in recent years;

— that the existing flood alleviation measures in rural Ireland have proved grossly inadequate and ineffective in safeguarding communities from flood damage and heavy rains;

— the response of the OPW and local authorities’ Crisis Management and Severe Weather Assessment teams; and

— that addressing the damage caused by persistent and repeated flood damage will place substantial and unsustainable financial burdens on local authorities, farms, microenterprises, small to medium-sized enterprises and households; and

calls on the Government to:

— provide immediate and ongoing financial assistance to local authorities nationwide, to enable the timely delivery of local flood relief projects and schemes, to clear rivers, streams and drains aimed at preventing damage to businesses and private homes in towns and villages of impacted areas;

— ensure that local authorities have sufficient autonomy to facilitate the removal of silt or other obstructions, including but not limited to, over-hanging trees and branches along rivers, due to their destructive impact on flooding and consequentially on homes and businesses;

— increase the threshold of the Minor Flood Mitigation Works and Coastal Protection funding scheme, available to local authorities, from €750,000 (maximum currently) to €1 million for each project and to fast-track the processing of applications in order to alleviate the current delays associated with progressing valid submissions under the programme's economic, social and environmental criteria;

— urgently fast-track and deliver the development of the planned 150 flood relief schemes that form part of the Government’s €1 billion investment in flood relief over the lifetime of the National Development Plan to 2027, provide an annual review or update to Dáil Éireann on the implementation of the investment programme, in order to secure accountability, assess implementation and keep all impacted local citizens and communities fully up to date;

— immediately introduce a ‘ring-fenced’ current and capital funding scheme for each local authority to increase roadside operatives (employees) and contractors, with the requisite capital allocations to clear, sustain and maintain drains, gulleys, dykes and water courses;

— immediately introduce a ‘ring-fenced’ budget to each local authority to allow for cutting back road-side verges, hedges, and fences in rural communities, in the interests of flood risk prevention and road user public safety;

— immediately introduce a proper compensation package for businesses and homeowners negatively impacted with property damage or destroyed by flooding, as the current humanitarian-aid scheme omits private homes and businesses with insurance, despite some businesses having to cover their own excess of up to €10,000 per annum;

— immediately apply (as applications must be received by the Commission within 12 weeks of the date of the first damage caused by the event) for emergency funding under the multi-billion-euro EUSF to support Irish regions impacted by recent flooding across the country;

— intensify efforts to collate data on Ireland’s flooding crisis, as continuing to blame it on climate change alone is much too simplistic and idle a policy, given that across Europe, rivers are drying up in some areas, and also getting stronger, with more forceful currents in others;

— immediately increase the number of staff available to the OPW and other relevant bodies tasked with ensuring adequate levels of drainage, flood management and prevention;

— ensure the OPW carries out programmed maintenance on rivers and streams to prevent the build-up from trees, rubbish and other such debris;

— immediately critically review and publish the effectiveness of the strategies adopted by the Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management (CFRAM) Programme, the Flood Risk Management Plans (FRMPs) and the Shannon Flood Risk State Agency Co-ordination Working Group for the reduction of flood risk, publish the findings and determine whether a new single authority is needed to address issues on the Shannon (currently the OPW and the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) manages dams such as Parteen weir, while the North-South body, known as Waterways Ireland have responsibility for the rivers);

— implement significant reforms of regulations governing hedge and vegetation cutting,specifically where these materially impact the capacity of local authorities, landowners or farmers to manage and reduce flooding risks;

— put in place preventative measures for when tides are dangerously high and adopt a revised Coastal Zone Management Policy that is more integrated and more forward looking than is currently the case;

— undertake a programme to cut trees and roadside hedges along power lines, to prevent them falling onto power lines during storms, which has been shown to cause major power outages for prolonged periods;

— explore, and where possible, encourage the use of river dredging as part of a suite of measures to reduce the risk of flooding, due to the bed of silt, or clay, lying at the bottom of some rivers that has a significant impact on the water levels;

— end the short-term, stop-gap approach, to flood insurance immediately, and move to a more sustainable flood insurance approach by: — significantly increasing efforts to address the underlying risks now and in the future, as this will help to ensure the affordability and availability of insurance; and

— increase transparency and provide clarity to citizens and stakeholders so that insurance companies cannot hide behind inaccurate, market-fixing or unsubstantiated data by implementing sanctions on such providers; — prioritise the availability of insurance for homes and businesses adversely affected by flooding or heavy rains;

— allow farmers and landowners take the build-up of gravel and silt out of rivers as previously carried out by farmers over many generations;

— allow farmers and landowners to remove branches or trees from rivers or streams, at any time of year, without the threat of any prosecution for doing so;

— urgently proceed with clearing the remainder of the Flesk and Laune rivers, to protect the safety of residents and businesses in Killarney and Killorglin, together with similar works to be carried out on the Maine and Gweestin rivers in mid-Kerry and Castleisland areas; and

— expediate significant capital allocations to at risk towns across the country, such as Kenmare and Bantry, for flood remediation measures, while also ensuring short-term alleviation measures, such as clearing out under all bridges, occurs.

I thank Mairéad McGrath and Brian Ó Domhnaill for their help in putting together this motion and my Independent colleagues for allowing it to be put forward. Flooding is hitting every area but in recent months west Cork has been savaged by severe floods that have cost tens of thousands of euro of damage to property. My Independent colleagues agreed to this motion, but I can assure the House that in places like Kerry, Tipperary, Limerick and Offaly, flooding is equally relevant.

I take this opportunity to also thank the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, for visiting west Cork on numerous occasions, once taking time out from a family holiday to do so. The floods struck at a time of the year when nobody expected them and the Minister of State took time away from his family break to visit west Cork. That was greatly appreciated and I welcomed the opportunity to accompany him at that time as there were issues of concern in west Cork, other than the serious flooding issue, that needed to be discussed. I also thank the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, for visiting west Cork to see private and businesses properties that had been destroyed and to engage with the community. I am, however, somewhat disappointed - given his responsibility for public expenditure and reform - that no proper funding was put in place following that visit because he did see first hand the devastation to businesses, be it in Rosscarbery, Skibbereen, Rathbarry, Connonagh, Leap, Bantry or Bandon. The humanitarian aid was the best package available. I will comment further on that later. All of the ministerial visits to west Cork were important for us, as public representatives, and for members of the public, who welcomed the opportunity to air their serious concerns.

We hear about floods being an act of God. Some people say that they are related to global warming. In many cases, flooding occurs due to pure and utter neglect. We often also hear that flooding occurs once in every 100 years. As many areas in west Cork were flooded on two occasions in the space of a month or two, all of those reasons go out the window. Global warming gets the blame for many issues and it gets governments throughout the world off the hook. I have met many of the groups involved in this area. I met them with the Minister and I also met individuals in places like Rosscarbery and so on. Rivers need to be cleared out and laws need to be changed to allow the local authorities to do that work, particularly in the Rosscarbery area. In regard to Skibbereen, the Minister of State saw at first hand the business and private residences beside the Eldon Hotel and Cahalane's Bar that were destroyed. While that project had been allocated a great deal of funding it was not finished. At the end of the day, the issue was that a culvert had not been opened because it could not be opened. There were red alerts issued and council staff were not allowed out to work. This was about rainwater, not roofs falling down onto the street. Unfortunately, businesses like the Eldon Hotel were destroyed. To date, those businesses have not received any funding. The same applies in respect of other businesses along the route in question.

Businesses are being hit by the Covid pandemic and by flooding. West Cork has been truly hit in recent times. I recently visited Rathbarry and I met many local people who told me that they believed the area was being flooded because there were no workers clearing roadside drains, culverts and so on. Drains and culverts fill up with muck and dirt that needs to be cleared out. The local people believe that the cause of this is the savage ripping up of roads. The same situation applies on the Glandore Road. In Connonagh and Leap, the people told me the issue is silt in the river. Some people refer to it as muck but it is properly known as silt.

It is simply that the rivers were not cleaned out. The houses were flooded on two or three occasions. The flooding went up to 4 ft, 5 ft or 6 ft in people's homes. That is nothing short of neglect.

Bantry has been struck twice in recent times, most recently a week and half ago. When I was in the back of the car as a child, my father regularly had to move the car to stop the flood water from coming in when we were around Bantry because it would destroy the car. We are now in 2020 and it is the same story. The Office of Public Works, OPW, is saying that a major amount of work needs to be done. At the end of the day, the works are not being carried out. If the works are not being carried out, the flooding continues. We will go down and there will be another flood and another announcement. It does not make any difference. The bottom line is that people’s businesses and homes are being destroyed because works that need to be carried out are not being done. Some of this work is quite simple but more of it may need a big investment. Areas like Bantry and Skibbereen deserve investment. I respect that there is investment going into Bandon. I know there was an issue with flooding there again this year because some of the works have not been completed. Money has gone into Skibbereen. There is no point announcing moneys for an area if it ends up being flooded again. We have proven that in Skibbereen. As I have said, the culvert was the biggest issue there and it destroyed many properties. There was little or no compensation.

This has been going on for many years. In my time in the council in west Cork, I tried to get the river in Ballylickey cleared out. It completely destroyed the homes there. The people living along that line are terrified. That was in 2014. We are now in 2020. I have been listening to promises since 2014 that the river in Ballylickey will be cleaned out. Apparently, it is on the verge of getting some funding. As things stand, when major bad weather forecasts are coming, I get phone calls from the residents down there. I took the former Minister of State, Kevin Boxer Moran, and Shep the dog down to see the houses there. Nothing happened. It was not good enough. They sat him inside in their kitchens and showed him pictures of how far up the walls of their houses the flooding had come, but nothing happened.

