Friday, 4 December 2009
Interim Report on Flooding on River Shannon, November 2000: Statements
I welcome this opportunity to address the House and report on the recent major flood events that have affected the River Shannon area in a devastating way. I begin by extending my sincerest sympathy to all the individuals and families who have been affected by the floods and who are continuing to suffer from them and their aftermath. I have taken the opportunity in the past two weeks to visit the flood areas, including Limerick, villages in County Clare along the River Shannon, Athlone, Carrick-on-Shannon and Leitrim and adjacent areas in north and south Roscommon. On one of these occasions Senator McFadden joined me, with other public representatives. I witnessed the level of devastation and spoke to people whose homes, businesses and farms had been badly damaged by the floods. I appreciate that sympathy is of limited value to a family who have been made homeless, the owner of a business now lying under several feet of water or the farmers now operating in very difficult conditions. However, we have a plan for the future with which I will deal later.
I acknowledge the tremendous work done on the ground by the emergency services and other State agencies. Also, I make a special mention and acknowledge the fantastic co-operation and help delivered within communities by volunteers and neighbours.
In recognition of the devastation caused for people in many areas of the country by the recent flooding, the Government has allocated an initial sum of €10 million to fund a humanitarian assistance scheme which is being administered by the community welfare service of the Health Service Executive on behalf of the Department of Social and Family Affairs.
The aim of the scheme is to provide financial support to people who have suffered flood damage to their homes through hardship alleviation as opposed to full compensation. As on previous occasions, commercial or business losses will not be covered by the scheme nor will losses which are covered by household insurance. The county enterprise boards are, however, collating information on damages suffered by businesses for the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The community welfare service has already provided emergency financial and other assistance to households affected by the flooding to cover items such as clothing, food, bedding, heating, hire of dehumidifiers and emergency accommodation needs. As the flood waters abate and people assess the full extent of the damage to their homes, qualified households can claim for essential household items such as carpets, flooring, furniture and white goods. The Government has also agreed to a targeted fodder aid scheme and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has announced that €2 million is being allocated for this purpose. This is in addition to the wider humanitarian aid scheme.
In recent weeks, the River Shannon reached its highest level since the OPW began continuous recording of water levels in the late 1940s. The current flow in the Shannon is in excess of the 100 year flood event, which is the standard level of protection afforded by modern flood defence. The flood has caused hundreds of families, homes, businesses and farms to suffer hardships, threats to health and significant material and financial losses. It is also important to note the devastating impacts that the recent floods have on potable water supplies, the environment, terrestrial and aquatic flora and fauna, wildlife habitats and our archaeological heritage.
The River Shannon is 340 km in length and its catchment area of 15,000 sq. km. accounts for almost 20% of the area of the country. It is one of the main natural resources of Ireland as well as a cause of innumerable and repeated problems. The flooding of the river and its catchment area has been the subject of intensive investigations over the past 60 years and other investigations which date back to 1863. I was once given a book which provided economic, social and statistical accounts of Ireland in 1870. It was clear from reading it that flooding along the Shannon was an even greater problem at that time.
The Rydell report of 1956 was a significant and comprehensive study of the Shannon and its catchment area undertaken following the flooding of 1954. The report gave an overview of the flooding problems and possible mitigation options. It also considered related issues such as navigation, power generation and land use. It is of interest that the options put forward by Rydell are as valid today as they were in 1954. In 1957, the OPW and the ESB were jointly appointed to carry out further preliminary investigations on the Rydell report's options for river diversion, channel improvements and lake storage. These investigations, the results of which were published in 1961, concluded that some of the Rydell recommendations were viable and cost-effective, whereas others were neither. None of the Rydell major recommendations was implemented.
The Houses of the Oireachtas report of 2000 concluded that the causes of frequent flooding of the Shannon were mainly due to natural causes such as the flat gradient of the river channel, inadequacy of depth and width in critical areas and increases in rainfall and siltation. This report also recorded that, with the exception of minor activity such as the installation of river and rainfall recording devices, the main recommendations of the Rydell report had not been implemented.
The House of the Oireachtas report of 2002 had as its objective the formulation of proposals on the optimum structure or structures to manage the Shannon and its tributaries. To that end, the report was mainly concerned with the organisational arrangements for the effective management of the Shannon catchment rather than a blueprint for the Shannon river basin, which was considered under the Oireachtas report of 2000. The 2002 report noted that a number of groups at regional level and at least 12 Departments and Government organisations at national level had some function or responsibility for the Shannon basin. It is worth noting that a consensus existed among these groups that improvements in the management of the Shannon basin were needed but there was no agreement on whether a new organisation should be set up to achieve this end.
The 2002 report attempted to establish how effectively the present organisational arrangements enabled the Shannon catchment to be managed and what might best be done to improve the process. It also identified the shortcomings and weaknesses of the present arrangements in dealing with management of flooding and its consequences. The main merits attributed to the present arrangements for the management of the Shannon catchment were: functional responsibility is clearly fixed in law and each organisation has a precise remit, knows exactly what is required to do and has clearly established priorities; and communication and collaboration between the various agencies take place using well established mechanisms, such as committees, working groups and partnerships. However, within these arrangements there is a lack of co-ordination, or of common purpose, among the organisations involved. There was, for example, no organisation or agency with a statutory duty to take initiatives to prevent and reduce the incidence of flooding or to alleviate its consequences. Co-ordination of planning among organisations with diverse responsibilities and remits has proved extremely difficult to achieve and where difficulties arise no mechanisms exist to resolve them.
The need for a proactive approach to the management of flood risk was recognised by the report of the flood policy review group. The strategy of the OPW for the management of flood risks is founded on that report, which was approved by the Government in September 2004. This strategy gives us a more productive role and is being implemented through a range of additional work programmes, all of which are now under way. These programmes will complement the existing work of the OPW in regard to capital flood relief schemes and arterial drainage maintenance.
Our main work programme is the catchment flood risk management and assessment, CFRAM, programme. This programme has commenced in pilot form on the River Lee and the objective is to complete the programme nationally to meet the requirements of the EU floods directive. The OPW is responsible for the transposition of the EU floods directive into national law, which will be completed before the end of the year and in advance of the majority of EU member states. When the floods directive is transposed into national law, the OPW will be nominated as the competent authority with overall responsibility for all matters in relation to the assessment and management of flood risk in the State. This will place the OPW in the unique position of co-ordinating all the groups involved with flood or related work in a focused, efficient and effective manner.
Flood risk management by its very nature involves the resolution of complex engineering and technical issues which at times may impact on the remits of other organisations. Significant environmental issues and concerns also arise, and several Government and non-governmental organisations are involved. It is necessary therefore to engage in a wide consultation with relevant organisations and the general public when undertaking the CFRAM. The OPW is committed to engaging in comprehensive consultative processes in all situations where its work programmes are likely to affect the remits of other organisations.
Currently, a comprehensive management programme for the River Shannon is being addressed under several headings. To facilitate planning for the management of future flood risk, the OPW has developed a catchment flood risk assessment and management programme. This programme underpins the essentials of the assessment of flood risk and the long-term planning of the flood risk management measures for catchment areas throughout the country and includes capital structural and non-structural measures. The CFRAM programme is being delivered through the CFRAM studies, which are comprehensive catchment based investigations of areas of potential significant flood risk. These studies, which are required by the national flood policy and the EU floods directive, are designed to focus on and identify areas at risk from flood events for a range of severity and to produce a prioritised plan of measures and actions for dealing with areas where the risk is significant. As part of the process, areas of potentially significant flood risk will be captured on flood maps and this data will inform flood risk management measures. The OPW, in partnership with Cork city and county councils initiated a major pilot catchment flood risk assessment and management study of the Lee catchment in 2006, which is now nearing completion
The OPW is also undertaking pilot studies in respect of the rivers Dodder and Suir and the Fingal-East Meath area. More localised plans have already been completed for Portarlington and Tullamore, and significant information is available for the river Tolka in Dublin. As the lead agency for flood risk management, the OPW has already begun the process of procuring a flood risk assessment and management study for the remaining catchments, including the Shannon. As this type of study involves a range of complexities it is important that a pilot study is completed and lessons about the process are learned before rolling out the national programme.
