Wednesday, 21 February 2018
I thank Senators. Flooding is an issue across the country. While one can look at and see the sunshine today, flooding is still an issue for people looking on and seeing the height of the Shannon, of other rivers and the canals, which are major problems. I note the Senators' concerns and concerns across Ireland where people are affected by flooding.
Much has been done to alleviate flooding across the country. Some 42 major flood defence schemes have already been completed, providing protection to over 9,000 properties. Almost 500 minor works projects by local authorities with OPW funding protect a further 6,500 properties. Some 650,000 acres of agricultural land benefit from the programmed maintenance of 11,500 km of river channels by the OPW under the Arterial Drainage Act. Some eight major flood schemes are under construction with a further 25 schemes at various stages of design and planning. The biggest ever study of flood risk in the country, catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, has been completed. It produced 40,000 maps and 29 flood risk management plans. Work has started to implement the new national flood forecasting system. There is the voluntary homeowners relocation scheme for those places flooded in 2015 and 2016.
A key finding of the CFRAM programme is that 95% of the properties assessed to be at risk can be protected by continued investment in flood defence schemes. Some 12,000 properties will be protected by the existing programme of capital works when completed. A further 11,500 properties currently at risk of flooding will be given protection when the proposed schemes in the CFRAM plans are delivered in the next decade. This is why the Government is fully committed to increasing investment in the flood relief area and has just allocated €1 billion for this under the national development plan 2018 to 2027. For those in the House who have been criticising the national planning framework and capital plan, who always say nothing new is in the plan, the figure of €1 billion shows the Government's commitment relating to flooding. Personally, I am delighted with this announcement as it reflects my determination and the Government's determination to ramp up flood relief measures and to get protection to people quicker. Flood relief capital budget allocation has risen from 50% this year to €70 million and the annual capital allocation will increase to €100 million by 2021. In April 2017, the Government agreed a once-off voluntary homeowners' relocation scheme for residential properties that flooded between 4 December 2015 and 13 January 2016. A total of 75 homes are currently under consideration in this category.
I came into government and took on the responsibility for the OPW because I believe it is on the right track with regard to flooding. I also believe that I have brought my own unique experience on how to do things right.
I am delighted to have my first opportunity to welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, to the House. Come the moment, come the man - the Minister of State has taken to the job like a duck to water. There is no doubt that it was a very wise choice to seek that job and work in it. I know the Minister of State's personal commitment in Athlone over the last few years was enormous. The damage done to his own town in Athlone was serious. I know the Minister of State is working on solutions there too and has the personal experience. Let us be genuine about that.
I am also impressed that the Minister of State is proposing the dredging of the River Shannon this year, which he might confirm, specifically the weir at Meelick. This has been a bone of contention for years. I was in government myself and was a Deputy for the area of south Roscommon. This issue arose every year, particularly in spring. I was in Clonown, which is beside the Minister of State's area, in the 1970s when it flooded. We relocated, as with the policy the Minister of State has outlined, as certain houses just cannot be protected. We put a good deal in place for that. That is a last resort but it is a solution in some cases. Back in the 1950s, long before the Minister of State was born, there was an enormous crisis during the time of the late Brian Lenihan and there was some relocation then. The road from Athlone to Clonown has been cut off on numerous occasions. It happened long before these recent flooding problems. It goes back years in that callows area. There is a causeway into Clonown. When the floods come, it is covered. There is no way in or out and it is very difficult for the people of that area.
All politicians have local concerns. There was a problem in a place called Correal near Athleague. The Naughton family there was very badly flooded at the time. That was approximately a year ago, at the time of the last big weather crisis. I do not expect answers straight away but maybe the Minister of State or his official can provide some. The place is called Correal and it is a question of people trying to get insurance. They refurbished their house but no insurance is available for them. They are fearful that properties affected by the flooding in the past which are now refurbished will be in danger of flooding again. The levels of the River Suck are very high at the moment. We border it. Much of the land of the farm my wife Mary and son Conor are farming is under water but that is a traditional flooding situation and we are able to cope with that. I will not make any case for that.
The maintenance of that river, the Derryhippo, which flows into the River Shannon, is an issue. Before the Minister of State's time, when the joint drainage committees were abolished, the River Suck Drainage Board was a nice board which worked very well. One could raise issues with it. I was elected to it in 1974. I think it was the only job that was left. Every other job was gone when I was a councillor at that time so it was decided to put me on that board. I was there for a number of years. One could make representations. Could some form of board not be re-established that would look at the levels of the River Suck? One could go to the engineers working on it and the council maintained it. It was a joint board. There are numerous joint boards. The Acting Chairman would know this from his own area. That was a useful board.
Another area is Ardeevin in Castleplunkett. That is a flood area which came up more than ever before. Talks are going on with landowners between Roscommon County Council and probably the Minister of State's Department. I appeal to him for funding for that project. The flood cut off a business, a pub in that area. The road from Castleplunkett to Tulsk was cut off for months. That man was practically put out of business. There is a solution. The engineers are in discussions. The Roscommon County Council senior engineer, Eugene Dwyer, is looking at that issue. He has had some success with work already, particularly in Early's pub in Brierfield and Ballinaheglish, which was flooded for a long time. The levels in the loughs are an issue. The level of Lough Funshinagh is going down at the moment. I know an investigation is being carried out by the Minister of State's Department. I understand he was at Lough Funshinagh. It is a very unusual case. It has been there for years and nobody can understand where the water is going. I believe there is work to trace where the water is going from there but it is not the first time. It was raised before and there were many efforts in the years gone by. It is not a new situation but it has created more difficulties in the last few years than it did for numerous years. It was a natural phenomenon. It came up during the winter and went off in early spring. It did not affect houses. The Minister of State was there himself and knows the situation. I compliment Roscommon County Council for acting to raise the level of roads which helps in that regard.
