Thursday, 23 January 2014
Recent Severe Storm Damage: Statements
During the period from 13 December 2014 to 6 January 2014, Ireland was subjected to a series of severe storms, with storms affecting the country roughly once every three days. In addition to the very strong winds, there were periods of extremely heavy rain and a lot of thunderstorm activity. These storms coincided with high spring tides and created severe and damaging conditions in a number of coastal areas.
On 13 January, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government brought an interim report to Cabinet on the storms that was compiled by his Department in its capacity as lead Department for the response to severe weather. All areas of the country were affected by the storms, with damage to buildings, fallen trees and outages of the electricity and communications networks. In the week from 30 December to 6 January, high tides coincided with the storms and, consequently, the west coast was severely impacted, especially counties Clare, Galway, Mayo and Kerry, with coastal damage and damage to the roads infrastructure.
Met Éireann issued a level red severe weather warning for four days over the 24-day period from 13 December 2013 to 6 January 2014, warning of severe winds and very high seas. A further 11 days over this period were covered by orange level warnings. As well as featuring in broadcasts to the public, Met Éireann issued these warnings to all local authorities, transport agencies and relevant Departments and agencies. Met Éireann, which is under the aegis of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, provides strong support for the utilities and emergency response community. Met Éireann's new colour-coded severe weather alert and warning system for the public proved appropriate and effective in raising awareness of the weather conditions for the duration of these weather events.
Response to emergencies, including severe weather events such as storms, are managed at local level by the principal response agencies, namely, the local authorities, An Garda Síochána and the HSE, co-ordinated by the local authorities. These arrangements operate in accordance with the framework for major emergency management adopted by the Government in 2006 and are well embedded in the relevant organisations.
The Government appreciates very much the co-ordinated response of local authority, utility and emergency services personnel who worked, frequently in difficult circumstances, to maintain the safety of those threatened and to restore services to those affected by the severe forces of nature during the holiday period. Disruption was experienced during the storms across the full range of transport services including road, rail, ferries and air transport. The safety of road-users was of primary concern and the Road Safety Authority was very active in issuing advice and warnings to the public. While normal traffic patterns were disrupted with major routes affected by fallen trees, debris and flooding, at different times, the impacts were not as severe as with previous severe weather events.
Rail services were disrupted due to a number of incidents, including the collapse of the roof at Kent station in Cork. At other times services were delayed due to fallen trees and debris being blown onto the lines. In every case Irish Rail put alternative travel arrangements in place to minimise the disruption. Flights using all three State airports were cancelled, diverted or delayed due to the strength and direction of gusting wind. Ferry services were severely curtailed, particularly the Swift ferry services. Disruption over the period was managed effectively by the relevant transport authorities. The Irish Coastguard Service provided safety information to both the maritime industry and the general public about the risks associated with the storms. As a result of increased awareness, incident levels in the recreational sector remained normal compared to other years, notwithstanding the severe weather conditions.
Damage was caused to public infrastructure such as roads, bridges and culverts, piers and harbours, coastal tourism infrastructure and coastal protection facilities. Initial estimates of the order of €65 million for the cost of clean-up, repairs and restoration of public infrastructure were provided to the Government in the interim report. The cost of repairing roads infrastructure is estimated at some €20 million. A total of €35 million is estimated under the general heading of coastal works with €10 million for a range of other costs arising such as tourism infrastructure at beaches. Almost two thirds, €41 million of the total estimate of €65 million arises from two counties Clare, €23 million and Galway, €18 million, reflecting the severe impact of the storms along the west coast. Local co-ordination and delivery of clean-up and restoration works will be led by the local authorities. Works are underway to clean up and make immediate necessary repairs in many areas. At the request of the Government, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has contacted local authorities seeking more detailed reports by 14 February on the envisaged repair works, including related costs. This will enable the relevant Departments and agencies to support the local authorities in undertaking recovery measures.
The Government is exploring all possible sources of funding to meet the costs which have arisen from the storm damage, including contact with the European Union about a possible application under the EU Solidarity Fund programme. This fund was established by the European Union to respond to major natural disasters and to express EU solidarity with disaster-stricken regions in Europe. The fund was created in reaction to the severe floods in Central Europe in the summer of 2002. A major disaster is defined as damage estimated at over €3 billion or 0.6% of GNI. In Ireland's case this would amount to €770 million. The fund provides aid for public emergency operations such as the immediate restoration of infrastructure and plant, the provision of temporary accommodation, the funding of rescue services, the immediate securing of preventative infrastructures and immediate clean-up in disaster-stricken areas. In exceptional circumstances, however, when the damage is below this threshold, an application may be made but only where a region has suffered an extraordinary natural disaster affecting the major part of its population, with serious and lasting repercussions on the living conditions and the economic viability of the region. I emphasise that assistance in such exceptional cases is at the rate of 2.5%. Moreover, while two thirds of applications are made on the basis of exceptional circumstances, most fail. An additional factor is that for the budgetary period 2014 to 2020, the annual budget for the fund has been halved from €1 billion to €500 million and the European Commission has indicated that future grants are likely to be 50% lower than previously. In 2009, Ireland made an application to the fund. On that occasion, however, total damage was estimated at around €520 million. This resulted in a grant of €13 million from the fund. Any Government decision on an application to the fund will be made once the full cost of damage has been assessed.