I anticipate that the Shannon flood risk assessment and management study will commence in mid-2010. In the case of the Shannon, all major stakeholders, including the relevant local authorities, the ESB, Waterways Ireland, environmental groups and the public, will be consulted during this assessment process and will be encouraged to make an input to its recommendations. The study will consider all options for dealing with areas of significant flood risk.
Pending completion of the study for the Shannon catchment, the OPW, through the minor works scheme, will work with the relevant local authorities to identify areas that may benefit from interim localised mitigation measures. As a word of caution, it should be noted that effective maintenance of river course channels can only contribute to the moderation of the impact of flood events. Further, engineering opinion concludes that the maintenance, such as dredging, of river channels alone and without other remedial interventions is not sufficient to protect against flood events of the extent and magnitude of those witnessed in recent weeks.
The planning and development process is critical to avoid creation of further flood risk. The OPW, with the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, developed the Guidelines on the management of Flood Risk in Planning and Development which I and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley launched jointly earlier this week.
Development in flood plains should be avoided, where possible. Some previous developments in flood plains and the reduction of open ground for water absorption, has added to the problems we face. Future development should mitigate rather than increase existing flood risk. I recently saw an interesting development in Carrick-on-Shannon in which a former Member of this and the other House was involved. Several large retail stores, such as Woodies and Tesco, were built on stilts over the flood plain. During the flooding which had affected that area quite badly the flood plain was able to take the rising waters which remained well below the buildings. That seemed quite an ingenious solution to using a strategic location. It costs much more than building directly on the flood plain but most towns and villages were built near or round rivers. The distinction between that and other developments was that this development explicitly took account of the flood risk and adopted a measure that did not interfere with the operation of flood plains.
The OPW has obtained aerial photographic records of the flood extents for this flood event and intends when this is processed to put the information on the flood maps website to support better planning decisions in the future. We have built a considerable archive from flood events over the past two or three decades which will give us data enabling us to identify what is at risk. The only caution is that the landscape photographed in the 1980s may have altered since then which may affect the risk. The delivery of a comprehensive flood risk assessment and management strategy for the State requires, as a prerequisite for its success, the close interaction and involvement of several State agencies and other public bodies and organisations with very different remits. The Water Framework Directive and local authorities fall within the remit of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Met Éireann has a significant role in weather-related issues. Waterways Ireland, which is a cross-Border body, is responsible for the canal systems and the navigation aspects of the Shannon. The ESB is responsible for the hydro-power system. Last Saturday I had a very interesting morning being briefed by the ESB in Ardnacrusha which I had never before visited. The EPA is the nominated competent authority for the delivery of the objectives of the Water Framework Directive. In addition to the list of Departments and organisations mentioned, there is a range of other bodies and organisations with varying degrees of involvement and responsibility in the whole area of flood-related work.
With specific reference to the Shannon, the process of carrying out the Shannon flood risk assessment and management study will involve all of the main stakeholders who have a role in the management of the Shannon being consulted, including the ESB and relevant local authorities. The objective of this exercise is to determine relative roles and define relative responsibilities of all the main bodies involved with the Shannon with a view to ensuring that all flood risk factors are identified and managed in a coordinated way.
A further area where strict EU coordination criteria apply relates to the requirement that EU member states take appropriate steps to coordinate the application of the Floods Directive with the Water Framework Directive. On the basis of the Water Framework Directive and the Floods Directive, the framework for a coordinated approach to the management of the River Shannon already exists. This framework will ensure that flood protection measures and other flood mitigation measures will be fully addressed.
I very much look forward to listening to the views and knowledge of Senators, many of whom I have met when visiting affected parts of the country. Public representatives at all levels have played an important role in the affected areas, being a channel of communication to various authorities and helping with emergencies and I pay tribute to that role. Another group that is not always mentioned in despatches is the local media which was a quite indispensable source of information in flood affected areas about what was happening, what the prospects were, what the weather would be like and so on.
I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for visiting Athlone and spending an extensive time communicating with and talking to people on the ground. He did not give the impression that he was in a hurry and that was greatly appreciated in the Athlone area. Like the Minister of State I extend sympathy to the people who are still suffering because the water has not gone down. It is an ongoing issue. We may think when the weather improves that the flooding has gone away but it has not. There are people still out of their homes and surrounded by water in the Athlone and midlands areas.
We need to discuss the economic and the social effects of the flooding. There are elderly people still marooned and surrounded by water. That has a psychological impact on individuals. I have never experienced such devastation and heartache. I wonder where it will end because people's homes are destroyed. I would like to keep in touch with the Minister of State to update him continuously on where we go from here and how to help these people. The point of contact in the midlands with the Civil Defence is second to none. They are still knocking on doors and monitoring how people are doing, and providing the very basics such as food and fuel. People's oil systems were destroyed and they had no heat in their homes. Being surrounded by water with no heat or food is quite depressing. Members of the Civil Defence knocked on doors and found out if people needed prescriptions, food and fuel. They took the time to do this, even though they are all volunteers. I cannot speak highly enough about the Civil Defence and I know the Minister of State commended them when he was in Athlone. There was also a great response from the community and from the local authority.
I met a man last week in Athlone who has a fairly decent job and has never been behind in his payments, but already had negative equity in his house. He bought the house last year for €165,000 and he was told by the assessor that his flood damaged house was valued at €50,000. This young man has a mortgage with Halifax. He went to negotiate a deal to freeze his mortgage. He was told by the callous organisation that the debt was his and that is was up to him to pay it. He has to rent another place because he has nowhere else to live. I find this appalling and we should intervene in this type of situation, of which there are many.
The Minister of State said the €10 million was for humanitarian aid. I welcome that, because this is what it is for. It will not help people get back into their homes. It was an immediate response for accommodation and food for people. Have we made any request to Europe on funding for those who have suffered?
With the conference in Copenhagen coming up, I believe we need to face up to our responsibility on climate change and global warming. We are a small country, but we must make a very strong argument in Copenhagen about global warming and how it is affecting us as a small country.
The Minister of State commented in Athlone that because the whole country was not affected, it was not necessarily a state of emergency. By God, it was a state of emergency for the people who were affected. Just because Dublin was not affected does not mean that it was not a state of emergency. We had a difficult situation in Athlone because the unions were going on strike on the Tuesday after the floods, and the directive from the union leadership was that there was no state of emergency and that the local authority workers were to abide by the strike. This was really difficult for the workers. What constitutes a state of emergency? How will we respond to that in future? If the Army and other services had been put in place on time, many more homes in the midlands would have been saved from the floods?
I have strong concerns about public health as the waters are beginning to recede in the aftermath of the floods. We have a serious problem with vermin and sewerage. This has never happened before in my lifetime. I do not know how to respond to people who tell me that they have rats in their kitchen. We need a lot of money in the midlands to deal with these issues.
Organisations such as the ESB, the OPW, the NPWS and Waterways Ireland all had a say and were all trying their best, but there was no one statutory body that took absolute responsibility. The Minister of State referred to the water framework directive, but that is still a cop-out because it has no statutory power. We have some wonderful reports on this. The Rydell report of 1954 is still very relevant. The Doherty reports of 2000 and 2002 are very good as well. We do not need another report, so the Minister of State does not need to commission another report. The 2002 report stated "There is no organisation or agency which has a statutory duty to take initiatives to prevent or reduce the incidence of flooding, or to alleviate its consequence". It goes on to state that there is a lack of co-ordination and a lack of common purpose. That is what I saw.