The bottom line in most cases is that rivers need cleaning. It is a simple thing. In this situation we desperately need more roadside workers. It is the only way we are going to get our water tables cleared. Do we have to go back in time if we want to go ahead in this country? When we had plenty of roadside workers, none of these issues were arising. We can go back to global warming but that is the bottom line. The people in Connonagh told me that when they cleaned out the river years ago, there was no problem whatsoever. The same thing happened in Ballylickey in the 1960s. They cleared out the river once. They do not have to go at it every year, but it needs to be done once every ten or 15 years. We decided to put in place laws and everything else to leave things as they are. Unfortunately, people end up losing significant amounts of money and property, and businesses end up being closed down. The OPW needs to have the rivers cleaned of the silt, the gravel, the muck, the branches and the trees. Farmers must be allowed to do this. It might be an opportunity for farmers because they are the landowners who are living with the rivers on the side of their own ground. They should be allowed to clean out those rivers. There should be no time limit or any kind of environmental excuse to stop people from doing this.

I spoke last night with representatives of businesses in Skibbereen who did not get humanitarian aid. Every sort of excuse has been given. If one has insurance, or if one has a private house, one will not get humanitarian aid. I have dealt with people who had no insurance because they could not afford to insure their properties, and they have been refused humanitarian aid. In my view, for every ten humanitarian aid forms that are given out, just one or two applicants get it. There needs to be a stand-alone package for people in the communities of Bantry, Skibbereen, Rathbarry and Rosscarbery whose homes have been destroyed. Such a package would at least enable them to access some funds to repair the damage that has been done to their properties. I ask the Minister of State to look into this because the humanitarian aid scheme is not working.

10:10 am

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Laois-Offally, Independent)
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As a member of the Rural Independent Group, I am delighted to be involved in this motion. I thank the hard-working staff in our offices, including Mairéad McGrath and Brian Ó Domhnaill, for all the great work they have done with this motion.

I am very aware of flooding issues in my constituency of Laois-Offaly. The River Shannon causes flooding issues in areas like Banagher, Lusmagh, Shannonbridge, Shannon Harbour, Clonmacnoise and other surrounding areas. The River Brosna causes flooding in Riverstown and Birr. In County Laois, the River Owenass has caused much destruction to businesses and properties in Mountmellick in recent times. I am aware of this issue. We need urgent action. It cannot be left any longer.

A far greater degree of clarity is required on when the strategic programme of maintenance and removal of constrictions or pinch points on the bed of the River Shannon at the callows region between Athlone and Meelick Weir will commence. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has confirmed to me that progression of these works will be subject to full environmental assessments and that planning consent is required before they can proceed. I sincerely hope the environmental assessments are not a cop-out. We have to ensure this is not a desktop review. There must be consultation with farm owners, landowners and property owners about this because the EU habitats directive is often enforced in a very unbalanced way and is abused and misused. We do not need any excuses. We need action, pragmatism and common sense to be enforced to ensure measures are put in place.

I have some specific questions arising from our motion that I want to put to the Minister of State this morning. I wish to seek clarity from him. Perhaps he can respond to my questions in written form, or directly to me this morning. Is the conveyancing of the River Shannon still going to take place, as agreed in 2019? Was planning permission sought in respect of the conveyancing of the River Shannon? Can he provide me with an update on this? Will work on two pinch points, at Shannon Grove and Derryholmes, be prioritised because landowners are telling me that is where the real problems are along the River Shannon? Will flood defences be put in place in Mountmellick? We have heard about them but when will they be put in place? I ask for an update on that.

I commend the many groups that have been very active on the flooding issue over the years. The Save Our Shannon group, which is based in west Offaly but also has members in Athlone and Galway, has done fantastic work to highlight this whole issue. We need to ensure, out of fairness, that we are hearing what they are saying to us and that actions are taken here. I appeal to the Minister of State to accept this motion. We are listening to the people on the ground, the farmers, the property owners and the business representatives who are appealing to us, as political representatives, to bring all of the issues raised in our motion to his attention. We are appealing to him to take them on board. We will work constructively with him. We need to ensure we have a commitment from him.

I also ask the Minister of State for a definite start date on work on the pinch points, particularly those I have mentioned along the River Shannon at Shannon Grove and Derryholmes. We need to definite commitments on those.

As I want to be positive here this morning, I acknowledge the existing provision of €1 billion in the national development plan to deal with flood relief issues. It is an indication of some commitment. Again, we need to see action. People are disillusioned and disheartened. It is very distressing for people. It causes great upset when their homes, lands or businesses, which they have worked hard all their lives to build up, are destroyed by floods. Let us ensure we put an end to that and we put proper measures in place.

I ask the Minister of State to accept what we are saying in the motion. We are in touch with the people on the ground constantly, as is the Minister of State. I ask him to embrace what we have set out in the motion.

10:20 am

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I am glad to have the opportunity to talk about this very important topic. The situation is very serious. I ask the Minister to listen to us as we are on the ground and we know what is happening. There is nothing more horrible than when a house gets flooded and the water comes in the door or comes up the toilets, and the mess that leaves behind is never forgotten by the family it happens to. It has happened a lot in our area.

I am glad that, in one instance, after several deputations, many motions and my request to the then Minister of State, Kevin Boxer Moran, to come to Glenflesk, he duly responded and he gave us a small amount of money, €160,000 or so, to clear the bushes on a section of that river. We were told by Tobin Consulting Engineers and by the CFRAM study that to do that work would only reduce the level of the river by 10 mm. Until then, 16 houses were being flooded and the national primary road, the N22, was being flooded. That work was carried out in 2019 and in all the floods we have had since then, even recently, no house was flooded and the road was not flooded. Nonetheless, sections of work remain to be done. The rest of the river from Gortacoosh and on to the lakes at Muckross has to be done, as well as the area coming out of the lakes and back along the river all the way to Castlemaine harbour.

I will give one example of the situation. The family at the very reputable Lake Hotel in Killarney had their premises flooded and it had to be refurbished and restored at a savage cost. Their position is still the same. The Laune river has been narrowed with bushes and with silt building up, and that work needs to be done urgently so what happened to them in 2015 and 2016 will not happen again.

Kenmare, close to my own area, has been flooded, including businesses such as the Quill family business and the Horseshoe bar, and people in the square are under constant threat any time it rains. There is a fall away from this square, and issues need to be rectified, such as removing a sewer that is blocking the iron bridge. There is a fall to the bay and that work needs to be done.

It is common sense. I thank the Minister of State for coming to Kenmare and listening to those located in the square, which I appreciate very much. Sneem village is being flooded and if there is any shower at all at the Inny bridge west of Waterville, that place is flooded. There are also places like Castleisland and the small rivers around it. The problem is that the local farmers and landowners are not allowed to take one spoon of silt out of the rivers, but then the town gets flooded. The main river out of Castleisland needs to be cleaned out, given it was done in the 1960s and has not been done since. Ongoing maintenance work is needed and it would not take millions to do this work. It is only common sense. There are plenty of excavators and all kinds of technical equipment for taking levels, so there should be no reason that this work is not carried out immediately. As I said, work needs to be done at White Bridge on the Flesk river near Killarney, given that a caravan park there has been destroyed on many occasions.

We then come to the small but important things. The section man on the road was keeping the inlets open and ensuring the drains were kept open, but that is not happening. This means floods are going into people's yards and in their front doors, and the road is now the river in many instances because the drains and inlets are not opened. This is very simple, common-sense work. We have no need for all these reports and assessments. It is common-sense work. If the Minister of State visited these places, he would see what needs to be done. There is surely enough equipment in the country to carry out the work, and the manpower as well.

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick County, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

“calls for:

- further progression of the whole of Government approach that is delivering returns to managing the flood risk and coastal change for rural Ireland;

- an examination of the current regulatory requirements to be carried out; and

- the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform with responsibility for the Office of Public Works to undertake a consultation through the Oireachtas committee structures on how best to deliver flood relief measures into the future given the challenges of climate change.”

The motion put down by the Deputies is to question the scope of and progress being made by the Government to address the flood risk in rural Ireland. I want to assure Deputies that I am very familiar with the devastation that can be caused by flooding for individual homeowners, businesses, landowners and communities, particularly in rural areas. Since my appointment as Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, OPW, I have visited a number of areas affected by recent storms and flooding, including Kenmare, Skibbereen, Bantry, Clifden, Dunmanway and Kilmallock. I acknowledge the Deputies who were present for those visits and the support they gave. I have witnessed at first hand the damage caused, and I have met and spoken with the people and business owners directly affected.

The Government has a very strong record in regard to managing flood risk in rural Ireland through a whole-of-government approach. I attended the last meeting of the interdepartmental flood policy co-ordination group and I was impressed by the extent of measures already in place and being progressed to avoid construction in flood-prone areas, protecting at risk communities and responding to reduce the impacts of flood events.

I want to address some elements of the motion put down by the Deputies relating to river maintenance. In summary, the Deputies are calling for local authorities to have the powers, autonomy and ring-fenced funding to clear rivers, streams, gullies and drains; to remove obstructions along rivers; and to cut back roadside verges and hedges. The Deputies want to encourage the use of dredging and ensure that farmers and landowners be allowed to remove branches or trees from rivers or streams, and take the build-up of gravel and silt out of rivers. They are also calling for the OPW to carry out programmed maintenance on rivers and streams.

Statutory responsibilities for channel maintenance are clearly defined for both the OPW and the local authorities. Funding and statutory powers set out by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage allow local authorities meet their responsibility for the maintenance of some 4,600 km of drainage district river channels and address local flooding issues, including verge cutting, tree cutting and cleaning of gullies. Local authorities are an important source of guidance to landowners for the maintenance of rivers and watercourses on their lands, including tree cutting and silt removal. I assure the Deputies that I will work with my ministerial colleague in regard to the powers and funding from his Department to local authorities to ensure they can adequately address river and roadside maintenance and also in regard to regulations guiding landowners’ maintenance of watercourses on their lands.

The OPW is responsible for the 11,500 km of river channel, including approximately 800 km of embankments, which form part of the arterial drainage schemes completed since 1945. The annual maintenance programme by the OPW protects 260,000 ha of agricultural land. While there are significant environmental issues to be addressed, the OPW does consider river dredging where it can be effective in reducing flood water levels.

The Deputies are calling for the Government to fast-track the delivery of the planned 150 flood relief schemes; make changes to the OPW’s minor mitigation works and coastal protection scheme; and, informed by a review, consider a new single authority to address flooding issues on the Shannon, an issue I addressed in the House last night.

The catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme is informing the Government’s approach to managing flood risk. It was the largest study ever undertaken in the State of our risk from significant flood events - the 100-year floods. Its output, the 29 flood risk management plans, gave the Government the evidence to progress some 150 flood relief schemes in addition to the 46 major flood relief schemes completed, which together will protect 95% of at-risk properties. These additional schemes are being funded, as Deputy Nolan said, with €1 billion as part of the Government's National Development Plan 2018-2027. This level of funding reflects how motivated the Government is to protect people, properties, businesses and communities from flooding risk. In just two years, this funding has allowed the OPW to accelerate, from 33 to 92, the number of schemes being brought through to planning, design and construction.

The OPW staffing levels delivering flood risk management have increased by 22% since 2017.

Delivering flood relief schemes takes time to ensure that we design them appropriately and effectively, do not cause flooding elsewhere, and meet the regulatory requirements. I accept that progress on this can be slow. Even after consent is granted, schemes are still at risk of judicial review, as we are seeing with the Morrison’s Island scheme in Cork. I have met Claire Nash, a restaurant owner in this area, who has invested significantly in her business. She told me that her premises was flooded in both 2009 and 2014 and that she still cannot get flood insurance. We are now two years on from having submitted the scheme to An Bord Pleanála for planning permission and, in the meantime, homes and businesses remain exposed to repeated flooding time and again. I issued an appeal during the week, which I reiterate now, in respect of the Morrison's Island scheme.

The current regulatory framework is such that progress by my office in advancing its programme of activities is significantly impacted by a broad range of regulatory requirements which must be addressed and complied with. Like all individuals, agencies and companies, we have to comply with the requirements of environmental and planning legislation and these are simply outside the control of the Office of Public Works. That said, I and the OPW are actively engaged with other Departments to ensure that required flood measures are delivered to communities in the shortest timeframe. To that end, it is my intention to bring to Government a memorandum detailing the progress of the roll-out to date of flood relief schemes and the policy areas on which we believe further interdepartmental work will be needed. There will be a particular emphasis on the areas of planning and environmental compliance.

Since 2009, funding of €39 million under the OPW’s minor works scheme is protecting 7,100 properties across more than 580 projects. Two thirds of these are outside of the CFRAM study areas. The scheme is a valuable source of funding for local authorities to address local flooding issues. For example, while the OPW does not have statutory maintenance responsibility for the Flesk and Laune rivers, referred to by the Deputies in their motion, the OPW has approved €240,000, or 90%, of the costs for a project at Flesk River, Glenflesk. This is improving conveyance between Curreal Bridge at Glenflesk to Gortahoosh Bridge and Loo Bridge. While funding available under the scheme, following a review, has recently increased by 50% to €750,000, I am glad to give consideration to increasing this threshold to €1 million, something I had already commenced before the motion was tabled.

I spoke in the House yesterday evening on the River Shannon Management Agency Bill 2020. I announced during that debate that I am undertaking an examination over the coming months of the Shannon flood risk State agency co-ordination and working group’s legislative landscape, including a review of the current regulatory environment, to inform the establishment of this group on a statutory basis.

I turn now to the parts of the motion put down by the Deputies regarding humanitarian assistance, flood insurance and emergency response. I pay tribute to the local authorities and to my own staff in the OPW for their response to severe weather emergencies, including flooding. The EU Solidarity Fund is intended for overwhelming disasters following very severe and catastrophic events. I am advised by my Department that any application based solely on damage identified by local authorities would not meet the damage threshold of 0.6% of GNI.

The Government’s once-off voluntary homeowners relocation scheme is providing humanitarian assistance to those affected by floods in 2015 and for which there are no viable engineering solutions. My colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, is introducing a scheme to work with those worst affected farmers.

I have seen at first hand how flooding creates extreme hardship, in particular for those who do not have flood insurance. The Government’s humanitarian assistance schemes provide funds to homeowners, businesses, voluntary and community organisations that are impacted by a flood event. I intend to work with my colleagues, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Social Protection, in regard to the criteria for these humanitarian schemes. However, Deputies will acknowledge that if these schemes were extended to cover the uninsured excess in policies, it is very likely that the excess in all flood policies would move to exclude any amount covered by the State, effectively making the State the first line insurer.

In return for its investment in flood relief schemes, the Government expects protected homeowners and businesses to be able to access affordable flood insurance cover. However, through the OPW’s memorandum of understanding with Insurance Ireland, we are already seeing the level of insurance cover increasing in protected areas from an average of 77% in 2015 up to 93% today. However, the level of cover in areas protected by demountable defences remains stubbornly low. I will be working with my colleague, the Minister for Finance, to try to resolve the concerns expressed by the insurance industry about demountable defences and will explore how greater transparency to flood insurance can be achieved.

I want to address the parts of the motion addressing climate change and a coastal strategy. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reported that for a 1.5°C rise in temperature, the global mean sea level could rise by up to approximately 1 m by 2100. Projections of more intense Atlantic storms could potentially increase surge events and wave heights. Met Éireann has also projected that in Ireland, the autumns and winters to come will be wetter, with a possible increase in heavy precipitation events of up to 30%.

The impact from sea level rises and more intense storms increases the risk of coastal erosion. The Government has established a cross-departmental group to address this cross-sectoral issue. I, along with my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, attended the first meeting of this group and we intend working with it over the coming months.

In the time allowed I have given just some detail of the work completed and under way by the Government that is comprehensively managing Ireland’s flood risk and coastal strategy. I will work extremely hard to ensure that the greatest possible progress is made on the delivery of a very ambitious programme of investment in flood defence and flood risk management measures.

I acknowledge the motion. I hope the Deputies see the benefit of the amendment I put down. I ask them to work collectively with me in the coming months to try to see what measures we can implement. If there are regulatory or legislative amendments they believe they can bring forward in the interim, I will certainly consider them.

10:30 am

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I thank the Minister. Are copies of his contribution available?

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick County, Fine Gael)
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We were told that with the current regulations, we were not to circulate them.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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We can check that because it is handy to have a copy for everyone. It is usually circulated.

Richard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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I propose to share time with Deputy Michael Healy-Rae.

Climate change has a considerable impact on flood risk in Ireland. This means rising sea levels, increased wave action, potential winter rainfalls and intense rainfall events. Other factors are changes in land use through house building and other building developments. These are factors that we cannot control. However, what we do have control over is calling on the Government to be held accountable. It must make a commitment to provide an update on the implementation of the investment programme. That will give transparency to impacted local citizens and keep them fully updated.

In its 2018 report the OPW stated that it will continue the minor works scheme as long as the funding is available. As a builder, I know how important it is to do maintenance. Unfortunately, the commitment by the OPW is less than credible as it only hires seasonal staff during the summer months. They are laid off during the winter at a time when they are essential. That is one of the primary reasons ongoing flooding is occurring in specific areas.

The Minister mentioned earlier all the places he visited, including Kilmallock, in County Limerick. After lobbying his office, and he was present, some works, although not all, have been carried out in Kilmallock in County Limerick. I welcome that. However, I went to Gotoon in Kilmallock yesterday to find out that the sandbags are still in place. The people are still afraid that they will be flooded because all the works have not been carried out. I am calling on the Minister to keep the OPW workers working all year round.

Maintenance has a lot to do with the issue we are discussing here today. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae said, and he is correct, that many of the roads in our counties are becoming rivers. I will mention Kilmallock one more time. There are people who are not living on a flood plain whose houses were flooded due to the road becoming the river and the culverts were not opened. Who is responsible? These people cannot get insurance again. Who is responsible? The Government is responsible. No one other than the Government is responsible.

I mentioned Abbeyfeale previously to the Minister. I visited a person, as has the Minister, who had to spend €70,000 to protect their house from falling into the river. That house was given planning permission by Limerick County Council at the time. The land was sold by Limerick County Council, yet this person had to spend €70,000 to protect the house from falling into the river.

I visited Abbeyfeale to find out that the yard, adjacent to the four other houses, is now falling into the river. They have called on the Government and they called on the previous Government to help them with the erosion that has been caused by flooding and the lack of dredging of rivers to make the water veer away from these houses, but this has not been done.

I believe that the Minister of State is competent in his position, but I am asking him to make sure that the OPW keeps its employees all year round. I am also looking for extra money for the local authorities so that they have a crew all year round to make sure that the gullies and all the drains are cleared so that the water does not flow down the road and into people's houses that are not on flood plains. A lot of this is maintenance and I call on the Minister of State to make sure that there are enough employees and that they are there during the summer and the winter. I ask the Minister not to give me the excuse that they cannot travel the land, because they can travel the rivers to do what they are doing. The machinery and the workers are there. All we need is an investment in maintenance all year round. The amount of water that will be taken off our roads will be evident after one year of doing this and it will stop the decay of our roads. We need to get the water off the roads and into the proper gullies and dykes, and to get them all cleaned out, and not have the farmers being brought to court for trying to clear rivers to save their properties.

10:40 am

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I thank the Minister of State for his proactive approach to this problem. I know he is acutely aware of how serious it is and that he is extremely personally determined to help and assist around the country. I will be looking to him to help County Kerry in particular.

The horror of flooding and what it means for businesses and families is immeasurable. I will give the example of a great local employer in County Kerry, started by the late Paddy Quill, namely, Quills Woollen Market. The shops are located throughout Kerry, but unfortunately in Kenmare, for instance, its business has been very adversely affected on many occasions by flooding in the square, as have the residents of Scarteen Park. Many homes have been flooded on many occasions and the same has occurred in Sneem. There is a relief scheme, namely, the Kenmare drainage scheme, which in process, but I want to see it expedited and the work starting on the ground.

I compliment those in the local Kenmare area office under the stewardship of Kieran O'Halloran and the great Jackie Horgan, our local foreman, and all the people who, in the middle of the night, have so diligently gone into businesses to try to help and assist in keeping the water out. I want to cite those as examples. The same situation has occurred in Killorglin. In the area office there, Brian Hickey and Patrick Fleming, our local foreman, along with all the other council personnel, whether they are in Killarney, Glanbehy, Waterville, Cahersiveen, Listowel, Tralee and throughout the county, work diligently like a fire brigade, and along with the fire brigade, to solve the problem as it arises and minimise the damage.