Private property was affected by these storms. We await information from the insurance industry of the scale of damage to homes and businesses affected. The Department of Social Protection provides immediate support to households affected by emergencies through it exceptional and urgent needs payments systems. These payments cover immediate needs such as clothing, food, bedding and emergency accommodation needs. The Department of Social Protection also has a humanitarian assistance scheme to assist people whose homes are damaged by flooding. This is means-tested and is intended to assist those who are not in a position to meet costs for essential needs, household items and in some instances structural repair, as a result of the flooding damage.
Once again these storms illustrate the power of nature and the impact it can have on society. Our co-ordinated response arrangements have developed significantly in recent years and they worked well again on this occasion. As we are now in the recovery phase, we await more detailed information which will underpin the plans for the funding, co-ordination and delivery of the necessary work programmes, with a view to the timely and effective delivery of a programme to assist the communities worst affected by the storms.
The Minister of State is welcome to the House. I am disappointed that the Minister or the Minister of State who has responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Deputy Brian Hayes, is not here to deal with this matter. The recent storms were very serious and the Minister of State has outlined how the bulk of the storm damage is on the west coast. I am here to speak for the east coast because I do not want that part of the country to be forgotten. The damage to the east coast was not as severe as in County Galway or County Clare but damage was suffered in Dublin and around Portrane in my area in particular.
The funding for emergency restoration work is €45 million. Applications can be made for up to 90% of the cost to a total of €500,000 with the local authority making up the other 10%. Those applications must be submitted by 21 February 2014. We must impress on local authorities the importance of making those applications. The OPW has produced a restrictive list of allowable repairs such as repairs to build flood defences and coastal protection structures which have been damaged by the recent storms. This means repairing existing structures. The borough of Portrane on the east coast has suffered massive coastal erosion over the past year but in particular as a result of the recent storms. We have been asking for assistance for well over a year and some would say for nearly 20 years. The borough area of Portrane is close to being breached.
I have written to the Department on the matter, as have colleagues in the other House. It seems to me that the minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme that Mr. Gary Grant issued on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, would not allow Fingal to make an application because there are no defences at the location.
I am glad the Minister of State referred to the EU Solidarity Fund. Obviously his Department, or whichever Department, that supplied his notes are not hopeful of securing funding from the EU. Areas throughout the country have been designated EU special protection areas or special areas of conservation, such as the borough of Portrane. That means certain coastal protections cannot be deployed which means there will be nothing left of the area and its dunes. The same applies to Portmarnock.
Has the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government, the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, or the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, met the Commissioner for Regional Development, Mr. Johannes Hahn? A Fianna Fáil delegation met him last Tuesday to discuss the matter. We need to work this topic through a bit. I am sure that the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, will use his departmental contacts to improve things. It is important we examine the matter with a large degree of urgency because some of the matters I have raised were raised over a year ago. A high tide is due on 1 February and I hope it will not be accompanied by prevailing winds and heavy rainfall because boundaries have been breached, as Senator Conway mentioned in respect of Clare and others mentioned in respect of areas in Galway. An exceptional amount of damage has been done and we deserve and need funding to carry out remediation work and to fix the infrastructure.
Roads have been breached in north Dublin, particularly in the areas I have mentioned. People are worried about their properties. There are areas throughout the country that are down to between 1 m and 2 m before the properties and dwellings are breached. I want to see a greater degree of urgency in dealing with the matter. I know this is not a simple matter and there is no magic wand to fix the problem overnight. We need more investment. Even though between €40 million and €45 million has been set aside by the Government, it is not going to be sufficient. We need a plan to identify areas that are at risk, such as the ones that I have mentioned, and to identify the areas that will be at risk into the future.
I have read a recent report issued by the RPS consultants. There is a trend among some environmental services to allow the sea do what it will and not build coastal protections. Obviously I do not want to see that happen. The closing date for applications is 21 February. The OPW already funds coastal protection every year through a 90% grant of up to €500,000. Is the fund separate? Is the grant available this year? Is it in addition to the minor flood mitigation work and coastal protection scheme? A bundle of money is available. Has the OPW still got money for the regular works that can be applied for in any given year?
