Seanad debates

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Flood Risk Management: Motion


2:30 pm

Photo of Róisín GarveyRóisín Garvey (Green Party)
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I move:

“That Seanad Éireann: acknowledges that:

-floods are an inevitable part of life in Ireland but the frequency and intensity of flooding has greatly changed both now and into the future, as Met Éireann can confirm, because the type and intensity of our rain and our weather has changed and our flood management needs to adapt also;

-floods are usually caused by a combination of events including:
- heavy rains;

- overflowing rivers;

- broken dams;

- coastal storms and storm surges;

- a lack of vegetation;

- blocked or overloaded drainage ditches;

- infrastructure that was built on flood plains;
- numerous severe floods have occurred throughout the country in the last decade;

- floods present a risk when people, property, the environment and our cultural heritage can be potentially damaged, land eroded, nutrients leached from soils and soils washed away;

- through the appropriate measures in the right places, we can reduce their likelihood and limit their impacts;-natural flood management is an approach to managing soil, wetlands, woodlands and floodplains along a river to retain and slow water at times of flood risk, reducing the speed and the peak of floodwaters;

-international best practice in flood risk management recommends:
- a river basin whole catchment area approach;

- not passing flood risk management problems in one region on to another;

- insofar as is possible, we must engage in natural processes to help and guide us as we move forward to solve flooding challenges;

- mitigation, non-structural and soft engineering measures should be considered and deployed where appropriate recognising their environmental value;

- structural measures, such as defence structures are important when it comes to the protection of human health and safety, and valuable assets;

- while structural measures such as hard engineering provide important and viable protection to many at risk communities, the design of flood risk solutions needs to both consider and,as appropriate,integrate non-structural and soft engineering measures as both more efficient and sustainable mitigation measures. Nature conservation and landscape management considerations need to be taken into account;
endorses Ireland’s whole of Government approach to flood risk management which is co-ordinated by the Office of Public Works (OPW) across three strategic and policy areas:
- prevention: e.g. avoiding construction in flood-prone areas;

- protection: e.g. taking feasible measures, both structural and non-structural, to reduce the likelihood and impact of floods;

- preparedness: e.g. informing the public about dealing with flood risk and a flood and building community resilience;
recommends, due to the significance of the task we are facing, exacerbated by climate change, that the Government: - maintains a multi-annual investment programme managed between the OPW and the local authorities in flood relief measures to protect communities;

- requests the OPW and local authorities to engage with experts such as hydrologists in the fields of flooding and coastal erosion for solutions to flood risk management;

- undertakes a national land use review, including farmland, forests and peatlands, so that optimal land use options inform all relevant Government decisions. The review will balance environmental, social and economic considerations and involve a process of evaluation of the ecological characteristics of the land. It will include consideration of emissions to air and water, carbon sequestration and climate adaptation challenges. Policy co-benefits, such as rewetting or forest regrowth to mitigate flooding risks in river catchments, will be considered. The national land use review is currently under way, at first phase, by the Department of Environment,Climate and Communications together with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine;

- promotes planting of ‘protection forests’ along rivers and lakes to protect water quality and assist in managing flood risks;

- progresses the development of a national policy on coastal erosion and flooding that takes account of damages present and predicted due to climate change;

- launches a new revised and strengthened River Basin Management Plan in 2022, drawing on a collaborative approach between all stakeholders, which is currently open for public consultation.”

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Is deas é a fheiceáil i gcomhair an ábhair thábhachtach seo. I thank the Minister of State for his time today. We have had lots of emergencies, and I believe flooding is an emergency and down the track things could be a lot worse. Today, we introduce a motion on flooding out of a deep concern about an increase in flooding across our country, including coastal, town and village farmlands. We cannot wait for things to get even worse to realise what we should have done. We cannot wait to have events such as those we witnessed in Germany happen here.

Warmer temperatures mean warmer air and more moisture which results in heavier rainfall. According to Met Éireann, the frequencies of heavy precipitation events, also known as rain, show a notable increase of approximately 20% at least during autumn and winter months, at a conservative guess. How will crops grow and cattle be fed if more and more land is flooded for longer periods? What effect will increased flooding have on indigenous food supplies at a time we need to be more resilient as a nation.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA,, climate projections indicate an increase in the likelihood of river and coastal flooding, water stress to crops, pressure on water supply and adverse impacts on water quality, and negative impacts on human health and well-being. We have all seen the mental health devastation brought upon people who have lost family homes due to flooding in many parts close to where I live in counties Clare and Galway. Are we going to wait until cars are floating down all of our main streets and hundreds of people are drowning to take this issue seriously?

We need to put our money and expertise where our mouths are and mitigate flooding threats properly. We in the Green Party have looked for climate proofing measures for our farms and coastal and inland communities for decades. Now, luckily, every party is talking about climate change, which is positive. The time for talking is over. It is our duty to protect farmlands, crops and all of our villages and towns in coastal areas and along rivers. Bad flood management will not suffice. Hard engineering solutions alone will not solve the problem, although they will play a part. It is like trying to stop water coming out of a colander. Blocking one hole just increases the quantity coming out of other holes.

Every town and city in Ireland is built on a river because that was how everything was transported long ago. I experienced kayaking down Parnell Street in Ennis a number of years ago. The plan at the time was to raise the wall parallel to that street along the river bank. Lo and behold, two years later the flooding had moved to Abbey Street. Instead of repeatedly destroying the same businesses year after year, we have just moved the problem further down. This was due largely in part to bad planning in the past, which resulted in building on floodplains. Enough of the past; we have to face the reality of now and the future.

Our rivers host villages and towns all along their routes. This means that every river and town is susceptible to flooding and sorting out the flooding problem in one place just moves the problem somewhere else, be that to farmlands or the next village or town. Prevention is better than cure. If we do not move towards proper whole river and catchment-based solutions as soon as possible, we will waste millions of euro blocking holes in a colander instead of investing properly in upstream and design solutions for entire areas.

We need upland bog rewetting. As we all know, bogs are like sponges. We need the right trees planted in the right places, as they help to soak up water and hold onto soil instead of soil depletion, which then causes the shallowing-out of rivers leading to increased flooding. There are amazing solutions in other jurisdictions and great researchers from Trinity College Dublin and elsewhere who make a brilliant case for mainstreaming nature-based solutions into integrated catchment management systems, which work at a fraction of the cost of other solutions.

One of the main reasons I brought this up was because I grew up 5 km from the closest village and not too far from a river. I am young but in my lifetime, I have witnessed devastation. Over the years, I have seen a large amount of land being covered and flooded. Farmers have tried to drag a sop of hay out of wet fields. I can see the visual of that and land slowly disappearing for longer periods, something which is happening more frequently. My neighbours and farmers are wondering what they can do. They cannot move their farms. We need to look seriously at what we are going to do.

I did not mention the Arterial Drainage (Amendment) Act 1995 in the motion, but the Minister of State has been handed a poisoned chalice. We do not need to be defensive as a Government about past problems, the Arterial Drainage (Amendment) Act or anything like that. We need to be honest and fair, look at the situation and realise that hard engineering on its own has not served its purpose and, in fact, sometimes we have wasted a lot of money on it. It will not be fair if we have hard engineering in one place because the problem will be moved somewhere else.

We need to face reality. We can blame climate change. I do not care what we blame, but the current practices are not fit for purpose. We have great examples of what can be done. I have mentioned previously a town in Pickering, England, which was offered hard engineering solutions only, and locals feared for their neighbours in a town down river. A catchment-based solution, in conjunction with the local authority, was agreed. The local authority also engaged with experts on catchment-based solutions, which were a quarter of the cost of other solutions. The town has never flooded since, nor has its neighbouring town downstream.

We have solutions. Let us not be afraid to admit we got things wrong in the past. Let us grab the nettle and do this for the people of Ireland who are worried about the flooding they will face this winter, be it in Cork city, Cloonlara, the midlands or coastal communities. The Minister of State has a huge job ahead of him because coastal flooding is a whole other ball game, given rising sea levels. I do not envy him but I would like him to know that I am here to help in any way I can, as are my colleagues in the Green Party.

