Thursday, 4 November 2021
Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, to the House. I know he will have a keen interest in the issue under discussion. I thank Government colleagues and all Members for being here to discuss a really important issue that has been a scourge on many people living along the river basin from where the River Shannon rises in the Cuilcagh Mountains in County Cavan to where it flows out to the Shannon Estuary in Limerick. This Bill seeks to remove specific water levels from legislation and to allow the ESB to set levels in conjunction with all relevant bodies, including Waterways Ireland, Inland Fisheries Ireland and the local authorities. There are many NGOs, farming groups and conservation groups who, going forward, should be part of a forum that would have one policy with regard to control of water levels on the River Shannon.
The Electricity Supply (Amendment) Bill 2021 is an amendment to the Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1934, which gave responsibility for water levels on the River Shannon to the ESB. This was related to Ardnacrusha and hydroelectric power, which was very important for the country. It is rather amazing that 86 or more years on, we are only now looking to amend the 1934 Act. The legislation needs to be updated. As I said, I hope that through this discussion we can work out a policy that is agreeable to everybody. In terms of climate action and the consequences of changed weather patterns, we need to act as a matter of urgency. People living along the River Shannon basin have put up with years of misery. I have lived along that basin for all of my lifetime. Almost every year as we approach spring all politicians are contacted about rising water levels. I am already getting telephone calls about this. I was told the other day that a lot of water is being in held in Lough Allen in County Leitrim. Business people in Carrick-on-Shannon fear they could be flooded if this water is let go. One of the problems is that the 1934 Act ties the hands of the ESB in terms of carrying out necessary works. I acknowledge that this work has to be done in an environmentally friendly way as well. That can be done.
I accept that this Bill is not a silver bullet. We all know that we cannot prevent some flooding along the River Shannon basin, but we could provide reassurance for people such that every year they do not have to contact politicians and the ESB on the issue of rising water levels. The pattern of rainfall now has dramatically changed. The level of rainfall that previously fell over two days can now fall within a couple of hours. As a consequence of that quick and dramatic rainfall, farmyards, houses, businesses and community facilities are being wrecked. We have seen this happen all along the River Shannon and in other parts of the country.
There is another issue that we need to address. This point is not made strongly enough. The amount of damage done to flora, fauna and wildlife by water that cannot take its course - flooded waters - is extraordinary. The amount of damage to wildlife in areas such as the Shannon Callows near Athlone because of unnecessary flooding is extraordinary. It has cost us dearly from an environmental perspective. We should recognise that. Like me, Senator Paul Daly has a very close relationship with everything that happens along the River Shannon. I recall the devastation of the floods in 2009 and 2015. People speak often about one-in-100-year events. The floods of 2009 and 2015 were just six years apart, which shows that we are definitely in different times. The devastation caused to the natural growth, plants, flora, fauna and wildlife was extraordinary. That element has suffered very badly as well. Going forward, we must ensure we reinstate and protect it. The Minister of State will be aware of the great plan for the Shannon Callows in relation to the curlew population and bringing it back to the area. Those types of plans are vital and important. It is heartening to hear farmers and local communities, who are custodians of much of this culture, saying that while much of the flora and fauna has been destroyed they want to work to have it reinstated. We also need to have our wildlife returned. One of the greatest indicators in terms of weather forecasting is how the birds operate. If the birds are building nests near the water the rainfall will not be great. If they are building inland that indicates a wet autumn, winter and spring. That has been proven. For previous generations, watching what the birds were doing was the only way they could forecast the weather. They did not have the modern paraphernalia to do that.
I again thank Senators and the Minister of State for being here. The purpose of this Bill is to move forward with legislation that will be sound and secure and will give a little bit of breathing space to the local communities and protect our environment as well. I am prepared to work with Departments, Ministers, agencies, the Opposition and so on to achieve this. If we can put this in place, it will benefit all of our people in that part of the country.
I, too, welcome the Minister of State and I thank him for being here. I compliment my colleague, Senator Eugene Murphy, on the strenuous and hard work he put into bringing this Bill to this Stage. This is just one issue on which Senator Murphy has been to the fore on behalf of his constituents in Roscommon and further afield. Senator Murphy mentioned the people who live, farm and work along the river basin. I live further upstream. When I was being taught geography in school, I learned about Lough Allen, Lough Ree and Lough Derg and the three tributaries, the rivers Brosna, Inny and Suck. I am from Kilbeggan which is not far from the River Brosna. From an agricultural perspective, 50 flood relief schemes have been implemented since 1995. The putting in place of a flood defence scheme is almost an admission that flooding is going to happen but that an attempt is being made to defend against it. As Senator Murphy stated, we will never stop the flooding of the River Shannon in some form or another but we can improve the situation. The Shannon, through its tributaries, is responsible for the drainage of 750,000 ha, which is 20% of Irish land. Way upstream of even the Brosna, which is only a tributary, there will be a small stream, sheugh or a drain as we call it at home. If the Shannon is flooding, the water is stagnant in that stream and therefore the drainage of the land is affected. There are probably 6,000 ha that are most extremely flooded. They are known as the Shannon callows. It is an area of vital importance for the people who farm there. The forage they take off that land in the months of July and August is their winter feed and if there is flooding at that time, they lose that crop and hence the winter food for their animals.