I ask the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, to consider specifically the important area of Portrane on the east coast. I do not want them to forget that the east coast was badly affected by the recent storms and also Clontarf, located in the city of Dublin. I am sure other Senators will speak for the west coast. I do not want the east coast to be forgotten because it was not mentioned in the speech made earlier by the Minister of State, Deputy Costello.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House to discuss the matter. A lot of people have suffered from the recent freak weather conditions and the combination of a high tide and high winds. The west coast, especially the area I am from, Galway, and Clare, was badly affected. As the last speaker said, Dublin was affected, which is something we must remember. Unfortunately, this type of freak weather has left a trail of destruction. It is not the first time this has happened, although I hope it is the last. None the less, we should be prepared for a recurrence and install coastal protections. In January 1839, a major winter storm hit Ireland, and homes, shops and farms were destroyed, a quarter of the houses in Dublin were damaged, and 42 ships were wrecked. It was a long time ago but weather patterns that result in extreme weather are becoming more of a problem in Ireland. The event in 1839 was recorded in history as Oíche na Gaoithe. When the State pension was introduced, in cases where births were not recorded, people were asked whether they could remember the big storm known as Oíche na Gaoithe and their acknowledgement was used as validation of their claim. I am sure there are many people in Galway, Clare and some parts of Dublin who will remember the recent storm because their lives have been changed.
In the 175 years since the event to which I referred, there have been infrequent storm events in Ireland. If we allow climate change to continue unchecked in the coming decades, extreme weather events will become more common. Extremes of heat and cold such as we experienced in 2010 and 2011 will be much more frequent, summers will be hotter and drier, winters will be warmer and wetter and there will be a risk of more frequent and widespread flooding. There is consensus in the climate science community - climate sceptics have more or less gone by the board - that climate change has caused serious changes in weather patterns and conditions across the globe, and Ireland is no exception. The Government is conscious of the matter and we have brought forward a climate change Bill. The matter has been debated by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht and a report has been prepared. The publication of the Bill is imminent. The committee carried out a lot of work on the legislation and made recommendations that will be taken into consideration.
Yesterday the European Commission announced the renewable energy targets for Ireland and non-binding targets for energy efficiency. I was disappointed with the Commission's report and the White Paper. We must keep an eye on the matter.
The Minister of State mentioned the role played by Met Éireann and I compliment the organisation on its work. Obviously it would be great to have an eye in the sky that could forecast the weather two months in advance.
Coastal protection and tackling coastal erosion is being considered by the Government. We must ensure action is taken to tackle climate change.
The OPW and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government have policies in place to assist victims of storm and flood damage. I know the Government's inter-agency emergency response group met two weeks ago to co-ordinate responses to the storms. I compliment the local authorities, the ESB and emergency response units that responded and went out during stormy weather. Local authorities have estimated that the damage in Galway and Clare cost €41 million or almost two thirds of the total estimate. The cost and method of repair is the first question that people ask. Last week the Minister clarified that the initial estimates made by his Department that cover the cost of the clean-up, repair and restoration of public infrastructure are in the order of €65 million. He also confirmed that the cost of repairing the road infrastructure is estimated to reach €20 million, with €35 million for coastal work and €10 million for a range of other costs.
The local co-ordination of the clean-up is being led by the local authorities and funding has been allocated by the Office of Public Works. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, is responsible for the assessment, through the OPW, of many of the individual cases of damage. The OPW is responsible for funding large and small-scale flood defences. Demands for money to repair the damage are being submitted from all parts of the country. The sum involved is €250 million over a five year period. I know that one wall beside the Connemara Golf Club is down. It existed for years but has been destroyed. I have also seen houses flooded this time that were not flooded since the 1800s. Flood defences are another issue to examine.
The Minister of State, Deputy Costello, mentioned the EU Solidarity Fund that amounts to €500 million. I hope Ireland will qualify for some of the fund because people have suffered hardship as a result of the weather conditions.
Insurance is also an issue. Some people do not have insurance and it is a big issue for them. People have attended the environment committee to discuss the matter. Some people cannot get insurance. The OPW has done some work to co-ordinate assistance.
Even people who have put in place flood defences are being refused insurance cover. I understand the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, is continuing his good work on this matter. It is hoped that the Department of Social Protection will look favourably on the requests for assistance from those whose homes have been flooded and have no insurance cover.
I, too, welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the recent storm damage which affected so many parts of the country, in particular the western sea board and including the east coast. I welcome also that we are having this debate a few weeks after the storms occurred because we have during the intervening time had an opportunity to assess the full extent of the damage caused. The word "devastated" is regularly used in relation to various issues but to say that communities along the west coast were "devastated" by the recent storms is appropriate. I will leave it to Senators from other parts of the country to deal with the counties they know best and I propose to confine my remarks to my own county, which I know best.