Photo of Pippa HackettPippa Hackett (Green Party)
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I welcome this motion from my Green Party colleagues and acknowledge the work Senator Garvey has put into it. Quite simply, water is life. When it stays where it should, in proper quantities and at a correct flow rate, it supports life, whether that is ecosystems in soils, on land and in our waterways.When flow rates of water exceed the capacity of the soil, river, stream or drain, flooding will occur. It is quite simple but we see it all the time, and we are going to see more of it.

At this stage I believe we can all accept that climate change is going to bring with it increased rainfall and an increase in the incidence of flooding. This will have a knock-on effect for all of society. This programme for Government commits to a land use review to ensure that optimal land use options inform all relevant government decisions, and mitigating flooding will be an important part of that. The review will balance environmental, social and economic conditions, and will include consideration of carbon sequestration, climate adaption challenges, and emissions to air and water. The review is being overseen by a steering committee co-chaired by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. The steering committee has representatives from those two Departments, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, and two independent nominees.

The land use review is being carried out in two phases. At present we have incomplete information on the things that we use our land for. Phase 1, which is already under way, will assess the characteristics of land types and land uses across Ireland. It is chaired by the EPA with technical advisers from across many Government Departments. Phase 2 will build upon the results of this review and will consider policies and measures in the context of the Government's wider economic, social and climate objectives. Better data means better policy, and knowing more about how we use land means that the Government can make better policy choices.

In relation to flooding, some lands are meant to flood and particularly during the winter months. We must also recognise the increased incidence of flooding during the summer months, and in particular the devastating consequences that this can have for farmers, businesses, homes and wildlife. One area that floods a lot is the Shannon Callows, a unique area I have visited on a couple of occasions, most recently with the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan. The Minister of State will recall that we shared a boat trip during the summer and while it was lovely it was not quite the romantic voyage it sounds. We were on a fact-finding mission with officials from Waterways Ireland and the Office of Public Works, OPW, for which the Minister of State is responsible. We travelled from Banagher in County Offaly to the Meelick weir, where we met representatives from the Irish Farmers Association and the Save Our Shannon group.

It was a valuable visit for both of us, during which it became clear to me that there are many different issues that need clarification as well as action. I realised that while everyone affected by multi-year summer flooding wants action on pinch points, there are different interpretations of what these actually are. Both interpretations need addressing. The first interpretation relates to pinch points along the riverbed, which if removed from the navigation channel will allow for the water level controlled for navigation to be lowered. I am aware that the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, has committed to this work but I realise that it is a long-term project.

The second interpretation of pinch points refers to the build-up of silt and vegetation at various locations. Again, I understand that the management of this falls into the remit of the OPW maintenance programme. This is about balancing needs and it must be done fairly. Yes, the River Shannon is important for tourism but it also has a significant impact on farmers and on biodiversity, with the broods of many wading birds in this area under significant threat from the summer floods.

We need to get that balance right. A mix of nature-based solutions and some structural management is needed. This summer flooding is no longer once in 100 years, or even once in a generation. It is compounded by climate change and has a direct negative effect on livelihoods and biodiversity, and specifically in the area that concerns me most in west Offaly. I want to continue to work with farmers and environmentalists, and with the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, with a focus on practical and effective solutions to this delicate and rapidly changing situation.

Photo of Pauline O'ReillyPauline O'Reilly (Green Party)
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I welcome the Minister of State. I commend Senator Garvey on the work that she has put into this motion, and we are all fully behind her on the details of it. I echo many of my colleagues' comments.

I want to talk a little bit about adaptation because there is a reality here. We could talk about mitigation, which is very important and where we need to put a lot of funding, but we also need to address the fact that flooding is now a reality for Ireland. The IPCC report for the first time looked at a regional breakdown. It is showing that northern Europe, and Ireland in particular, are going to see more flooding and more rainfall. For Ireland we are talking about hard storms rather than the soft rain that we are all used to. This is going to become a reality for us. I live in Galway where we can see it already. The Irish Centre for High-End Computing has said that we are going to see ongoing flooding around the hospital in Galway.

We need to look at a couple of things. Absolutely, we need to look at some of the hard infrastructure for cities and to protect homes, but fundamentally there has been a lack of investment when it comes to nature-based solutions for flooding. What happens upland affects us on the coast also.

All of the measures referred to by the previous speakers are key to this but we also must look at planning. We have to stop giving planning permission for housing and particularly for things like hospitals and schools along our coastline. Some towns will, over time, have to look at changing and migrating higher upland. Consider Barna in particular. It possibly needs to be 10 m to 15 m higher than where it is now, which is shocking to hear. It does not mean that we do not use our coastal roads, but it means that we look at changes of use, tourism and leisure along coastal routes, which can be closed for some days at a time such as greenways and blueways. That is part of the solution but it can also be quite positive because we are bringing tourism to the parts of the country that are going to be most deeply impacted. Some of those places that will be most deeply impacted will be Galway, Clare and Limerick, and places on the east coast such as Dublin and Louth. We have seen some of the impacts already on places like Howth for instance.

I am aware of the amount of work the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, is putting into this, and all of the reports that are ongoing. If we look across the developing world we can see some of the future that lies ahead of us. Ireland has a temperate climate and we have been somewhat complacent, but climate change is knocking on our door, it has opened the door and it is here now for us in this country as well.

We need to step up when it comes to climate finance for developing countries but we also need to look at adaptation within Ireland and for our own communities. Some 70,000 homes in Galway are at risk of flooding by 2050. We need to protect those people but we also need to stop building in places we know are at risk, because there is only so much that we can do. I thank Senator Garvey for all the work that she has done.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, and I acknowledge the enormous amount of work that the OPW does in this area. I also welcome the Minister of State, Senator Pippa Hackett, who has huge responsibility around land use and this goes over a core aspect of her work and other related issues.

Senator Pauline O'Reilly spoke about nature-based solutions, which is a very important sentence. I welcome Senator Garvey and the Green Party for putting forward this very important motion. It is not new. It is in the programme for Government and the aspirations are there, but if one believes in something it is worth saying time and time again. Everything in the programme for Government does not get done, and this is the green tinge and their focus, and I would expect nothing less of the Green Party than to pursue it. I am very supportive of it. I just wanted to say this at the very outset.

I am also very taken by recent statements in relation to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, the Green Party, and being the farmers' friend. I believe that is a genuine statement. It is one that is constantly hard to get across, but the Minister does talk about interventions. Let us consider nature-based solutions and look at suggestions. I draw the House's attention to a very interesting document, Woodland for Water: Creating New Native Woodlands to Protect and Enhance Ireland's Waters, which also addresses flooding. It is a particularly good publication that was drawn up by the Department. It is very impressive. It sets out areas such as increasing the quality of planting.

I am going to focus on the issue of nature-based solutions during my few minutes here today. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in particular has a focus on continuing to foster the sustainable development of agriculture, forestry and land use in the context that we are talking about today.That is about increasing the quality of planting and having the right trees in the right place. I have heard the Green Party mention this so often that it has now become another strap line. The idea has sunk into my head and is one in which I believe. It is constantly being used, and when the same thing is repeated, it certainly sticks, so I commend the Green Party on that.

Promoting the planting of diverse tree species is critically important. Improving the level of farmer participation is the bit I want to talk about. I looked at the IFA's submission on the budget. Farmers and landowners are willing, ready, capable and determined to assist in combating climate change, but in reality they are challenged by it, as is everyone. They are no different. We have to look at imaginative ways to support them financially through premiums, grant aid and assistance to start, for instance, creating 20 m boundaries around river courses, lakes, watercourses and the benefits tied up in that. All of that is an important aspect.