What we have to plan ahead and stop those types of occurrence. How do we do that? We do that by planning and putting in the investment. I thank and compliment the OPW, for instance, in Killarney, the great people who work there in Castlemaine and Killorglin and other parts of north Kerry, all of the OPW staff and the private contractors who work for them. What they need, and what they are relying on us to do, is to deliver the schemes and the funding. We, in turn, are looking to the Minister of State and the Government to take this matter seriously and to give it the attention it deserves.

We have a situation that has arisen over many years now, which is that in the past it was absolutely no problem for a farmer to go into a river and take gravel out. There was nothing wrong with doing this and it was not damaging. The ironic thing, when we talk about our fish stocks, is that we had far more salmon and fish in our rivers 20 and 30 years ago, when we were taking gravel out of them every day, than now. Today, one would have a better chance of robbing a post office and getting away with it than going to a river and taking gravel out of it. It would nearly be treated as the same type of offence. Now that one cannot go near a river to take a scoop of gravel out of it, there are far fewer fish in the rivers. Therefore, the farmers cannot be blamed for doing anything to the fish stocks.

I compliment and thank the fisheries board and the personnel that I deal with in County Kerry because when I have gone to them to tell them that gravel needs to be taken out of a river, they work with the farmer. I want that to be more encouraged and I want farmers to realise that it is not a criminal offence to go to a river and remove gravel from it. I want this to be actively encouraged. I cite the example of Lauragh, an area in my constituency. I work with people there on a daily basis. What I see happening there is as follows. There is one particular river that is flowing at a higher level than the road. With the first bit of a rise in the water level or a flood, the water is out on the road. How can the council personnel do anything about that? They cannot. What we need to do is to encourage the digging out of the gravel at the base of the river, where it can be taken out in a proper fashion, working in conjunction with the officers of the fisheries board who are charged with protecting our rivers and our fish stocks. We should all work together and not avoid each other. When I think of areas like Bonane, outside of Kenmare, where there have been very serious flooding problems in the past and farmers have had lands devastated, fences knocked and animals carried away in floods, again we can work together to do a proper job.

I thank the Minister of State for listening to us when we called for humanitarian assistance and to do so in the future.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I call on Deputy Thomas Gould.

Thomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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In 2012, there was extensive flooding in Glanmire in Cork. On the night of the flood, I was contacted by distraught residents who told me about the damage that was being done to their homes and their businesses. I travelled down on the night to find that there were no sandbags and there was no support from the Government. Water was rushing through people's doors, destroying their homes and their lives. I then drove to Cork City, where I went to a depot and got sandbags and travelled out to support the residents and do what I could, along with the fire brigade and council workers who were trying to save people's homes. That was in 2012. Those same homes in Glanmire and Meadowbrook are still not secure to this day, even though there was another announcement made in September 2020 about works being done, which was welcomed by Deputies from the area, who form part of the Government. They should not forget that for years, Glanmire has been promised flood protection works, namely, in 2012, 2015 and 2018. In 2018 here was an announcement of €8.5 million with work to start in 2019, which was delayed in 2019 for a year until 2020. In September 2020, we were told that the works would take place in 2021. It is not good enough. It is this Government, under Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, that has left Glanmire wide open to possible flooding. The people of Glamire are sick and tired of announcements and promises. They want the work done and they want it done now. Will the Minister of State to give a guarantee here today that the people of Glanmire will see that work completed before next year?

In 2010, the draft catchment flood risk management plan for Cork was published. This included work for Blackpool, which is one of the most historical areas of Cork City, but also, unfortunately, one of the areas most affected by flooding. As a councillor for the area, I witnessed numerous floods that have destroyed Blackpool over the years. For years, announcements have been made on the protection of Blackpool and the surrounding areas, but still, to this day, Blackpool is not protected, the flood protection measures have not been completed and we have heard the same old announcements for far too long.

I am sick and tired of reading and hearing about OPW reports on what will be done.

The neglect of Cork North-Central, one of the most historic constituencies in the State, by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael has been shocking.

I thank the Rural Independent Group for tabling this motion. I welcome it because it is badly needed.

I wish to comment on flood insurance cover. I am dealing with residents, homeowners and business owners who have no cover. Yesterday, we heard about the large profits being made by insurance companies. In his contribution, the Minister of State touched on this issue but offered no solutions. Will he get insurance companies to provide cover for homeowners and businesses that do not have any currently? The Minister of State cited an entrepreneur in Cork, Ms Claire Nash, whose business was flooded in 2009 and 2014.

Flooding has been a major issue and we need action now. We are sick of promises and announcements. We want to be constructive and to see things done, but for far too long, areas like Glanmire, Blackpool and Cork city have taken the brunt of flooding. This situation is not good enough and needs to be stopped.

10:50 am

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Rural Independent Group for tabling this motion. That we had a similar debate last night reflects the importance of this issue for many people across the country. Yesterday, we spoke primarily about the difficulties in the Shannon region. The main issue is managing water levels on the Shannon and making sure that works are performed at the appropriate times and there is a body to oversee them and ensure they are done properly and in a co-ordinated fashion.

I will use this opportunity to bring the Minister of State's attention to a number of other areas, the first of which is Dromahair in north Leitrim. The River Bonet flows across north Leitrim and into Dromahair. On 29 June, Sharon and Michael Gethins's house was under 2.5 ft of water. A flash flood caused devastation, with many neighbours and lands across the area flooded. In fairness, the OPW has done a great deal of work on the river, but it continues to leave parts of it untouched because it is not responsible for them. It does not go near the part of the river that flows through the village of Dromahair. Anyone who walks there can see the rubble, including tree trunks, and overgrown vegetation. They are not being dealt with. In many instances of flooding around the country, it is normally just one or two small areas that need attention in order to relieve the rest.

There are issues in the Drumcliff area of north Sligo. Problems arose there around the end of June last year, with flash flooding and houses practically destroyed. In one case, debris was washed down a river and blocked an eye of a bridge entirely. It had three eyes originally, but now there are only two. The county council has stated that removing the blockage poses it environmental issues. In fairness, the Minister of State mentioned last night how there were many problems with getting approval, given the environmental issues involved. Sometimes, floods leave debris behind and it is treated as if it is some kind of national asset that we should hold onto. A little common sense needs to be brought to bear and this matter must be addressed.

The main issue in most areas is trying to get the correct body to do the work. The OPW is responsible in some cases but not in others and there are whole areas where it does not deal with flooding. Many areas of Leitrim and Sligo used to have river drainage boards. They were dissolved, as was the funding that had been going to them. That left a major problem. The Ballinamore-Ballyconnell river drainage board operated for many years. I was a member of it. It worked under Cavan and Leitrim County Councils to provide drainage and funding for same. Minor works were done to keep drains open and rivers flowing across vast areas of land. The same situation obtained in many areas. Funding was removed and councils were made responsible, but they were given no money. If one now wants to have rivers drained, the county manager asks from what road that funding will be taken. There needs to be a recognition of this significant problem. Not only must the previous drainage boards be re-established within local authorities, but new ones must be established because the problem in many areas is that there is no one responsible. If we can do that, we will move this situation forward a great deal.

The issue of insurance arises regularly and I have spoken to many people about it. A couple of months ago, I spoke to someone whose house, despite being on high ground, happened to be in a townland where an area had flooded previously. No insurance company would give the person a quote. Obviously, when companies put the application into the system, a red flag was raised because of previous claims for flooding in the townland and they would not offer quotes. The house would not flood unless it was like the flood that lifted Noah's ark. It is on a hill, yet its owners could not get insurance. They had to get someone from an insurance company to come out, look at the house and take photographs before they could get a quote. A bit of common sense needs to be applied, but there is an issue with insurers. They do everything they can when there is a flood to wrangle their way out of paying and assisting people.

All of this comes down to ensuring that we are on the side of the people on the ground, including the farmers whose lands are flooded and the people whose properties have been destroyed by flooding, and that we work collectively. I acknowledge the Minister of State's work. We all want to work with him on resolving the problem. He accepted at least a portion of our proposal yesterday to have an overall authority for the River Shannon. However, greater responsibility needs to be taken for all parts of the country where there is flooding, be they small tributaries of larger rivers, lakes or lowlands. The only bodies responsible currently are local authorities even though they have no funds to deal with them. This matter needs to be addressed urgently.

Rose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Rural Independent Group for tabling this important motion. I wish to examine the impact of a level of flooding that used to occur only once every 100 years but now occurs every couple of months. I know this best because I live in County Mayo. At one time, only certain areas there were subject to flooding. Now, however, more areas become flood zones whenever there is a storm or rain. The people affected are living in fear of every storm and rainfall, but they should not have to.

I will discuss what happened to the Mayo local authority's outdoor staff. I am sure it happened in other local authorities as well. Staff numbers have been cut time and again down the years, meaning that basic services and maintenance like cleaning rivers and drains and necessary minor works have not been undertaken because there has been no one to do so. This has happened at the expense of local people. The cost of removing staff who were doing a valuable job was never considered.

Farmers and other landowners are not allowed to undertake basic maintenance. In areas of special designation in particular, they are prevented from doing the practical things that would prevent flooding.

There has been too much talk about some schemes. For example, the scheme in Crossmolina has been talked to death, yet there has not been proper consultation. In many situations, local landowners, businesses and homeowners know what needs to be done. Where Crossmolina is concerned, they know that the River Deel did not overflow years ago. Silt has been allowed to build up over the years and is constantly causing flooding. There needs to be better consultation with local people who know what the solutions are. I am not taking away from the fact that design and planning are necessary, but far too much money is being spent on design, planning and consultants.

The Government's €1 billion investment over the national development plan up to 2027 is very welcome but there has to be accountability around it with regard to who is in charge and where they are. Who is accountable? What monitoring and measuring is being done on the implementation of these plans? Where is the money being spent?