I was in Galway yesterday and what happened with the area beside Jurys Inn was a serious flooding issue. The water levels came up very quickly. The Minister of State was there. There should have been some sort of early warning. I know the Minister of State said at the time that it was not the time to discuss it.However, he met the councillors there, including one Labour Party councillor whose shop was badly affected. I was in the shop, which has flooded before. I am unsure what solution the Minister of State has for that particular area of the docks in Galway. It will be a costly exercise to bring about a solution but I know the Minister of State has endeavoured in that area.
I understand people in Donegal are dissatisfied with the results. My colleague will outline what happened in Donegal. The people there are unhappy with the follow-up in that regard.
The €1 billion funding is welcome but funding is needed for the immediate situations arising now rather than for the period up to 2027, which is a long time from now. The Minister of State made the point that he could do with €1 billion now to solve the problems and he is making an effort in that regard as well.
Weather conditions are relevant. Storms are coming. Recently, Storm Ophelia and other storms have caused havoc.
I appeal to the Minister of State to look at the situation in the constituency of Roscommon-Galway, in particular the situation I raised today. All in all, I know the Minister of State is hands-on and available. If the Minister of State is in Roscommon, I would like him to take the opportunity to visit some of the areas under review to ensure we can prevent recurrence of flooding.
I wish to take this opportunity to welcome the Minister of State to the House. I acknowledge his great efforts in what really is an important portfolio. The Minister of State has exceptional knowledge of these issues. Given that he comes from Athlone, he is familiar with the unfortunate issues there in recent years.
One key issue we need to consider is climate change. That is one aspect in terms of where we are as a society. The question is how to deal with the dramatic climate change we have seen in recent decades. Climate change will intensify in the coming decades at the very least as the temperature of the surface of the earth increases. This presents major issues for our society and Government. The ministerial portfolio with responsibility for the Office of Public Works is probably the key portfolio in government in this regard. The Minister of State is charged with looking at how we can engineer ourselves to work around climate change issues. That is probably one of the greatest challenges we face.
Unlike Senator Leyden, I welcome the €1 billion announcement. That is a positive step forward and a momentous moment. Now we have the budget to look forward and see how we can provide the 25 schemes in the pipeline and the eight major projects and the 500 other smaller schemes that the Department is running at the moment. Now we have clarity on the budget. We have a vision, money and projects in place and we are working towards delivering them. The Minister of State should take a bow for his personal commitment to drive the Department forward. It is a challenge.
Unfortunately, whether we are in villages in rural Ireland or in big towns like Bandon, most of us have seen flooding. Literally, five weeks ago on a Saturday I was in Bandon as the river was going to flood. It did not happen but the water level came to within three inches of the top of the wall. Major work is under way in Bandon. We have seen major investment in towns such as Bandon, Clonakilty and Skibbereen. In time this investment will ensure the whole west Cork platform of major towns will be saved when it comes to flooding.
When I first entered the council in the early 2000s I saw huge flood relief schemes put in place in Mallow and Fermoy. We have seen how they have changed those towns. Towns like Mallow and Fermoy were destined to flood when it rained but they are now thriving towns on the back of the work done by the OPW and Cork County Council. We have seen the benefits from the economic side. Certain living standards are required if these works are put in place as well. I believe the Minister of State has tackled this issue and I wish to acknowledge his efforts in this regard.
Bandon flood relief scheme is probably one of the largest schemes that the Minister of State is involved in. The amount of work undertaken in that town in the past 18 months to two years has been phenomenal. Those responsible are doing most of the work in the river during the off-peak season - in other words, during summer time rather than the winter time. They are doing other drainage work at the moment throughout the town. It is phenomenal to see the amount of activity in Bandon at the moment.
One of the concerns in Bandon relates to the walking bridge or footbridge which was closed before Christmas. It was supposed to be reopened before Christmas it is not open to the public at all. Will the Minister of State look into that? A major issue for residents of the town is connectivity. People need to cross the river to get to the shopping centre and Main Street. Can the Minister of State provide clarity on when the bridge will be reopened? That would be helpful for residents of Bandon.
It is important to acknowledge that the residents of Bandon are happy with the works undertaken there. There is extraordinary investment and vast sums of money have been spent. Considerable manpower is in place at the moment. The contractors are working with the people to ensure minimum disruption. However, if we could get clarity on that small point, it might be helpful.
A small village west of Bandon is Ballinhassig. It is another pinch-point. It is in a glacial valley, an area with flooding valleys. We might look to see how we can work with the communities there in order that they will not be affected. Every time it rains, there is almost a panic there. They are the two pinch-points that the Minister of State might examine.
This is going to be challenge to our society. It will be a challenge for the people to work with our climate change issues to ensure that for the next 20, 30 or 40 years the settlements we have in place will not flood. Proper planning is vital. We have seen the mistakes of the past, including building on flood plains and low-lying areas. The CFRAM programme maps produced by the OPW will help the local authority when it comes to zoning land. That is one vital element to ensure we take appropriate steps in order that the land we build on will not be flooded.
This is another opportunity to discuss the plans of the Minister of State for flood prevention and defences throughout the State. The Minister of State will appreciate if I focus my comments on Donegal and the aftermath of the flooding there. I wish to acknowledge that the Minister of State came up straight away when the flooding occurred in August in Inishowen and east Donegal. The Minister of State saw it for himself. He spent some days there and I wish to acknowledge that. I know he has been back since and has spent some days in the county. I believe the Minister of State is personally genuine about addressing the issues at play.
I will start with the big one at Burnfoot, although I could look across the Inishowen peninsula and east Donegal in discussing the areas flooded. We could have said that it was an act of God. The amount of rain that fell that night was horrendous.