How are we going to promote best practice and knowledge transfer in terms of natural solutions to address these problems? I want to see a greater emphasis on and engagement and discussion with the farm representative groups. I am a member of the agricultural panel and was elected as Senator to it, so I will always advocate for the agricultural community. It has a critical role to play but, more important, it is willing, ready, capable and able and clearly wants to address these issues.

The agricultural community wishes to address the issues related to setback planting. A Senator spoke earlier about soil stabilisation. We see all the benefits of planting along the margins of between 20 m and 25 in from watercourses to protect them and to create pockets of wetlands and settlement areas. All the benefits of that are very important. We talk about greenways and have seen wonderful examples and loads of smaller alternatives to greenways such as ecosystems and ecoways, which are really important.

I want to address the issue of the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, which most of us know as GLAS. I welcome the fact the scheme has been rolled over again and €200 million has been allocated to ensure there is no break in the main agri-environment scheme under the transition arrangements, pending the introduction of the new Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, in 2023. That is very important. One of the things that we have learned from CAP and the new CAP is this heavy emphasis and focus on environmental green initiatives. That is to be encouraged, but it goes back to the fact farmers and landowners will need to be supported on a range of issues.

I like the focus on ecology in the motion. The focus on the woodland environmental scheme is really important. As I said earlier, it is important we have additional grants. Of course we have to reduce sediment running off into watercourses and intercept and prevent nutrients, damaging contaminants and pesticides running into watercourses. Of course we need to have greater bank stabilisation and food inputs into the aqua ecosystems. Of course we have to develop native woodlands for biodiversity. We have to link them into a habitat linkage. We have to address carbon sequestration and the challenges and opportunities that come with all of this. Let us keep the ecological focus, look at the opportunities for farmers and landowners, and yet be mindful and conscious in particular about the acid sensitivity protocol for afforestation that has been set down by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA.

I was in Mountmellick two weeks ago and walked along a low strip of land, and I know the Minister of State with responsibility for land use and agriculture will be aware of the flooding that has occurred in the region. On my visit I saw at first hand a project where there had been very little soil intervention but there had been planting and the creation of ecosystems, which may prevent flooding while increasing biodiversity.

I commend the Green Party on tabling this motion in Private Members' time and fully support the initiative.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State. We have discussed flooding on many occasions over recent times. I am delighted to participate in this debate. I thank Senator Garvey and her colleagues for tabling the motion.

We must acknowledge that for far too long the grief that flooding has caused for communities, families and individuals has not been adequately dealt with, but in recent years that situation has changed. The previous Government, which was a confidence and supply Government, gave a commitment to spend €1 billion on alleviating flooding difficulties over the next number of years. That is very welcome. There are two major flood schemes - the OPW's flood relief capital works programme and the minor works scheme that is carried out by county councils. The latter is a very good scheme because it involves the local community and local knowledge.

As Senators Boyhan and Garvey have spoken very strongly about, we must all realise we will have to look at new ideas, and the more we can use nature to do this, all the better. We must also realise that in dealing with this issue, we cannot eliminate drainage. That is the reality. One of the reasons is that the pattern of rainfall has changed. The amount of rainfall over two days 30 or 40 years ago can now fall in a few hours, which creates immediate problems. Looking at the breakdown of the way rain falls in this country, in the east there is in excess of 750 mm of rain per annum, in the west between 1,000 and 1,400 mm of rain or more falls per annum, and in mountainous areas that figure is 2,000 mm. Clearly, the midlands and west have a bigger problem with this than other parts of the country due to the pattern of rainfall.

Quite a number of projects have been considered and completed, on which I thank the present Minister and the OPW for their engagement. I also thank two former Ministers of State, Deputy Canney and Mr. Kevin Boxer Moran. The three individuals have done significant work in meeting communities and working with groups to ensure the proper systems were put in place to avoid people being flooded. One fault I would have with some of the schemes is that water may be pushed out to flood somewhere else. That is certainly a big pinch point in that there is no point in protecting a town if you are going to push the water out five or six miles to flood a couple of hundred acres of land. Too many farmers, small businesses and communities in this country have suffered for too long. How many times was the drainage of the Shannon discussed at political meetings at the end of a pub over the past 50 years? I would say it was drained a thousand times at those meetings but it has not happened, although it is beginning to happen in a certain way now.

We must consider the River Shannon. Twenty State agencies have a stake in operating the water levels on the River Shannon, which is unbelievable. Apart from that, there are also quite a number of voluntary organisations like the farming organisations. It is high time, and I introduced a Bill to the House today in this regard, and I thank every side of the House for assisting me in that, that we got to a point, and I am not talking about eight to ten years but in the next year or two, where we move to a single agency to look after the River Shannon. How long have we heard about the build-up of silt on the River Shannon? Two or three years ago there was an arrangement for Bord na Móna to remove the silt, but as far as I am aware it never happened, so silt will have built up, which reduces the capacity of the river and the flood is going to expand into adjoining land. Therefore, the removal of silt must be a priority. I understand that with less happening on our bogs now, that will not be as big an issue.

We can go back over the years and look at what the Land Commission and the drainage board did. They did a very significant job in this country of ensuring the majority of areas did not flood, but the reality is there is climate change.Nobody can deny that. I reiterate strongly what Senator Boyhan said. The farming community members who engage with me on this in the Roscommon-Galway region are very anxious to play their part. In a fair-minded way, they understand that changes have to be made, and I have no doubt but that they want to become part of the solution. I also believe in the sincerity of Senator Garvey; the Minister of State, Senator Hackett; Senator O'Reilly; and others here. They want to come up with new ideas. I hope that with my legislation and this motion, taking this matter very seriously, we can move forward in a progressive way, taking everything into account but ensuring we have far better management of flood events. There is no doubt about it: we will have to deal with such events because climate change is out there.

Photo of John CumminsJohn Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I welcome my colleague and friend, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, to the House. I wish to put on the record of the House the Minister of State's commitment to addressing flooding across the country alongside the OPW. The Minister of State is on record as having expressed his frustration - deep frustration at times - in being unable to spend the money his Department has been allocated to introduce flood mitigation measures and to protect homes and businesses. I am, therefore, delighted we are getting an opportunity to speak about a very important issue to so many people across the length and breadth of the country.

In my county of Waterford, the OPW has spent over €29 million on flood protection measures, both major and minor works, over the past decade. A very significant portion of that funding was spent on phases 1 to 4 of the Waterford city flood defence scheme, which included flood protection measures in the village of Dunmore East. I am not against new ideas, I am not against mitigation measures, I am not against - in fact, I support - nature-based solutions and I support avoiding building on floodplains. However, I also support hard engineering measures in the case of flood protection. The reason I do is that I have seen first-hand the benefit it has had for my city of Waterford, the first city in Ireland to be fully protected from floodwaters. I think back to when I was Mayor of Waterford city in 2014 and a night in March, I believe, when the St. John's River broke its banks. We were in the process of carrying out flood relief measures in the area in the construction of flood defence walls when the river broke its banks and flooded about 30 homes. I was there on the ground putting in place sandbags to stop the water going through people's houses from front to back. Then I had the pleasure only 12 or 18 months later, when I was Mayor a second time, to be back at the same location in Poleberry to open up the flood defence measures and a fantastic walking and cycling way which has been built all along the riverbank of the River Suir. That is an example of a hard engineering measure which has worked very successfully. It has saved over 600 houses and businesses from being continually devastated by floodwaters, having experienced such devastation for decades previously. Therefore, while I support mitigation measures and soft measures, we also have to realise that hard engineering solutions have a key role to play in protecting towns and cities like mine from the devastation floodwaters bring. I know the Minister of State has been frustrated by opposition to many of those schemes. I think of Cork city. Time and time again we see politicians and business people sweeping water out of their businesses. We need to get on with carrying out those flood protection defences, and I know the Minister of State is absolutely committed to that.