At the meeting with the Minister of State in the Shamrock Lodge Hotel last Sunday, his fine officials from the OPW gave us factual and coherent figures. However, I had a conversation an hour before with a head of operations at the ESB who gave a completely different set of figures. That is the epitome of the lack of co-ordination, joined up thinking and disarray among the various bodies. The National Parks and Wildlife Service has a completely different brief, as it is interested in protecting wildlife. The objective of Waterways Ireland relates to navigation of our waterways during the summer. I respect these organisations, as well as the OPW, but we need one organisation that will take a lead and provide the right direction as to what must be done.
The IFA came out strongly on the issue during the week. I am connected with farming and with what is happening on the ground in the countryside. The 2000 report chimes with what the IFA representatives said last week. There has not been maintenance of the River Shannon and its tributaries for 70 years. Siltation has been allowed to build up. Bord na Móna has done excellent work and has provided tremendous employment in the midlands, and it was obliged to have siltation ponds. Who has monitored these ponds? Are they obliged to pay for maintenance to the River Shannon? I do not think so, because I have never seen any evidence of it.
We do not need any more reports. We have all the excellent reports that have been laid before the House, and the 2000 report recommended that we have one authority. This has not yet happened. It is interesting to look at the Rydell report from 1954 because nothing has changed. All of the recommendations in 1954 still apply, so we should not spend any more money on consultants, research or further reports.
The Minister of State met with a constituent of mine in Athlone. She made a suggestion to export water and develop an industry around that. Can the Minister of State comment on that?
The ESB does an excellent job in producing electricity and we believe that this must happen. However, the company has far too much control over our waters. For at least 70 years, it has had absolute control of how Lough Allen and Lough Ree have functioned. When the Lough Erne channel opened, there was no more flooding in that area because the channel flows into Lough Allen and Lough Ree and then into Lough Derg. There are many sluice gates, including at Parteen, which the Minister of State visited. It stands to reason that if sluice gates and dams are opened, the water will flow. My question has not been answered with regard to why the water was not allowed to flow steadily for a longer time and why there was such a build-up. I accept the amount of rain was unprecedented but, while I am not an engineer, I know that if water is blocked by a dam or a sluice gate, it cannot escape. I want to know why there was such a disaster in Cork involving the Inniscarra dam. I need answers to these basic, logical questions.
The other issue concerns structures around the River Shannon. The Minister of State showed us a fine report on flood defences in recent days at the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I was surprised at how much has been spent in all the other areas while not a single cent has been spent on flood defence in the Athlone area. If the Minister of State is willing to return to Athlone, I can show him where and how money can be spent on flood defences in the area.
The area of Shannon Harbour is close to my heart, as is the River Shannon. It gives much pleasure but also provides resources and money through tourism. However, it is both frightening and devastating when it is not managed. As I said earlier, it needs to be managed by just one authority. The flood defences at Shannon Harbour are very old - Victorian - and I question the safety of some of the docks and other structures around Athlone. We saw what happened in Cork, where the defence at the Mercy Hospital was washed away. I would like more information on the scheme to maintain these flood defences.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Gormley's, new guidelines in regard to planning. One of my first positions on the town council when I was elected in 1999 was to vote against a development in a special area of conservation. When Duchas was disbanded, this area was no longer deemed a special area of conservation and masses of apartments were built on what is a flood plain. I agree with the guidelines but I want to highlight that the councillors are not always at fault. While they have the responsibility to zone land, it is the executive that grants planning permission. Local authority councillors are the ones who have the best interests of an area at heart. There has to be joined-up thinking. I advocate one lead agency and that no more money is spent on reports.
I wish to express solidarity with all those who have been affected by the flooding. The worst hit areas are in Galway, Clare, Tipperary and Cork but there has also been flooding in Kildare and Dublin as well as in other parts of the Shannon basin, including Westmeath and Roscommon. I understand how difficult it is for the people involved. It is very hard for them to cope with their homes being, first, surrounded with water and, next, to have floods coming through the doors. People are isolated and their property and homes are destroyed. I am certain that the knock-on effect on their sense of security and health is significant. Nonetheless, we see great solidarity and sense of community. It is heartening to see all my colleagues who got involved in helping their own communities and in directly assisting people. Of course, that is where the community spirit comes in and brings out the best in people.
The debate is now probably proven that global warming is having an effect on our climate. We appear to be in a situation where we will get warm, wet summers and cool, wet winters - the recurring theme being "wet". Unfortunately, the plans in place are no longer applicable and the planning that took place in the past cannot be the planning we proceed with in the future. With that in mind, I welcome the new statutory planning guidelines that were published on Monday, 30 November by the Minister, Deputy Gormley, and the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, with regard to flood risk assessment and management of the planning system for the future. Unfortunately, there have been instances where it has been incorrect, to say the least, that planning permissions were given. There have been clear indicators, even before the past ten years, of regular flooding in areas where planning permission has been given for houses. There were even indications in the names of the townlands, such as Cois an Abhainn - side of the river - Slí an Abhainn - way of the river - and the Waterways.
I am not suggesting that there has not been difficulty in planning; there has been. However, we are now in a situation where we have to deal with that reality. The guidelines and the key steps we take now are the steps that will benefit us going forward. I support the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh's, call on 24 November in the Dáil that in future a contribution would also be made by giving the same attention to maintaining drains and waterways as to repairing potholes. I suggest it might be even more important because the amount of damage that can be created by a flood, such as structural damage and water damage to homes and businesses, is enormous. Taking the steps now to ensure this does not happen in the future is the only course open to us.
We see areas where positive steps have been taken. I am thinking here of Kilkenny city, where the River Nore regularly flooded. On this occasion, given that a massive works programme was undertaken by the Department, the River Nore did not flood even though there was flooding to the east in Carlow and to the west in Tipperary, and the rivers Barrow and Suir also flooded. Positive action does show results. Early flood warning systems will become a feature of the new system. Funding is being put in place to ensure we can deal with what were 100-year events but which will now be recurring on a ten-year basis or even more frequently.
The community spirit I spoke about was very evident in an area which floods very frequently, Clonmel, where an integrated system of supports for people is in place. Where the flood reliefs have been put in place in the Old Bridge area and close to the island, flooding did not happen. Where flooding took place, should a person have rung to request help from the health board, the county council or the Civil Defence, such as a request for sand bags, it all went through to one telephone number. In other words, it was a co-ordinated response, and this is beginning to make all the difference.
I am particularly pleased that community welfare officers are paying out cash immediately to people who have been put out of their homes, even though they might have found suitable accommodation elsewhere, whether independently or with friends or relatives, because there are immediate costs we cannot even imagine. It is that solidarity shown by groups which have known floods in the past and got together and worked in a co-ordinated fashion that we must continue.
I ask the Minister of State, particularly at this time of year, to renew the call to the insurance companies to pay out on claims immediately. There is no reason, once an assessment has been made and verified, that the cheque should not be issued immediately. I also ask the Minister of State, when people's homes are being made habitable again and dehumidifiers are being used, to ask the ESB to waive the fee for the electricity used. They are extremely effective but expensive. It would be a practical demonstration of support from the ESB.
The best and worse can be seen in people in times of stress. I note that in areas of the midlands there were reports of goods being stolen from unoccupied houses. It is beyond comprehension and makes one wonder when we see so many supporting each other.
The humanitarian aid provided is just a first step. People are receiving support quickly to alleviate their difficulties. I am thinking in particular of the farming community, to which €2 million has been made available in the affected areas for the loss of fodder. The IFA has shown great solidarity with the farming community by supporting fellow farmers and providing surplus fodder for their colleagues.