The Minister of State inherited this challenge as this happened before his time. Burnfoot should have had flood defences built long ago. It has flooded again and again over the years. There are people who live in the council houses in Pairc an Ghrianán in Burnfoot and who say that it has flooded a dozen times perhaps. They have flood gates at the back of their homes. A cost-benefit analysis, which is a crude way of looking at these things, was carried out. As a consequence, almost the entire village was flooded. As the Minister of State is aware, probably 25 or 30 people were put out of their homes and many businesses were flooded too. It is vital that we get flood defences up at Burnfoot. I wish to acknowledge that on the day he visited, the Minister of State committed to building flood defences. Anytime I have raised the matter with the Minister of State, he has said that he is committed to making it happen, and I wish to acknowledge as much today. I hope the Minister of State can give an update. I appreciate that at the moment the engineering consultants RPS are carrying out works at Burnfoot. I hope we can get to a stage soon when an official announcement can be made.A related issue is that Donegal County Council has advised the council tenants that they will not be back in their homes this year and that has caused consternation. I would appreciate it if the Department could liaise with the council. I assume the council has sought assurances that flood defences would be built before people are put back in their homes. Perhaps there is an issue in regard to sequencing, or dialogue is required. I encourage the Minister of State to bring that issue to the fore and take advantage of it being in the public domain as I know people are listening in to the debate today.
The other issues affecting the Inishowen Peninsula are Quigley's Point at Tromaty. I am sure the officials are taking notes of the discussions. I know some officials were at Tromaty and Quigley's Point recently and gave some assurances to local people, which is key. The Point Inn has been closed for six months affecting approximately 20 jobs. The business is very popular locally so we need to get it opened again. Some homes are under threat so there is a bit of work involved.
There is a riverside walk in Carndonagh that was destroyed and a bridge linking a local council estate to other amenities that must be looked at. Homes adjacent to the rivers in Carndonagh were under threat and businesses were seriously impacted. I ask that the OPW would take another look at the rivers in Carndonagh to see what could be done.
There are concerns about the Riverside housing development in Clonmany and other homes in the village that were flooded. There is an issue with land that was realigned close to the location of the three arch bridge at Clonmany. A number of rivers run under the bridge and make their way out to sea. In a response I received from the Department I was told that no problems had been identified with Clonmany. The Department must go back and look at Clonmany as there is definitely a need for some work to be done, although it is not significant.
Half a dozen families are out of their homes in Elm Park in Buncrana and work needs to be carried out. Different points along the Crana River need to be addressed. In fairness to the OPW, it is looking at the issue but it is important that I would put such issues on the record today so the officials can revisit them. Issues arise in east Donegal in the Finn Valley where work remains to be done in Castlefinn and Lifford. I know the Minister of State has committed to work being done in west Donegal as my colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, has acknowledged his efforts there.
I wanted to put all that on the record today in order that the officials can revisit some of those issues. Donegal County Council and other local authorities are responsible for some rivers and the OPW is responsible for other rivers. Inland Fisheries Ireland is responsible for other waterways. Perhaps it has been done but, if not, it is necessary to publish a list of streams, burns, rivers and tributaries in each county. It needs to be put on the public record who is responsible for each river, burn or stream and to provide a contact number if there is a need to engage. That would mean farmers, business people or other persons with a concern about the maintenance of a river could engage with those responsible. The situation was an eye-opener for me. It is correct that there are legal and environmental constraints about what can be done on a river. For example, if a farmer puts up an embankment on the land it can impact on somebody downstream so it is right and proper that there should be procedures and protocols. It is important that local authorities and the OPW would publish a full list of all streams, burns and rivers in every county, stating who is responsible for it and who one goes to to seek permission or consult with on any proposed works or maintenance.
A dedicated budget must be put in place so that the various authorities have funding available to them, working in partnership. The maintenance of rivers is a big challenge. A very good event was organised in the Inishowen Peninsula by Inishowen Waters. Various people were there, including people from the Department. The intention was to try to educate people about river maintenance and how we can all work together to address the challenges. Given climate change we know we are, unfortunately, going to face more such weather events.
The Minister of State has a tough job but he went out and met people. He did not hide away. He met them over a number of days and he has done that a number of times. I appreciate that. He has not tried to hide or to avoid the issues. I hope something can be officially announced soon about Burnfoot in particular. It is a big deal. I also hope to hear some announcements on areas that are works is progress. I commend the Minister of State on securing €1 billion in the national development plan. It will go a long way to protect communities and do what is right. I say that as an Opposition Member. This is above and beyond politics. When the floods happen all over the country it is a case of all shoulders to the wheel. It does not matter whether one belongs to a political party or not, it is about helping one's community through a crisis and protecting them in the future. This is about what is best for the country. The €1 billion will go a long way towards that. I commend the Minister of State in that regard and I hope to work with him more in the future.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Moran. In fairness to him, not alone did he not hide away but he was very happy to meet me before Christmas. We looked at flooding and protection from the point of view of people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. We have more work to do on that. I would welcome an update at some stage on efforts to get down and dirty and forensic in terms of knowing where people are and how they can be contacted.
Protection always trumps coming in with the fire brigade afterwards. It is very important that we would keep the focus on that. Building defences is one element of that, as is having good public planning so that we do not have houses where they ought not to be. Most days I travel to and from work along the Clontarf Estuary. I am amused by the idea that a flood defence, a wall, that has been put up is going to be lowered because drivers cannot see the estuary. People must get real about the issues. Everybody wants something different for themselves. I support the Minister of State and public policy to make sure that flood defences come before any other considerations. Drivers should be watching the road rather than looking over the ditch to see the flora and fauna or whatever else.
I have four very specific asks. Perhaps they will form part of what the Minister of State will come back to deal with at a later stage. There needs to be a register of vulnerable people. I refer to people with medical conditions and disabilities that would be affected by an interrupted power supply. The HSE, the Civil Defence, ESB Networks and others must work on that to give solace to those people and their family members in a very practical way so that they know who they are and where they are. A text alert system should be developed to facilitate the notification of deaf or hard of hearing people when a flood event or major emergency arises.
The Office of Emergency Planning must have an Irish Sign Language interpreter on-call. Sign language updates were not given until I made representations, which were responded to immediately, during those couple of days in October. The response of the support services was quite magnificent. I refer to the Garda, the HSE, the fire service and others. There was no sign language interpreter in camera shot until later in the day. Those little things are vital. It is easy to plan such things, it is a case of being thoughtful about them and making sure they are in place. It is important that the Office of Emergency Planning would make sure that happens.The RTÉ1+1 channel can be used. It normally starts broadcasting at 7 p.m., but if it was available around the clock it could be a major source of information to update people on what was happening throughout an emergency period. They are my very practical key asks. Others have rightly lauded the Minister of State for getting stuck in and being with people. He was quite happy to meet me.