The Kerry coastline took a major battering during the storms on St. Stephen's Day and at the turn of the year. Coastal roads literally crumbled under the force of tidal waves, beaches were torn asunder, beach car parks were rendered inaccessible, power lines were cut and homes and businesses were flooded. It really had to be seen to be believed. One caravan park in south Kerry was utterly devastated by the storms, with mobile homes destroyed and facilities flooded. A new community centre in north Kerry was under water following high tides. Many Senators may be familiar with Rossbeigh, which is a beautiful beach and was shown on many of the RTE news programmes, but it resembled a scene following an earthquake. Such was the force of the waves, a community playground was badly undermined and the main access road to the beach was covered in boulders. The root of the problem at Rossbeigh dates back many years to the collapse of the part of the sand-spit which sticks out into the sea at Castlemaine Harbour. The spit protected many of the homes furthest along the shore in that it prevented the strongest waves coming beyond it. However, it is estimated that in 2008 millions of tons of sand collapsed into the sea, yielding to the forces of nature and coastal erosion. Since then, residents further along the coast have been at risk and, sadly, the worst was realised in recent weeks.
Approximately two years ago, the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, allocated funding to some of the areas in Rossbeigh and Cromane to help build up the embankments alongside the homes of those living very close to the sea. Thankfully, the money invested there appears to have prevented damage as a result of the recent storms. This suggests that much can be done to protect homes and businesses in vulnerable areas. A huge amount of damage was done to other parts of Kerry, including Ballylongford, Ballinskelligs, Lispole and Caherdaniel. The iconic beach in west Kerry where part of "Ryan's Daughter" was filmed no longer exists, and is unlikely to be restored for many years.
Communities in the affected areas are wondering what it will take before real action is taken to protect coastal areas. I have heard many people say that the forces of nature cannot be stopped and that there is nothing we can do to stop coastal erosion. I do not accept that. The people living in coastal communities do not expect enormous barricades to be erected around the entire coast but they do expect the Government and local authorities to make a serious attempt to save them from the worst of what high tides and stormy conditions can bring.
The Minister of State, Deputy Costello, mentioned the figures of €23 million and €18 million in the context of Clare and Galway, respectively. While Kerry County Council estimates that it will require at least €20 million at a meeting this week, council members were told by officials that this is a very conservative estimate. I understand that councils are currently submitting their estimates to the Local Government Management Agency but it is safe to say that the cost of repairing the damage caused will be the most expensive in living memory.
Everybody knows that protection of our coasts from coastal erosion, particularly where storm damage is most acute, will cost money. If this funding cannot be provided by the Exchequer, we will have to look elsewhere for it. I acknowledge that every effort is currently being made by Government to secure as much funding as it can from Europe and I hope it will be successful in that regard. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to and thank the many hundreds of men and women in our local authorities, Eircom and the ESB who left their families over the Christmas period to work day and night in terrible conditions to deal with flooding, broken power lines and structural damage.
I appeal to the Ministers concerned to take a long-term look at the problem of coastal erosion and the impact it is having on communities along the coast. I remind everybody that the Wild Atlantic Way will be launched in 2014. Following on from the success of The Gathering, this has already aroused huge interest from people abroad. Given that they will be driving along coastal areas, the last thing we want them to see is torn up beaches and coastlines. It is important the problem is addressed prior to the launch of the Wild Atlantic Way. What we do not want in the context of addressing this problem is millions of euro spent on consultants' reports and structural assessments, although areas such as Rossbeigh and others need to be properly surveyed. I ask that the Ministers concerned meet the people affected by the flooding and storms. They know better than anyone what needs to be done to address this problem.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, to the House. While he does fantastic work in his area of responsibility, I would prefer if the Minister directly responsible for this matter was in the House for this debate. As the Minister of State is, in fairness, busy in his own job, it is a pity he has had to come to the Seanad for this debate. I know he was in Brussels during the week on important business concerning other more serious disasters. He would be far better employed dealing with that matter. I am sure his day has been significantly interrupted in having to come to the House for this debate on an issue which does not come within his area of responsibility. In saying that, I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State.
The storms that occurred over the Christmas period were relatively unprecedented and were pretty frightening for many people. People were frightened during the storms and following them when they saw the damage caused. People continue to be frightened because they are not sure what, if anything, will happen in terms of repair and replacement. There was significant flooding on the east coast in areas such as Meath and Louth, particularly the River Boyne area in Drogheda. I have not heard much in dispatches about that but I presume the local authority has been in touch with Government in regard to flood prevention initiatives in this repeatedly flooded area.