If I may be slightly parochial, I know the Minister of State has visited Ardmore. Over €70,000, I think, was allocated for a coastal erosion and flood risk management study of Ardmore, but we need to see measures put in place to stop the fantastic amenity of St. Declan's Way, which the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, opened officially in Mount Melleray, stretching all the way from Ardmore up to Cashel, being already washed into the ocean. We need rock armour on that beach and we need it sooner rather than later. There are other schemes that need to be progressed in Aglish, Ballyduff and Dungarvan and its environs. I know those schemes are on the OPW project list but we really need to see them expedited as a matter of urgency, and I implore the Minister of State to take that on board. I hope he will not be continually frustrated in his role as Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW in doing what he wants to achieve in protecting homes and businesses for the people of Ireland.

Photo of Lynn BoylanLynn Boylan (Sinn Fein)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I commend this motion from the Green Party. Many here have said that we know that climate change means flooding will be an increasingly frequent issue. This summer alone we bore witness to the extreme flash flood events not only close to home in western Europe but also across the world, in China and Turkey. They are a devastating embodiment of the extreme climate events that will become more and more common.

I welcome in particular the inclusion of natural flood management in the motion. I agree with the Green Party Senators that we need a mix of hard and soft engineering solutions. Studies have shown that when carried out appropriately, natural water retention can slow down the flow and hold the water in the landscape for between 12 and 24 hours. Natural water retention also has knock-on benefits for climate regulation and preventing soil erosion, and it enhances biodiversity. In 2019, I brought over an expert from the Slow the Flow programme in Britain to outline exactly how it was working really effectively over there and was also creating jobs for people and providing incomes to farming communities. The expert spoke in the Leinster House audiovisual room. We know that nature-based solutions, as he outlined on that occasion, are effective in reducing flooding, particularly in small catchment areas. The cost savings are immense when one takes account of the role played by nature-based solutions in reducing the occurrence of smaller, frequent floods or what are called "nuisance floods" in the United States. The role of nature-based solutions in addressing the larger catchments or the once-in-100 -year floods is still unknown because we do not have the data on it, but such solutions are showing promising signs. We have to listen to and work with the science and always evolve the way in which we approach flood management. In addition, it is vital that nature-based catchment management projects are community-led and that communities are included in the process. This also holds true for hard landscaping measures. Nature-based solutions are not about flooding farmland but about working with farmers to install these soft engineering measures.

It would be remiss of me in a debate on flooding not to mention the Arterial Drainage Act, and I completely agree with Senator Garvey's comments on it. Many of the issues surrounding flooding and how it is managed stem from that Act. Under the Act, the OPW carries out an annual programme of statutory arterial drainage maintenance to a total of 11,500 km of river channel and approximately 730 km of embankments. The Irish Wildlife Trust describes the OPW's works as a "programme of river destruction". Its petition calls for a new law that is fit to address the biodiversity and climate crisis and that works with - and for - people and nature.The last time we had a debate on flooding in the Seanad, it was unfortunate that the Minister of State tried to twist the words of what those of us who were talking about nature-based solutions were trying to say. We do not want to abolish flood management; we want a review of an Act that is decades old and to ensure that it is working on the best information available.

That said, there are solutions that the OPW could implement without any change to the legislation if the Minister for State was minded to do so. First is the lack of transparency around the programme of works under the arterial drainage scheme maintenance programme. I ask the Minister of State why a fully transparent portal cannot be put up on the OPW website outlining the programmes of works and detailing what works are to be carried out, when they will be carried out, what environmental assessments have been done for those works and the findings of those environmental assessments. In response to a parliamentary question, the Minister of State said that the annual programme can be viewed in hard copy in three offices around the country, on appointment. That is not the hallmark of a body that is open to scrutiny by the public. I believe it falls well short of the body's obligations under the Aarhus Convention to actively disseminate information about the environment.

The public and environmental NGOs are forced to go through the FOI process to get appropriate assessment reports. Why is there no accountability when appropriate assessment screening is substandard? Why is there no accountability when the OPW does not even do what it said it would do in an assessment? It appears that the OPW is of the view that it is above reproach when it comes to carrying out works. I believe this is not just regarding flood works, as I have heard allegations that the OPW has destroyed a bat roost at one of its monuments and is now actively trying to avoid prosecution. The OPW cannot be above the law; it must act within the law.

The motion notes that international best practice in flood risk management recommends, among other things, "not passing flood risk management problems in one region on to another region". I could not agree more. I think flood risk management is a good example of the folly of partition on this island. Ireland is a single unit and weather knows no borders. Rivers and river basins span the two jurisdictions. It is clear divergent policies across Ireland would have a damaging impact on the other jurisdiction.

There is a need for a joined-up approach, which was brought into stark relief when we saw the footage from Meenbog near Ballybofey in County Donegal. After Amazon started construction on a windfarm, there was a major bog slide that saw a slurry of peat flowing into rivers north and south of the Border. In light of the cross-Border nature and the river basin management programme, perhaps the Senators proposing the motion would consider submitting a copy of it to the North-South Ministerial Council so that we have a proper joined-up and coherent approach to flood management.

Photo of Marie SherlockMarie Sherlock (Labour)
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On behalf of the Labour Party, and as somebody who is based in the north inner city of Dublin in a place that was the site of fairly dramatic flooding almost two decades ago, I welcome this motion. As has been said a number of times in this debate, as global warming continues to bite, flooding will probably be one of the main ways that climate change will be experienced in this country. There tends to be a misconception out there that as an island, we escape some of the most extreme weather events, but as history shows, flooding is one area where our own climate can be extremely unforgiving and devastating.

The second point I wish to make is that while, year after year, we see the devastating pictures of flooding from the River Shannon, and almost on an annual basis from Cork and other parts of the country, it is also a significant concern for Dublin. I wish to quote directly from Dublin City Council's current climate action plan, which covers the period up to 2024. It states:

Dublin Bay's average sea level appears to be rising faster than initially forecasted and has risen by twice the global average in the last 20 years. The number of days with heavy rainfall has also increased, and the amount of extreme flooding events in the capital has risen in the last 10 years.

While many might say that flooding is an issue that affects the west and the south, it is also a very real concern, prospect and threat in the capital. Dublin City Council's climate action plan goes on to rank the likelihood of increased coastal flooding in Dublin due to rising sea levels, and increased river flooding, as high. Most starkly, the plan identifies the increasing risk of so-called pluvial flooding in the city, which can affect any part of the city and not necessarily those in close proximity to the coast, as very high. When we break that down into the impact on households and businesses, Gama location intelligence agency, which is used by most insurers, has stated that if there is a 2°C rise in temperatures by 2050, as many as 23,000 properties in Dublin will be at a direct risk of flooding. That is not far off the nationally projected figure of 70,000 properties at risk. Bringing it back to the area that I am most familiar with, it is the area that covers Fairview, North Strand, Ballybough, Dublin Port and the immediate areas on either side of the River Liffey. The costs arising from such a flooding event playing out are enormous. It is estimated that the cost would be in excess of €2 billion for the country as a whole and over €600 million for Dublin alone. That relates only to the cost of damage to property; it does not include damage to amenities, infrastructure, roads and streets, etc.

While we must acknowledge and recognise that this motion is taking place in the context of broader Government moves to address the very real concern that we are now facing in respect of climate change, we should also prepare for the prospect that we may not meet our targets. I note the last line of the motion mentions a "new revised and strengthened River Basin Management Plan in 2022". We need to see a very ambitious river basin management plan. It may not sound like the most exciting of plans, but it will have a very real impact on households. In particular, it is worth highlighting that Ireland is one of only six member states that has not completed its consultation phase, which will run until April 2022, and that previous European Commission reports on Ireland have criticised our river basin management as having low ambition, being underdeveloped and lagging behind in implementation. That is damning in respect of the attitude towards river basin management in this country.