EU funding has been mentioned. Before the European Union will allow emergency major funding relief, the consequence of the loss must amount to 0.6% of GNP. That would amount to €1 billion and some say we would not reach that figure. The reality is that with the damage, including possible structural damage to bridges and the maintenance work at dams and sluicegates, the effect of trees travelling down rivers at high speed and hitting bridge arches, it would be realistic to suggest that figure would be reached and that we would qualify for aid. I note that members of the Joint Committee on European Affairs have travelled to Brussels to speak to the Commissioner with responsibility for this area. I trust we will receive support, with Cumbria, for the damage caused.
The HSE is assisting with exceptional needs payments. I trust no one who needs help will be left without assistance from at least one of the State bodies. The flood damage creates difficulties immediately in terms of food, clothing, fuel and household goods. People in Clonmel were under two feet of water but recognised that it was four feet high previously and that we were making progress. They said one should look at what people in the west were going through. That selfless thinking impressed me. Here were people being flooded who thought of others who were worse off than themselves.
With that in mind and the necessary co-ordinated response, with the new situation in which we find ourselves, we should look at individuals using their own flood protection methods. Grants could be made available, with a knock-on effect on job creation, to erect these defences. Significant sums have been spent on flood protection measures, €199 million in the last ten years, with 14 major schemes completed. In the Shannon basin area there were two in County Tipperary, one in County Limerick, one in County Clare and three in County Galway. Even they, however, could not cater for the situation in Ballinasloe, where to the west the River Suck burst its banks, while to the east the River Shannon burst its banks. Possibly every previous plan put in place to deal with this issue is no longer applicable.
There are, however, success stories and we should see how they can be implemented throughout the country, particularly in the worst affected areas. It will require a co-ordinated effort but the community support people receive is most pleasing. Just because it is no longer on the television does not mean we have forgotten. We cannot allow a situation where necessary protections are not provided. In Bandon there was regular flooding, with a flood plain immediately outside the town and on which new supermarket has been built. There must be a practical application of common sense, with useful information on flood plains being recognised and planning permission refused for applications in these areas. There should be a regular update and money spent in the same manner as with potholes in county council areas to ensure waterways and drains are kept clear in order that we will be better prepared in the future, and we put in place a comprehensive system of reliefs for individuals to take their own flood protection measures. I still fear, however, that where necessary works go ahead, there will be objections from those who refuse to have a high wall in front of their house, in spite of the fact that it would prevent a river from bursting its banks. We may need to look at planning issues, as well ensure there are no unnecessary objections.
I congratulate the Minister of State for the efforts he personally has made in this crisis.
It has been interesting to listen to the Minister of State to learn of the visits he made and the sympathy he has shown. That sympathy comes from all of us for those who have lost their homes, businesses, farms and, in many cases, source of income. As other speakers have pointed out, it has brought out the best in people, the good Samaritans who helped those who they did not even know.
That brings us to the blame game. We blame everything but ourselves - the weather, greenhouse gases, everything. However, we only have ourselves to blame. When I say this, I do not mean us; I mean the Government and those who have been running the country for the last 70 years.
Senator O'Toole wished to speak on this topic which he follows closely but he has a family commitment and asked me to take his place. He has provided me with significant information from his experience. I found it particularly interesting that he introduced a Bill on the Shannon twice during the 1990s. He first introduced it when we had a Fine Gael led Government and he had the support of Fianna Fáil for it at the time. However, it did not get through. A few years later, in 1998, he reintroduced the same Bill. This time Fianna Fáil was in power and he had the support of Fine Gael, but once again the Bill did not get through.
The Bill, entitled the Shannon River Council Bill, is a very interesting read and encompasses a great deal. It was a Bill to co-ordinate the activities of authorities, agencies and bodies connected with the protection, conservation, management, water management and control of pollution of the Shannon River catchment, to establish a body to be known as the Shannon River Council and to define its functions and so on. The functions of the council would be to propose policies and priorities for the enhancement of the water quality of the Shannon River and its catchment basin and for the protection and enhancement of the environment and natural habitats of bird and fish life in that region. Unfortunately, the Bill did not get support.
Senator O'Toole also gave me a copy of the Doherty report from the year 2000 which refers to both the 1956 Rydell and the 1961 OPW/ESB reports. Mr. L. E. Rydell of the US Army Corps of Engineers visited the Shannon area over a 30-day period in June to July 1955, following the major floods on the river over the winter of 1954-55. A preliminary report was submitted by him in August 1955 and a final report was completed by him in August 1956. I would like to touch on one or two points he made in his report. I accept the comment made earlier that we probably do not need any more reports; we have ample reports. Rydell advanced several possible options for alleviation of the Shannon flooding and recommended that more detailed preliminary investigations should be carried out on the more promising remedial approaches. These possibilities included connecting Lough Gara to the Owenmore River by a proposed canal to divert surplus flood water from the Shannon catchment and exploring the possible improved utilisation of the storage capacities of Lough Allen, Lough Ree and Lough Derg to achieve better control of flooding. These are only two out of eleven proposals that make fascinating reading.
The Rydell report should have received the attention it deserved, but it did not. Later, we had the report of the OPW/ESB which did not get the attention it deserved either. We now have the 2000 report which is well worth reading and investigating to see what we can do about the situation. There has been enough talk and we have had enough investigations. Now we need action. We have not had any action because we put things on the long finger on a regular basis.
With regard to the current problems, estimates suggest the final Bill for the damage across the country could be approximately €1 billion. It was interesting to hear Senator Hanafin talk about this. If the damage is that high, it is likely we may be able to claim €50 million from the EU solidarity fund. That is a small consolation for many, given the massive damage done throughout the country. It is amazing to consider that globally floods now affect the personal and economic fortunes of more than 60 million people every year. The flooding of the Yangtze River in China in 1998 cause €30 billion of damage.
I welcome the new planning rules announced by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, which will ensure stricter conditions on developers who plan to build on flood plains. An example of such a development is the shopping centre in Bandon mentioned by Senator Hanafin which experienced severe flooding and was built in an area known by locals as "the swamp". It appears councils and planners have been very much involved in approving developments that should not have been built. Those of us who watched the programme on flooding on Monday night saw there were some blatant breaches of the rules. I hope the Minister's plans will be effective in tackling any future misplanning or ensuing disasters.
I am cautious when I hear people suggest drastic action such as pulling buildings down because they were situated in flood plains. We must show restraint when analysing what has happened instead of having knee-jerk reactions. We must keep in mind that "flood plain" does not mean the land is permanently under water. The definition differs, but it may just mean a flood is likely to recur in that area, whether every ten years or every 100 years. Should developers in Japan or San Francisco, for example, stop building because they are in an earthquake zone? Given our economic situation and our glut of housing, it is probably irrelevant to worry about future developments in the short term. However, we should always give heed to the long term.
We must look at how we analyse the threat of flooding in particular areas. Richard Tol, from The Independent, made the point when writing about the Irish floods that Met Éireann does not publish data on how much water is in the surface and ground-water systems. No agency publishes this information. Data on water levels is the joint responsibility of Met Éireann, the Office of Public Works, the Geological Survey of Ireland, the Marine Institute, the ESB and the Environmental Protection Agency in collaboration with the local authorities. Surely the task should be amalgamated and become the responsibility of one body.
There is a useful website with information on flooding, but not many are aware of it. This information is produced by the OPW and is entitled, www.floodmaps.ie. It is a very useful website which provides information on historic flooding in an area someone might plan to buy or develop. There is room for improvement in the information provided. If we take account of current flooding, this may allow us better plan for dealing with flooding.
One of our major problems is that land that once absorbed water is cemented over too often. When it comes to building on flood plains Ireland is not that unusual. It is estimated that over one tenth of houses in the United Kingdom are built on flood plains. It is worth bearing in mind the sentiment expressed in The Economist some months ago. An article in the magazine argued that floods are no more frequent today than they were 120 years ago, when lush forests were abundant. It went on to state that the problem was that more people now live and work on flood plains.