In regard to County Meath, the staff of Meath County Council, local gardaí and members of the local fire brigade are worthy of praise in terms of the huge amount of work done by them in unsocial hours during a holiday period when they would rather have been at home with their families. As a result of the storms, many trees in County Meath, and throughout the country, broke and fell. The fact that one had no idea or warning of when a tree might fall resulted in dangerous and unpredictable road conditions. I know that Meath County Council contractors responded at short notice to try to remove fallen trees in dangerous areas.
The media also deserves to be thanked for its work in informing people about what was going on at a time when many of its staff were also on holidays. There was no government agency open at the time which could provide people with information in regard to whether roads and so on were passable. This need was met not by a command and control centre in Dublin, but by AA Roadwatch, local radio stations, RTE, thejournal.ie website and so on. They took their role seriously and provided a wealth of information, as did many of the main newspapers through their websites. There was an absence of government at the time. While I am sure there people connected to the task force on emergency planning were working to resolve problems - I have already mentioned local authority staff and so on - the task force did not meet during the crisis. There was much criticism a few years ago of the former Minister, Noel Dempsey, being on holidays in Malta during a crisis. We do not know where any of the Ministers were at the time of this crisis. There was certainly no sign of any of them until a few days later. However, that lacuna was filled by the media, local authority staff and the emergency services, to whom I pay tribute at this time.
In terms of emergency planning, we need to improve. The Government spent a fortune last year on a leaflet relating to emergency planning. However, we got no information during the storms on what roads should be avoided and so on. Even today there is little information in regard to what amount of money will be spent, where it will be spent and what people can look forward to.
There should have been more central planning and emergency reactions at a time when there was a red alert covering large parts of the country. Winds reached hurricane force. Were this America, the media would have been broadcasting live from the scene, the winds were so bad. However, I am unsure as to whether the situation was taken that seriously by central government at the time in terms of the immediate reaction that was necessary, for example, confidence building and information provision. A much better job could have been done.
I join others in welcoming the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, to the Chamber. Although he represents Dublin, his west of Ireland background equips him to understand the issues that we faced on Friday, 3 January. My parish of Ennistymon and Lahinch in County Clare were severely affected. Indeed, €5.8 million worth of damage was done to Lahinch alone, with €23.7 million worth of damage to the Clare coastline. The infrastructure of my parish and neighbouring parishes were decimated by the freak conditions, which were a combination of high spring tides and stormy weather.
It is difficult to imagine the level of damage done, it was so extensive. We all fought hard to get Government and other funding for the construction of public infrastructure that was subsequently damaged by the weather. We raised €100,000 over a two-year period to replace railings on the promenade at Lahinch. The replacements were imported to ensure they were weather resistant and rust-proof. Half of them were wiped away and the promenade's streetscape was destroyed.
Other areas that did not receive as much attention, such as the White Strand in Miltown Malbay, Clahane and Liscannor pier, suffered considerable damage. Most important was the damage done in Quilty, where people are still homeless because of it. Down the coast, significant damage was done to Kilbaha and Carrigaholt.
I join with others in commending the fantastic effort - I would call it a meitheal - made by local authority workers in conjunction with the emergency services. For example, when the Coast Guard was called at 6 a.m. to take families from their homes, it responded speedily and, importantly, showed empathy. I commend the hundreds of people from around the country who saw the damage on television and gave of their time to help with the clean up. The amount of rubbish in the sea was incredible. Thousands of bags of rubbish were collected from the promenade, walkways and golf club at Lahinch.
I was disappointed with the initial Government reaction. I do not understand why the interdepartmental emergency task force could not have met on the Friday. The severity of the damage was well known through the local authorities and the media. The meeting should have been held at lunchtime on Friday, not at lunchtime on Monday. If the task force did not understand the damage on Friday, the meeting should still have been held on Saturday. Noon on Monday sent out all of the wrong signals. It seemed to take three or four days to pull an emergency response together. If the River Liffey had burst its banks and caused the same damage to Dublin, I do not doubt that the interdepartmental emergency task force would have met on Friday.
Communication from the Government was not what it should have been. I credit the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, who took the issue by the scruff of the neck and showed some leadership.
The reality is I do not know which Minister is responsible for calling the emergency task force together, assuming it is a Minister. It might actually be an official. However, we must learn from these mistakes. We also need a Minister to take charge of Departments' responses. A short-term response that gets people back in their homes and protects those homes is critical, but we also need a longer-term response. I have been told that a number of Departments are responsible. I am referring to the Office of Public Works, OPW, and the Departments of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Environment, Community and Local Government and Agriculture, Food and the Marine. A Minister must be appointed to pull all of these together with a view to a long-term response.
