Tuesday, 6 March 2018
I welcome the Minister of State to the Seanad. Following the recent snow event and Storm Emma the residents of Portrane are extremely upset and worried about the further coastal erosion in the area. There is a real risk now of many homes being flooded by the sea. If the Minister of State saw the news last night, he would have seen Grainne Hannigan talking about her home which is now in grave danger. Nothing real or practical has been done either by the Minister of State's Department or by Fingal County Council in many years and local residents are angry, frustrated and feel forgotten.
The Minister of State's predecessor, Deputy Canney, visited the area last year and saw at first hand the disastrous situation facing families in Portrane. He gave a commitment to fund the necessary works. I believe the Office of Public Works, OPW, operates a minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme under which applications for funding from local authorities are considered for measures up to €750,000 in each instance. Funding is also available for coastal erosion risk management studies. The funding is made available for areas identified as being at greatest risk of damage or loss of economic assets through coastal erosion or flooding.
I know that Fingal County Council applied for and received funding of €57,800 under the scheme in 2012 to carry out a coastal erosion risk management study of the coast from Portrane up to Rush. However, none of the coastal protection measures assessed and recommended was implemented due to "a combination of negative cost benefit ratio analysis and environment constraints". I believe no additional funding has been sought by Fingal County Council to put any measures in place in Portrane. Perhaps the Minister of State could confirm whether Fingal County Council has made contact with his Department in recent days considering the extent of the damage in Portrane since Storm Emma and the recent snow event took place. Their impact has been very dramatic and if the Minister of State saw the news last night he would understand how dramatic it has been. If he did not see it, I would urge him to contact Mr. Paul Reid, the chief executive office of Fingal County Council, and ask him and his officials to prepare a report on Portrane as a matter of urgency.
The former Minister of State, Deputy Canney, said last year that the funding is there. Homes and even lives are at risk now. The current Minister of State's Department and Fingal County Council need to get the finger out at this stage and help the people of Portrane.They desperately need it. Action is required at this point not words. They have heard enough over the years. I urge the Minister of State to do something for the people of Portrane.
I thank the Senator very much for raising this matter. I am pleased to provide an update on it. I visited Portrane on 26 January this year and met Fingal County Council officials, including the chief executive, local representatives and members of the community to discuss this matter. I fully appreciate the serious concerns of the local people, and the Office of Public Works, OPW, and I will work in whatever way we can with the council to assist it in finding a proper long-term solution to the problems at Portrane.
It is important to note, however, that in relation to coastal protection and erosion generally, it is a matter for local authorities to identify and prioritise the issues along their coastlines. The OPW will co-operate with and assist Fingal County Council, and if a viable solution is identified, the local authority may undertake works using its own resources or, if necessary, apply for funding to my office under the OPW minor works scheme.The following is an update of the progress so far undertaken by Fingal County Council with the approval of funding by my office.
The council applied for and was approved funding of €57,800 in 2012 under the Office of Public Works' minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme to carry out a coastal erosion risk management study of Portrane to Rush. This study was completed and the council has been working on the basis of its findings to identify an environmentally and economically viable solution to strengthen and rehabilitate the dune system at this location. This is the preferred and recommended solution to the erosion problems. I understand that the solution proposed in the risk management report may not be environmentally sustainable and the council is looking at this matter.
Once Fingal County Council has identified a viable programme of works, it may apply to the Office of Public Works for funding. If funding is approved, then it is a matter for the council to progress the necessary works. The Office of Public Works is not currently in receipt of an application for funding from Fingal County Council under the minor works scheme for works at Portrane.
I am aware that the recent storm event resulted in some further coastal erosion having an impact on an individual property.Fingal County Council has inspected the area and will continue to liaise with the householder, the local community and the Fingal coastal liaison group in the coming days. Fingal County Council is actively seeking to deal with this matter and is working hard with the local community to find an appropriate long-term solution to the coastal erosion at Portrane.
I understand it is a matter for the local authority, first and foremost, but I call on the Minister of State to put pressure on the local authority to act in this regard because it has not done anything since 2012. As he outlined, funding was received to complete a study and that has been completed for some time. The strengthening and reinforcing of the existing dune system has not been done for various reasons. The Minister of State indicated that Fingal County Council is looking at the matter but it has been looking at the matter for a substantial period and nothing has been done. Homes will be lost and lives will be lost. Roads will be flooded. A serious risk to life is posed. We must act now. I call on the Minister of State to contact Fingal County Council and put pressure on it to act. Leaving the situation for a number of years and allowing residents to fend for themselves is no longer acceptable.
I have travelled around the country and I have seen a lot of coastal erosion. I have been in Portrane. I identified it as one of the priorities in terms of coastal erosion projects. It is one of the worst I have seen. I met local representative groups, those who are most affected, who are the people I want to protect, and I gave them a clear understanding of the position. One of my officials spoke to the people in one of those houses the night before last. I spoke to a great number of the residents who contacted me directly and I have given them a clear indication that my Department has written to Fingal County Council and also to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. The solution is not simple.The local authorities are responsible. We did fund it in 2012. The Senator is correct that it has taken from 2012 until now, but I am giving a clear indication that the residents are happy to allow me go ahead and have that meeting to see if I can come to a resolution. If we can do something in Portrane, I believe it could be echoed around the entire coast of the country but we have to start thinking outside the box when it comes to coastal erosion. We cannot have an application going in and being examined and investigated by the planners who then say the proposal does not blend in with the area. I do not want that because we will never see anything done about coastal erosion. For the past 20 years, Governments have ignored the problem of coastal erosion. I am giving the Senator a firm commitment that I am not ignoring it because in 20 years from now I believe coastal erosion will be one of the biggest issues to hit this country. We will lose many properties to the sea if we do not act now.
I visited Scotland recently where I was told that 97 properties had fallen into the sea as a result of this problem. They are thinking the same way as me. I am with the Senator on this issue, but most of all I am with the people. I gave the people of Portrane, as well as Senator Reilly and his colleagues, a detailed response in terms of what I want to see happen in Portrane but I ask for space to allow me sit in the room with them to see if I can come up with a long-term solution for them. I am not saying my Department can deliver but I am saying that one Department is blaming the other. I want to put that to bed and see if a long-term solution can be found for the people of Portrane.