I am concerned that houses and farmland will become uninsurable, as suggested by Senator Hanafin. There is a story of a family who wanted to abandon its home of ten years because of the flooding and use the insurance payment of €80,000 to make a start on a new house on a safer site. However, because the money was not being put back into the house covered by the insurance company, the company argued, within its rights, it could reduce the compensation by 20% to €64,000. Will the Government continue to allow insurers get away with this sort of incident?
I remember reading years ago about how Lloyds became such a successful and well recognised insurance company. At the time of the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, Lloyds, unlike other insurance companies, paid out immediately on claims. This made good business sense because it gave the company such good publicity. It may well be the Government will not have to take action on insurance, because it would make good business sense for some insurance company to take the lead and see its payments of claims as a good investment for the future. Defence against flooding must also be questioned because the experience of other countries such as Britain suggests that building flood barriers just moves the problem downstream to other areas. I can understand how this happens. These are difficult questions with neither easy nor obvious answers. We spoke about the human aspect and I was struck by the message from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul which has set up eight warehouses to distribute beds, linen and other household goods for those flood victims. They are extremely busy and will not have finished dealing with people affected by the flooding until next Easter at the earliest. This gives some idea of the massive devastation caused by the flooding. I urge the Government and the European Union to look with sympathy on those who are most in need.
The Joint Committee on European Affairs is meeting today with the European Commissioner for Regional Policy Commissioner, Mr. Samecki. I hope this meeting will be fruitful and go some way towards helping people who have been affected by the flooding to return to normality. Much work has been done in this area in the past. I remember well the floods of 8 December 1954 in Dublin. I was travelling in a bus to university when the Tolka overflowed. There is a view that when something happens in Dublin it gets more attention in the media and elsewhere. Speakers from the areas of the west and south which have been flooded have a much better appreciation of what has happened particularly in Athlone and Clonmel as referred to by Senator Hanafin and others. There is a danger that things will be put on the long finger again. We must ensure that on this occasion we use this experience and decide not to put it on the long finger but rather act upon it.
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.
I welcome the Minister of State and his officials. I pay tribute to him and the Department for the work they have been doing in recent weeks to assist victims of the flooding. Like Senator Boyle, I am happy that the civic emergency in Cork is over. As I have done on many occasions in the House, I again pay tribute to Civil Defence, the Army, the Garda, the fire service, the staff of city and county councils throughout the country, particularly Cork, and the many other volunteers who have helped. In particular, I pay tribute to those affected by the flooding and those who had no running water in Cork city for their patience and tolerance.
It is important, even though we are discussing a specific report, that we examine the broader picture. I am not interested in apportioning blame or finding out who made a decision to do certain things. To me, what is far more important than the release of water by the ESB, be it at Inniscarra or Ardnacrusha, or the relationship between the agencies is that we put in place a structure which in so far as is humanly possible eliminates what happened in Cork city where allegedly people were not told. Residents who came to me and whose homes I visited told me that but for their own vigilance or that of their neighbours, they would not have known about it. I visited members of the Traveller community staying in the Doughcloyne Hotel and residents of the Middle Parish and the Mardyke, every one of whom informed me that they had not been notified. This day last week University College Cork gave us a briefing in which it stated it had received a telephone call prior to midday on the Thursday from the ESB.
Residents, citizens and business owners have been asking me, as I am sure they have been asking the Minister of State, how long it will take to get their houses and businesses back; whether it will happen again and what can be done to ensure it does not; how much they will receive in compensation, and by how much their insurance premia will increase. I appreciate the Minister of State being here yesterday to take matters on the Adjournment and accept his bona fides, as I know he is genuine. However, we do not need any more reports. What we need is action. Senator Boyle spoke about political will. We need to see implementation of recommendations, whereby we put in place a blueprint and mechanism to ensure, in the case of Cork city, that the quay walls will be protected and enhanced, a flooding relief system will be in place, that residents will be notified and that the relationship between agencies will be strengthened and in a manner that will ensure communication.
The nature of the problem has been exacerbated and accelerated by global warming and climate change. To an extent, the Minister of State was correct to mention planning decisions and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley. In some cases, wrong planning decisions were made. It is too simplistic of the Minister to blame councillors. I make the point again that they do not make planning decisions; it is officials in local authorities who do so. It is the planning officer and the director of services who sign off on decisions. We need accountability in this matter. I heard the Minister state some councillors - I do not know to whom he was referring - who had made bad planning decisions had topped the polls. They were held to account. If any of us went before the people and they did not agree with us, they would vote us out. Planners who made decisions are unelected and unanswerable and the people have no recourse other than through An Bord Pleanála. This is wrong.
I fully agree with the Minister of State that we are creating concrete jungles and that we have lost natural drainage, flora and fauna. This has to stop. In stating this, I agree with Senator Quinn that, to take Cork as an example, we cannot demolish the Kingsley Hotel or County Hall. We have to put in place a mechanism. The Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill which has gone through the House and will go before the Dáil will increase population densities in local area plans. The flooding has given us a reason to amend this and reduce the density of population to 2,000. In many parts of the country it is small local communities which have been decimated and demolished. I sympathise with the people affected.
I read the Rydell report and wonder whether we could ever get the US Army Corp of Engineers back. Much of the study covering a period of 150 years was focused on events in 1956 and half a century later, the same applies. I love the line where the writer states he approached the difficult and complex problems with some intrepidation. Imagine what he would state if he were present today. As discussed on the Adjournment yesterday, the quay walls in Cork city date from the 19th century or earlier and are in precarious positions. This underlies the need for enhanced flood defence systems. Last night I made the point that 3,000 tonnes of rubble and concrete had been used to buttress the walls.
The television images and pictures of the human tragedy and human stories illustrate that the impact has not only been on human life but also on the environment - animal life, flora and the built environment have all changed. The Doherty report speaks about the need to address the perennial problem of flooding and states insightfully that it is a problem which shows no sign of alleviation. How true; it does not. To borrow a line from a Wolfe Tones' song, we are on the road again but should not be. I am not in the blame game but the devastation we have seen in the past ten or 20 days should never, in so far as humanly possible, be allowed to happen again. Like the Minister of State and Senator McFadden, I have been in the homes of people who have been flooded; they had no running water and there were vermin and sewage in the flood waters. I met elderly people who were upset and refused to go home. They talked not only of the loss of their personal belongings but of having the homes they had lived in for 60 or 70 years destroyed. No words of ours will ease the pain of that loss or take away their frustration.
The experts talk about climate change and global warming and the Minister, Deputy Gormley, has apportioned blame. The reality is that we all did not take the threat of flooding seriously. This report calls for effective co-ordination and co-operation among the statutory bodies, which share responsibility for managing the Shannon catchment area. The same applies to Cork. We need joined-up thinking. As Senator McFadden rightly said, we need one agency to take on this job.
I heard Gerald Fleming from Met Éireann interviewed on "Morning Ireland" the other morning. He gave a very good interview and was honest in what he said. I urge people to listen to what he said. I hope Met Éireann, the ESB and the relevant authorities, be it the city council or whichever authority is responsible for the Shannon area, together with the Office of Public Works and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, will work together, share information and communicate properly with the people to ensure this devastation cannot happen again.
I compliment everybody involved in the flood relief work. It underlines that ní neart go cur le chéile. The collaboration and community effort also underlines the great humanity in people, even in tragedy. We should never lose that.
I welcome the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Deputy Mansergh. I compliment him and his officials on visiting the areas that were flooded to get first-hand knowledge of what exactly happened. The Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Smith, and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, were also very active in inspecting the areas affected. My colleagues in the House have visited sites affected in their areas and saw the desolation caused by the flooding. It has caused hardship. It is only when one sees the areas that were flooding, as the Minister of State did in Athlone, in Cortorber, Carrick-on-Shannon, and elsewhere that one realises the damage caused to homes and how it has affected families.