I have one almost humorous story which will be of particular interest to Fine Gael. The grandfather of a former Fine Gael leader, Alan Dukes, went to live in Kerry and never became comfortable with the soft weather. He was often noted as saying that if God had intended people to live in Kerry, He would have given them webbed feet. I hope people do not need webbed feet throughout the rest of the country. That is what this work is about.
I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber and thank him for the very positive day we had recently in Limerick. He met many people from rural and urban areas of the county. He is aware of a number of ongoing issues, and I would like to highlight some of them. During the meeting we discussed embankments and areas where there had been flooding and there is ongoing work. I compliment the council workers who have done great work. They have engaged in consultation with the Department on building up some of the banks, walkways and flood relief defences.
Land owned by a farmer in rural Limerick is subsiding into a river and there has been a lot of consultation with the local authority and Department. The farmer has been told the situation will be kept under observation. That is all very well, but the land has been under observation for five years and he still has no commitment that defences will be erected on his land. While I know the Minister of State cannot comment on individual cases, it is important that work is committed to in a positive light in respect of those living in rural Ireland.
There has been a lot of very positive work. After the Minister visited Limerick in January, different areas of the city flooded. Water rose in Merchants Quay beside the local authority and courthouse. When one part is fixed the problem is pushed further down river. We have to consider solutions to these issues.
While successful work was carried out on Clancy Strand, O'Callaghan Strand was subject to a lot of flooding at the end of January when there were very heavy waters. It often boils down to the fact that gullies had not been cleaned. When people contact my office about gullies I report the problem straight away because it is very important that the local authorities carry out an extensive cleaning of them, especially when leaves have fallen. It is a major issue in some areas.
The Minister of State got a very firm view on what happened and what needs to happen. I thank him for his visit. Some projects are coming from the local authority and I ask him to consider them. Rural and urban areas of Limerick have experienced a fair amount of flooding over the years. Any help he can provide to support projects from his €1 billion budget for flood defences would be most welcome.
I apologise to the Minister of State because I have to leave after I make my contribution as my committee meeting is starting at 1.30 p.m. I pay tribute to the Minister of State, who has done an excellent job since he has taken up the portfolio. I am very jealous because it is an area I would very much appreciate having an opportunity to work in. There is probably very little that I would do differently from the Minister of State.
I also compliment his staff. I have dealt with OPW staff over the past ten to 15 years and the professionalism and courtesy with which they have treated me and many others has been much appreciated. I want to put the work they do on the record of the House. It has been excellent. Any time I am offered a private contractor or the OPW, I always opt for the OPW and long may it continue its work to its excellent standard.
Flooding is an issue on which the country is united. Whether one lives in an urban or rural area, we all have the same problems. Councillor Fiona Bonfield contacted me about Newport in County Tipperary, and I had a conversation with the Minister of State about the town's additional needs since it was flooded. The Nenagh municipal council contacted me and is crying out for additional resources to deal with drainage and flooding issues affecting that area of Tipperary. I could mention many others right across the country.
The €1 billion budget the Minister of State has is very welcome and it is probably what he asked for because he is capable of spending it. We have to be practical. These things require resourcing, planning and time. We will have to consider flooding in the long term and the short term. I suggest that the Minister of State consider investing some of his €1 billion budget in some short-term mechanisms which could help to prevent flooding. I refer in particular to sustainable urban drainage, SUD. Some of the €1 billion invested in that area would alleviate some flooding in towns and cities by delaying monster rain from entering watercourses. Investment in SUDs would be worthwhile and cost-effective.
It would require buy-in from the Department and local authorities as well as local communities. In certain circumstances, people will have to give up parking areas to allow for soakage. An area the size of the Phoenix Park has been lost to driveways in urban areas. There is cause and effect. People often ask why they cannot cover their driveways with tarmacadam or cement, but driveways provide important soakage.
I foresee problems in respect of Irish Water and flooding. Urban areas such as Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick have combined sewers. Rivers such as the Swan in the Pembroke drainage system are part of a combined sewer. When flooding happens or there is monster rain, the effect is seen in that the sewers flood. The Minister of State will have to work with local authorities and Irish Water to deal with combined sewers. That will be very difficult to negotiate.
I did a lot of work with the Minister of State's predecessor, Brian Hayes MEP, on a memorandum of understanding with insurance companies. I acknowledge the work officials put into that. The insurance companies have reneged on the agreement. Millions have been spent from Clonmel to Ringsend to ensure houses will never flood again, yet homeowners cannot get flood insurance. I attended many of the meetings when the negotiations were ongoing. Insurance Ireland wanted the OPW to give the information in a manageable mechanism which insurance companies could use. The Department bent over backwards to supply the information in the form the insurance companies wanted, but they are still reneging on the agreement.I would like them to be called to task, and no better man to do this than the Minister of State. If such amounts of taxpayers' moneys are to be invested, people should be able to get household insurance. Some people may ask why this is important. If the House is secure and will not be flooded again, what is the big deal? The big deal arises when the homeowner tries to sell his or her home. Any prospective buyer will be unable to get a mortgage if he or she cannot get flood insurance, even though the taxpayer has invested millions of euro in ensuring these areas are now safe from flooding. This inability to sell on means people are stuck in homes that are unsuitable because their families have got bigger. I believe there has been a breakdown of trust from the insurance companies. I reiterate that the staff of the OPW did a huge amount of work to ensure this work was supplied in the manner requested by the insurance companies. Those companies are now looking for excuses. I do not believe that is acceptable. I should mention that Brian Hayes worked might and main to make sure a memorandum of understanding was drawn up. The insurance companies came in for the photo call when we launched it in Government Buildings, but then they did not deliver.