Even back upstream, if the streams, sheughs and tributaries are not flowing, the land is filling up. Looking at a field you might not see a sheet of water on it and think it is not flooded, but the water table is so high that there is no soakage or drainage. As the Minister of State knows, we are making every effort to eliminate the loss of nitrates and to introduce low-emissions slurry spreading. However, if the water level is high in a field, irrespective of what technology is used to spread slurry during the permitted window, quite legally and when it is necessary to do so, there is a greater chance of some nitrates leaking into the stream and then into the Brosna and eventually into the Shannon.
This is very important, and I applaud Senator Murphy on the approach he is taking. I agree with him that the ultimate silver bullet, as he called it, will be a single River Shannon authority. We all admit that it is further down the line, but this Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Bill 2021 is a first step towards it. The ESB is curtailed in the levels at which it can control the waters in Lough Allen, Lough Ree and Lough Derg by legislation that dates back to 1934. This is a completely different world in every respect from that of 1934, climate change aside, and climate change is the big thing that will affect anything to do with water and flooding. The buildings, roads, concrete yards and all the development that has taken place in the catchment area of the Shannon since 1934 have changed the lie of the land, for want of a better phrase, and it is nigh on impossible to see how it could even be feasible, workable or possible for an agency to have to regulate based on an Act from so long ago.
The Bill is an important first step in getting to a stage where we will need a single River Shannon authority which would include all vested interests. These include the farmers for the reasons I have mentioned, because of the callows and the land they farm, the local authorities in the counties the River Shannon flows through, inland fisheries, Waterways Ireland and the NGOs Senator Murphy mentioned when it comes to protection of flora, fauna, animals, fish, the environment and the landscape. They all must have a say, but the only way they can have a constructive input and an effective outcome is if they are all sitting around one board table and have the same interest, which is the management of the Shannon.
I welcome the fact there is a river basin management plan in the programme for Government. That is vital and I hope to see good progress on it. As I said at the outset, flood defences defend against floods. I believe we can control the floods in far better ways by proper management, be it silt removal or drain cleaning. This is parochial for me, but I stress that the Shannon basin is vital and that 20% of the country is drained, directly or indirectly, by the Shannon through its tributaries and their smaller tributaries.
I commend Senator Murphy on the Bill and support it proceeding to Committee Stage. Flooding is an important issue and we have discussed it on numerous occasions in this House. It is going to become a more pressing issue as we face into the winter months and, in the longer term, more extreme weather events due to climate change. I recognise the devastating effects of flooding on the area around the Shannon lakes, especially around Carrick-on-Shannon, Leitrim village and the upper Shannon region north of Lough Ree. Data show there has been an increase in the pattern of flooding over the past 60 years and there is categorical evidence that the floods are getting bigger. These floods are devastating to homes, farmlands and businesses, and are eroding the quality of life for those who live there.
Sinn Féin Deputies have been very proactive on this issue. International best practice shows that tackling the issue of flooding requires a holistic, river-basin approach. It is not good enough to focus on only one area of the river. That is why Sinn Féin Deputies brought forward a Bill to establish a single Shannon river management agency, which the Senator also agrees is essential to look after the river in its entirety. There are currently 20 agencies, ranging from the Office of Public Works, OPW, to Waterways Ireland and local authorities, involved in water management and maintenance of the River Shannon. This Bill would give one agency, the ESB, new powers for flood management whereas the Sinn Féin Bill would bring those powers under one body. Community groups and local people up and down the Shannon are warmly welcoming the Bill, which seeks to place the agency on a firm statutory footing. People have suffered long enough and are worn out with the lack of action on this issue. They are constantly living in fear of when the next major flooding will take place. This constant living in fear is not fair.
When it comes to the issue of dredging, I do not agree fully with the Senator. Communities are tired of piecemeal or half-baked measures that will only push the problem of flooding to somewhere else downstream, and they do not want measures that will destroy the biodiversity of the rivers. There is a recognition now, certainly internationally, that hard engineering solutions such as dredging and flood walls are not the answer and actually make the problem worse, usually impacting on the community that is further downstream. We need a mix of hard and soft engineering solutions like natural flood management. 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.