Reflecting locally on when the issue has been taken seriously and when there has been success, 20 years ago it took the evacuation of 200 houses and the intervention of the Taoiseach, who happened to live in the area that was flooded near the River Tolka, which is second largest river in Dublin after the River Liffey, for those flood defences to be put in place. Thankfully, we have not seen significant flooding there over the last 15 years because of the hard engineering works that were done in the area. However, there remain concerns, for example, on Richmond Road, along the River Tolka area.

Of course, we must talk about soft engineering, the increased need for forestry and other measures, but in an urban context, we must also look at planning. While we need appropriate high-rise buildings in the city, the design of some of the buildings that are being planned along the River Tolka currently is of concern in terms of how it may impact on the river into the future.

I wish to conclude by stating that I welcome the motion. Obviously, we would like to see greater ambition with regard to setting targets in a motion to try and push the debate on, but having this discussion with the Minister of State today is most important.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I wish him well with his portfolio. I welcome the debate on this issue.It is an important issue that needs to be debated, so I thank the Green Party for tabling the motion.

I agree with much of what the party's Senators have said. There are areas where flooding can travel upstream but, equally, there have been instances in the past where changes have resulted in large-scale flooding and landslides, one of which I will outline. It happened in west County Mayo on the Killary Harbour, where, years ago, many people had problems with the overgrazing of the mountains. The overgrazing of the mountains meant floods were coming too quickly down the mountains, so people decided to reduce the grazing, with the result that when grass and heather grew on the mountains, they held the water to such an extent that there were landslides. There was a huge landslide on the Louisburgh side of Killary Harbour that demolished the bridge in Leckanvy. That issue should be taken into account in the context of some of the proposals in the motion.

Nevertheless, there are areas where the water can be held back, as I see in my area, Castlebar, where there are three lakes, namely, Lannagh, Bilberry and Islandeady. If a proper weir system were put in place, it could hold back the flow of the water that leads eventually into the River Moy after going through Lough Conn or Lough Cullin. This is a typical example of where the water in the winter could be kept at the summer level. If all these initiatives were put in place, there would have to be some responsibility. It could be the responsibility of the local authority or the OPW but we cannot depend on the community to advise and check the weather forecast to decide whether the weir should be opened and the water let flow downstream before the floods come. There has to be somebody to plan the issue and take responsibility for letting floods go when necessary and for closing the weirs or taking charge of whatever other systems might be in place to hold back the water upstream. Theyshould be put in place and manned.

I thank the Minister of State and his predecessor, Kevin Boxer Moran, for the flood defences that have been promised and put in place. An issue was raised by a former colleague of ours in the House, Michelle Mulherin, in respect of severe flooding in Crossmolina and Ballina. The Minister of State might give us an update on those two schemes. I presume they are well advanced and we will see the fruits of all the planning that has been put in place for them. Business people, and the local people in general, suffered great hardship arising from the flooding in both Crossmolina and Ballina. In any regard, I wish the Minister of State well.

Greater deployment of the Defence Forces is needed to deal with sea erosion. A great job was done in Lahinch, County Clare, which was one of the most fantastic jobs I have seen. Between the golf course and the bay, some magnificent walkways have been built. It is a wonderful feature that could be rolled out, I have no doubt, in other counties as well. It has been done to the highest standard.Perhaps it will be needed further down the road in Doonbeg, although there have been some objections and I am not au faitwith them. I congratulate everyone involved in the Lahinch project.

I welcome the motion put forward by the Green Party. Without doubt, it contains proposals the Minister of State can take on board.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I commend Senator Garvey and the Green Party on tabling the motion. The Minister of State has been love-bombed by the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, on a cruise in the Seanad and there is a party that wants to love-bomb him to Cork to ensure our flood defence scheme will be put in place. To be fair to him, we commend him on his work, interest, vigilance and strident approach to flooding.

Senator Garvey stated we cannot afford to wait and the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, spoke about flooding being a fact of life. Almost 12 months ago to the week, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, were in Cork city together. We stood with residents, homeowners and business owners who had been devastated by another event of flooding that caused consternation. In 2020, we were fortunate that the flooding event was not as catastrophic as it could have been in the city, unlike in west Cork in August, earlier in the summer.

We must ensure delivery of the flood defence scheme for Cork city. This debate is very important, timely and opportune. The Minister of State, like many of us, is frustrated and anxious for progress to continue. I understand the result of the court case during the summer, but for those of us who believe Cork city must be indemnified from flooding, insofar as it physically can be, we must progress with pace the Cork flood relief scheme.

I do not mean to be patronising but I commend the Minister of State and his officials. I will not name the officials but they are very dedicated and committed people who have a clear view and have engaged and listened. In the case of Cork city, it is not that there was a one-direction approach; there have been multiple consultations and engagements with reports. I am of the view that the Minister of State's legacy in the Department will be the nailing down of the Cork flood relief scheme. I know he will do it, along with Cork City Council. Our city is living on tenterhooks.

I have only one motivation, namely, the city I love, the city I grew up in and live in. I want Senators to understand this. I accept that some people have a different viewpoint from mine; I understand that and respect it. Nevertheless, I have seen men and women in the Middle Parish who were flooded, their homes destroyed. I have seen business owners, on multiple occasions, having to clean out their businesses. I will not in this House use the terms I could use but Senators can imagine. These are men and women who are doing their best, as business owners and also as homeowners.

If we are serious about the national development plan, urban regeneration, the living city initiative and all the money we are proposing for the city of Cork, the most important project on which we must deliver relates to flood relief. I say that as a Corkonian, with my only vested interest being my city. That is not about economics; it is purely about making our city liveable for the men and women who live there. If we want to create a new city in the lower harbour, that is fine, but I am old Cork.I want to see a city that is developed and habitable. I want to see the vibrancy of old brought back to our old city.

We began this journey some 14 or 15 years ago. I said in this House almost 12 months ago that the scheme we have now is a better scheme because of the huge consultation and engagement that was done by the Department and, to be fair to him, by the Minister of State. As I said a year ago, the CFRAM study has done our city a power of a good, but it is time now for a real visual impact in terms of the delivery of the scheme. I thank the Green Party Members for tonight's motion and the Minister of State for his work. I hope we can have not just a debate but an outcome that will deliver for the people of Cork.

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State. Most of us who have been in politics for some time have experience of the trauma and impact of a flooding event on homeowners, whether it be on a relatively small scale, when, for example, a small number of houses are affected, or a large-scale flooding event. The severe trauma people go through when their homes or businesses are flooded has a huge impact, not just for the day, night or period of time when the flooding happens but for a long period after that, as they wait for the inevitable response they hope will prevent a future event.

I spoke some weeks ago during a Commencement debate about Galway city's flood defences. As things stand, it will be a decade before those works are completed. It is not important who is around to cut the tape; the issue it is that it will be ten years before the work is fully done. The question I asked during that debate, which I put now to the Minister of State, is whether, realistically, there is anything that can be done to speed up a process like that. This is the difficulty we have.

A little more than a year ago, the Minister of State was good enough to come out to Clifden in Connemara the day after the flooding event that took place in the town. It was a huge event involving an unprecedented amount of rainfall concentrated in a short period of time. A number of areas in Clifden were impacted, including Clifden Glen, which the Minister of State visited first, the Low Road, where he met some homeowners, and Riverside, where a number of homes were flooded. He also met with engineers to discuss the storm water issue on the Low Road. Fortunately, work has been done by the county council to divert storm water before it reaches the small number of houses that are affected. We hope that will lessen the impact on those homes, if not prevent further flooding. However, the concerns and worries of families there, as well as those in Clifden Glen and Riverside, will continue for some time. I understand consultants will be appointed imminently to draw up a design for a low-cost scheme for the town and carry out a full catchment assessment and all the preparatory work that is necessary. Consideration should be given to upstream solutions as part of that.