The current allocation of €45 million for coastal protection is inadequate. We need a budget ten times that as a starting point. The only way to prevent this situation from recurring is to ensure that we put the proper structures in place.
I will conclude with a couple of quick points.
First, we must change the emergency response mechanisms and put new protocols in place. Second, communication with the families directly affected must improve. A senior official must be appointed to co-ordinate that communication, as it is not good enough to expect Oireachtas Members to handle that role in times of crisis. I look forward to the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, or another of his colleagues responding to this debate with proper procedures.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Tá brón orm nach raibh mé anseo nuair a bhí sé ag tabhairt a aitheasc. Bhí mé thíos ag coiste eile. Tá mé an-sásta go bhfuil an díospóireacht seo againn. Tá go leor deacrachtaí cruthaithe i gConamara maidir leis na fadhbanna a bhí ann ó thaobh na haimsire de.
The area where I live in Connemara, County Galway, was one of the worst hit by the storms. I walked many places along the sea front where I had not walked for quite a while, for example, down piers, through graveyards, etc., in the days immediately following the storm. I was shocked by the devastation. I had never seen anything like it. I spoke with people who were in their 80s, but they had never seen anything like it either.
I was disappointed with the Government's reaction. No senior Minister visited Connemara to see the damage, nor did any Minister see the incredible effort invested in the clean-up operation. Considerable praise must be given to the members of the local services, for example, the fire brigades and councils, as well as to the volunteers who pulled together to ensure that people were safe and the mess could be cleaned up. A cohesive approach was lacking from the Government, though.
I saw a marked difference between Galway city and county. I will not point fingers, as this is too big an issue, but the infrastructural damage done at county level is much greater. For example, more damage has been done to roads, piers, graveyards, houses, slipways, etc. Much of the flood damage in Galway city is more easily rectifiable. I am afraid that we have underestimated the storms' cost to rural areas. County councils' estimates may be too low.
This situation has highlighted a lack of forward planning in many respects. We cut back on county council staff numbers on the ground during the past ten or 15 years. For this reason, they have not been able to carry out the same level of drainage or road works as they used to. We have seen the consequences, for example, flooding in areas that were never so badly affected. We must learn from this situation and look forward.
We need more staff on the ground to ensure that drainage culverts are cleared. I have walked along the shoreline in many different areas. In my view, more money needs to be invested in tidal erosion measures. While there was little damage in areas where breakwaters and proper tidal protection walls had been erected, in other areas where these defences had not been built roadways and pathways were washed away.
I spoke this morning to a lady from Carna, whose local roadway, by which she accesses her home, was washed away. I understand that the councils have made lists of the priority issues for them. I have been told that they will not be responsible for repair of roads that are not county council roads. Perhaps the Minister of State will clarify if that is the case. The lady to whom I spoke this morning told me that a temporary road, running through a neighbour's field, has been put in place to enable her to take her children to and from school. As there is no road by which a tanker can access her home she is unable to get oil and has had no home heating for the last number of weeks and no refuse collection. This lady has been told by the council that as the road that was washed away was not a county council road, replacing it is not its problem. She has already paid €8,000 in respect of the temporary access put in place and has been told it will cost at least €22,000 to make it safer and that no new road will be put in place by the council. Perhaps the Minister of State will outline what will happen in this situation.
The islands of Inishbofin, Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr were also badly hit. Of particular note was that it was very hard to get through to the county councils during the days of the storms. While staff on the ground were very good they were too few and far between. People have learned in the interim that councils will not engage with them on non-council related issues. The approach across government is scattered. While the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the OPW and county councils all have a role to play in this area, there is no joined-up approach or thinking on the matter. I am also hearing from councils that even though they have already submitted lists of works requiring to be done to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, they have not yet received any response.
An emergency fund should have been put in place to allow emergency works to be carried out. In some cases, the walls of graveyards have been washed away and many coffins have been left exposed to the elements. Fisherman have lost their tackle and boats have been thrown up into fields and destroyed. We do not yet know if they will be provided with compensation to help them get back to where they were prior to the storms. Insurance is another concern. People are worried lest they will be refused future flood insurance cover. All of this raises the question of where stands the Climate Change Bill, climate change being the broader issue which needs to be addressed in this regard.
