Wednesday, 18 November 2020
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, to the Chamber and thank him for his work to date in the OPW. I acknowledge the professionalism and work ethic of the OPW in a very important area of defence - a quite technical area in terms of the modelling that is required, which needs to be updated. If one makes an impact on one area, one must model how it will affect another. I acknowledge the work relating to CFRAM.
From some of the Minister of State's visits to some parts of the country, I know the frustration he has felt relating to certain projects. He mentioned Cork city, the delays and the judicial reviews. This delay is the most frustrating thing about flood defence schemes - the frustration all of us feel about projects that go through a number of stages, are delayed and can end up in court. I am sure this must make the budgeting of the Department extremely difficult.
In February 2018, the Minister of State's predecessor announced a €9 million fund for Galway city - the flood defence fund at that time. This was great and certainly welcomed. A report from the city's CEO this month identified the five stages of delivering this project. The most worrying part is that the overall timeframe is 95 months from stage 1 involving the identification and development of a preferred scheme, which is due to start in quarter 4 of 2020 and will take up to quarter 4 of 2022; to stage 2, which involves planning and development consent and will go from quarter 4 of 2022 to quarter 1 of 2024; to detailed construction design and tender, which will take another 18 months and will bring things up to quarter 1 of 2025; to construction handover of works, which will take us up to quarter 3 of 2028. This is a huge elongated timeframe for a very important piece of work in Galway city so I cannot stand here today and say that this is something we would say is correct or proper. The Minister of State might ask me how it can be sped up. I do not have the answer because even with that, we are assuming that there are no serious objections, no court cases and no judicial reviews, as we have seen in other areas. This is part of the problem with regard to some of these capital projects. This is not just the case in the Department. There seem to be inordinate delays in certain projects across the board because of the process. Whether it is at a committee or whatever, we need to know how we can speed up projects like this. Announcing a budget is one thing. We all do that. We will send out our press releases and take the photographs and that is great but people are then waiting to see delivery and the diggers going in. This, unfortunately, is mired in delays and difficulties.
I thank the Minister of State for visiting Clifden in early September. He arrived at short notice and saw the aftermath. He still saw a swollen river but he did not see it in full flow, which was evident in the media reports, news and social media. That was a very unusual event, although it is becoming more common across the country. I know that OPW officials accompanied the Minister of State on his visit, together with the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, Councillor Eileen Mannion and Councillor Gerry King. The flooding occurred on 1 and 2 September and caused the Owenglin river to burst its banks. The flooding in the town was described by locals, the Garda and the fire service as unprecedented. It was a high-intensity rainfall event of up to 50 mm of rain in that period causing flash floods. On our visit, the first port of call was to Clifden Glen where the OPW has plans for a barrier between the homes and the river. The second part is more difficult and concerns the town itself. The third part was the Low Road in Clifden where the Minister of State met three homeowners. I have engaged with the county council. The Minister of State thought the design of the Clifden town storm water scheme was a serious matter. Galway County Council is looking at that. It is looking at the possibility of two to three locations where it can take water away before it reaches that attenuation pond on the Low Road. I may come back to the Minister of State for possible funding for that at some stage because I, and certainly the homeowners, believe that this might immediately reduce the threat of flooding in that area, which is very important. The Minister of State also visited a number of houses. Again, some of them were never flooded before and yet the flooding reached a depth of 2 ft. They live on the river bank and have never experienced flooding yet it reached 2 ft, so it is amazing to comprehend. They will wait for a CFRAM study to be done. The Minister of State and I know that this will take not weeks or months but years. In the meantime, without any of the consultants' planning, can we look at simpler solutions with regard to reinforcing people's front walls and ensuring that flood gates are provided so that if a future event occurs, at least they have that bit of solace and can have that installed where there is a threat to their properties? This is important because giving people peace of mind is a solution to some of that frustration and delay.
The final point relates to my area of Moycullen where a hydrology report has been submitted to the Department. Again, I first had experience of dealing with people in my own parish where there was flooding. It is a hugely worrying time for people who are running around looking for sandbags and trying to find pumps. Where do they pump the water to? It also involves getting the council involved. It is a just a nightmare for these people. In terms of the future development of the village, we have a number of streams that go underground and resurface, some of which were piped in the past, which can lead to issues as well. I ask the Minister of State to follow up on the hydrology report for Moycullen.
I, again, acknowledge the work being done by the Minister of State. I know his vision is to succeed and push these projects on but the delays and the inordinate stages worry me and, I am sure, the Minister of State. It is important that we all work together to see if we can advance them and fine tune that process.