Thursday, 8 February 2024
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
88. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will provide an update on the River Shannon Management Agency Bill 2020; if any preliminary assessments have been made as how the agency will be funded; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5919/24]
Will the Minister provide an update on the River Shannon Management Agency Bill 2020? Have assessments been undertaken to outline how the agency will be funded? In early December last year, the Minister confirmed to me that he aimed to bring forward a final proposal dealing with the issues relating to the River Shannon Management Agency Bill 2020 early in the new year. I would appreciate an update on this matter and on the issues related to how the agency is funded. The Minister will be aware that the Bill has been on the priority list of legislation for years now. Landowners, farmers and property owners are concerned.
I thank Deputy Nolan. I know she has a strong interest in this and she has raised it on a number of occasions with me.
In 2016, the Government established the Shannon flood risk State agency co-ordination working group to improve co-ordination on flood risk management between all State agencies involved with the river. The group, which is chaired by the Office of Public Works, provides a forum where all the organisations with roles and responsibilities that involve the River Shannon catchment can further monitor and co-ordinate their respective work.
The OPW, in partnership with local authorities, is progressing a programme of flood relief schemes to address flood risk on the river. There are currently 13 schemes in the Shannon river basin and these schemes are already providing protection to more than 2,600 properties. A further 36 flood schemes will be delivered in the Shannon catchment as part of the Government's investment through the catchment flood risk assessment management, CFRAM, which I referenced earlier. Some 24 of these are currently being progressed, including Athlone.
Outside of the major flood relief schemes, local flooding issues are being addressed by local authorities with support from the Office of Public Works under the minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme. This scheme provides funding for minor mitigation works, costing less than €750,000. To date, the OPW has provided over €40 million to some 700 projects on the Shannon. To add to the overall flood protection from flood relief schemes, the Shannon flood risk State agency co-ordination working group produces an annual work programme that demonstrates the extensive work and co-ordination by the State bodies.
The preparation of legislation to improve the management of flood risk on the River Shannon is a Government priority. The River Shannon Management Agency Bill is on the priority legislation list for drafting for spring of this year. The main purpose of the Bill is to provide flood risk management for the Shannon catchment. The legislation aims to delineate responsibilities and functions for flood risk in the catchment and to improve the identification, co-ordination, monitoring and communication of flood risk management actions and activities along the River Shannon.
The management of flood risk on the river is closely intertwined with other uses of the river, such as navigation, dam safety and electricity generation. The Office of Public Works has conducted an analysis of existing legislation regarding the management of the River Shannon, including a review of the powers of various bodies involved with the river. No assessments of how an agency would be funded have been carried out yet. Given the powers and functions of the various bodies, the preparation of legislation is complicated. The OPW, in line with Government direction, is prioritising the work. Subject to completion of the requisite consultation and advice from the Office of the Attorney General, it is anticipated that the text of the Bill will be brought to the Cabinet in April.
I certainly welcome the fact that this legislation will be brought forward. It is good news that it is on track. I hope it will not be put back again. I hope we can deliver on bringing that forward. I have concerns in respect of the fact that the Minister of State mentioned that no assessment was done about funding the agency. I know the Minister of State mentioned there was a review of the bodies and agencies that are involved in the Shannon. The last time I raised this matter, I also sought information on the efforts of the OPW to engage directly with Waterways Ireland or the ESB with regard to the mitigation measures, which I think are vital to address the flooding on the Shannon Callows, which is an issue of huge concern to people. I know at that time, the Minister of State confirmed that a tender was to be issued shortly for an ecological consultant to carry out a high-level environmental study. Has that tender been issued? I know that my constituents are looking for information and updates on that.
I acknowledge the constructive way in which Deputy Nolan has approached this. We spend an awful lot of time on the matter of the Shannon in the Department. The United States Army Corps of Engineers could not find a solution to this. The de Valera Government in the 1940s was bedevilled with it. Everybody else has looked at it as well. This will not be fixed easily. A number of agencies have responsibility. The Shannon is an important tourist asset and navigation asset. We derive much electricity from it. It has a fish element. The Shannon only drops 15 m in 200 km. From its source in County Cavan to where it enters the sea in my own county, it only drops 49 m. It is a slow-moving river with many complicated elements around it, not only legislative and regulatory elements, but the actual topography of the river itself. It lends itself dramatically to the flooding that the Deputy refers to, particularly in the summer in the Shannon Callows, and that causes difficulty for farmers. We are acutely aware of that. That is why I have prioritised it within the Department and why I hope to be in a position to bring a report to the Government as quickly as possible. As I said earlier, that will be in April.
I thank the Minister of State for his response and indeed his commitment to help to resolve this matter, which has been ongoing for some time. I recognise and acknowledge that. I recognise that it is complex and that much is involved. The ecological consultant is carrying out a high-level environmental study. I am wondering about the tender. I know the Minister of State said he is bringing forward the Bill, which is great. Regarding this particular question, has the legal tender been issued? Where is that at the moment? As I understand it, the study will consider the possible impacts of the excavation of material at key locations in the River Shannon channel, and the longer-term maintenance of the riverbed and changes in water levels. I believe this will be a positive step forward. The farming organisations and indeed the people who live along the Shannon Callows have been raising the matter for some time now. It is important that we all work collaboratively, that we get solutions and that we can do some work on it at the pinch points, to try to alleviate the devastation of the flooding.
Waterways Ireland, as I said the last time, is the lead agency on this. That complicates it as well. Waterways Ireland is a cross-Border body. We are delighted that the Northern institutions are established. We analysed the powers that the agencies have. Some of them are derived from agreements that are enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement. It is not simply about creating a HSE for the Shannon and having the water go away. That is overly simplistic. Deputy Nolan knows from living in that area what the farmers, the boat people, the fishermen and the ESB are telling her. The ESB has a role. It conducts measurements of the river every day. Waterways Ireland has a role regarding the minimum level of water that needs to be in the river for navigation purposes. We did not have a problem this year with navigation because it was the wettest July on record and it will probably continue. We need an honest conversation around the very point that the Deputy has raised, which is about the sustainability of how we make our communities interact with that river, given that it moves so slowly and covers such an expanse when it floods.