The money to local authorities also needs to be ring-fenced to do this so we are not constantly in a crisis management situation. When I leave home on a Monday or a Tuesday morning I never know if I will be able to get here or not. I live on the Mullet Peninsula and the road is constantly flooded at Bundoola when the whole peninsula is cut off. People trying to access hospitals or to get out just do not know what is going to happen. We are in the lap of the gods every time.

There needs to be work done and it needs to be speeded up. Everything is happening too slowly. We then have situations like that in Westport where money was allocated four years ago and yet the work still has not been done. Carrowholly has also continued in the same way where the work has not been done. On-the-ground staff need to be appointed and we need accountability and tracing of the works that need to be done. When the work is done, those places need to be taken out of the flood risk areas so if people want to sell their homes the values of the homes are not completely depleted also.

We want to work with the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, and with others in getting solutions to this, but we need to see much more action, and quicker. We need to consult, listen to and feed back to the people on the ground about flooding. It is not right that communities are living in fear of the next downpour.

11:00 am

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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Since 1995 my town of Midleton has been flooded 11 times. In 2015 and in 2016 the Main Street was destroyed with more than 400 houses and 180 businesses affected. I have listened to a number of speakers here and I believe it is down to resources, local staffing and local knowledge. The lad with the shovel and the JCB for the country rural road is gone. I also have an issue that we do not really know who is responsible for cleaning gullies anymore. Is it Irish Water or the county councils? Who is it?

On flooding, planning and reports, it is grand to be making promises. Midleton, in particular, has been waiting for the 2023 flood relief scheme that was supposed to start. If it starts then I would certainly welcome it. In the past three weeks parts of Midleton have been adversely hit by flooding once again. Youghal was affected by flooding even though some remedial works were carried out there.

I have mentioned this to two other Ministers in the last term here. A CFRAM study in 2013 identified the problems along with solutions to alleviate those problems, but unfortunately that report was shelved and the works were not carried out. The costs to alleviate the flooding were estimated in the range of €25,000 at the time. When the predicted one-in-100-year event happened it affected nearly 200 houses. However, a one-in-100-year event can happen every two weeks or twice in a week. There is a bit of misinformation out there in that regard.

When I raised the issue of local flooding at that time, and the impact it has on families, it really aggrieved me that this particular study had given information that there would be more than 1.5 m of water deposited in one specific area where there are two semi-detached houses and a bungalow. The water actually went to the fascia board and soffit. That could have been prevented. One family lost their family home and will never be back in that house again because it has flooded twice.

I thank the Rural Independent Group for bringing forward this motion today. We have to go back to the local knowledge and the common sense approach that the locals know their own areas. They know the pinch points in rivers, they know where the problems are and they know where the trees will be or where the land is boggy. It is devastating for families. Consider the estate in Midleton called Lauriston, which unfortunately is adjacent to a rugby club that is adjacent to the disused railway. The river banks broke, the water went through the railway line and channelled through the stone, which practically wiped out the whole area. We were going to those people and saying that we did not know what was going to happen and that we did not know what the residents' insurance companies were going to do. Another affected housing estate, Forest Hill, is on a hill. I rang the insurance company and was told the area was a flood risk. It is located on a hill equivalent in the height to where I stand now at the back of the Chamber compared to where the Minister of State is currently sitting. That is the difference in the height levels. We need to have a joined up approach on the insurance aspects also.

I am not here to knock. It is about everybody working together but I just wanted to flag the fact with the Minister of State that some studies have already been done and the information is there. It is about resourcing the local authorities in the areas to carry out these remedial and preventative works.

Over the past number of years works in Fermoy thankfully have worked, Mallow is fairly good and I have I mentioned the works done in Youghal. Midleton, however, has many issues at the moment. I have spoken with the area engineers on this. They are appealing for help and funding. The one thing we are very lucky with is the community spirit. The Civil Defence, the Garda and the emergency services all pulled together. If we can pull together in times of emergency surely as a body we can sit down in a committee and pull together to prevent this. Let us be honest, we live on an island that is covered by water. Water is thrown on top of us. If we do not come up with a collective plan, it is never going to work. I appeal to the Minister of State to agree to the motion today. I ask that he does not kick the can down the road and that he let us work together and work for everybody.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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I welcome the motion, which the Labour Party will support. I thank the Minister of State for specifically making reference to Cork. There has been much rhetoric in Cork and many harsh words from both sides with regard to this issue. People have become very entrenched and it has gone to the law. That is people's right if they want to do that. I ask that calmness be restored on the issue in Cork. I believe that people everywhere acknowledge that the works have to be done but there is a contrast in how it should be done, whether we go for demountable walls and a mix of other types of solutions, or whether we go for the tidal barrier. It would be very useful to have the perspective of the OPW around the potential cost of a tidal barrier. We have heard a range of figures but I am not aware that active consideration is being given to that or whether a price has been put on that.

Business people and residents in Cork affected by flooding want a solution. I acknowledge the Minister of State said he would not meet with the Save Cork City people. I am not asking the Minister of State to do that but some mechanism needs to be found to bring all sides together. This is something that my own party colleagues, such as Councillors John Maher and Peter Horgan, have called for. They are on public record on that. We just need a bit of calmness. The rhetoric needs to be toned down. Public officials who make public utterances on this issue need to be mindful of the fact that they serve all the people of Cork and all the views. There is a legitimate question mark over whether the consultation process was actively engaged in after the fact, or whether there was a proper and due analysis of that consultation process. I am not saying there was not but there is a question mark in the minds of people in Cork on whether there was an active engagement on that. I ask the Minister of State to have due consideration to that issue also. He is in a powerful position because he has management of the purse strings.

That gives him weight and heft in the debate regarding Cork city. I ask him to use his good offices to seek some sort of intervention, for an honest broker to come into proceedings to mediate a solution between the two sides before the debate becomes even more entrenched.

The Minister of State also spoke about insurance costs. I met with his predecessor, the former Minister of State, Deputy Canney, a number of years ago about this issue. At this point there is a strong evidence base for the effectiveness of demountable flood defences in towns like Mallow, which is my home town. I live a stone's throw from the Blackwater. I have witnessed the efficacy of demountable flooding structures as they pertain to the Munster Blackwater, particularly for the towns of Mallow and Fermoy. They work and there is an evidence base for that. We have to take on the insurance companies that are not insuring residents and businesses in this area. They are not applying the principle of fairness. Where there is an evidence base and it is incontrovertible that the demountable walls work, there should be no issue in procuring insurance for one's premises. I appreciate the Minister of State's statement that he is looking at this issue but it has been going on for too long now and we are always being fobbed off by the insurance sector. Even though there is a strong evidence base before them, they continue to refuse to insure properties in areas where there are demountable flood defences. I ask the Minister of State to redouble his efforts in that regard.

A minor works scheme application was made in 2018 regarding flooding issues at Castlemartyr, County Cork. We are now on the cusp of 2021. I ask the Minister of State to take a look at the Castlemartyr issue again and to correspond with me on it if possible. The Minister of State spoke about the efficacy of minor flood works schemes last night. Where there are outstanding applications for such schemes, I ask that he consider giving them a degree of urgency.

I posed a parliamentary question to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform about the coastal protection scheme and Roches Point in Cork. I acknowledge that the Green Party councillor Liam Quaide raised this issue previously and Paschal Sheehy of RTÉ did a very good piece on it on 25 October. There is a terrace of 11 coast guard cottages in Roches Point, dating back to the 1830s, where flooding is still taking place. I understand that no application for works has come before Cork County Council. That is something on which I as a local public representative will follow up. If that application comes in from Cork County Council, I ask that the Minister of State gives due consideration to protecting Roches Point. It is a wonderful place. Its people are resilient and it is a key point within our county. It would be great if this matter was given some priority and was progressed by the county council.

In respect of Glashaboy and Blackpool in Cork, some concerns have been expressed about whether the length of the proposed culverts would have an environmental impact on flora, fauna and biodiversity in that area. On foot of me raising the issue here, could I correspond further with the Minister of State about it or could his officials correspond with people in Blackpool who have concerns about whether culverts are the most effective way of dealing with that issue? We will adhere to expert advice but these concerns nonetheless need to be addressed. Glashaboy and Glanmire have had some degree of forbearance and I ask the Minister of State to progress that issue as well because it is vitally important for the residents of the area.

11:10 am

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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I thank the Rural Independent Group for bringing forward this motion. I do not agree with all aspects of it but I welcome that it is highlighting the issue of flooding impacting families, communities and businesses across Ireland. Last weekend we had the first of the winter storms, Storm Aiden, but west Cork has already been hit by wave after wave of flood events. Bantry in particular has been flooded multiple times, but so many other towns and areas have been affected as well, including Skibbereen, Dunmanway and Rosscarbery. The list goes on and this happened over the summer as well. Families and businesses in these areas are deeply concerned about the risk of more floods as the winter storm season starts. As the motion states, flooding has far-reaching and devastating impacts across a range of factors from the economic to the emotional toll. Flooding is desperate at the best of times, never mind in the midst of one of the hardest years for communities and small businesses. It is imperative that they are supported and that immediate action is taken to address the underlying issues.

The Government needs to develop a two-pronged strategy that addresses the underlying issues and the immediate needs. Policies that cause climate change, building on flood plains, poor maintenance of infrastructure, poor management of agricultural land and a lack of forestry all contribute to the increase in flooding. We need to address causes as well as building defences. Our planning, land use and agricultural policies need to reflect this reality. We need to start looking at issues more comprehensively. We need to adopt a watershed approach to river flooding which takes an integrated view of the whole river system. Flood management projects must be rolled out alongside afforestation, habitat restoration, water quality improvements and better planning. In coastal areas, wetlands and beaches need to be preserved and protected. Over the summer, I was moving back and forth between local authorities, the EPA and the National Parks and Wildlife Service trying to ensure the law was being enforced for beaches such as Long Strand and the Garrylucas marsh. We need a commitment for action in these areas. We need to prioritise and use natural flood management measures strategically.