We do not have to look too far away to see this working in action. In 2019, I brought over an expert from the Slow the Flow programme in Britain to outline how it was working really effectively over there. It is also creating jobs for people, non-extractive jobs that are low in emissions, and providing incomes to farming communities along the watercourses. The expert spoke in the Leinster House audiovisual room. We know the nature-based solutions he outlined on that occasion are effective in reducing flooding, particularly in small catchment areas. Not only are they more effective, the cost savings are immense when you take 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. We are familiar with the catastrophic floods that occur every few years and more frequently now, and that cause massive financial damage, but the nuisance floods that happen regularly also have a cost. It is just not calculated in the same way because they are happening in different places and at smaller levels.
We must 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. This cannot be enforced on communities. Communities have to be included in the process, must benefit from the process and must have ownership of the process. This also holds true for hard landscaping measures. I spoke this morning on the Order of Business about how bad we are at public consultation in this country. We shy away from asking people for their opinions and from working with them to find the solutions and the compromises for rolling out a project to which there will be less resistance in the long term. It does not get held up and delayed when people work with the communities. BusConnects is probably a good example of working with communities and listening to what their issues are.
I differ with some of the comments I have heard as to why this Bill is needed, but those could be teased out on Committee Stage. That is the perfect Stage to have that discussion. We can bring in the experts to hear about the evidence-based policy and what is working now.We are happy to allow the Bill to proceed. The communities have waited so long already that we need to get it right once and for all. I hope that this Bill, if passed, will go to Committee Stage and will not be delayed getting to Committee Stage, so that we can have those conversations and tease out the details.
I thank the Senators for proposing this debate and Senator Boylan for contributing. I welcome the opportunity to address the House on flooding matters. Flooding is an important issue that affects many people in Ireland. That is increasing as time goes on. Extreme weather events around the world in the past year have shown us all that we must act quickly to protect ourselves and our planet. This year's extreme weather has provided a stark backdrop to the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. Flooding is just one of those extreme events. The frequency and intensity of flooding has greatly changed, and will change into the future, as Met Éireann can confirm. The type and intensity of our rain and our weather have changed our flood management. Our flood management needs to adapt as well.
Ireland is gradually becoming a wetter place with more rainfall as a result of climate change, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's 2020 climate status report. The United Nations released a code red report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, earlier this year, which found that climate change is occurring at a faster pace than previously estimated. The report noted that coastal areas will see continued sea level rise throughout the 21st century. This will contribute to more frequent and severe coastal flooding in low-lying areas, as well as coastal erosion. Extreme sea level events that previously occurred once in 100 years could happen every year by 2100. Furthermore, the report noted that in cities, climate change impacts may be amplified including flooding from precipitation events and sea level rise in coastal cities.
The Government is focused on doing what it can to mitigate the effects of climate change. The recently published national development plan is underpinned by climate action objectives, including significant investment in flood relief schemes to be progressed over the lifetime of the plan from 2021 to 2030. This is identified by flood risk management plans should protect approximately 23,000 properties in communities threatened from river and coastal flood risk. We passed the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 in July. This embedded the process of carbon budgeting into law. Earlier this month, we welcomed the publication of the proposed carbon budgets from the Climate Change Advisory Council. We will be publishing the 2021 climate action plan shortly. Every sector of the economy will need to play its part. There will be different targets for each sector based on their respective starting points and the relative difficulty, cost, speed and benefits of reducing emissions.
As my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy O’Donovan, outlined in the recent Seanad debate on flood risk management, the Government has a strong record in managing flood risk. The Office of Public Works, OPW, is the lead agency for co-ordinating the delivery of flood risk management policy. It chairs interdepartmental flood risk co-ordination group, which takes a whole-of-Government approach to the issue of flood policy. 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 area is prevention. This is achieved by avoiding construction in flood-prone areas. Examples of initiatives taken in this respect include the statutory planning system and the flood risk management guidelines, which were issued by the then Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in 2009, as well as 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 to ensure the 2009 guidelines are implemented and 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. In addition, the OPW’s minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme 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 and up 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 programme of 11,500 km of channels and 800 km of embankments protects 77 towns and villages and 242,000 ha of agricultural land.