I was contacted by a person in Clifden at the time of the flooding about cleaning up some of the debris and vegetation that were left in the middle of the town. The area in question is before you hit the eye of the bridge over the Owenglin river. This section is not in the control of the county council, the Office of Public Works or Inland Fisheries Ireland. It is a riparian river, as I understand it, and therefore control rests with adjacent landowners. Obviously, any works that take place would have to be done in consultation with Inland Fisheries Ireland and whoever else might have to be involved. It is a large and difficult undertaking. These are some of the problems we face in Clifden. I hope that with processes running smoothly, we can come up with a solution.

The motion refers to the issue of how doing something in one location may impact on other areas. In fact, you cannot do something within a town that might have an impact further downstream within the same town. You can sort out one problem by building a barrier, for instance, but that will force water more quickly into another part of the town. I appreciate these are some of the complexities the OPW and consultants will face in designing schemes.

The motion mentions a national land use review, which would include farmland, forests and peatland, with a view to ensuring optimum land use options inform all relevant Government decisions. I welcome such a review provided it does not result in delays. If that work has to be done and could take a number of years, with the consequence that everything else must be put on hold, that is a concern. I am sure such a delay is not what is intended by the authors of the motion, but it is a concern.

I fully support the need to protect forests along rivers and lakes with a view to protecting water quality and assist in managing flood risks. As the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, knows, there are often solutions for riparian zones that should be done anyway from the point of view of carbon sequestration, amenity and habitat protection. If such efforts can assist with water retention, thereby slowing the flow of water, they certainly would be a welcome initiative.

I know the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, is caught, so to speak, by the demands of public procurement, the public spending code, planning procedures and processes, and all the rest of it. None of that is easy or quick and, as I understand it, none of it can be speeded up to a degree that would make a huge difference. I ask that he provide some clarity in regard to the statutory processes and the stages in the public spending code and planning system. Will he indicate whether anything can, in fact, be done to enable those processes to be speeded up to allow for completion of some of these schemes?

Photo of Micheál CarrigyMicheál Carrigy (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for his work in the Department. His passion for the job was highlighted by Senator Cummins and borne out in a recent television interview about the legal logjam that has resulted in the scheme to which Senator Murphy referred being held up.

I welcome the motion put forward by Senator Garvey and other Green Party Members. It is a matter now of action. In my county, Longford, the county development plan is being discussed at a council meeting today. When you look at the maps every six years, it is noticeable there are massive changes in terms of there being more areas that are prone to flooding compared with the previous map. That struck me as I was looking again at the maps last night. Unless we take action, that situation is only going to get worse as the years go on.

The River Shannon traverses the whole western part of my county. There are many factors that have caused the flooding there; it is not just down to rain. We have many changed surfaces that have affected the ability of rainfall to sink into the soil. It is a combination of climate change, the human footprint we have left on our landscape and the granting of planning permission to build houses in areas that should have been flood zones. We saw the consequences of the latter recently when we were in Athlone with the Minister of State.

In February 2020, according to Met Éireann, there was 119 mm of rainfall around the Shannon area, which is nearly four times the usual amount for that time of year. Those living along the Shannon in areas close to me, such as Clondara and Tarmonbarry, were left to deal with rising waters. The first time this happened, ten years ago, the area was submerged in several feet of water. As a result, many people were left stranded, not just residents but also farmers, with a huge amount of meadow and grazing lands under water. It is important to thank the local members of the Civil Defence and the Army for the work they have done during times of flooding in the various towns where people were stranded. They took food and other goods to them, including fodder for animals.

People living along the tributaries of the river are also suffering. While a great deal of work has gone into protecting towns along the river, for good reason, we must also remember the towns and lands alongside the tributaries into our main rivers. In February 2020, 6,000 acres were under water along the Shannon.The people who live along those tributaries also suffer. Therefore, I fully agree with Senator Murphy's proposal to have one authority to deal with the River Shannon rather than the multiple authorities currently, A sum of €7 million has been allocated to flood relief schemes. I ask the Minister of State for an update on the project in terms of the removal of pinch points and the various constrictions on the Shannon Callows? It is an area that we visited a number of months ago with him

When I first entered politics in 2009 there were many intercounty drainage committees and schemes, which worked together to make sure that the various counties within counties and crossing counties were drained. However, in 2014, many of these committee were abolished, which was a negative move. I would like them re-established or in another forum with local authority members progressing for their local area.

I wish to highlight that funding has not been put aside by local authorities to clean rivers within their areas. For example, the River Camlin is in my county flows from Granard in north Longford and traverses the county before entering the River Shannon at Clondra. Only €20,000 has been allocated for all of the drainage of the river. It took between eight and nine years of funding to do the river once. That is only one river, but now it is as bad as ever. More pressure needs to be put on or more funding given to local authorities to ensure these schemes are done more regularly. Every day as I travel along these rivers I see trees growing along the side of them that block the flow of water thus leading to lands being flooded, etc.

I compliment the Minster of State on his passion for the job. I know that he will be successful and wish him well. I thank the Green Party Members for tabling the motion and I fully support it.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I am delighted the Minister of State is here. I thank my Green Party colleagues for tabling the motion.

I know how committed the Minister of State is to his Department and the work he has been doing. Where I live, I am surrounded by the River Shannon and most of my electoral area is surrounded by the river. Last May, I read in the newspapers that the OPW in conjunction with Limerick City and County Council appointed consultant engineers to work on the Limerick and environs flood relief plan. I welcome that announcement. Perhaps the Minister of State can update us about the scheme. The scheme encompasses the city centre Quays, Thomondgate, Corbally, Annacotty, Montpelier, the docklands; Condell Road, Ballinacurr, Rosbrien, Ballysimon and the Old Cratloe Road. I am sure that Senator Garvey will not mind if I mention Westbury and Shannon Banks, which even though they are in County Clare are on the verge of Limerick city, and they are included in the scheme.

The Castleconnell flood relief scheme has been ongoing for many years. Castleconnell and Montpelier have been flooded many times. Works have been carried out bit by bit and I ask the Minister of State for an update now or at some stage.

The OPW has undertaken many successful schemes. Over the years money has been invested in Clancy Strand and O'Callaghan Strand, yet both were flooded the year before last. Is it planned to carry out further works at both locations? The height of the walls were raised and many incentives have been put in place but more than 1,000 houses are affected in the different areas to which I have alluded.

With regard to Castleconnell, the banks of the River Shannon have been broken on many occasions. The OPW has done wonderful work in the past and that work is ongoing. I ask the Minister of State for an update and to let me know if further works are planned.

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick County, Fine Gael)
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I thank all the Senators who contributed, as well as the proposers of the motion. I welcome the fact that so many Senators have chosen to stay. Unfortunately, all of the Opposition Senators have left, which probably says a lot about their interest in this topic.

I welcome the opportunity to address this House on flooding matters and thank Senators for raising this important issue. The motion covers many issues and I will try to address as many of them as I can in the time that has been allocated.

The Government has a strong record in managing flood risk. The OPW is the lead agency for co-ordinating the delivery of flood risk management policy. It chairs the interdepartmental flood rick policy co-ordination group, which takes a whole-of-government approach to the issue of flood policy. I agree with some of the previous speakers. As anyone who has stood in the house of a flood victim or a shop and seen the scourge of flooding will know, such scenes drive me on in terms of my job and I know that it drives on the staff of the OPW whom I will discuss in a while.

The co-ordination group comprises representatives from eight Departments, two offices and the local authority sector. The OPW carries out this role by co-ordinating the implementation of the flood risk management policy and measures across three strategic areas. The first is prevention. This is achieved by avoiding construction in flood prone areas, which has been referred to by a number of Senators. Examples include the statutory planning system and the flood risk management guidelines that were issued by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage in 2009, and the once-off voluntary homeowners relocation scheme, which is operated by the OPW.

Local authorities are required to have regard to planning guidelines, which set out a rigorous approach to flood risk assessment, when considering the development of plans and assessing planning applications. The OPW has continued to review forward-planning documents to help ensure the 2009 guidelines are implemented to promote sustainable development. These documents have included the regional spatial and economic strategies as well as development and local area plans.