The Minister of State made a good speech and outlined the issues with which he is dealing, but he did not mention the River Suck, a tributary of the River Shannon. Management of the River Suck comes under the River Suck Drainage Board, which receives a small allocation from Galway County Council and from Roscommon County Council. That board is chaired by my colleague, councillor Martin Connaughton from Athleague. That board has staff and engineers who would carry out some remedial work to assist in this regard, but it will require further assistance from the Office of Public Works.
The River Suck flows through the villages of Castlecoote, Athleague and Ballyforan. The village of Athleague was flooded for the first time possibly ever. Three public houses in the village are now closed and they will not reopen until at least after Christmas. This has caused widespread difficulties and some 18 families have been relocated for the period. I would like the Office of Public Works in conjunction with Roscommon County Council to inspect the area towards the Castlecoote side of the village of Athleague where the River Suck burst its banks; the river water flowed through the behind the village and then flooded the village. With some work carried out there, perhaps with the erection of barriers on the edge of the River Suck, the risk of flooding in that village could be alleviated in future. People have no confidence that flooding will not recur in that area in the future. Restoration work is being done on the public houses, a butcher's shop and an electrical shop, which was completely flooded but, thankfully, the neighbours had removed all the electrical goods before the flood waters rose. The town of Athleague was closed. I ask the Minister of State to deal with that specific area and I ask the officials to discuss the matter with Roscommon County Council.
The Minister of State inspected the flood damage in Cortober on the River Shannon. A recent development there was, unfortunately, built on a flood plain on the banks of the River Shannon. Glancy's supermarket, the cinema and a chemist shop in that area were flooded. I was unable to visit the area when the Minister of State was there as I had to attend the Joint Committee European Scrutiny at 11.30 a.m. I know of flood damage that occurred there first hand and I know the Minister of State has shown great concern about it.
Without management of the River Shannon flooding will recur there, of that there is no doubt. I do not know what the people want to do in regard to the issue of insurance. Once off payments for damage incurred will be made but people will not be given insurance cover again.
I wish to refer to the report of a committee chaired by my late colleague, the former Deputy Seán Doherty. I compliment his work; he had a great interest in the River Shannon. That report, which was a far-reaching document, was published in March 2002. The then committee put an enormous amount of work into it and it included members' local knowledge of the particular areas. It is an excellent document for the officials of Departments to study to determine how some of its recommendations at least could be implemented. The late Seán Doherty, who lived all his life near a tributary of the River Shannon, knew the river very well and knew at firsthand the devastating effect of flooding in that area. It is a fitting tribute that his name is being mentioned in the Oireachtas again on the basis of a report of a committee he chaired in 2002. Many of the ideas he put forward at that time, if implemented, would be of great assistance to the constituents he served in Dáil Éireann and in Seanad Éireann from 1977.
I will not go through the Minister of State's speech because it is wide-ranging and effective. I spoke to him about projects in Roscommon and I understand the direction that will be taken is that the local authorities will apply to the Office of Public Works regarding small projects that could be implemented to alleviate flooding in the future.
Dealing with Roscommon town, the flooding occurred on the Lanesboro Road and the Golf Links Road where businesses were flooded. They included an electrical shop and a garage. The Health Service Executive offices could not be accessed as the flood waters reached the front door. On the Golf Links Road, Gerry McNulty's carpet and furniture store, Lynch Flooring and a restaurant were all flooded for a period. As I said to the Minister of State, the site for the new offices for the registration department were flooded. I took a photograph of them. The foundations are in place. With respect to the Minister of State who would not have been aware of this, with hindsight the site may not have been the best site for the Office of Public Works to purchase because its siting there resulted in the flood waters moving down towards the other sites, but such flooding can be alleviated. The Minister of State, who has responsibility for the Office of Public Works, which is responsible for this building being erected on this site, has responsibility now to open the River Jiggy in Roscommon town, which leads in to the River Hind. There will be major difficulty in cleaning the River Hind because the question of conservation of a particularly rare species of trout arises. I know the difficulty that might arise but arrangements can always be made to address it. To my knowledge there is only one outlet from Roscommon town and the areas that were flooded were areas that flooded every winter when I was young. They have now flooded again but the buildings are in place and they have resulted in the flood waters moving over to other sites. That is a fact.
I express sympathy to the people of Ballinasloe who were very badly affected by the flooding, which came from the River Suck. That river flows down by Castlecoote and on this occasion a massive volume of water came through the village of Castlecoote, where I come from. All the tributaries coming into it were all at high flood level, the highest we have ever witnessed in our time.
Regarding a village called Four Roads, three houses were flooded. I attended a meeting on Monday morning with all the local authority members, Oireachtas Members and Rev. Fr. Francis Beirne, the parish priest of Four Roads and the Dysart area. He called together all the neighbours and friends. I inspected one the of the houses and it was devastating to witness the damage done; the lovely oak floors were taken up and gone. They will never feel safe again in that house because they do not know whether the flooding will return.
Through its structure and the office of the Minister of State, the council is carrying out extensive surveying at present and taking levels to establish if there is some way in which they can alleviate the flooding at Four Roads. I hope that in the budget on 9 December, which will be very difficult, the Minister of State will be given adequate funds to carry out these remedial tasks. It is absolutely vital.
There is also the matter of job creation to be considered in this area and there is an opportunity for JCB drivers, currently under-worked and under-utilised, to start working to try to ensure these floods will not recur to the same level. Whether it is global warming or whatever, the rainfall in November was the greatest on record. This will be very difficult.
Last week on the Adjournment, I raised the matter of a house at Milltown, Castleplunkett, owned by Mr. Padraig Lyons. There is no river in the surrounding area and the house was built on a good site on a farm and dates back hundreds of years. His father and family live there and his aunt, who is 97 years of age, told him there was never flooding as long as she could remember. The flooding came from an unknown water source, probably a drain that was blocked. His insurance company would be better off to arrange for his relocation. The Minister of State referred to relocation issues. There was flooding in south Roscommon in 1979. At that time we relocated eight families for whom there was no possibility of every returning to the area because of the danger of repeated flooding. Insurance companies should be aware of the issues and provide compensation to allow families in certain areas to relocate because they will be subject to flooding in future. I thank the Minister of State for his speedy reaction to this crisis. Previously, I referred to the Shannon authorities and there is no point setting up a quango at this stage. There are enough personnel in place and I have great faith in the Office of Public Works which is leading this campaign.
I have faith in the ability of the Minister of State and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, to take a action and a hands-on approach in this regard. They have the full support of the Government parties.
The River Barrow. We are used to getting flooded on a regular basis. The towns of Graiguenamanagh, Thomastown, Inistoige and such low-lying areas are always flooded whenever the river floods. For some reason no one ever discusses these areas, we simply accept it. There was 18 inches of water in my yard, but I took action some 20 years ago in my House. I raised the floors, blocked all the vents and installed barrier flow doors in the House. The water would have to rise more than four feet to enter the House.
It is possible to take action to protect against flooding. For example, in the case of bathrooms, it is possible to install a trap which allows water out but not in. We should take such measures as part of good planning when we build new houses in future. Any new design should factor in the likelihood of flooding. It would make a great difference if there were some prevention measures in the building and design of houses.
It is interesting to note what happened in Sallins. A private company was involved and reported a blockage in a culvert to the local authorities at least six weeks before the floods came, but no action was taken. When a report arrives to the effect that a culvert is likely to be blocked it is a shining example of how local authorities can be effective. Difficulties with culverts are often the beginning of problems that lead to flooding. There are two areas that flood regularly on my road, the road from Graiguenamanagh to St. Mullin's. A simple job with a JCB could clear these areas by cutting a dyke into the ditch to allow the water to flow into the local field and away. Flooding has occurred there for the past five years and I am tired of reporting it to Carlow County Council. No action has been taken. We can compliment local authorities for a great many things, and we do, but much practical work could be done at local level without much cost and which would alleviate a good deal of flash flooding. That is vitally important.
