Seanad debates

Thursday, 1 October 2020

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Flood Prevention Measures

10:30 am

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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I am sure the Leas-Chathaoirleach, given his strong links to County Roscommon, will have heard the debate about Lough Funshinagh on many occasions. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Sean Fleming, for coming to the House to discuss this matter.

Lough Funshinagh is a special area of conservation, SAC, in County Roscommon. It was once known as Ireland's amazing disappearing lake. There were reports going back to the 1950s and 1960s that the lake actually disappeared in a short space of time. The most recent word of the lake disappearing is from 12 or 13 years ago, when, in the space of two days, the lake dried out. When this happened, thousands of fish were lost, bird life that thrived around the water was stressed and lost, and much of the flora and fauna was damaged.

For some time, there has been a national debate about Lough Funshinagh, mainly because of the damage that has been done to farm lands and farm sheds, and the threat to housing and livestock. An OPW report was commissioned four years ago which gathered information from Roscommon County Council and the Geological Survey of Ireland and that report is now coming to light. The report is not good news for the locality or for the 45 farmers affected. Basically, one of the solutions spoken about is the making of a drain from the lake to the River Shannon at an estimated cost of €1.5 million. However, the report suggests this would not be good from an ecological perspective.

I want to point out that the lake is 4 ft. higher today than it was this time last year, so we can see the problem. Its expansion has destroyed the flora and fauna, and the fact it is now a special area of conservation is something of a joke. We all have to be very careful about SAC areas but due to the lack of action, the flora and fauna, including the fish life, has been damaged. There is a need for a cost-benefit analysis in that we are looking at a cost of €1.5 million to construct a drain from the lake to the River Shannon.

If there is anything positive in the report, and it is hard to find positivity in it, it acknowledges that at least two families will have to be moved out of the area and that the State will have to take on that responsibility. Of course, that is if people want to move.

I ask that the Minister of State go back to the Minister on this. For now, we need to have a meeting of local people with local representatives, and I have been speaking to Councillor Laurence Fallon and other councillors. We need to further discuss the issue to see if we can make progress.The most important point is that this lake continues to expand. It may not end with damage to 45 farms, roads and houses. If the lake continues to expand, we are going to have to take immediate action.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator. Seconders are not necessary in this context, but were they required, I would happily second this Commencement matter. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, to respond.

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I am speaking here as a representative of the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, who has special responsibility for the OPW. I thank the Senator for raising this matter, and I am pleased to provide an update as best I can.

I am advised by the Minister of State's office that, following severe flooding during the winter of 2015-16, Roscommon County Council applied, in 2018, to the OPW for funding under its minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme for a study at this location. Approval and funding was given to Roscommon County Council to undertake a study in July 2018. The council subsequently appointed Malachy Walsh and Partners to carry out this commission. The purpose of the report was to review the ecological constraints associated with the proposed flood protection options at Lough Funshinagh and Lough Cup; identify the European sites, namely, special areas of conservation, SAC, and special protected areas, SPA, which may be within the zone of influence of these options; determine the direct and indirect effects of the flood prevention options on the conservation objectives of the European sites affected; establish the nature of the statutory environmental reports required to accompany a future planning application for the flood protection options and provide indicative costs; and provide a conclusion on the viability of the options proposed.

The report was submitted to the OPW, which carried out a review in July 2020. It was a two-year process, but one should understand that it took time to procure the company directly involved which did the work, and extensive work had to be carried out due to the fact that SACs had to be identified and there were issues with flora and fauna, which the Senator mentioned.

The study looked at seven flood mitigation measures, of which six fall below a cost-benefit analysis of 1:1, which is a standard index used by the OPW to ensure that when work is carried out, both the cost and the benefit for the community are clear. There is significant uncertainty that the one remaining cost-effective scheme proposal will solve the flooding problem of the property, and it has been concluded that the property is likely to remain at residual risk of flooding. There is no cost-effective solution to manage this residual risk, with the current emergency management of flood levels being managed by pumping. This option is, therefore, not considered to be economically or environmentally sustainable. After all, pumps can not be used indefinitely.

Following the OPW's review of the flood analysis report on Lough Funshinagh, the property owners who have applied for the voluntary homeowners relocation scheme will now be advanced through this scheme. Those who apply, therefore, will be advanced.

The OPW also understands, however, that there will remain a risk of prolonged flooding around the lough, and have advised that it remains open to Roscommon County Council to make an application under the minor works flood mitigation and coastal protection scheme, should additional measures be identified in the future that meet the scheme criteria to mitigate flooding.

I also understand that at a special meeting of the municipal district of Roscommon County Council on Monday last, 28 September, the elected members were advised of the current situation with regard to Lough Funshinagh. The council has requested a meeting with officials from the Minister of State's office and now that the Senator has raised this issue today, I will provide a commitment that a meeting will be held in the near future. It is important that this matter be brought to the attention of the OPW by the Senator at the national level, to complement the work carried out by the municipal district at local level. I look forward to that happening. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, said that there is a number of people involved and there may be an opportunity for some of those people to be involved, depending of the make up and structure of the meeting, if appropriate. It is essential that the Oireachtas representative and members of the municipal district attend the meeting, which I hope will take place.The Senator referred in his contribution to a very unusual, although not unique, situation. He began by talking about a disappearing lake but, as he went on, he was talking about an expanding lake. It is very unusual that a lake would be disappearing for decades but is now starting to expand. That is due to climate change issues and is a very particular scenario. I look forward to working with the OPW, the council, public representatives and the families involved on this scheme.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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I will not labour my point any further. I thank the Minister of State for a very open and frank exchange on the issues I have raised. It is good to know that a meeting will take place. There are two things that should be borne in mind. First, the lake continues to expand, by 4 ft in one year, despite all that has been done to address the problem. Second, I know it is a peculiar argument to make but the reality is that because the lake is associated with a SAC, the flooding has led to the destruction of flora and fauna. Unless we can get some way around this issue and do something extraordinary, we cannot act on what is happening. The SAC aspect is a major issue. We have an extraordinary situation of a lake that used to disappear but is now expanding and we cannot get a solution to it.

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator for his closing comments. He has highlighted the difficulties in regard to the SAC. The most important concern is the people living in family homes, the farmers and the landowners who are directly affected, as well as the environmental issue. I thank the Senator for raising the matter.