There is no sense of urgency on the part of Government in relation to a number of issues. I wish somebody from the Government had come to see the devastation caused in my area, which is a lot worse than it appeared on television. Some people remain cut off. We need a greater response in these types of situations and to ensure that anybody who is out of pocket is compensated and reinstated to the position they were in prior to the storms. I am not asking for the construction of platinum clad roadways but that facilities be returned to the state they were in prior to the storms.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. The storms that ravaged the west have caused more than €19 million worth of damage to Galway city and county. The preliminary cost for Galway city is €1.282 million. The four main areas of coastline damage in the city are Silver Strand, Blackrock in Salthill to Birdoo, Blackrock to South Park Claddagh and Ballyloughane beach. A critical tourism amenity for Galway city is the proposed extension of the promenade in Salthill to Silver Strand beach. Thousands of people walk the promenade in Salthill on a daily basis. The estimated damage to the area between Silver Strand and Salthill promenade is €400,000, which includes measures for protecting against coastal erosion. Galwegians have been calling for years for the protection of this coastline and, in particular, the putting in place of protective buttressing at the Knocknagoneen drumlin which has undergone significant erosion. It is critical for tourism and the local economy that this funding is provided for the city's beaches and coastline.
The key priority for Galway city and county is that a two-stage coastal protection plan is put in place to deal with immediate and long-term coastal protection works. Galway County Council in its interim submission has estimated the costs to be €18.32 million. Many of the coastal areas require more rigorous investigation. As such, that cost could and will increase. The two causeways linking Leitir Mor and Gorumna to the mainland have been damaged. The access road to the graveyard in Ervallagh in Roundstone and a residential access route in Errislannan have been damaged. How will the OPW and the relevant Departments deal with damage to infrastructure which is not directly the responsibility of the local authority but is critical to the economic sustainability and well being of local communities, including damaged access routes to residential areas, beaches and burial grounds? There was significant damage to the defence wall on the Inis Meáin airstrip which is not in public ownership but is critical for tourism and access to the island. What is the position with regard to funding in that regard?
The OPW has contacted local councils requesting priority lists in regard to flood mitigation and coastal protection works. However, as already stated in the House earlier, the criteria in this regard is restrictive in that it allows only for repair of sea walls and defence walls that have been damaged. In Galway, there are numerous examples of damage in areas where there was no wall or protection in place, which means that work does not come within this category. An example is the roadway washed away in Errislannan near Clifden. There is need for a co-ordinated approach to ensure particular works do not fall between the cracks with regard to which Department is responsible for funding. Councils are concerned that significant works will not come under any particular category in terms of funding.
Significant damage has been caused to tourist infrastructure, facilities and amenities and will require immediate engineering repairs because these areas, such as the promenade in Spiddal, are now even more vulnerable to future storms. Analysis also needs to be fast-tracked to provide more extensive long term coastal defences. I believe that recent events are a wake up call of the need to immediately put in place effective and long term, sustainable coastal protections along our western seaboard and the island of Ireland as a whole.
The scale and intensity of the recent storms is a stark reminder to us all of the destructive power of nature and the importance of our never under-estimating it. Like others, I acknowledge the tremendous efforts of the emergency response teams who put themselves on the front line in often appalling and dangerous conditions and whose dedication and skills so often help to mitigate the very worst affects of storms. I thank all those who left their families over Christmas and the new year for their work during that time, when many of us where, perhaps, sitting in the comfort of our homes enjoying ourselves. It is appropriate we thank all of those involved in the emergency services, local authorities, Garda Síochána and ESB. One can only imagine what it would be like to be at the top of 35 ft. or 40 ft. high pole in high winds and rain, which is what ESB personnel had to do in order to return services to people who badly need them, in particular at Christmas time. I congratulate all involved.
Many Senators have mentioned the Office of Public Works. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, recently acknowledged his responsibility in this area and said that he would play his part. The OPW has already written to the local authorities indicating that it will consider applications for funding to assist in the cost of repairs to damaged coastal flood protection structures, including sea walls, rock armour and embankments, including the embankment at Bellurgan in Dundalk which is need of repair.
It has been threatened twice in the past and houses in the Bellurgan area have been flooded. Will the Minister give consideration to repairing the damage there? In Whitestown Shore, Bellurgan, Termonfeckin and Baltray, roads have been washed away and are in urgent need of repair.
We must examine the mistakes that were made which have contributed to the flooding problems we are experiencing. Much has been done and much progress has been made in tackling flooding problems, with almost €370 million invested from 1995 to date in flood risk management measures which have protected 10,500 properties and delivered benefits to the estimated value of more than €1 billion in terms of damage and losses avoided. This is a very significant achievement by any measure. Of course much more work remains to be done, and this Government has prioritised investment in flood risk management by allocating €225 million over the period 2012 to 2017 as part of its infrastructural capital investment programme. It is hoped to continue this and I believe the task will be undertaken and completed safely in many of the areas liable to flooding.
