Wednesday, 18 November 2020
I am sharing my time with Senator Timmy Dooley. Perhaps the Acting Chairman will give a rattle in case I am not looking at the clock.
I very much welcome the Minister of State's comments and his attitude. I am very much of the opinion that this will be a big challenge for all of us. We must work together. I very much welcome the fact that he is prepared to take on board suggestions or ideas from Senators and I will certainly take advantage of that offer.
We must remind ourselves that the number of serious flooding incidents since 2017 is exceptional. The list includes Clifden, Skibbereen, Youghal, Bantry, Bandon, Kenmare, Sneem and Enniscorthy. If a person lives beside the River Shannon, as I do, he or she knows how we have put with flooding for many years. There is no doubt that it has worsened in recent years. The dredging of the Shannon has been a political topic for many years.
I acknowledge that much work has happened in recent years and it is good to note that the €1 billion annual investment programme for flood relief will continue. There has been much work done in conjunction with the OPW and the local authorities, with 46 flood relief schemes currently progressing and another 151 flood relief projects nationwide. Of these, 90 are either at construction or other stages of design or consultant appointment, whereas the remainder will be progressed as part of the national development plan for 2018 to 2027. I hope these will not be held up. As the Minister of State mentioned, water will go through any door and it does not stop for anybody. It is the reason we cannot have delays and why we must look after the areas that are badly affected and where there is no doubt the position is worsening.
The Minister of State referred to the Shannon flood risk state co-ordination working group that took a decision to lower levels at Lough Allen in Leitrim during the winter to help mitigate potential flood risks. A protocol was agreed between the ESB, Waterways Ireland and the OPW to lower the late autumn and winter minimum lake levels at Lough Allen by approximately 0.7 m, subject to favourable weather conditions. This has worked pretty well. It has not solved everything but it was a good move.
The group has continued the trial on a temporary basis, pending the completion of a flood relief scheme for Carrick-on-Shannon. The scheme must be made permanent and leaving it as a temporary scheme is not good enough if we consider all the difficulties we had. We want to move as quickly as possible with the flood relief scheme for Carrick-on-Shannon, particularly the Cortober area, which has been badly damaged over years.
We have also spoken about pinch points on the Shannon and we have all seen them, particularly between Athlone and Meelick. We all know about the continuous flooding of the Shannon Callows region. There are also pinch points in the system and we must all recognise this and work with the Minister of State and various agencies to ensure those pinch points in the system, as opposed to the river, are removed. Sometimes those pinch points in the system are the real cause of delay.
Flood relief schemes are very good and there is no doubt about that when we see what has been achieved in Athlone. The Acting Chairman is on the Agricultural Panel so I know he has an interest in this. Sometimes we forget the water is being pushed out and is flooding other areas. It is something we must deal with. Schemes are a great idea for saving towns and villages but the water is pushed out and floods more agricultural land or other areas, and it is important we deal with the matter.
When I was a Deputy, I brought a Bill through the Dáil, which, like many others, was held up. It would have amended the 1933 Act that gives the ESB authority over the River Shannon to create power. Nothing has been done to amend this legislation in 87 years, despite all the flooding we have.