I thank the Minister of State, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Taoiseach for their efforts. They made the effort to go throughout the country to see the problems at first hand. We are criticised no matter what we do, but this is a traumatic time for people.
We have been flooded many times and it is only when one sees one's personal goods destroyed that the extent of the problem hits home. I visited some people in our town who will not be able to move back into their houses before Christmas. They have a major problem and were unable to get insurance because of previous flooding. Graiguenamanagh is a town that floods frequently in two areas, on the quay and by the Duiske river. I reckon it would cost no more than €500,000 or €600,000 to alleviate and stop flooding in these areas in future, not a very significant investment financially. It would help if several walls were raised in several places. Such towns as Thomastown and Inistoige need their defences raised because the water comes very quickly from the city of Kilkenny, which is on the Nore, and floods these areas. Similarly, water comes through the Barrow much faster now and the areas adjacent to the Barrow can become flooded. They are flood plains but there are no buildings in these area.
Such towns as Carlow, Bagenalstown, Burris and Graiguenamanagh were all built during the 1200s. We have been building towns on flood plains and close to rivers since the old days. It is fair to say people enjoy living close to water. However, one must protect oneself from the water but take the advantages that water provides as well. It does not flood all the time and it is very pleasant to live and fish along the rivers and there is a good deal of kudos for the people who live there. However, we must take action now.
There are many projects coming to a close which involve new infrastructure and roads, including the completion of the M50 and other roads. This is an opportunity and projects dealing with flood barriers should be in the national development plan. Many flood barriers are old and cannot stand up to more recent flooding. In Cumbria in the UK, some 25 bridges were simply washed away by enormous floods. Our flooding was bad but it was worse for them. I saw some news reports on the matter which were frightening. One policeman lost his life. Thanks be to God we have not had any loss of life here.
We need to provide the Minister with resources. We cannot blame any Minister if he or she is not provided with sufficient resources. The flood damage will costs hundreds of millions, both to insurance companies and the Government. We would be better off spending money on a programme now. The work could be done in conjunction with FÁS, which would provide jobs for local labour given that the building trade is not working to full capacity. That is something we know for some time. There is an opportunity to get the work done up to 40% cheaper than would normally be the case. An investment at this stage would be prudent. I accept that money is scarce but we have a national development plan and we are getting good value for money on it. I would like to see substantial money being invested in flood protection.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, and the Taoiseach for getting out and seeing the damage at first hand. I suggest to the Minister of State that in the budget a substantial amount of money would be provided to his Department to ensure that work is carried out.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh. I will be parochial at the outset and thank him for allocating funding towards the study on the flooding that took place in Kenmare last year. We got ahead of the posse and had our flooding early.
On a more serious note, we must praise all the emergency services who ensured there was no loss of life. While there was horrendous damage to property and to people's businesses, farms and communities, the fact that there was no loss of life is the most important factor in the equation. All too often we see loss of life, which is the ultimate tragedy, in England and America following flooding due to their emergency services not being up to standard.
Much has been said already, but in terms of the praise for the emergency services, we must remember that there was a national strike last week and in most cities and other areas public servants stepped up to the mark. Despite having issues with the Government they proved themselves worthy of high praise for their commitment and dedication. Public servants were given an opportunity by their unions to serve the people. We commend them for that.
Senator Butler referred to building on flood plains. Depending on which county one visits, one hears that flooding is a once in 15, 20, 50 or 100 year event. In my county the rainfall in the past year has been 238% above the norm. That brings us to the important issue of climate change and what will be discussed and decided by the world leaders in Copenhagen. Given that the Senate in Australia was unable to commit itself to its Government's policy on climate change, it does not bode well for a positive outcome in Copenhagen. Questions are being asked about studies by universities in England that are the foundation of all academic research and the basis of some of the belief behind climate change and if that is found to be wanting it will set the issue back further.
I intend to be brief because much has already been said. I pay special tribute to the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, for his dedication on the weekend of the flooding in terms of visits to Cork and midland counties. Seeing the effects on the ground is preferable to reading the reports in the newspapers.
While many of the services have been praised, some have been vilified for having reports sitting on shelves and not taking any action due to a lack of funding. In this budgetary climate it will be difficult to spend money on preventative measures that might not be required for another 50 or 100 years. A cost-benefit analysis would be interesting in that regard. It is incumbent on the Government to deal with the immediate issues of getting people's lives and businesses back to normal and then to deal with the long-term problem of future flooding. The draining of the Shannon was a long-running joke. I fear it is a joke no longer. Having so many bodies with a cross-over of responsibility has to be addressed. I am confident the Minister and the Government will do that.
I thank all Senators who contributed to what was a most constructive and positive debate. I noted at least a couple of dozen points that were made and I will try to respond to them briefly.
Senator McFadden inquired about the request for assistance from Europe. That was addressed in some detail by the Minister for Finance in the Dáil yesterday. He attended an ECOFIN meeting and he discussed the matter with the Commission. Official contacts have been made. We have ten weeks to apply for aid to the EU solidarity fund. A high minimum threshold of damage is required to be eligible for assistance. It will take us a little time to collate the damage. We will only make an application if it is likely to be accepted. We will probably do that in some weeks' time when a full assessment of the damage has been carried out. While areas are still covered by flood waters it is not always possible to assess damage. It is a little like the River Shannon; when it floods it takes a while for the waters to rise. It takes a while for the bill to rise as well.
With regard to a state of emergency, the local authorities, the Garda or Health Service Executive can invoke the major emergency plan. Whether such a state was formally proclaimed or not the fact is that the emergency services in the affected parts of the country worked together quickly and in most cases well. One or two deficiencies were apparent and I will refer to them later.
We have hydro-electric plants on the Shannon, the Lee and the Liffey. In general, people are in favour of alternative energy sources that do not rely on oil, gas, coal or peat, but there is a potential conflict of interests between what one might do strictly in the interests of flood management and what one might do in the interests of electricity generation. To be fair to the ESB, when I went to Ardnacrusha last Saturday week, I was informed that what it was doing at that time was entirely in the interests of mitigating flood damage. Events since have shown that downstream from Ardnacrusha, the situation has actually improved and the great fears about high tides and flood waters in Limerick and Clare villages fortunately have not come to pass because the river level lowered.
Several Senators said we did not need reports. We need these CFRAM studies. They are as a result of the EU directive and are very comprehensive studies of river basins and catchments. I accept we need action and there are many things on which action can be taken without waiting for completion of those studies. Senators' concern might be that studies might hold up action but in this case, they will not. There are many things on which we can act in the interim, partly on the basis of previous reports and partly on the basis of submissions from local authorities.
In the case of Cork, the Lee CFRAM is practically finished. All we have to do is integrate the experience of recent weeks into the study to ensure it is comprehensive and then build an implementation plan. Last night on the Adjournment Debate, I discussed the quay walls in Cork with Senator Buttimer. I do not propose to add to that because I expressed myself better on that subject last night than I might do today.
Senator McFadden referred to exporting water. I will confine it to within this country. I remember a trade unionists who is also a broadcaster on local radio station being enormously exercised about the notion that water from the River Shannon might be transported to Dublin. The volume of water on the Shannon is vast. If one reads the Bible, the River Jordan was once a substantial river but now there is scarcely more of a water flow in it than in one of the ditches on my farm. There might have been a fear that the River Shannon would somehow be reduced to a tiny waterway because of the greedy Dubliners. Perhaps this flood event will make everybody more realistic.
Perhaps there is a case for some kind of water storage, in particular during flood times, which can subsequently be transported to Dublin. A decade or two ago, water shortages in Dublin were a very regular feature. However, partly because of the extremely wet summers, this has not been a noticeable problem in the recent past but I suppose it will be in the future. There might be a complementarity of needs - too much water in the west and not enough in the east. According to some climate change scenarios, that will accentuate.