The third and last area is preparedness. We have been planning and responding to reduce the impacts of flood events, including through the establishment of the National Flood Forecasting and Warning Service, NFFWS, and the national emergency framework for major emergency management, and to develop national and community resilience. Historically, flood risk management focused on arterial drainage for the benefit of agricultural improvement. Arising from increasing flood risk in urban areas, the Arterial Drainage Act 1945 was amended in 1995 to permit the OPW to implement flood relief schemes to provide flood protection for cities, towns and villages. The OPW’s major flood relief schemes are typically designed and built to a standard that protects areas against the one-in-100-year flood event, and coastal areas against the one-in-200-year flood event, where it is feasible to do so. These are significant flood events that can cause significant impacts and are often called “once in a lifetime floods”. In reality, the term "one in 100 years" that means that there is a 1% chance of them occurring in any single year.
To establish which communities are at risk from these significant flood events, the OPW in 2018 completed the largest study of flood risk ever undertaken by the State. The OPW’s catchment flood risk assessment management, CFRAM, programme was undertaken by engineering consultants on behalf of the OPW, working in partnership with local authorities. The CFRAM programme studied 80% of Ireland's primary flood risk and identified solutions that can protect over 95% of that risk. CFRAM is a whole-of-river solution. The programme takes in all of the catchment area, and not only areas around the mouths of rivers. The OPW, together with its 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. It was the largest study ever undertaken of our risk from significant flood events, including potential impacts of climate change. These solutions are set out in a series of 29 flood risk management plans. They were launched in May 2018 and they are available on floodinfo.ie. They include some 150 additional flood relief schemes. The Government has committed €1.3 billion to the delivery of these flood relief schemes over the lifetime of the national development plan to 2030, to protect approximately 23,000 properties in threatened communities from river and coastal flood risk.
Since 2018, as part of a phased approach to scheme delivery, this funding has allowed the OPW to treble to over 90 the number of schemes at design and construction at this time. Completed schemes by the OPW are providing protection to over 10,000 properties. The economic benefit to the State in damage and losses avoided is estimated to be in the region of €1.8 billion. Today, work by the OPW is complete or under way to deliver protection to 80% of properties to be protected by this significant investment programme. On the issue 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 and 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 the potential impacts of climate change for flooding and flood risk management. It does this 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 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 the web portal floodinfo.ie.
The OPW is providing funds to the Eastern and Midland Climate Action Regional Office for research to further improve our understanding of the potential impacts of changing rainfall patterns. Assessments have begun into the adaptability of flood relief schemes, those currently under design and those already completed, which is important as some of these must change. The design brief for future schemes includes a requirement to consider and plan for adaptation needs. There is also work towards the establishment of the NFFWS, through Met Éireann.
Turning to the motion raised by the Senator, I note that whereas OPW has no powers to instruct the ESB on its works on the River Shannon, the ESB has been consulted and is content to abide by the proposed legislative amendments, should they be adopted.Whereas the OPW has no powers to instruct the ESB on its work on the River Shannon, the ESB has been consulted and is content to abide by the proposed legislative amendments, should they be adopted.
It should be noted that the Bill does not change the purpose of the 1934 Act, which focuses on electricity generation. The removal of the water level limits from the 1934 Act neither increases the ESB's powers nor provides additional flexibility in how the Shannon operations are managed. The levels referred to in the 1934 Act do not constitute mandatory operational levels. The new wording that purports to give the ESB power to create new channels and deepen existing channels will not obviate the ESB's obligation to obtain planning permission or obey both national and EU legislation on the environment. Given the Bill does not change the purpose of the 1934 Act, which was for electricity generation, any works envisaged by this amending Bill would equally need to be for the purpose of electricity generation. Restrictions in water flow in the River Shannon are primarily as a result of the river's topography and not legislation. The Shannon flood risk management plan published by the Office of Public Works in 2016 is the correct vehicle for managing flood risk on the river.
The River Shannon is very flat from the headwaters at Lough Allen to the Parteen Basin upstream of Limerick. There are three large lakes, namely, Lough Allen, Lough Ree and Lough Derg, as well as many smaller lakes along the main channels of the river. The main controls in the river are at Ardnacrusha, Parteen Weir, Athlone and Lough Allen. The controls at the lower end of Lough Derg, Ardnacrusha and Parteen Weir are very effective at up to a ten-year flood. For larger events there is significant flooding in the old course of the River Shannon and it is not possible to regulate levels due to insufficient capacity downstream.
The controls at Athlone are not effective for managing floods and they control the level of Lough Ree during the summer. When the river is in flood, the level in Lough Ree is essentially the same as the level downstream and there is no possibility of managing floods. There is some storage in Lough Allen but this is not usable for around half the time the river is in flood, again because it is not feasible to discharge to the channel downstream. As a result, this storage cannot be relied upon as part of any flood risk management solution.