The second area is protection. This is brought about by taking feasible measures to protect areas against flooding, including the implementation of major flood relief schemes that I will elaborate on later. In addition, the OPW's minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme, which have been referred to by Senator Murphy and others, also provides 90% of funding to local authorities to address local flooding issues to a cost of €750,000.Since the establishment of the scheme in 2009 to the end of 2020, in excess of €55 million has been approved for more than 828 projects across all local authorities. Completed schemes, to the end of 2020, are providing protection to in excess of 7,325 properties, which makes a massive difference in local communities as Senators will be aware. The OPW’s arterial drainage maintenance channel maintenance programme of 11,500 km of channel and 800 km of embankments protects 77 towns and villages, and 242,000 ha of agricultural lands.

I was disturbed, as I am sure Senators, councillors and farmers were, to hear the commentary a while ago on the Arterial Drainage Act. I am sure that many councillors and farmers will be disturbed to hear the unprovoked attack that was made on the Act. I am sure that many of the farmers whose lands have been protected from flooding and benefited as a result of the Act will be particularly perturbed, as will many Sinn Féin councillors, by the attack that was launched on the Arterial Drainage Act by Senator Boylan.

The third area is preparedness. This is by planning and responding to reduce the impacts of flood events, including through the establishment of the national flood forecasting and warning service, the national emergency framework for emergency management to develop national and community resilience. I must especially thank our colleagues in Met Éireann.

It is this flood policy that has led to the development and implementation of the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme. The CFRAM is an evidence-based study that informs the Government’s approach to managing the programme of €1.3 billion investment in flood risk management under the National Development Plan 2021-2030.

In response to the initial comments made by Senator Garvey, CFRAM is a whole-of-river solution. The programme takes in all of the catchment area not only areas around the mouth of rivers. The OPW, together with our partners in local authorities, conducts a flood risk study on the entire catchment area from the gestation to the completion of the programme. The national CFRAM study followed best international practice and was the largest study ever undertaken of our risk from significant flood events, including potential impacts of climate change.Detailed engineering assessment of communities looked at how neighbouring rivers and seas respond during a significant flood or storm events and mapped for each community the extent, nature and impact of such floods. Many Members of this House are former local authority members and would have fed information into CFRAM as representatives of local communities, as I did when I was a councillor. CFRAM has been very much a bottom-up approach, with total and absolute community engagement.

The 29 flood risk management plans published in 2018 are the output from the CFRAM programme that gives us not only the evidence of how these 300 communities will be affected from a once-in-100-year flood but also the evidence of how to address flood risk nationally by targeting that risk where the impact is greatest. This includes a significant investment in approximately 150 flood relief schemes in addition to the 50 major flood relief schemes already completed. These completed schemes are already protecting more than 10,000 properties and an estimated €1.8 billion of damage is being avoided. That is not insignificant.

Since the launch of the flood risk management plans in 2018, the Office of Public Works, OPW, has almost trebled from 33 to 90 the number of OPW flood relief schemes currently under design and construction in partnership with local authorities. Evidence from the CFRAM study highlights that when all these schemes are complete, 95% of at-risk properties can be protected.

Our flood risk strategy and approach to flood risk management have been benchmarked by Dutch experts. Many people have said we should look at what is happening internationally, and this is exactly what we are doing. People say God made the world and the Dutch made the Netherlands, so who better to consult than the Dutch? It is important to reassure the House that the engineering development and design of flood relief schemes is undertaken by expert consultants specialising in hydrology, hydraulic modelling and flood risk management, as alluded to in the motion. Detailed hydrological and hydraulic analyses ensure that the full catchment is understood. I know Senators are anxious that this be the case. It would be pointless otherwise. The proposed flood relief solutions will provide appropriate protections to communities without creating additional flood risk for areas nearby, upstream or downstream. Some Senators mentioned that in some cases the problem may be moved downstream, but that is absolutely not the case.

On the question of nature-based catchment management measures, whereas hard defences are necessary in some areas, as Senator Cummins mentioned, the OPW has been following developments and supporting research in the field of and nature-based catchment measures. I will be opening a scheme this week in Clonakilty where a nature base is an integral part of the design. The suitability and effectiveness of these types of measures is very much dependent on local geography and the nature and degree of flood risk. This is because every scheme is not the same. Nature-based catchment measures can reduce the hazard of more frequent low-intensity floods. However, the risk associated with these types of floods is lower than that posed by extreme floods. We have seen in Benelux countries and in Germany during the summer, as we did in my home town of Newcastle West in 2008, that when there is a monsoon effect and a cloud dumps four months of rain in four hours, nothing other than a hard-based and engineered solution will stop it. In some cases, even that is not enough. There are limits in the capacity of nature-based catchment measures to reduce risk. The OPW focuses on protecting against extreme floods, such as the once in 100 years event, as this gives the greatest benefit for capital invested.

Pilot and demonstration projects have indicated that nature-based catchment measures can provide benefits in reducing flood flows in small catchments, but there is very limited international evidence that they would provide significant benefits in large-scale catchments. I agree with Senator Boylan's comment that we do not have the data. The OPW acknowledges the calls for increasing the use of soft engineering flood mitigation, such as riparian native woodlands, swales and ponds. We are integrating those into our schemes. The OPW is very proactive about developing policy and supporting nature-based measures, with a number of initiatives such as all new flood relief scheme designs being procured now embedding a specific requirement to assess options for natural water retention based on the Scottish natural flood management methodology and the co-funding, with the EPA, of a major research project entitled SLOWWATERS to examine the effectiveness of soft engineering. We have also provided funding to the Inishowen Rivers Trust in Donegal to investigate the use of such measures to reduce flood risk and provide co-benefits and co-chairing, with the EPA, the working group on natural water retention measures that is intended to identify approaches that could be used to develop integrated catchment management measures to provide benefits to multiple sectors, such as biodiversity, water quality, sediment control, as well as for flood risk reduction.

On the question of flood risk management and the impact of climate change, the OPW prepared a climate change sectoral adaptation plan for flood risk management for the period 2019 to 2024 in line with the requirements of the national adaptation framework and the Climate Action Plan 2019. The plan was approved by the Government in October 2019.

The sectoral adaptation plan sets out a long-term goal for adaptation in flood risk management to promote sustainable communities and support our environment through the effective management of the potential impacts of climate change on flooding and flood risk. It includes a range of actions to meet the objectives of enhancing our knowledge and understanding of the potential impacts of climate change for flooding and flood risk management through ongoing research and assessment with partners, adapting our flood risk management practice to effectively manage the potential impacts of climate change on future flood risk and aligning adaptation with regards to flood risk across sectors and wider Government policy, including planning and development.

Key actions in the plan focus on the ongoing assessment of the risks from climate change, the inclusion of adaptation in flood relief schemes and the consideration of potential future flood scenarios in planning and development management. Good progress is already being made on implementing some of the actions set out in the plan. For example, maps of future flood extents under climate change scenarios have been published through our web portal, I beg to differ with the opinion that everything we do is like the third secret of Fatima. The OPW is providing funding to the eastern and midlands climate action regional office for research to further improve our understanding of the potential impacts of changing rainfall patterns. Senator Murphy referred to the differences between the east and west coasts.

Assessments have begun into the adaptability of flood relief schemes currently under design and those already completed, which is very important, as some of those must change as well. The design brief for future schemes includes a requirement to consider and plan for adaptation needs. There is also work towards the establishment of a national flood forecasting and warning service, as I referred to a while ago, through Met Éireann.

Coastal change is a significant issue and the OPW has been to the forefront in leading the debate for a national strategy to be put in place to address the impact of rising sea levels, increasing storm events in our coastal areas. The OPW is co-chairing the interdepartmental group on national coastal change management strategy with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. The membership of this group includes a wide representation from across Departments. This group is to bring forward options and recommendations for consideration by the Government to deal with coastal change and the development of a national coastal change policy.