Senator McFadden raised the question of flood defences. In the Athlone area, the river is extremely wide and, therefore, it is not greatly constricted. Obviously, we will look at the case of Athlone but, in particular, that of Ballinasloe as to what may be needed in those areas.
In regard to co-ordination and whether a single authority should be responsible, the decision to create a single authority for the River Shannon is a major policy issue because such an authority would need to take over a diverse range of powers, activities and responsibilities, such as electricity generation, tourism, infrastructure, water quality and extraction, waste water disposal, flood risk management and a range of environmental responsibilities, and there is quite a significant dimension there. When I travelled down the Shannon callows, I thought of the corncrake in the rushes and so on.
In 2004, which was subsequent to the reports we are formally discussing, the Government decided to assign lead agency responsibility to the OPW to minimise flood risk in a proactive catchment based approach. This may meet the requirement to co-ordinate the efforts of those bodies under the CFRAMs programme and floods directive which is to be transposed later this month and which will put the OPW, as the lead agency, in a very strong position to co-ordinate activities in all matters relating to flood management.
"Co-ordination" is the right word because I cannot imagine a situation where any other agency would, or should, be in a position to give instructions to the ESB on how it is conducted. There are too many safety considerations. There should be co-ordination between the ESB and other agencies and there may need to be further discussions as to how the requirements of electricity generation can be more complementary to minimising flood risk, in particular in periods of time when there are no floods. We know there is a greater risk of flooding in certain seasons of the year, namely, high summer and parts of the winter, than in September, October or May. It is more a question of bringing people together and getting them to co-operate in ways in which they reinforce each other's efforts.
Planning must change, as Senator Hanafin pointed out. The guidelines should be reinforced by the experience of what has happened over the past two weeks. I find it difficult to imagine that local authorities, planners, directors of services and even An Bord Pleanála would be able to ignore flood plain risk. In certain instances, there may be measures which can be taken to address that. We must be realistic about it. For example, I spoke to a developer in Portarlington a few months ago who offered to construct flood defences, of the type the OPW is doing, for half the town. Those are things at which we can look.
Dredging, drains, and so on, can perhaps make an important contribution but they will not be a panacea. If we have the level of rain we had over the past two weeks, we will have flooding. However, would we have had the flooding in Sallins if the culverts in the unfinished estate had not been blocked? One could still mitigate the effect and stop it happening in certain places but one would not be able to stop it happening everywhere.
I hardly need to reiterate the point that where defences have been put in place, they have shown positive results. Kilkenny and Carrick-on-Suir did not flood. Clonmel was better at least in the part protected by phase one.
I got notification yesterday from an insurance company, although I cannot remember which one, stating that it would make advance payments. That is required in many cases. It may be impossible to instantly arrive at a complete assessment of the damage but advance payments can get around that problem and any remaining amounts can be provided later.
Asking the ESB to offset the cost of operating dehumidifiers in electricity bills is an interesting idea. There is no doubt that dehumidifiers can play an important role, particularly for those who live in older houses.
I was briefed by gardaí in Athlone on the incidence of theft and looting. Such deplorable acts were rare in that town but I have heard anecdotes about their occurrence elsewhere in the country. Gardaí in Athlone are conducting regular patrols of areas abandoned owing to flooding.
My attention was drawn to Cockermouth when one of my cousins told me about the owner of a lingerie shop there called Jan Mansergh. Ms Mansergh who must be a distant relative was washed out of her premises after the town's one in 100 year defences were, unfortunately, completely defeated by 12 inches of rain in 24 hours. Tragically, the death toll as a result of the flooding is now six. We are building similar defences to those in Cockermouth but we must be clear that these alone will not guarantee protection in all eventualities. We do not know what the climate will do next. In August 2008 I visited Newcastlewest after it had experienced what was scientifically described as a one in 700 years flood event. Unfortunately, I am not confident that town's inhabitants and their descendants will be able to rest easy in their beds until 2708. The OPW is working in Newcastlewest but most of us would exercise caution in respect of the parameters indicated by past events.
We should not attribute everything to climate change because for centuries this country has suffered serious floods. Physical changes in the landscape also contribute to the impact of flooding. A couple of decades ago road widening works in a town in my constituency resulted in a narrowing of the riverbed. It is not surprising, therefore, that the frequency of flooding in that town has since increased. The physical landscape can change over a relatively short space of time. When the famous French writer, Victor Hugo, visited the battlefield of Waterloo 40 years after the battle had been fought, he found that the landscape had changed significantly.
In one town in the south east which is studying flood proposals objections have been raised to flood walls because they would interfere with views of the river. One councillor told me he had grown up beside the river and liked to listen to the lap of the water. Perhaps he will be able to enjoy the lap of water when it reaches his bedroom.
Senator Quinn raised an interesting issue on collecting data on water levels between floods. Water gauges have been installed on the Suir upriver from Clonmel to give the town several hours' warning of floods. Householders in Cork and the Glucksman Gallery would have welcomed such advance notice. We are conducting a study of the feasibility of having a national flood risk warning system which, if it is at all affordable, should at least be put in place in the areas most vulnerable to flooding. As we do not have control over the elements, it would be unrealistic for the Government to guarantee this will never happen again but we can at least put better warning systems in place.
There is a lot that people can do for themselves. Carlow and Arklow have purchased door barriers which can be mounted in the event of a flood warning. These barriers do not create significant aesthetic or technical problems. I visited a bungalow in south Sligo several weeks after it had been flooded last year. It was built too close to a river but the owner had constructed a bank around it to prevent inundation. This week the OPW built an earthen defence in Shannon Banks because of fears that the village would be hit by tidal flooding on top of what was coming down the river. That bank was completed. The OPW received an indemnity from Limerick County Council because if there had not been a flood we would not have been able to do it for approximately two years because we would have had to consult so many authorities, national parks and so on, and there might have been lots of objections. With some houses flooded, however, and many more under threat of worse flooding, everybody was only too glad to get it done. Like Senators Boyle and Buttimer I welcome the ending of the Cork emergency. The catchment flood risk assessment and management study for Cork will be ready by next month.
It is not the case that we are only now waking up to the problem. We have been doing a lot of work, and have been preparing work over the past ten years, and particularly in the past five. There is a great deal of work under way but it is not enough to prevent the sort of thing that happened recently. My feeling is that in a best-case scenario we will be running to stand still. We will be able to protect many areas, at least on most occasions but as we do that other problem areas will emerge. We cannot paint too rosy or optimistic a picture. There is a great deal of work to be done.
It is unusual to mention moneys in a budget context but since both the Taoiseach and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government have stated this publically we will have €50 million next year. Of that, €5 million will be carried over from this year for flood defences and minor relief work schemes. Several Senators mentioned projects that are not particularly costly in respect of certain areas. I announced approximately 20 projects below €500,000, three or four, or maybe half a dozen of which, are in Kerry. There is a great deal of useful work to be done. It is for the local authority to apply to the OPW under the minor inland flood relief work scheme or the coastal flood relief work scheme. There is lots of scope for local authorities as they clear up and assess damage to decide whether there are relatively limited works that could be done straightaway and do not require any deep study. I am not referring to massive town defences such as are required in Mallow, Fermoy, Clonmel and Ennis and so on. I am pleased that facility is there and I hope that local authorities will make use of it.
Senator Butler referred to the national development plan. Flood relief is part of that plan. There have been cutbacks in the plan and its implementation has been extended over a longer period but it is generally accepted that flood protection is a high priority. The McCarthy report did not suggest that flood relief was a luxury, an optional extra or an extravagance; far from it. Somebody mentioned spare capacity in the construction industry. The OPW in Shannon Banks rang a construction company to get 12 lorries to build the bank and was told it could have 24 lorries if it liked. I thank the Senators for their contributions. I hope I have replied to most of the points.