The challenges of climate change have been touched on by previous speakers. We need to have joined-up thinking, but we are seeing very little of it. Bord na Móna is talking about harvesting peat from soakage areas until 2030. The turf-burning stations in the midlands are churning out carbon, which means we will be fined in 2020. I am by no means trying to score political points when I mention this issue, which is a sensitive one for the Minister of State. I believe the workers have to be protected and secured. We have to make sure alternative careers are offered to them and their families. We do not want to see a rust belt in the midlands. I want to see viable and sustainable jobs. We have to plan for the harvesting of turf and for the turf stations in the midlands much more quickly than we are doing at present. The co-burning of turf and wood pellets will not work because the emissions will still be too high. I believe the reins are being pulled in on Bord na Móna's madhat scheme, which involves shipping timber pellets across 3,000 sea miles from Georgia in the US to these stations. It is just madness. This timber is being taken from wetlands, which in itself will have an effect on climate change. The challenges are great. The Minister of State has shown that he has the ambition to take them on. I will support him as much as I can. For heaven's sake, a little joined-up thinking in relation to cause and effect should take place when Senators are speaking here over the coming months and years. We cannot continue to think that the destruction of our boglands and forests will not have an effect on climate change, one manifestation of which is the flooding in our towns and villages.
Like other Senators, I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, to the Chamber. I thank him for his ongoing work in this brief. The difficult issue of flooding affects many communities. As the Minister of State will know, flood defences were deployed in Ballinasloe town centre in recent weeks when there was a fear of flooding. The worthwhile works that have taken place in the Derrymullan area of Ballinasloe, including the construction of a flood wall, have had a real and positive impact on homeowners in that area. As the Minister of State is aware, more needs to be done. The wall needs to be extended and works are needed at the East Bridge in Ballinasloe to ensure other homeowners enjoy the same positive benefits.
As the Minister of State is aware, County Roscommon faces particular difficulties due to the presence of turloughs. I understand that geological surveys have been conducted to monitor how flood levels are affected by the filling and emptying of turloughs. I would like to see a little more action in terms of how we deal with this problem. I would be interested to get an update from the Minister of State in this regard. There are many examples in County Roscommon of turloughs causing major problems for homeowners and businesses. Senator Leyden has mentioned Bushfield, Boyle and Lough Funshinagh. I would like to see some progress. Like other Senators, I strongly compliment our local authorities and the OPW. In my experience, Roscommon County Council has been very proactive in implementing the minor works scheme and in trying to identify solutions to deal with this difficult issue, to which it is difficult to find an engineering solution.
The Minister of State will be familiar with the homeowner relocation scheme, which I raised in the Seanad last week. I understand that 75 homes are under consideration by the OPW under the scheme. A family does not apply under such a scheme for no reason. I want to raise an issue with the criteria for the scheme. I understand the need for rules to be set. Criteria are required to ensure the scheme is fair and consistent across the country.
I have concerns about a family I am working with at the moment. The Minister of State will be aware of the case. The members of this family cannot get flood insurance because they are living in a turlough area. An engineering solution to deal with the problem has not yet been identified. There has been no on-site visit from the OPW. This family has been turned down under the home relocation scheme. These people have not submitted an application for no reason. They would like to stay in their own home, but they have a constant fear that flood waters will return to their previous levels. I have evidence of those levels. I was down there at the time. Various agencies, including the emergency services and Roscommon County Council, were involved. This family cannot benefit from the scheme because the flood waters did not enter the family home. I know the Minister of State is aware of this case and has taken a proactive approach to it. I ask him to reconsider the need to meet all the criteria. This family meets 99% of the criteria. The members of the family worked so hard to prevent the flood waters from entering their home, but it now appears that they cannot access the scheme for this very reason. I will leave it at that. I ask the Minister of State to provide an update on the turloughs and on the relocation scheme.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, for coming to the House to discuss the Government's flood defence plans. Many Senators have first-hand experience of flooding in their local areas and are aware of the impact of flood damage on homeowners, business owners and farmers. I ask the Minister of State to update the House on the defence barriers in County Mayo and on the length of time it is taking the OPW to approve works that need to be done. As I have said previously, these delays are unacceptable. Areas near Westport like Carraholly, Rosmindle and Kilmeena have been waiting since 2014. The damage that was done in such areas during the floods of that year needs to be repaired immediately. It is disgraceful that after four years, approval has not yet been provided.There are two things wrong with that, the length of time and the cost of drawing up plans. All that is required is a simple wall, a flood barrier for the communities. It is wrong that four years later nothing has been done. I accept there have been plans and so forth but the wall is still not in place for the community. It is unacceptable that the OPW and other consultants have failed to engage with or listen to local communities when they have the solutions to many of these problems. It is very difficult for the people in these areas to get excited about €1 billion being allocated in the national development plan when all they want is a simple wall to be built. We are spending millions on consultants without consulting the local communities that are most affected by flooding.
The Minister of State is a practical person and he will understand that when I was working in the local authority, it was distressing to see people being moved out of their homes or not feeling safe in them. It comes down to the fact that people have a right and a need to feel safe in their homes. There are many homes throughout the country and certainly many in Mayo that I have visited where people do not feel safe. This affects areas such as in Doohoma, Ballycroy, Ballina and Crossmolina to name but a few. There has to be a better congruence between the Department, the local authorities and the National Parks and Wildlife Service. For farmers, the main factor for productivity is the land. There has been flood after flood. It is hugely important that we consider the future and that we plan and make the relevant commitments in capital investment. We have seen many areas flooded due to coastal flooding or river flooding, but those areas are still left without protection.
Business owners, and the generations before them, who have spent their lives building up their businesses live in fear that everything will be taken from them. The Minister of State probably was in Crossmolina and saw the businesses that were ruined overnight. The owners have had to try to build the businesses up again to make a living, but they have not been able to do it without the proper protections being in place. There is also the damage to roads. The roads budget in Mayo has been cut by 40% over recent years. People see banner headlines about the allocations being made, yet they must travel on roads that have been damaged by flooding. Somebody referred earlier to drainage. It has been hugely neglected in these areas and often only simple solutions are required. We make matters far more complicated when consultants do not consult the local communities and when we do not keep up with general repairs and the general drainage works that must be done.
