Seanad debates

Thursday, 31 January 2013

1:45 pm

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Joe Costello, for taking this matter which is a very serious issue for residents of The Burrow, Portrane. I commend the residents of The Burrow and the residents' association there for all the work they have been doing. The Burrow is a community of approximately 80 people with in the region of 150 homes and 15 businesses. Coastal erosion, in particular over the past few months, has occurred at an alarming rate - effectively in the area between Pipers restaurant and the end of Healy's Lane.

I am aware officials from the OPW met the residents recently. Everyone knows there is an issue here but the problem is funding. There is only 15 m of dunes left between the beach and some of the homes. In two months, in some instances, well over 1 m has been lost. With the weather we are having, coastal erosion is taking place at a very worrying rate.

I am looking for the OPW to set aside emergency funding. It has been done before for flooding measures, including one in which I was involved last year in the Kinsealy-Melrose area and I thanked the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, at the time for his assistance. Some measures can be taken now in advance of a report. Fingal County Council and the Department have said they need to carry out an expert report. That is fine but it could take six to eight months, which we do not have.

What I am requesting on behalf of the residents of The Burrow, Portrane, is that the Department releases emergency funding to stop coastal erosion as best as possible right now in advance of an expert report being done to look for a long-term solution. Time is of the essence, so I will be interested to hear the Minister of State's response. Again, I thank him for taking this important Adjournment matter.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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I thank Senator Darragh O'Brien for raising this very important matter. I know the area well and appreciate the importance of protecting a very valuable amenity.

Responsibility for addressing the erosion problem at Portrane rests with Fingal County Council and I am aware that the council is treating this matter very seriously. Coastal erosion is a natural and ongoing process and it only becomes a problem when it threatens human life, infrastructure and properties. It differs significantly from coastal flooding as assets are permanently lost. Dealing with problems of coastal erosion also requires a somewhat different approach to flooding and must be addressed in a sensitive manner.

For some time, Fingal County Council has been working towards tackling the problem of erosion of the dunes at Portrane in conjunction with The Burrow residents' association. The local community and Fingal County Council are keen to find out what measures can be taken to prevent any damage to private and public property at the southern end of The Burrow while also establishing what erosion and sedimentation processes and patterns are taking place on a wider scale in the overall area.

The management of problems of coastal erosion in any particular area is first and foremost a matter for the relevant local authority which in this instance is Fingal County Council. The local authority must assess the problem in the first instance and if it considers that specific measures and works are required, it can submit an application to the OPW for funding to implement those measures under the OPW's minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme. This scheme is one of the principal means through which the OPW, in conjunction with the local authorities, is tackling the problems of coastal erosion.

Applications for funding under the minor works scheme are assessed by the OPW to ensure that the works proposed are viable and are based on a robust technical analysis and assessment of the problems. To be eligible for funding the proposals must also be shown to be cost beneficial and have a sound economic justification. The OPW requires that proposals and funding applications for structural measures to prevent or mitigate erosion should be done in conjunction with an appropriate coastal erosion risk management study which fully investigates, substantiates and demonstrates the merits of the measures being proposed.

In 2007, the county council commissioned a report on how to protect the dunes at Portrane and many of the measures recommended in the report have been implemented. The development of a coastal monitoring scheme was a key recommendation. Subsequently, Fingal County Council helped The Burrow residents' association apply for and secure Leader funding for a simple monitoring programme to measure the retreat of the dunes. The purpose of monitoring the erosion was to provide a basis for going back to the OPW to seek coastal protection funding.

The council outlined clearly to the residents the steps that need to be taken to progress this matter. Among the steps were to engage with specialist consultants to advise on the most appropriate coastal protection measures for this location and ensure that all the necessary information is available in advance to inform an application to the OPW regarding funding to carry out any coastal protection measures.

The OPW has just received an application from Fingal County Council, in compliance with OPW guidelines, under the minor coastal works scheme for a coastal erosion risk management study for the Portrane-Rush area, including The Burrow. The OPW will assess its eligibility for funding in accordance with the normal criteria under the minor works scheme and having regard to the availability of funding under the scheme.

The purpose of the study is to undertake a detailed coastal erosion risk management investigation and to develop an appropriate plan to best manage the risks identified to human health, the environment, cultural heritage and economic activity at this location. The consultants appointed will identify a minimum of two potential low-cost options for interim erosion control measures at the southern end of the Burrow, with the aim of slowing down the erosion at this location while the other studies are taking place.

As indicated by Fingal County Council the 400 m stretch of dunes at the southern end of the Burrow is where the severest erosion of dunes is occurring so an interim solution to deal with this issue in the short term is to be part of the study. It will be a priority of the study for the consultant to identify and design the interim measures quickly. Pending the outcome of the study it will not be appropriate to undertake works at Portrane.

1:55 pm

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive response. I wish to make several observations. Does the application received by Fingal County Council very recently include the required report? The residents were asked to undertake and bear the costs of many of these studies themselves. I welcome the fact an application has been received. With regard to the timeframe for the study, through the good offices of the Minister of State will he impress upon Fingal County Council, as I and other colleagues such as Deputy Brendan Ryan are doing in the constituency, that it must be given the priority required? Is the application that has been received for the works or to fund a study? Has Fingal County Council submitted a report with it? Will the OPW ensure that Fingal County Council gives this area the priority required? It is not just about protecting private property, which is paramount. The area is of great ecological and historical importance. I know the Minister of State is familiar with it and I am sure he agrees. Perhaps the Minister of State has an answer to these items now and if not perhaps he will follow up on them.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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I will follow up on these items and ensure the Minister is informed of the Senator's remarks. I cannot give the Senator the details but I understand the application is for the study but this will take place rapidly. The consultants have been asked to identify two specific areas of erosion at the southern end which can be dealt with as quickly as possible.