Dáil debates

Thursday, 18 April 2024

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Coastal Erosion

1:55 pm

Photo of Verona MurphyVerona Murphy (Wexford, Independent)
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I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and thank the Minister of State for bring here to respond to the Topical Issue.

In fairness, there are two things, in particular, in County Wexford, that we should focus on with regards to erosion. The first is prevention. As we all know, a stitch in time saves nine. In the context of coastal erosion, this phrase is particularly relevant. Proper investment in a coastal protection plan along the coastline in County Wexford is badly needed so that we do not have to deal with this aftermath of weather that leaves coastal areas in ruin. I note the headline on an article today in the local newspaper, "100km of Wexford's coast ar risk from rapid erosion". It is serious and frightening.

We probably have a little over 100 km of coast in the county of Wexford but all of it is at risk. I visited much of it with the director of services, that is, a senior official in Wexford County Council, Mr. Gerry Forde, alongside an Independent councillor, Mr. Pat Barden, probably three years ago. In particular, we visited Grange Beach in Fethard-on-Sea, after which money was granted to do a risk assessment and to ascertain the cost of repairs, but ultimately nothing has happened. I used to swim on that beach on a daily basis until it was closed because the road is at risk of collapse onto the beach.

What is disturbing, but not surprising, is that an individual, whose house is directly opposite where the road is about to collapse, dumped some much-needed debris in the form of concrete blocks on the beach because he had to take action himself to try to stop the erosion. Wexford County Council was able to issue a summons to that individual within three weeks of the dumping of the blocks but in three years, and in receipt of in excess of €100,000, it has not been able to do anything else. I do not understand it.

In the times that we are living, I am seeing so much money being wasted, in particular, by Wexford County Council. It comes down to no planning, either by Government in how it funds these measures, whether it be roads or coastal erosion. We are patching roads every day of the week and the rain just comes and washes them away. It is absolutely frivolous. Every day the same people ring up with pot hole issues, their cars damaged and NCT failures because we are putting money into a rainy day fund that could well be used for investment in our roads and our coast.

As a coastal county, we depend greatly on the 70 beaches that are in Wexford to bring tourism into the county. We have many other tourist attractions that are based on our coastline and our beaches. Apart from anything, we have Rosslare Europort, for instance, which will take significant development.

I have read also in this report in the newspaper that it will cost €200 million to have any impact whatsoever on that 100 km of coast and to do something for erosion. This is not just climate change. This has been going on.

My partner visited with the then Minister of State, Mr. Hugh Byrne, some 20 years ago when one particular part that we are discussing today was discussed. It is gone. It was washed away. Rosslare Strand, Kilmore, Grange, Fethard-on-Sea and Duncannon-----

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta.

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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The Deputy raises a matter that is of extreme concern to us all, and should be. She is correct that it is not only down to climate change or sea level rise that this is happening now, but this certainly is being exacerbated by it. In many parts of the world, retreat and abandonment are becoming part of climate adaptation strategy. It is something that is with us and something we have to collectively address. If the Deputy is referring to the climate nature fund as the rainy day fund, it is certainly an important fund to help embed resilience across the country in terms of climate and biodiversity loss.

I thank her for raising the matter. The challenge posed by rising sea levels is clear. The practical implementation of measures to mitigate these risks, particularly for coastal communities, is of critical importance. I welcome the opportunity to bring some clarity on the matter.

With respect to responding to coastal change, local authorities are, generally, responsible for the management of matters associated with coastal change and erosion in their respective administrative areas. Other coastal risks such as to transport, agricultural and business, are addressed locally and through sectoral responses. The minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme was introduced by OPW in 2009. The purpose of the scheme is to provide funding to local authorities to undertake minor flood mitigation works or studies to address localised flooding and coastal protection problems within their administrative areas.

With regard to County Wexford, the OPW provided funding of €331,549 for emergency works at Seaview in November 2021. These works consisted of the installation of rock armour cliff toe protection over approximately 70 m to 85 m of cliff frontage immediately adjacent to an access road to 14 properties at immediate risk of erosion.

The works were completed in January 2022.