The Minister of State said there were big improvements with the minor works scheme and that the criteria to allow local authorities to come back in where schemes have failed in the past have changed. He also said it is now easier for them to get more funding to deal with minor works schemes. I ask the Minister of State to elaborate on this, especially in light of the cases I mentioned in Mayo. The Minister of State regularly refers to the flood prevention works being carried out, but for many businesses and families that is irrelevant if the insurers will not offer insurance at a reasonable price in those areas. I have some sympathy for the Minister of State because the Irish insurance industry is an absolute disgrace. It is a disgrace in respect of motor insurance as well as other insurance. It is grasping for any excuse not to do its job. It is willing to offer insurance and it wants people to pay for insurance, but only on the basis that they will never need it. Consumers are paying the price of the recklessness of that industry over the past decade or so. Will the Minister of State intercede with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to provide a money message to the Consumer Insurance Contracts Bill, which Sinn Féin has before the Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, that would greatly empower consumers against the insurers and their nonsense?
Climate change is the elephant in the room. We can plan for and predict what the climate will be like, but we are entering a period where it appears that it will be more unpredictable and extreme. We must have the maximum level of preparation not just to fix the problems we have now but also for the predictions for the future. Common sense must be brought to the issue of flooding and there must be an urgency about it. The Minister of State's main job is to direct the money to freeing the blockages that will get the walls in Kilmeena and elsewhere built. It is unacceptable that four years later people still feel unsafe in their homes and on their land in these areas.
I congratulate the Minister of State on the hands-on, effective job he is doing. I thank him for visiting Cavan recently, where he witnessed the good work of our chief executive, Tommy Ryan, Paul Mulligan, all the outdoor staff, the Civil Defence and so forth. On that occasion, too, the Minister of State announced €205,000 for relief works in the Drumullan area of Cavan, which is very welcome.
In the midst of the dramatic cases around the country, it can often be missed that counties such as Cavan have a problem with flooding as well. The River Erne catchment area and the catchment areas of its subsidiaries have a flooding issue. Some 17 homes have been flooded over recent years and a further 14 were under threat and saved by sandbags and various defences. Many of them were flooded previously years ago. During the recent winter floods, 83 public roads were impassable, 112 families were cut off and five had to be evacuated. Thousands of hectares of agricultural land have been flooded with a significant loss of income to farmers. Land is unusable for months after floods, there is a loss of land to spread slurry and there is delayed growth of grass. These are the tangible outcomes and realities in County Cavan, which the Minister of State witnessed when he was good enough to visit in the company of me and my colleagues.
I am happy we have the national response the Minister of State cited in his remarks earlier and that there is €1 billion in the national development plan for it. I welcome that funding. A total of 42 major flood defence schemes have been completed along with 500 minor works schemes, and 6,500 acres of land have benefited. These are good developments. However, I share the annoyance of colleagues with the insurance industry for not doing its business. There should be a tangible response from the insurance industry to any works that are carried out anywhere in the country. There should be no question of people not getting insurance when works have been carried out in areas. In addition, there should be competitive insurance.
I am anxious that the Minister of State leaves this debate with the realisation, which he is developing, that there is a problem in many counties in the country, not just in the dramatic cases. Second, we must confront the insurance companies head on. It is not right that the Minister of State is doing such an excellent job and we are not getting a response from the insurance companies. That is unacceptable.
Climate change is another issue my colleagues mentioned and which I wish to emphasise. Indeed, Senator Lombard raised it in his opening remarks. We cannot avoid the question. We must tackle climate change head on. A number of strategies and a multisectoral response will be required to deal with it effectively. We have a particular difficulty with transportation as transport is the highest offending area, for want of a better term.I hope the Minister will advocate that we will have to have a response by way of electric cars and the further incentivisation of their use. We will also have to examine a number of other rounded solutions. This is a national problem. It transcends politics and all societal divisions. Every class of people and social grouping is affected. Flooding affects everybody. Being flooded is a crisis for a family. Their house and area are never the same afterwards.
It is good this debate is taking place. I am very pleased with what the Minister of State is doing and I hope he will take on board what we are saying to him today.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for coming here. He is always quite obliging when asked to come here and we appreciate that. He and the Office of Public Works, OPW, have been working very hard to address the flooding issue and we acknowledge that. I welcome the €1 billion allocation he mentioned in his contribution. I apologise for not being here for it but I was late in getting here.
In 2015, the then Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, allocated €430 million to the flood relief area and it is great for that investment to be more than doubled with the allocation now of €1 billion. It is an acknowledgment that flooding is a massively serious issue. It is not merely a parochial issue. We have helped out in our own area with sandbagging and doing all sorts of work. One gets a feel for the impact flooding has when one has worked at local level to alleviate it. It is not only towns like Athlone or towns in County Mayo that suffer from it, it affects many towns around the country.
The river will do what it will do and water will always find its course. Nothing can stop that. If there were no towns or roads to disturb things, the water would flow down the natural channel and that channel would be the size it needed to be to accommodate the water. Alas, that is not the way we live. Many planning decisions were made down through the years that might not necessarily have been the right ones.
Nobody knows the river better than the people who live alongside it, be they people in towns like Athlone or farmers in places like Carrick O'Brien or Golden Island. Everybody who lives there knows the river. I have raised with the Minister of State in this House and with the previous Minister of State, Deputy Harris, the carrying out of small remedial works that people have suggested. What is the position regarding the lowering of the level of Lough Ree? The Minister of State will know that the level in Lough Ree was raised in 1979 for navigation purposes. People have questioned that. I am not an engineer and I do not know if lowering the level would be of benefit. Has it been assessed as to whether lowering the level would be of any assistance down the line? When the former Deputy Brian Hayes was Minister of State half the cut at Meelick was cleared but the other half was not because of various licensing issues. Farmers living along the shores of the river would say that if small works like that were addressed, perhaps it would alleviate some of the flooding.