I welcome the Minister. I support my colleagues, especially those in Galway West, Senators Naughton and Ó Clochartaigh, and my colleague from Clare, Senator Conway. These were the two areas that suffered the worst impact of the high winds and storms over Christmas and in early January. Thankfully, the eastern part of the county, which I represent, escaped relatively unscathed on this occasion. However, we went close to getting a taste of what occurred in Ballinasloe in 2009, and there was certainly much concern and worry in the Ballinasloe area for a couple of days until the waters began to recede a little.
Of the estimate of more than €18 million made by Galway County Council for the repair of damage, approximately €500,000 of that is required to repair roads in east Galway that have been seriously damaged. The most significant concern in the eastern part of the county is along the Shannon Callows. Farmers in that area encounter huge problems every winter trying to pursue their farming activities. When the emergency is over, there is a need for a broader debate on the issue of drainage works on the River Shannon. While the OPW is the lead agency, there are so many other organisations involved in that area, including the National Parks and Wildlife Service, fisheries, the ESB and Waterways Ireland, that no action is being taken. We must give legal authority to the OPW to enable real progress to be made there. On a future occasion I will ask for a debate in the House on drainage policy with particular reference to the River Shannon and its tributaries.
I thank the Senators for their valuable, interesting and informative contributions. I apologise that I might be considered the wrong Minister to reply to the debate but, unfortunately, neither the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, nor the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, Deputy Brian Hayes, could be present. I assure Senators that all the issues they have raised will be brought to their attention.
The stormy weather and the almost freak nature of the coastal erosion took place between 13 December and 6 January. Indeed, I remember it quite well because I was in Rosses Point in County Sligo on 2 and 3 January and it certainly sounded as if the roof of the house would be lifted and that there would be a huge amount of damage but, interestingly, there was little damage in County Sligo. However, much of the west coast, which is more of a promontory into the sea while Sligo is more of an inlet, was extremely damaged from Donegal to the Kerry coast. The east coast and Dublin, Meath and Louth were affected negatively as well and an amount of damage being done. I watched the television programme on Portrane and saw the amount of coastal erosion that regularly happens there, but the damage that was done during the storm was substantial.
The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has produced an interim report. His Department is the lead Department on this issue. The report was produced within a week of the storms ending, so there was a degree of alacrity in that regard. According to the report, an allocation of €45 million in funding has been made - the damage is estimated at €65 million - and deadlines for applications have been established. It is made clear that the report is an interim one. The expectation is that there will be a substantial amount of other material to be considered. Specifically, provision is made for the local authorities to provide a further report by 13 February. Each of the local authorities for the areas affected will no doubt produce their assessments of the damage caused and the costs that will be required. This is an ongoing issue that is being monitored by both the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Office of Public Works and the two Ministers with responsibility, Deputies Hogan and Brian Hayes. Indeed, I am informed that the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, is visiting the mid-west area at present, so he will see what is happening there. Obviously the situation will be dealt with when the further reports are produced.
Senator Darragh O'Brien asked what we are going to do about EU funding. I gave some details about the provisions that apply and the expectation that EU funding would only be provided in the case of an emergency of a very significant nature. However, that will not stop us from looking at it carefully. The decision on whether to apply for EU funding will be taken after the Government has considered all the material, when all the information has become available to the Minister. It is expected the decision will be made by mid-February when the information comes through from the local authorities. The OPW's minor flood and coastal protection scheme for 2014 has an allocation of €45 million.
With regard to the weather warnings that were mentioned, officials in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government assessed each weather warning and decided if the trigger conditions for activating a national co-ordination group for severe weather were met, but such was not the case. The national co-ordination group met to review the response, as is standard procedure.
Throughout the period there was liaison with the transport and energy sectors on the issues arising as well.
With regard to matters of roads, bridges and issues and facilities of that nature, these are really in the charge of local authorities and more detailed information is being awaited from the local authorities in response to those issues.
A number of Senators referred to climate change and the matter is relevant to the situation. We have the national climate change adaption framework in place and it was published by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in 2012. There is an expectation that the draft document establishing the principles, and involving an integrated approach with all of the stakeholders, institutions, etc., will be ready by mid-2014. The intention then will be to finalise a national response on elements of climate change that might be relevant. Those are largely the issues that were raised.
For the Minister of State's information, Galway County Council told people, as recently as yesterday, that it does not want to have anything to do with the matter and it is not its problem. I ask him to follow the matter up because that is what people on the ground are being told.
We were supposed to be making statements today, not a question and answer session. I did not expect to be asked questions. The important thing is that the information I have outlined is the best information that we have up to the present time and this is the manner in which the Government intends to proceed with the issues. We are at the interim stage at present and there will be further information and a response. All of the issues raised and questions put will be brought to the attention of the two Ministers responsible.