Tuesday, 16 November 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Flood Risk Management
70. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the details of his Department’s overall strategy or master plan for countering the impact of rising sea levels and coastal flooding in County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55883/21]
My question is on a similar issue in the context of Galway. I am seeking clarification on the overall strategy or master plan for countering the rising sea levels. I say that in the context of several reports. I refer to the current status report for Ireland 2020, in which the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and the Marine Institute point out that sea level has risen by approximately 2 mm to 3 mm per year since the early 1990s. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, working group notes that due to relative sea level rise, extreme level events that occurred once per century are now going to occur at least annually. I do not think I need to tell the Minister of State this. I am asking for clarification against the background.
I thank the Deputy for her question. I hope to visit Galway in the next couple of weeks. I know there is a significant amount of anxiety in respect of the situation there.
The OPW has developed a climate change sectoral adaptation plan for flood risk management that was approved by the Government in October 2019. The plan identifies on a national scale how climate change could impact on flooding, flood risk and flood risk management, and prioritises these impacts in terms of urgency of action and degree of impact.
The long-term goal adopted by the OPW on climate adaptation for flooding and flood risk management and set out in the plan is the promotion of sustainable communities and support of the environment through effective management of the potential impacts of climate change on flooding and flood risk. The OPW programme of flood relief schemes takes climate change into account. For example, the project brief for the detailed development of the Galway city flood relief scheme includes a requirement for a scheme adaptation plan that will set out how climate change has been taken into account during the design and construction, and what future adaptation measures might be needed - that is to what the Deputy is referring - and, more important, when.
The six-yearly reviews required under the EU floods directive will ensure that the current and future levels of flood risk to communities on our coast are kept under review, and plans put in place to manage that risk as it becomes significant.
The Government has established an interdepartmental group on managing coastal change to scope out an approach for the development of a national co-ordinated and integrated strategy to manage the projected impact of coastal change to our coastal communities. We cannot do this on our own. The interdepartmental group is jointly chaired by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the OPW, and will bring forward options and recommendations for the Government to consider shortly.
I have seen first-hand the work that the OPW and the local authority have done. I was there when the CFRAM timeline from 2011 to 2016 was announced. All of the work has been done and set out and all of the risks have been identified. There might well be some objections to the work, but my concern is over the delay. The steering committee that was set up was promised in March 2020. It met for the first time in September 2020. It was to produce a report within six months. It is now said that the report will be produced "in due course". That is of great concern to me.
My question concerns Galway city and county. Works are planned for the Spanish Arch and the completion date for the work is nine years from now. That is of great concern. Works are also needed in County Galway.
We know that almost 2 million people live within 5 km of the coast, and 40,000 live within 100 m of the coast. County Galway has a huge coastline. Therefore, we need specific answers in relation to timelines and works. We will certainly work with the OPW on the issue.
I do not disagree with the Deputy for one minute. While this issue has not fallen on the OPW, the OPW is gladly taking on this responsibility because it is our bread and butter. We require the input of other Departments to ensure that everybody plays a responsible role in this, because the issue of how our coast will change is a societal problem. As the Deputy quite rightly said, our coast will change. It will require all Departments to come to the table. We must ensure we put forward a cohesive plan that takes into consideration how every Department will bring its views to the table. The plan that we are going to bring forward ultimately will have to be a holistic one, and one that reflects the views of all Departments.
It is not for the lack of energy on behalf of the OPW, and we are trying to ensure that it is expedited as much as possible. I have spoken to the Deputy about the issue both within and outside the House. It is a priority for me. I hope to visit Galway in the next few weeks in response to the issue. I have visited other coastal communities. It is an issue that the OPW takes really seriously.
I do not doubt the bone fides of the Minister of State on this issue. I am on record as praising the OPW. My difficulty is the delay in delivery. The timeline for the CFRAM finished in 2016, which was the date of implementation and review. In Galway the completion date for the work to be done on the Spanish Arch and the surrounding areas, with over 940 properties to be protected, is in nine years' time. That is my difficulty. I also have a difficulty with the lack of knowledge in relation to the county. I can quote many of the figures, but what is the point? If there is an interdepartmental group, surely there must be a specific brief for when it is to report? To say, in response to questions, that a report will be available in due course is unacceptable, given the threat that we are living with and given the floods we have seen in Galway and elsewhere in the country. It is one of the most urgent issues that we must deal with so that we can trust and work with the OPW.
I do not think it is one of the most urgent issues; it is the most urgent issue, in my book, because of the number of people who live on our coast. Our largest urban centres, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford are all coastal. We also have a relationship with Northern Ireland, and Belfast and Derry are coastal. We are an island and the sea is rising around us. If we are threatened by anything, we are threatened by the sea in this country. The sea is our greatest risk at the moment.
The only commitment that I can give the Deputy is that from my perspective, for the last year this is the issue that has preoccupied me most in the OPW, in terms of exercising my Government colleagues to ensure that it is raised. While a lot of air, hot and cold, was spewed at COP23, COP24, COP25 and COP26, the issue of how Ireland is going to deal with its coastal defences and the communities of the Spanish Arch, King's Island and every other island community around the coast is going to be absolutely critical for this generation and for subsequent generations. From my perspective, and that of the OPW, I assure the Deputy that it is our number one priority currently.