Seanad debates

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

2:30 pm

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I join in the words of sympathy for the late Christy O'Connor Jnr. In a nutshell, he lit up every room he came into and that was widely felt at his funeral yesterday in Galway.

I support the call for a debate on the health impacts of excessive sugar consumption. That was quite a documentary broadcast this week by RTE. There must be legislative solutions in this regard. As we have said for a long time, there is an urgent need for a debate on career guidance given the high number of drop-outs in third level education, particularly in first year. However, the main reason I rise is to speak about the human misery that has befallen those affected by flooding. Half of Ireland is under water and has been for the last month. The bottom line is that anyone whose property was flooded last year and in 2009 has been failed by this State and the Government. We have a great example of successful works in Moneymore, Oranmore, where we got all the agencies into a room and got the National Parks and Wildlife Service to agree that the OPW could take the lead. Some 52 farmers worked together and these families are relieved their properties have not been flooded again this time.

We must examine various solutions, some of which were mentioned by Senators Mullins and Quinn today. The Woodland League has approached me with an interesting solution that has worked in Wales, in particular. A Bangor University study, led by farmers, has shown that where uplands are planted by native trees with deep roots, they can absorb rainfall 67 times faster than grassland. In Wales, they have experienced a 29% decrease in flooding in their lowlands with just an extra 5% planting of native trees. That is good news and something we should seek to replicate.

Norway has almost no flooding because it has allowed for the natural regeneration of its forests for 50 years. We have not done that. I am glad the Leader has said the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine will attend this House next week. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, should seriously examine this recommendation. We need to discuss planting perhaps 10% of our uplands. At a conservative estimate, this could result in 40% less flooding.

Last week, Bob Geldof visited Thoor Ballylee and committed to help us raise funds to alleviate the awful flooding there. While he is helping us, that is not a sustainable solution. I am talking about planting our uplands with native trees because there is evidence to support it. We should incentivise farmers through grant diversion to be flood protectors. Would that not be a wonderful outcome since climate change is on its way and will be here to stay?


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