I do not know if the Minister of State mentioned the dreaded, or not dreaded catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, report which has been under way for a long time. The previous Government took a good deal of flak from people who said we did not need a CFRAM report coming out in 2016 or 2017 because they know the river but we all know that we do need a CFRAM report. We have Lough Allen and Lough Ree and we have to look at the big picture and take account of the River Shannon from the top of it in County Cavan down to County Limerick. Where are we at with that report? Is there anything coming out of it that could help us? Those are my questions and the Minister of State might deal with them.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, for coming to the House. The Minister of State came to Limerick on 1 December 2017 at my invitation. He was very well received. I remember he announced in Castleconnell, when the cameras were there, that he was seeking €1 billion in funding. I am glad that has come to fruition. He announced on the day that Limerick would get €57 million and we might even get a few more million euro if we are good.
I will put the flooding issue in context. We have a particular issue with flooding in Limerick for two reasons. The first is the River Shannon in terms of Ardnacrusha and Parteen Weir, and the height of the water level in Lough Derg. People in Castleconnell are more interested in the weather in Athlone than they are in the weather in Castleconnell because it will determine the height of the water level in Lough Derg and the flow of water down the river. Second, Limerick is a city that is tidal, so we have a tidal issue with the River Shannon. Areas like Montpelier, Castleconnell and Annacotty are affected by the Shannon.
Linking in to Annacotty is the issue of the River Mulcair. We have two rivers, the Shannon and the Mulcair. A good deal of works have already been done in St. Mary's Park in the city, which the Minister of State visited, but we are looking for major works to be done on which I believe the planning and design are under way. We are also looking at areas like Corbally Road, the Mill Road and Richmond Park, which the Minister of State visited, and Clancy Strand and O'Callaghan Strand. The announcement of specific funding of €750,000 for Castleconnell village is very welcome. More recently, the River Mulcair flooded and we had issues both with the Newport River and the River Anner, which flow into the River Mulcair. We had major flooding in Clonsingle, Newport and Ballymackeogh. I had the OPW staff meet with the farmers and residents. They have moved to do a good deal of work, which is to be welcomed. The Minister of State would be fully aware of that. As previous speakers said, when people's homes are flooded it not only affects their homes but their livelihoods. One could not describe the impact it has on people.
The previous speaker mentioned the CFRAM study. When does the Minister of State expect it to be published? He mentioned the speeding up of applications. A big issue we have in Limerick is getting applications to the OPW to get schemes under way. The Minister of State said he would be appointing somebody who would operate specifically in the OPW with Limerick City and County Council to progress these applications. I know discussions are ongoing between the council and the OPW but what is the current position?
The Minister of State's visit to Limerick on 1 December 2017 made an enormous difference to the people on the ground as well as him having been able to put the measures and the funding in place. I know how much it means to people. People referred earlier to the Minister of State's get up and go attitude. He is the first Minister that has come down to our area who has arrived a half an hour early. When we went to Montpelier he had the place scouted before we got there.
When will the CFRAM study be published? How does the Minister of State anticipate the process will work in terms of getting applications in for places such as Montpelier, Castleconnell, for which there is a specific funding of €50,000, and Annacotty village and Mulcair Drive where schemes are needed for people who were flooded? They ended up being very close to the waters of the Mulcair River in recent times. There are the issues along the back of the Corbally Road and the Mill Road. The works at St. Mary's Park will be getting under way. There is also Clancy Strand and O'Callaghan Strand. There are also the areas of Newport, Clonsingle and Ballymackeogh where the OPW will carry out works. The fact that the Minister of State has secured €1 billion in funding and his initial strike on that funding was launched in Castleconnell village in Limerick is symbolic. I welcome the fact that he more than doubled the funding that is available from €430 million to €1 billion. We will very much be looking to assist him in enabling him to spend as much of it as he can in Limerick. I very much welcome the €57 million allocation for Limerick
I thank the Minister of State for the coming to the House to deal with this important issue. I thank him and all the staff in his Department for the work they are doing. It is always a complex issue when dealing with trying to alleviate flooding. There are many of parties involved from landowners to property owners to local authorities and other authorities. We need to approach this issue by setting timelines to meet targets. That is extremely important.There is one issue on which I seek clarification. In fairness to the Minister of State, he gave a very comprehensive reply to a Commencement matter I raised on 24 January in regard to the Glashaboy flood relief scheme. In the reply, he referred to it being important to note that due to changes in EU legislation and a new environmental impact assessment, EIA, directive, there is now a requirement for additional consultation with designated bodies which will impact the programme. I ask for clarification on that issue because it is a 2014 directive which is then transposed, which takes a significant amount of time. There are technical issues in that regard. Will it delay projects and, if so, what will be the timeframe and who else do we need to consult?
Flood relief schemes often involve several contracts such as for the removal of knotweed, the cutting of trees, drainage and work on bridges. A project may involve four or five contracts and it is about tying them together. Can a programme be put in place to co-ordinate that in such schemes? One may get one contract up and running and then run into difficulty with another.
I recently visited the area of the Glashaboy flood relief scheme and looked at where major damage was done by flooding. It is a housing estate which was built within the past 15 or 20 years and the houses are below the level of the embankment around the river. The major flooding there in 2012 was caused by debris and many other things, including a large volume of water, but I noted a huge amount of tree growth overhanging the river. If some of that growth breaks off, it will fall into the river and could cause a blockage or other damage downstream. I am surprised that the local authority or whoever is responsible has taken no action to remove those trees in the intervening period of time nor ensured that there is no escalation of the problem. Is the buck being passed in terms of waiting for the OPW to make a decision on work that should be undertaken at a local level? Local authorities must be tied down in that regard. The local authority, rather than the OPW, gave planning permission for the housing scheme. The houses are under the level of the river embankment and when water came over the embankment there was approximately four feet of water in them. That was a case of poor planning, as was allowing the situation to worsen since the major flooding occurred in 2012.
Another important issue is the Cork flood relief scheme. The flood defences in Cork city are extremely important and I acknowledge that the Minister of State's Department is working very hard in that regard but the process must be speeded up. I appreciate that various procedures must be gone through but it is important for that work to be started as soon as possible because many business premises are directly affected when flooding occurs in the city and it is, therefore, important that the required remedial work be given priority.
I again thank the Minister of State for the work he and his Department are doing. All Members have a part to play in ensuring local authorities work with him to deliver the necessary remedial works.