For a people who claim to value the land, we do not value nature-based landscape solutions. Forestry, bog restoration, planting hedgerows and sustainable urban drainage are essential and established cost-effective solutions. When larger projects are necessary, they must happen in a timely manner and in consultation with local communities. Too often, decisions are made for communities leading to unnecessary delays and objections, whereas a more participatory approach would help address local concerns at the outset. Our flood management planning needs to adhere to the Aarhus Convention and EU directives on public participation to enable individuals, groups and small businesses to be involved in the decision-making process. Local people have a deep understanding of the problems and potential solutions in their areas. If the OPW took a more inclusive and proactive approach by involving the public in many of these issues, planning delays, reviews and objections would be avoided in the first place.

As this motion states, the Government needs to accelerate its planned flood defence projects. Currently, Bantry, which floods regularly, will not have the culverts to prevent fluvial flooding until at least 2022 or 2023 and the flood relief scheme for tidal flooding is not expected to be finished until 2027. Those schemes are under way. According to information provided to me by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, the proposed schemes for Castletownbere, Inishannon and Schull are not even at the design and planning stage yet and are scheduled to be completed by 2027. This is incredibly worrying for those communities. In the meantime, the Government needs to put in temporary infrastructure and targeted supports. If the square in Bantry is going to keep flooding for the next seven years, the county council should be funded to provide flood gates, at the very least, for premises and small businesses, as well as other small-scale but necessary interventions.

As the motion states, the current approach to flood insurance is not fit for purpose and the Minister for Finance needs to work with the industry to come up with a solution for this. While the emergency humanitarian scheme is welcome, it needs to be reviewed. In response to a parliamentary question, the Tánaiste informed me that 27 businesses from County Cork applied for the scheme relating to flooding events in August. Of those, 17 have been successful, which is great, but four were unsuccessful and six are pending. We need that system to be accessible to everyone who needs it. Of the completed applications, almost one fifth are rejected. A case in Bantry related to a technical requirement. These places will flood again and again. We should have systems that work for everybody and not against some. Every business affected should get support. The process needs to reflect the reality on the ground.

The motion also references the predicted increase in flooding events both in terms of frequency and scale in the coming years. This increase, needless to say, is due to climate change. Any action to address flooding must also include clearly defined, enforceable and just climate action. Ireland has repeatedly failed to meet its moral and legal obligations to reduce emissions. By this year, we were supposed to have achieved a 20% reduction in emissions on 2005 levels. However, the Government's annual transition statement projects it will be in the range of 5% to 6%. The current focus on efficiencies over achievements and placing responsibility on individuals rather than big industries has failed. If we are serious about addressing floods and keeping people on the land, we need climate action.

People in rural areas, farmers and fishing communities understand the situation. They know that change is inevitable and they have always responded to these challenges. A just transition needs to be at the centre of all climate policy and rural areas really need that reassurance. Without proper support and assistance in moving to more sustainable practices, climate action will be punitive, punishing the disadvantaged and those with no choice. While the Government’s climate action Bill is welcome, it is already clear that it has serious issues, with shortcomings on climate governance, accountability, target ambition and a glaring insufficiency with regard to just transition, which is important for rural areas.

Experts speaking before the Joint Committee on Climate Action, such as UCC's Dr. Áine Ryall and Maynooth University's Professor John Sweeney, have highlighted issues with vague language and the absence of accountability in the Bill. These criticisms are especially relevant given the Supreme Court's unanimous climate case ruling that the Government's unlawful national mitigation plan was deficient in detail on reaching targets. I can only hope that the current Government has learned from this and will introduce the necessary detailed and precise legislation, which has accountability and a just transition at its centre.

Communities are going to experience flooding. Homes, shops and business will be damaged. This motion rightly demands action to mitigate these occurrences, and in the meantime to provide the necessary support for communities. We need small-scale interventions now, not next year. We need guarantee schemes and supports while we wait for large projects.

This motion has the right intention but I certainly do not agree with all aspects of it. It is worth highlighting that it calls on the Government to, for example:

— immediately introduce a ‘ring-fenced’ budget to each local authority to allow for cutting back road-side verges, hedges, and fences in rural communities, in the interests of flood risk prevention and road user public safety;

The motion contradicts itself. Damaging hedgerows is not in the interest of flood risk prevention. If anything, we need to look at planting more. The fewer roots there are in the ground, the less the soil is able to hold the water. That is the basic science. I am, however, in favour of its intent to address flooding and support rural communities. People simply cannot continue to go through the trauma of flooding without more support.

11:20 am

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
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I thank the Rural Independent Group for its vision in bringing forward this motion. I will start by referring to my own constituency, Galway East, and the Gort lowlands, Portumna, Kinvara, Loughrea, Athenry and Claregalway. We have had flooding right across the constituency. We have a unique landscape in Galway East, with many turloughs. Much work has happened in the last four years to alleviate this problem. The scheme at Dunkellin is coming towards a conclusion. It is a drainage scheme that was on the cards for 40 or 50 years. The Claregalway scheme is also nearing completion and it is showing its worth with regard to the money spent and the value obtained. Many local people now have an assurance that the winters will not be as fearful as they once were.

The Gort lowlands were in the public eye in 2009 and 2016 and continue to be. We have had visits by the President, by taoisigh and by different Ministers. When I came into the OPW, the then Minister, Deputy Naughten, and I put in place a collaboration between Geological Survey Ireland and the OPW to come up with some solutions. I am glad to report that we now have an engineering scheme that is environmentally and cost beneficial. That scheme is being brought to the next stage, which is full design and construction. I said when I met the Minister of State that I think it is a scheme we will have to keep our eye on to make sure that it is done in a speedy manner and that we get relief for people in Gort and south Galway who have suffered torrential hardship over many years.

Two other schemes are close to my heart. One is at Portumna, where we need a scheme to protect Portumna and the boating area to make sure the businesses located there are protected and do not move out. I know that is a project in planning and Galway County Council is beginning to move ahead with it. The flood defence scheme for Kinvara is also important. The local area has had a number of flood events. Galway County Council is bringing forward a scheme for that area under the minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme.

There are a few general issues I would like to raise with the Minister of State. We met a number of weeks ago to discuss them but I would like to put my views on the record of the Dáil. There are a few things that I know we need to focus on from my time in the OPW. The minor works scheme, which was introduced by Martin Mansergh when he was Minister of State, is a fantastic scheme. It is of benefit to local authorities to put in applications for small and medium-sized projects costing up to €750,000. However, local authorities have to come up with 10% of the funding for these projects. In these times, maybe we should reduce that to 5% rather than 10% because local authorities, especially in Galway, do not have the resources at the moment. It flies in the face of trying to get the works done.

I introduced a home relocation scheme in 2016. That was a once-off scheme but we must look at that scheme again now to determine how we can put it in place whenever it is needed rather than having to review the scheme or bring forward a new scheme again. At the time, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine undertook a feasibility study of a farmyard relocation scheme because a number of farmyards, especially in Galway, were totally flooded. People had to move their stock out for months. There was significant hardship to the families and animal welfare was threatened too. Micheál Cahill endured this. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine stated in a reply to a parliamentary question from Deputy Naughten in May 2019 that it was looking at the feasibility of the scheme. Maybe it is something we could take up with the Department.

People have mentioned flood insurance. Insurance companies look at flood risk maps and if there is any hint of a flood risk in the area, it is a negative for insurance. This is wrong. They should look at the history of insurance claims for flooding in the area.

Maps are indicative; they are not the full facts. That is something that must be emphasised when the Minister of State is talking to the insurance representatives.

Channel cleaning creates problems throughout the country. There are many anomalies and much confusion. In some cases channels are in the charge of the OPW while other channels or rivers are in the charge of the local authority. Then there are the channels which are under the charge of neither but are the responsibility of the riparian owner. The farmer is usually the riparian owner. Farmers are willing to carry out works, but there is a huge amount of paperwork to be done. We must develop a scheme for the rivers similar to the local improvement scheme. The local authorities could carry out the work and the local farmers could put a small amount of money into it, perhaps 5% of the cost. Everybody wins in that case. The local authority has the expertise to do the consents and to talk to Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI, and the National Parks and Wildlife Service to ensure that everything is being done correctly.

Another charge that is made is that when channels are being cleaned out the machinery and buckets being used do not have such an impact that they will get the silt out of the river. It is a very light clean. That is something we must work on with IFI to ensure we can do something meaningful, rather than just have a machine tagging along. Channel cleaning is one of the major things we have neglected over the past 40 years. There was a massive amount of drainage work carried out in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, but then we let it sit. Now we have inherited a problem that must be dealt with. The OPW should provide some funding from the €1 billion available for projects. Small projects such as cleaning the channels every two or three years will have more of an impact than spending millions when a problem has spilled over into communities.

I thank the Minister of State for his time when we met recently. I have many ideas that I will share with him. I also urge him to visit Gort in south Galway and Portumna and to meet the people there so he can get a good sense of what is being done in Galway. I compliment Galway County Council on the fantastic work it has done in making applications for up to €3 million in funding for minor works schemes over the past few years. It is important that the Minister of State encourages the local authorities to make the applications because the local authorities can get the work done speedily.

11:30 am

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this. I come from Galway city and represent the city and the county. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, who is present, is well aware of the problems in Galway. The latest one was in Clifden in early September when the Owenglen river surged unexpectedly and severely. It caused severe flooding damage. The rain was unexpected and the flooding was sudden and severe. We can list the number of people and properties affected.

I have with me a report of the flood policy review carried out when Tom Parlon was the Minister of State in 2002. It is a detailed report on the flood measures that must be taken. The problems were highlighted 18 years ago. We have moved to a completely different level since then. I am not here to give out. I am saying that we must work together. We have no choice. We are facing both a biodiversity emergency and a climate emergency. I welcome the motion, although I do not agree with it in its entirety. I certainly agree with what the Rural Independent Group is trying to bring to our attention, but the elephant in the room is climate change. I will return to the local matters relating to local authorities and maintenance, which I agree with, but the climate change challenge and our emergency declaration have brought this to a new level. Now we have to be grown up adults, because that is what the children are begging us to do, and state the challenges we face.