My colleagues, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, and the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, recently commenced a public consultation on the draft river basin management plan for Ireland 2022 to 2027. There are a number of features of the draft plan and measures proposed that are relevant to the issues raised in the motion before us tonight. The core themes include an increased level of ambition reflecting the high level of environmental ambitions contained in the programme for Government; continuing and strengthening the integrated catchment planning approach nationally, covering all 46 hydrometric catchments; further improvements in the level of co-ordination and collaboration by all implementing bodies; and the delivery of multiple benefits. Many of the measures needed to protect and improve water quality, including the water framework directive, can also deliver benefits.

Nature-based solutions, such as green and blue infrastructure, are recognised in the draft river basin management plan as having significant potential to contribute to mitigating pollutants, as Senator Burke referred to, in inputs to waters in rural areas but also in addressing many of the complex environmental challenges that are associated with balancing urban development and its impact on the environment. The programme for Government includes a commitment that the Government will undertake a national land use review, including farmland, forests, and peatlands, so that optimal land use options inform all Government decisions.

I will conclude by assuring Senators that the Government and I are working extremely hard to ensure that the greatest possible progress is being made on the delivery of a very ambitious programme of work for flood defences nationally. The biggest frustration I have was referred to by Senators Kyne and Cummins and others. It is the speed at which we are able to deliver to communities. Senator Kyne asked if anything can be done to make my job easier and the greatest level of difficulty we have is around the process. It is not around the delivery of engineering in schemes at all. Most of the work in delivering the scheme in Galway, for example, will not be at the site at the Claddagh.It will be spent in offices, the courts and judicial reviews. No more than on the television programme, there comes a point in this country where we have to ask if the public good is being served in the courts or on the quayside in the Claddagh. As legislators, we have to ask ourselves whether we are doing the public good by continually having a "Wanderly Wagon" circuit of Ireland where people can go in and out of court without, in my estimation, any real locus standi, to object to, frustrate and prevent ordinary decent citizens from having access to a night's sleep. That is what they want - a night's sleep. They are agonised in their beds at night because they do not know when the sea or the River Suir will come in because somebody 300 km or 400 km away can object in the name of a bullrush, a weed or something. That has to stop.

This House and the Dáil are failing people throughout Ireland. I have to admit that we are failing people all over this country. This process is going on in Cork city for 14 years and for 19 years in Enniscorthy. The Senator's city will probably go on for ten years, as will Senator Malcolm Byrne's. How long before enough is enough, when the Atlantic will rise by a metre at the same time? We have to ask ourselves at what point will enough be enough and at what stage the public good is served ahead of another good. The rights and hierarchies in this country have to be ultimately established as to where the balance of rights is and whose rights outweigh those of others.

I could be in this Chamber again in another six months' time, talking about the Claddagh, Dunmore East, King's Island and the Shannon Callows. We can talk about it until the cows come home, but the greatest level of frustration I have is with what the OPW cannot do. When I hear people saying we are openly breaking the law, on behalf of the men and women who work for the OPW, I have to take offence at that. I take offence not only on behalf of the men and the women who work for the OPW, and the Senator is not here now, but on behalf of those who work for the local authorities. Nobody that I know in a council or in the OPW actively goes out in the morning to break the law. If that Senator has detailed knowledge of somebody who works in the OPW who intentionally broke the law, she should come to the Chamber and give me the details of it.

My frustration stems from the fact that all I want to be able to do is look someone in the eye in the Claddagh, Ballinasloe or Roscommon and say that that person can sleep in his or her bed tonight because the water will not come in. This country is failing those people because of a legislative basis that rates something other than people's right to sleep in their houses at night, and to keep out the water, behind something else. We have failed those people and until we as legislators grapple with that, we are only codding ourselves about how I will not be able to spend that money.

Photo of Róisín GarveyRóisín Garvey (Green Party)
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This was a very good debate, which does not always happen. Sometimes debates are very polarised but this was a good one. It was great to have all parties on both sides of the House, and Independents, all supporting the motion without any amendments. I thank the Minister of State for his time. We have been here for a couple of hours now and he has listened with great patience.

Rivers have routes and so must our plans for dealing with flooding. The Minister of State has done well to state in a nutshell what needs to be done. I do not know about court cases and I do not want to get involved in any of that stuff. I did not come here today to take sides on anything like that. I know we need catchment-based solutions and that they can save us money. Research is being done and the EPA's, Slow the Flow, sounds very good. I do not hear a lot about engaging with communities to get reforestation, build natural dam systems and use hard engineering upstream to capture the water and slow down its speed and volume. It may be happening in phases, or it may be a new thing, but these are the kind of stories we need to be able to tell people and to cite as solutions so it does not turn into this big polarised thing, where all hard engineering is bad and all nature-based solutions will sort out all the problems. It is much more nuanced than that, which I said in my speech, despite some people asserting that I said we should stop draining and hard engineering. I made it very clear that we need all of it, but we need it all to be done well and in the right places.

There are some great NGOs that work on water issues, such as the social work access network, SWAN, and the environmental pillar has great expertise. We are legislators, not experts, and we, and our civil servants, sometimes need to step back and say we do not always know everything, which is okay. We are not supposed to know everything and we are allowed to bring experts in. As the Minister of State mentioned, hydrologists are coming in. We need to listen to people. We have some people in NGOs who have been at this craic for 30 years and they are major experts. I often ring Professor John Sweeney because he knows what he is talking about. Before I wrote this motion, I spoke with several scientists and some of the Minister of State's staff and his special adviser, who were also very helpful.

We have to work together. It is divisive and unhelpful to talk about being against hard engineering or drainage. Time is running out and we have to come together. I do not care who gets the kudos for it, but we have to do this. As the Minister of State said, people are worrying in their beds. Hard engineering is being looked at in Cork and Senator Cummins mentioned Waterford, but these places are at the mouths of rivers. One has to wonder, if we started catchment-based solutions ten years ago, would all the problems have accumulated at the mouths of rivers, which is where rivers end? It begs the question that if we had had catchment-based solutions in the past, would all the problems have landed in Cork and Waterford, for example? It puts it out there that we have not done enough.

Nature has many solutions and we have to admit we have made a mess of the past. We have made huge drains that may not have been in the right places. The best experts are saying that the cessation of drainage of wetlands and peatlands, and the rewetting of peatlands, are the measures that have the biggest effect in reducing flooding, increasing biodiversity and in climate mitigation and adaption. If we work together, we can come up with a plan for this country. It is now a flooding emergency and we should take into account hard engineering and nature-based solutions. If we do so, we can do it at a fraction of the cost. The land use review, which has never been done before, is vitally important, as is the river management plan and looking at the solutions they bring about. The latter is open for public consultation at the moment and both will lead us to move forward in a better way.

I do not envy the Minister of State his task. It would not be fair for everybody to blame him for all the flooding issues or for hard engineering or something like that. We have to admit sometimes that we do now know everything and we have to find the best way forward. I firmly believe the route solutions will work if we follow the routes of the rivers from beginning to end. I have seen hard engineering being used alone and, as Senator Kyne said, it can move from one part of a town to another. As I said, I saw it in Ennis. We kayaked down one street, the wall was raised and we kayaked down the street next door. That was 15 years ago now and I hope we have evolved since then.

We have much more work to do. Much more time and investment in nature-based and catchment-based solutions is needed that will incorporate hard and soft engineering and will engage communities, which are crying out for help. The Maharees community, which is an amazing group created by Martha Farrell, did not want hard engineering to ruin their dune system. They came together as a community, replanted the grasses there and completely resolved the issue. That was community-led. The group looked for supports for that, which I think they got from Clean Coasts and others. As legislators, people will look to us more and more to see what the solutions are for them, be it for their farms, towns or villages. We will have to be there for those people as we face the consequences of climate change. I thank the Minister of State for his time and I thank everybody for their support.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Fine Gael)
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Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.29 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 20 October 2021.