Earlier this month, Wexford County Council made an application to the OPW under the OPW minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme for further funding to progress the Seaview coastal protection scheme. The council proposes to introduce 155 m of rock armour coastal protection fronting several houses at Seaview on the Wexford coast. This application is being reviewed by the OPW.

As part of the Government's National Development Plan 2021-2030 almost €1.3 billion has been committed to investment in flood relief measures across the country. Following this commitment, a steering group was established between the OPW and Wexford County Council to progress an erosion and flood relief scheme to protect the strand at Rosslare and alleviate the risk of flooding for the local community on the peninsula. Wexford County Council completed the Rosslare Coastal Erosion and Flood Risk Management Study in 2019. The study outlined proposed erosion and flood mitigation measures to address the identified risks and how to best manage and mitigate the overall risks to the community. In December 2021, Wexford County Council appointed consulting engineers to develop, design, and construct a coastal erosion and flood relief scheme for Rosslare. The appointment will cover all five stages, which comprise preliminary design to statutory consents, detailed design, tendering, construction and handover. The project is currently at stage 1, which is preliminary design.

lreland’s coastline faces many challenges associated with climate change, due not only to projected sea level rise but also from increased storm frequency and intensity. These challenges have complex and multifaceted effects and there is a need for a framework to inform key decisions as to how the State should best manage the changing coast, having regard to such future risks and taking account of the complex interrelationships that result from the interaction between the marine and terrestrial environments. Following a request by the Taoiseach, the Office of Public Works carried out research on the impacts of sea level rise and coastal erosion arising from climate change on coastal communities. As a result of this, Government established an interdepartmental group to prepare a national coastal change management strategy and 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.

2:05 pm

Photo of Verona MurphyVerona Murphy (Wexford, Independent)
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I thank the Minister of State. I am glad he provided that to me because I asked the director of services for it last week, but I think he said he was going to play golf or something on Thursday. He did not manage to get it to me by this Thursday. The problem is that much of what we have discussed was set down in a report in 2018 and 2019. I went back over that report and six years later the problem has escalated to crisis management. The Minister of State talks about 70 m or 80 m, but I am taking about 100 km. If we have people in jobs who cannot do them then they should not be in them. That is the bottom line. People's homes are now at risk. We are talking about closing roads. It has gone from what could have been manageable to destructive chaos and all for want of action. How many reports do we have to do? Why are we spending money on reports and not taking the action? I just do not get it. We are talking and talking, but there is no delivery.

I am here because the local elections are coming up on 7 June and when I sit in on our local council meeting every councillor in every party is jumping up and down saying they want support from their TDs in Dáil Éireann. Where are they? I am here as the only Independent TD in Wexford raising coastal erosion for the community and I do not see any of the party TDs rowing in behind me to support the councillors. If they did it all the time for the five years we might have got the money, but because we are six weeks out from an election they do not even support the mention of it. They are making videos and doing everything, but they will not come in and ask for the money, which is the only thing that is going to solve it.

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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The scoping report on national coastal change management was approved by Government on 26 October last year. The strategy set out in this scoping report involves an integrated whole-of-government approach, with actions across many sectors. My Department will play a key role in co-ordinating and driving this essential work programme. The OPW has been designated as the national lead co-ordinating body for the assessment of coastal change hazards and risks and an assessment of technical options, including nature-based solutions and constraints. These assessments will build upon indicative assessment work previously undertaken by the OPW under the Irish coastal protection strategy study and comprise a substantial, multi-annual programme of work to assess coastal risk.

I agree with the Deputy that this is vital work and it is urgent on a strategic level to carry it out. She is correct that we are beyond protecting 200 m or so of coastline now, so we need this piece of work to be brought forward, for recommendations to be made and then funding put in place to carry out a much more strategic approach to dealing with coastal erosion. Sea level rise is with us and unfortunately climate change is going to continue to drive this problem for coastal communities around Ireland. I welcome the Deputy raising it this afternoon, but she should note also that the Government is working diligently to try to address the issue and ensure we can take a much more strategic approach, with the support of local authorities and all other agencies.