Seanad debates

Friday, 4 December 2009

Interim Report on Flooding on River Shannon, November 2000: Statements


12:00 pm

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Green Party)

I refer to the Doherty reports of 2000 and 2002 which are the central documents for this debate and which deal with flooding events and flood management in the River Shannon area. The debate is also informed by the country-wide flooding experienced in recent weeks and the flooding of the Shannon and its tributaries has been the slowest to abate.

I welcome the statement by Cork City Council that it has ended the period of civic emergency in Cork city. I compliment those involved in dealing with the flooding in Cork. In the course of the past number of weeks they have provided information and acted on the risks to the city and its citizens.

The draining of the Shannon has been an unrealised political promise since the 1930s. The number of reports made into how the ongoing difficulties could be addressed have been numerous. There have been references to the 1955 Rydell study, the 1961 joint study by the Office of Public Works and the ESB, and the 1988 Delap and Waller study. It has not been for the want of knowing the nature of the problem and how it should be solved. I note that reports of Oireachtas committees such as the 2002 report were not further discussed until today. This seems to indicate a lack of political will to deal seriously with this issue. It takes the recent flooding to concentrate minds and we should bear this in mind.

A common feature of those earlier reports and the Doherty report is there seems to have been very little action taken as a result of the recommendations. One of the key recommendations was with regard to the summer relief scheme first proposed by Mr. Rydell in 1955. I am not even sure that if implemented this would solve the nature of the problem. The report recommended that a summer relief scheme would improve the situation with regard to winter flooding and that all the summer floods on the stretch of the Shannon between Athlone and Meelick would also be curbed other than the exceptional floods experienced three or four times per century. We now know the whole notion of an exceptional flood has gone out the window, mainly as a result of climate change. Those of us who have been involved in local authorities and have seen the increased incidence and severity of flooding in our areas over the past 15 years, no longer accept the engineering excuses that the particular flood would have been a once in a 20, 30 or 50-year occurrence. Flooding is occurring on a regular basis and we must take into account the fact that climate has altered to bring about this situation.

There are many instances of building on flood plains up and down the Shannon. A most obvious example is in Carrick-on-Shannon where a new town has been built on the river bank. Many of those new buildings are a contributory factor to recent flooding. I agree with Senator Quinn that it is not feasible to knock down existing buildings but we must implement flood protection measures on the basis the buildings are in existence and this will be an additional and unnecessary cost to the State, in my view, unless the cost can be recouped from those who have benefited from these developments in the first instance. Senator Quinn referred to the example of Bandon and it is most apposite. The building of a supermarket in an area known as a flood plain and the concreting over of that site means that what was normally natural soakage for any flooding of the river has disappeared. Because there is no soakage the flooding spreads wider. The damage caused in Bandon town was among the most severe in the country.

On those grounds serious questions need to be asked about the cost of implementing particular flood prevention measures and how this cost will be met. An economic analysis will need to be carried out. The question of how that cost will be met needs to be considered by society. Positions have been advanced in recent debates in the media by organisations such as the IFA that the problem could be alleviated by more regular dredging of rivers. However, I do not think this is the issue. Ireland is not the only country to suffer from the recent floods as there was also severe flooding in Cumbria and in Fermanagh. These events are not particular to Ireland but how we deal with them will be a sign of whether we are learning and are prepared to prevent such occurrences in future.

One of the more disappointing aspects of the Doherty report is that it was not discussed in the Oireachtas following publication and has not been acted upon. Much work has been expended on learning from flooding experiences in other countries such as in Germany. I question the value of acquiring this information on behalf of the Oireachtas without recommendations being passed. The author of the report was the late Seán Doherty. I imagine the members of that committee could be feeling fairly put upon that much good work does not seem to have been taken on board by the various State agencies.

The Cathaoirleach will be personally familiar with the effects of ongoing flooding of the River Shannon. We have to work on two levels, namely, the awareness of the risk and information that helps us to be aware of it and make the necessary political decisions on the investment needed to protect ourselves from these risks. I take on board the suggestion made by Senator Quinn on Met Éireann being more involved in the process through providing information on water capacity. The situation in Cork was serious because the River Lee basin was filling on a basis of 800 cubic litres and the maximum release from the Inniscarra Dam was 550 cubic litres. When one deals with figures of that nature, one sees the potential damage that can be caused in a very short time. The role of the ESB in the ongoing situation in the Cork region is being investigated but its role in the Shannon region and what happened recently in places such as Ardnacrusha and Parteen need to be examined, as must how it can be avoided in the future.

The article by Richard Tol who works for the Economic and Social Research Institute, referred to by Senator Quinn, was on the type of information Met Éireann might make available. Dr. Tol is a Dutch national and that country's experience of trying to deal with the forces of nature in places such as Zuiderzee might prove very useful at this time. We are deficient in not recognising that not only is there a risk but that there is also an ongoing and increasing risk and that we have a responsibility to make available whatever resources are possible to deal with the nature of the problem which, sadly, in the short and medium term will happen with greater frequency.


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