The Office of Public Works has done a brilliant job. I am one of its greatest admirers. It has worked for many years to produce various plans. Politicians were kept quiet when that was taking place. That process is complete and now it is rolling out the projects it has identified and providing resources. We must have an adult conversation on that. The national plan for the next ten years has provided for a certain amount of money, but the Dáil has been talking about monopoly money in the past few years. I want to know what is needed so we can protect our communities, the money that is necessary and the timescale to roll it out. Most importantly, what is the driving force? Who is now driving this?

As has been mentioned, the local authorities have been starved of funding. There is a blame game taking place all the time. I have visited the county councils, as all Deputies have, and am told they do not have money. We are also being told they are cutting back on services. The Rural Independent Group made a point about ongoing maintenance. I live in The Claddagh. I am lucky in the sense that where I live is slightly higher than other houses and I have not been affected by flooding, although my office has. Other houses, however, have repeatedly been subject to flooding. There is the insurance problem and the maintenance problem on the streets. Let us take that practical problem. I use a bicycle and I cycle through floods. I praise the council because its workers come out when one calls them, but there are ongoing problems because of a failure to tackle the source of the problem. On the one hand we are encouraging cycling and walking, yet we are flooding people. However, that is minor. My inconvenience is minor compared to what households suffer when houses are flooding and they cannot get insurance. I welcome the Minister of State's confirmation that he is disappointed that progress with the insurance industry has not been as good with regard to the demountable solutions. They appear to be an integral part of the solution and if the insurance industry is not going to proceed with us on that, God help us.

Galway has been flooded many times. There has been a debacle over what looks like a long tube in the Spanish Arch. It has been subject to puncture and I have no idea of the cost involved. It is being replaced. We are in that type of debacle with regard to what the solution is. I have the presentation to the council in 2018 and, as I will stick to my time, I will not go through it. It identified the areas in Galway, including my area, the Claddagh basin, The Long Walk, Salthill, the Dock Road and down by what is called the swamp, appropriately, but known as South Park. That is where walls of 1.2 m will be built. Obviously, it will cause consternation. What we need is open communication with people, a recognition that works must be done to protect us and to identify the best works while bearing in mind that Galway is a tourism city. It is dependent to a massive extent on tourism. The Claddagh basin is a protected structure, as are parts of The Docks. How do we marry these two issues and do it in the most open and accountable way possible?

I have a difficulty. I worked at local authority level for 17 years. The Wolfe Tone Bridge is the last bridge where one can see the powerful water from the Corrib going through. Three reports were done on that bridge. The first two told us that there was an urgent need to impose weight restrictions to stop heavy vehicles crossing it. We never got sight of any of the reports but the third report told us that, suddenly, we did not need weight restrictions on the bridge. I am cynical and I suspect it was because it was impossible to impose restrictions on the most important bridge in Galway. However, this bridge is in trouble. It has been cited as a bridge that requires work to be done on it. I use that as an example. It does not inspire me with confidence when we get two reports telling us to do something and the third report does not. Now we are into a phase where Galway is referring to consultants. With Clifden it went to consultants to get the solution to what happened with the Owenglen river.

We must tell people openly and honestly that we have a problem here because of climate change. There is also a problem because we neglected it for donkeys' years. We left the OPW struggling and we ran down and denuded our local authorities.

We took away their staff and expertise and we set up Irish Water, which is another story. Now we have a climate change committee in Galway County Council and I am told it does not have staff.

I am a blunt speaker and I appreciate bluntness. I will work with anyone who is straight and blunt with me for the greater good. That is what we need here. If Galway County Council is struggling - we know it is one of the worst funded councils - how can it possibly tackle climate change or flooding on the roads if it does not have staff? We have the local issues and not enough staff and then we have the bigger issue of how to deal with climate change in the best way possible to bring most, if not all, people on board.

11:40 am

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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I wish to share time with the Minister of State, Deputy Anne Rabbitte.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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I begin by thanking the Members of the House for a very informed and useful debate. What is very clear from this morning's debate is the devastating impact flooding has on citizens, on a local, regional and national scale, and in communities both urban and rural. It is also clear that all Members of the House share a common goal of minimising the impacts on people into the future, while at the same time recognising that with climate change, the causes of flooding will likely become more severe over time.

Following this morning's debate, nobody can deny that the scope and complexities of this issue are far-reaching. Every action and decision needs to carefully consider a range of issues, to avoid having unintended impacts that are cause for regret in years to come, while at the same time putting our communities first.

My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, has set out clearly this morning the significant progress the Government has made, and continues to make, in addressing the flood risk across the country, including a very strong focus on rural Ireland. He has outlined the continued commitment to delivering flood relief measures into the future, and to developing and delivering a coastal change management strategy to deal with the threats to the coast, in particular from climate change.

The evidence and funding that is informing the Government's work, through the catchment flood risk assessment and management programme, and the Government's ten-year programme involving the investment of €1 billion in flood risk management, are testament to that. The hugely significant programme of investment on the capital flood relief programme, adding an additional 151 flood relief schemes to the 46 already completed, shows the Government's commitment to invest in, and improve, communities all around the country that are threatened by flooding from both rivers and the sea, both large and small.

The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, has also outlined the many other cross-departmental initiatives and actions under way to improve and implement Ireland's flood policies in preventing future flood risks and preparing for the more extreme floods. In that regard, this morning's debate highlights the need for all Departments to continue to work together, to build on the work already done and to yield ever-increasing levels of protection and resilience for all our people into the future. With these clear objectives in mind, the Government has committed to further progressing the whole-of-Government approach that is delivering returns to managing the flood risk and coastal change for rural Ireland. It has advocated that an examination of the current regulatory requirements be carried out. The Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW has set out his intention to undertake a consultation on how best to deliver flood relief measures into the future, given the many challenges in our path, notably that of a changing climate.

I conclude by again thanking the Members of the House for their thoughtful and considered contributions and by re-emphasising the commitment of the Government to addressing flood risk and the impacts of flooding around the country for all citizens, not just those in towns and cities. This is set out in the whole-of-Government approach to flood risk management nationally, and the Government is fully committed to implementing this policy.

I also point to the significant work being carried out by the Department in Athlone. I look forward to welcoming the Minister to Athlone to see at first hand the alleviation measures that have been carried out in the town, and also the significant amount of work that has been done by the staff of the OPW and the local authority on the ground. I also acknowledge the further significant work to be done in Carrickobrien and rural areas in order to protect those vital communities from flooding risk.

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Ministers of State, Deputies O'Donovan and Peter Burke, for sharing time with me. I also thank the Rural Independent Group for tabling this motion and giving us the opportunity to discuss it. I am pleased its members are present to hear my contribution.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, for his contribution last night and again this morning when he clearly outlined his Department's position and the progress made, including the increase in the number of schemes from the previous total of 33 to the current figure of 92, and the 22% increase in staffing numbers. It was very welcome to hear his undertaking to an examination in the coming nine months of the Shannon flood risk State agencies co-ordination working group, including a review of the current regulatory environment to inform the establishment of this group on a statutory basis. It is also welcome to hear that my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, is introducing a scheme to work with the worst affected farmers, including consideration of the relocation of farmyards as an option.

I work with various flood action groups, and in conjunction with the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke; the Minister of State, Deputy Troy; and Deputy Cowen on the Save our Shannon group. They spoke at length to the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, last night about various pinch points. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, is from Limerick, I am from Portumna and the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, is from Athlone. As Ministers of State we have a vested interest in ensuring a focus is put on the Shannon. I fully appreciate that we cannot solve anything overnight, but we all know that this November the levels in the Shannon are quite high. I urge the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, to do everything within his remit to deal with the issue. It would be greatly appreciated if he could have a conversation with the ESB to address the water levels.

I will work with the Minister of State and give him whatever support I can from Portumna and the constituency of Galway East. I will also work with my Oireachtas colleagues within the constituency, Deputies Canney and Cannon, to ensure there is support across parties and across the Government. As Deputy Connolly said, certain things are above politics and flooding and water are among them. Where we can have straight talking and working together, this is what needs to be done.

I was very taken by the honesty and openness in the speech of the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan. We know him for that. I have seen him as a straight talker for the past four years. He stated: "The current regulatory framework is such that progress by my office in advancing its programme of activities is significantly impacted by a broad range of regulatory requirements which must be addressed and complied with." He is going to bring a memo to the Cabinet outlining the current programme of works that are ongoing, but where he finds there are obstacles it is very important that he is straight with us and tells us what is happening so that we know what to tell people on the ground, in terms of whether the Minister of State is working on an environmental or planning issue. Where consensus is needed in order to progress projects, we must ensure that happens.

Not only am I involved in the Shannon flood group, I am also involved in the N65 action group, which brings us over two different provinces and two different counties. In Portumna, when water floods on the N65 the road must close. It is a national route that brings us all the way to Rosslare. When the road is flooded it means that people from Tipperary cannot come to Portumna and people from Galway cannot go to Tipperary. Sometimes that might be welcome during the hurling season but definitely not due to flooding.

Deputy Canney spoke about flood defences for Kinvara. When the high tides arrive and floods affect Kinvara they hit Galway at exactly the same time, in at the Spanish Arch. Last year we ended up with a number of families being marooned. The high tide flooding is a new occurrence in Kinvara. It goes out as quickly as it comes in but it leaves serious damage and destruction along the way.

There has been progress on the south Galway and Gort lowlands project. We have seen the wonderful impact of the Dunkellin drainage scheme, which involved an investment by the OPW of €8.5 million. The relief that work has been given to the people of Craughwell is what the people of south Galway are now seeking. The simple reason is that when the rain falls in Derrybrien it comes down at such a pace off the Slieve Aughty range. The reason it comes off is because all the forestry is gone off that range. In the past, some of the water was held on the leaves but that is no longer the case. The water comes right down onto the people of Kilbeacanty and into Peterswell, down into Cartymore and Kinvara where it leaves a trail of destruction.