The Minister of State is very welcome to the Chamber. I compliment him on his work in the area of flood defences and the gusto which he brings to the position.
It is very welcome that the recent national development plan allocates €1 billion, increased from €430 million, to tackling this issue. Members will have to repeatedly visit the Minister of State or his Department as we face the fall-out from and implications of climate change in terms of trying to guard our built and natural environments from the devastation that flooding can cause. It is important that the funds be available but we must also drive forward projects such as catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programmes and projects listed as qualifying and eligible for flood defences or that have been identified as such. There are a couple of areas we have discussed many times before but on which I wish to ask for an update.
I wish to raise the issue of flooding in Ballina. The affected area is an older part of the town and has experienced more frequent flooding in recent years. Contrary to media reports that this problem affects development that took place during the Celtic tiger era, most areas of Mayo that experience flooding have not done so previously or as regularly. In Ballina, because part of the river is tidal, pumps are at the ready on the bank of the River Moy, almost central to the town, whenever there is a high tide. If there is a lot of surface run-off, heavy rain and a high tide, houses on Bachelor's Walk and in the surrounding area that were previously flooded are again in danger. The pumps are often in place.
I am aware that the CFRAM programme there has been completed and I warmly welcome that the Ballina proposition or solution has been deemed to be economically viable such that we can expect flood defences to be built. I wish to ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, to update us on the status of the project. His Department is considering the Ballina programme with a view to prioritisation but the water is seeping through the riverbank wall, which is porous and has been there for a few centuries, and that urgently needs to be progressed. I suggest that Ballina be given priority. The pump is a regular feature in front of people's houses. Something must be done to progress the project and ensure the flood defences, including the flood wall, are built as soon as possible. I ask the Minister of State for an update in that regard and to respond to the points I have made.
I welcome the options report which suggests that a diversionary channel be placed upstream from Crossmolina, between it and Nephin. However, this is an area in which we must press on and conclude public consultation because, although people there may not feel fortunate in this respect, Crossmolina is listed as one of the towns that will benefit from the money and its position is more clear cut.
As regards coastal erosion, I acknowledge that the Minister of State mentioned agricultural land and drainage works being carried out but the reality on the west coast of Mayo is that farmers' agricultural lands are often taken by the sea during big storms and debris from the sea is thrown significant distances of up to a couple of hundred metres inland. In my area, there is an issue near Lacken Pier involving a public road which runs along a cliff edge and is being eroded away. The council is seeking a solution. One will soon be unable to access the pier unless something is done to address the undercutting of the road by the sea. It seems that the issue is being batted from the OPW to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. I ask the Minister of State to give particular consideration to what can be done in regard to Lacken Pier because it is a piece of public roads infrastructure and if something is not done there will be no road for people to access the pier.
I thank Senator Mulherin. The final Senator to speak on this issue is Senator Conway, who has five minutes. I remind Members that we must adjourn this debate at 2.15 p.m. The Minister of State will have approximately 15 seconds to respond after Senator Conway concludes.
The Acting Chairman is in charge. Some of us have sat through the entirety of this debate waiting for the Minister of State to respond to the issues we raised. It is very unfair to us and the Minister of State to give him only a minute or two to wrap up at the end.
I accept the point but there was nothing in the Order of Business indicating we must allow the Minister of State back in. If there was, I would have curtailed contributions. I only go by the Order of Business agreed by the House.
I have the floor. There is already a minute gone at this stage. I take the Senator's point on board and the Minister of State should have the opportunity to respond. I sincerely hope he gets the opportunity to come in within a week or two, when the matter is fresh in our minds and that of the Minister of State. I am sure he would be happy to do that.
I live beside the sea between Ennistymon and Lahinch in County Clare. We got a terrible battering in 2014 and the damage done was significant. To be fair, the Government response was significant as well. The promenade at Lahinch had already seen spending of €12 million, and many more millions of euro were spent going down the coast of Clare. Significant coastal protection works are needed in the hundreds of millions of euro. I remember writing an opinion piece in 2015, a year after the storm, saying the spending would be in the billions. It is commendable that this Minister of State has been able to fight the good fight and get this into the national plan for 2040, as that is the type of approach required.
There is a small issue with the work done specifically at Lahinch. There seems to be an argument over €1.6 million. Between the Department and the Office of Public Works, they have left Clare County Council short to the tune of €1.6 million. I know the people of Clare and I would be delighted if the Minister of State could find where the €1.6 million has gone and send a cheque in the post.
There are many intricacies in the coastal protection area. Foreshore licences are required, along with environmental impact studies. There are myriad different stages to be gone through. There are a number of schemes in Clare, including the one at Spanish Point. I know the Minister of State was to visit last week but between one thing and another, it did not work out because of the schedule. I am sure he will come in the next couple of weeks. I would like him to have a word with the various stakeholders that come together to create the processes so as to hurry them on. They should get the foreshore licences over the line and move on the process. The next time we have a significant storm or sea eruption, it could cause much difficulty with property.
There is a scheme that had available funding and perhaps the Minister of State could check it out. It is called the minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme. Individuals could apply through the local authority and have some works done to help their own situation. There is a case in Inagh, County Clare, involving Mr. John Leahy, and perhaps the Minister of State could take a look at it. I know one of his predecessors, Mr. Brian Hayes, committed funding for the project to be done. I will leave that in the Minister of State's capable hands as well as I know he is a very good man to get jobs done. He may be able to sort that one out.
The case of Cloghauninchy in Quilty has been a challenge, although it is progressing. Again, we call on the Minister of State and his good offices to pull the stakeholders together, perhaps, and ensure it happens quickly.
With respect to Burnfoot, I spoke to members of the local authority and security will resume to those houses. I have accelerated the report, which will be on my desk in the second week in May. We will then be able to come back with a solution for Burnfoot.
I completely agree. It is a matter for the Order of Business. It could have suggested there would be 15 minutes for a ministerial reply but it did not. I cannot make up the Order of Business. The debate is to be adjourned, if not concluded, at 2.15 p.m. That is what we are doing.