Like my other colleagues in east Galway I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, to come and see it, but I do not want him to come when the flooding is at its height because we have had so many people come in the past. I would like him to come and meet the people when we do not have the flooding. He must tell us exactly what the Department's plan is, and how we can assist him because people are tired of chat after an event. People want to have the conversation and the Minister of State should bring them with him.

People want to come with the Minister of State on this journey and we want to see solutions. There is no point in me jumping up and down when we have an emergency looking to put in the diggers in Kinvara. I would prefer to know our pathway and our flows in advance of that.

I wish the Minister of State well in his work because it is a challenging time from a climate and biodiversity point of view. I compliment the work the OPW does. My dad worked for the OPW for 42 years, meaning I have a real vested interest in it. The men and ladies in the county council on the ground do significant work and are always there when we need them. The Minister of State is proactive. He needs to get out in front of this, allow us to come in behind him and support him. That is the sort of Minister of State he is. It would be really welcome, not just in Galway but right across the whole Shannon catchment area.

11:50 am

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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The next group is the Regional Independent Group with ten minutes. Is Deputy Mattie McGrath sharing time?

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I am very sorry, Chairperson, if you cannot get the name right. We are the Rural Independent Group and we sponsored this motion.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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The Rural Independent Group. That is what I said.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Several Deputies today called us the Independent Group which Deputy Catherine Connolly is. Others called us the Regional Group. It is just blackguarding. We understand flooding. I am not saying other Members from rural areas do not. Surely, however, they can get our name right. We have not much hope of getting the flooding sorted out if they cannot get our name right. Who are we? We are the Rural Independent Group and we are proud of it.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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That is what I said, Rural Independent Group.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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You said Regional Independent Group.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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No, I said Rural Independent Group.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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You said Regional Independent Group. I am not deaf. Or am I? There are other Members here too. It is not just you, Acting Chairman. Other Members have referred to us as everything. We were bad enough to be tied in with a cabal that Shane Ross had before the last election. We were mixed up with them. We have a clear identity. We are rural people and proud of it. We are representing rural Ireland and urban Ireland, of which we are proud.

I wish the Minister of State very well in his Ministry and I thank him for responding to areas, especially during the summer in Bantry and west Cork, which I visited. I saw the Cosy Cabin pub and the damage and devastation done there. We look forward to working with the Minister of State as we know he is progressive.

I thank Deputy Canney. When he was Minister of State, he came to my own area in Clonmel and other areas to look at issues there. We need to get this moving. We have talking about this and CFRAM reports. Consultants take up most of the money. There might be €1 billion in the plan but the consultants will take at least half of that. Consultants are needed to pick a bush or clear an eye in a bridge. It is silly.

I have to take issue with Deputy Cairns from west Cork. When I saw the flooding in Bantry, I saw the beautiful the old mill wheel at the river. A child or a blind person could see that it was blocked. There was only 2 ft of space for water to go into. The culverts must be cleaned. The road inlets must be cleaned, as must the trees and bushes which obstruct the water flow off the roads. I am not a climate change denier but I am for common sense. Not a bush would meet one on two roads. We have a river in Goatenbridge where Knockmealdown Active does great work with canoes and kayaking. One cannot go down the river, however. It is like a treasure hunt to get around the trees as they are blocked. It is silly.

I want to salute the work of Tipperary County Council, under Walter Doherty and his team. When we had huge floods in Ardfinnan, they were out working might and main with families to keep the water out of houses. I salute our newly appointed Garda Sergeant Niall O'Halloran, and all the community, who work together so hard, as well as the overseer in Ballymacarbry, County Waterford, Guy Roe, and his team, and Lanny Walsh, and John O'Meara in Cahir. They are at the front line but we do not have enough of them. The real problem is simple. There is no maintenance of the roadways, of the inlets or of the watercourses.

When I was a young county councillor back in 1990, I put a motion forward to Tipperary County Council that we do an inventory of every water gully, culvert, invert and drain. We would have them forever as a result. Some of them have been lost because they were blocked by farmers and construction when they should not have been. If we had an inventory map, we could argue the point. Under the Roads Act 1993, we have powers to put water in off the roads into lands. We have to get Deputy Cairns's water off the roads to keep the roads. Once one gets water on the roads, one can get frost on the road and it disintegrates with huge damage to cars. I am surprised with that kind of talk that Deputy Cairns is against our part of the motion for cutting the bushes. Is it okay to take the eyes out of people? Is it okay to block the roads with the water flowing down the road instead of inside the ditch? It is nonsense talk. She should get on the wellies and go out to understand what is going on in these situations.

The OPW did a great job in Clonmel with a 97% success rate. It is pure nonsense and folly, however, if we are going to let the river build up every year. Every bit of dirt that comes off this building and any building today goes down into the gullies and is washed into the river. It is the same for farms or anything else off the roads. This keeps rising. I was surprised to hear Deputy Canney talking about putting the silt back into the rivers. The silt must be taken out because otherwise the rivers choke. All the schemes in the world will not keep the water out of Clonmel because the river will rise over it. It is a simple thing. If I fill this half empty jug of water here with stones, it will overflow. It is as simple as that. I am not an engineer or an expert but I am not an eejit either. I have worked in this area.

Farmers and landowners know this. My God, do the people in the houses know when they are up to their elbows in water and sewage. I have seen people with high waders going into their houses, including John Maher in Ardfinnan, Tommy Myles and others. That happens time after time. At this time of year when the flood weather season comes, people cannot sleep at night. People got the special doorways off the OPW. They are a help but no help when the sewage comes up the pipes. When I walked down the street in Bantry, I saw gullies and tarmac lifted up. That tells one that the water cannot get away. Water will find its own level anywhere and everywhere. We have to have common sense.

I know of a family in Fethard, Dympna and John O'Donovan, whose house is in a place that gets flooded. They have been dealing with the OPW for the past four years, begging for a relocation scheme or money to put the house up. In Carrick-on-Suir, the family who own Treacy Fuel built a house on silts, like in Denmark. They did not get a bob for it because they did not wait for the scheme to do it. It is shameful. These people are showing leadership but the OPW is too slow. The schemes are too slow and too bureaucratic.

We do not get enough money. The River Aherlow floods at the Killaldriffe Bridge at Kilmoyler. Will the Minister of State come down to Tipperary where I can show him two or three places where flood schemes have been done successfully and where they are badly needed? There are schemes in my own village of Newcastle and near Dolan's SuperValu in Cahir. Deputy Canney saw those great schemes when he was a Minister of State and had them pushed along. More of them should be streamlined, however, and we should be able to do it differently.

I want to thank our own local community employment scheme supervisor, Seán Byrne. The men in that scheme helped with sandbags to deal with flooding in the school recently. If one does not keep the drains cleaned, one is going to get flooding. With the sink in the bathroom, if the drain gets blocked, it will flow over. It is not rocket science. We do not need consultants. We do not need people with engineering degrees coming out of their ears. We need common sense. When we had the men on the ground in the county councils and the OPW, these things were done. Sadly, we have no men. We have all pen-pushers now while outdoor staff have been reduced to a skeleton. The areas they have to cover are massive. If they sat into their trucks and drove them for the day, they would not drive across their areas, not to mind work them. That is the problem. We should have made that inventory of watercourses. In legal cases, we could have proved the point. They were there on the map but now they are gone and the damage is enormous.

With clear felling, which involves timber being harvested and taken away by machines, the damage caused by water flowing down afterwards is reckless. Then we have fellows who want to object to everything. We saw it in Cork. I saw schemes going on and a judicial review. I accept people have rights. However, we must balance rights with common sense too. We must balance rights with the loss of property.

Insurance loves a drop of water. I have heard cases today of people on high land. I have it too in Kilsheelan. They would not be flooded even if Noah's Ark sank. The insurance company drew a line through it because they are racketeers and gangsters. They have never been touched by this or previous Governments. There has been review after review of the industry. Now with the pandemic, they will not insure people for this, that or the other. They just take money and use the small print to get out of every claim.

It is no fun having a house or a business flooded. It is less fun when they flood annually. I agree there is more rain. I am not denying climate change. We need to maintain the watercourses we have and make new ones. However, we need the man on the ground with the shovel. I am a machinery man myself. We need the man with the shovel to do the small, tidy and neat work. When the farmers were working, all the drains in the fields were cleaned at this time of the year. October was the month for it. The water did not come onto the roads as a result. Our roads are being abused. We have a finite amount of money to keep the roads. A county engineer told me that one passage of a fully laden truck is the equivalent of 30,000 cars. The trucks of the conglomerates and the milk tanks are large but they have to go. We need to think wisely and be strategic. Above all, we need to have human schemes. These material schemes are not working.

That publican I visited cannot avail of the scheme due to technicalities and other reasons. It is futile to put schemes in place and invest money when we do not do the necessary work of providing drainage and clearing rivers. As Deputy Healy-Rae said, there were more fish in rivers when they were cleared. I thank Inland Fisheries Ireland, Mr. Alan Cullagh and his brother and others who worked with me in Tipperary. They are understanding and they want to work with the farmers. Farmers do not want to damage the environment. They want to drain their land and allow for fast-flowing rivers. The port in Waterford, where the River Suir runs into the sea, used to be cleaned every ten years. It has not been cleaned now for 30 or 40 years. Silt is rising continually. There is not very much common sense in this place. It seems to be a scarce commodity. Bureaucrats take over and we have no men on the ground to do the work. Sin mar a deir sé. Tá gach rud faoin urlár

It is time for common sense. Our motion represents common sense and I utterly reject the Minister of State's attempt to delay this again through his amendment. He is trying to kick it down the road for another time. That is not usually his approach. It is not the way he operates. I have watched him since he came in here. I wish him well in his role, but we do not want this amendment. We want simple and plain action now. We do not want big schemes and grand designs. Look after the little things. The late Albert Reynolds, a former Taoiseach, said, "It’s the little things that trip you up", but if they are tended to properly, they will not trip us up. Let us let the people who want to clean rivers and streams get to work. We do not need the ecology watchers. Deputy Cairns said that some are going around watching the jobs that are being done. Let us look after the people, not watch them and penalise them.

Amendment put.

12:00 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time at 9.50 p.m. today.