The river tends to flood quite frequently because the only way for the river to discharge excess water is by building up levels so water can be pushed out on the lower end. For example, on the longest reach, from Meelick to Athlone, the level of the river downstream of the weir at Athlone is often 1.5 m higher than the level at the upstream side of Meelick Weir, even when the river is not yet in flood. The river is level over this reach during periods of low flow. A flood lasting a few days on one of the major tributaries, especially the River Suck, can lead to a flood lasting several weeks on the main river. The capacity of the lakes and the flood plain is small relative to the overall volume of water that flows down the river so the flood plains and lakes fill quickly, often two or three days from the onset of a flood. It can take several weeks of dry weather for the river and lakes to return to normal levels in spring.
Detailed modelling was carried out as part of the Shannon catchment base flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, study, and this was extensively reported on in the hydraulics report, preliminary options report and flood risk management plan for the River Shannon, all of which are available at floodinfo.ie. This work concluded the operation of the controls at Ardnacrusha, Parteen Weir, Athlone and Lough Allen has been extensively modelled and studied as part of the Shannon CFRAM study and no realistic operational options to mitigate floods were identified.
I draw Members' attention to the water framework directive, which places an obligation on Ireland to protect water status from deterioration and bring all water to at least "good" status or good ecological potential by 2027 at the very latest. Any policy or legislative measures taken must comply with and be coherent with the implementation of both the water framework directive and the floods directive.
Ireland is currently in the latter stages of preparing the next river basin management plan for Ireland. The plan is required under the water framework directive for the period 2022 to 2027. In September 2021, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, published the draft river basin management plan for Ireland for 2022 to 2027 for public consultation. Achieving good water quality in our rivers, lakes, estuaries and seas is essential for protecting Ireland's drinking water sources, environment and people's quality of life. Investing in nature can bring multiple benefits with nature-based catchment management solutions improving water quality, reducing flood risk and creating habitats. In carrying out these functions, these measures can also provide multiple co-benefits, such as climate regulation, climate change adaptation, improved soil management and the creation of amenities.
Due to their multifunctional nature, the successful implementation of nature-based solutions requires multi-agency co-operation and engagement to fully realise their potential benefits. However, we must carefully manage the proposed legislation to avoid any unintended impacts on the water framework directive.
One specific challenge is the proposed Bill would allow other works without the required assessments, leaving project-specific assessment aspects to be incorporated, including perhaps an overall strategic environmental assessment and screening for appropriate assessment under the habitats directive. The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled the environmental objectives of the water framework directive are legally binding on member states and we will need to tread carefully to avoid compromising objectives of that directive.
The challenges we are facing are multifaceted and it appears there are very few easy solutions. I commend the proposed legislation as a potential additional tool in our collective armoury as we look for possible means of mitigating flood risk. We must continue our whole-of-government approach to flood policy and ensure we work collectively to minimise the risk of flooding and flood damage through prevention, protection and preparedness.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and this Bill from Senator Murphy. As a neighbour across the Shannon, I see first-hand the devastation the Shannon has done in the past along areas of both the Shannon and Lough Ree. In particular I think of areas of Clondra, Killashee, Newtowncashel and Lanesborough within County Longford and Tarmonbarry in Roscommon. They have been severely affected by the Shannon. In my constituency in the recent past a significant number of houses in estates in Athlone were flooded, with severe damage done.
I was recently in Athlone with the Minister of State, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, where works are being undertaken by the Office of Public Works. The former Minister of State, Mr. Kevin Boxer Moran, would have been involved with securing funding to do works there and safeguard a significant number of houses there. I know in the national development plan there is an allocation in the region of €1 billion for flood defence measures. It is something the Government is taking seriously and it is prepared to put the funding into it.
Part of this Bill relates to the dredging of new channels and deepening existing channels. This might cause issues. I do not see a problem as it must be done. There are parts of the Shannon at pinch points where the river is narrowed to half its size. If we do nothing and there is flooding, we will damage flora and fauna on the land anyway, which must be taken into account.
I agree with the proposal from Senators Murphy and Paul Daly for one authority to look after this issue. There is a working group comprising a number of authorities. I will relate a specific case from approximately 18 months ago. Waterways Ireland opened the gates at Meelick to reduce rising waters and the ESB decided to open two additional sluice gates at Athlone, bringing to six gates in total being opened at Athlone. All six gates were left open for the next five days until the lands at farms north of Meelick were flooded. For five days there was no co-ordination between the ESB in Athlone and Waterways Ireland in Meelick and, in between, the people on the Shannon callows were flooded. It is a fundamental problem and a lack of co-ordination led to that flooding. We must give the full legal responsibility for co-ordinating all operations to one body, which should be the Office of Public Works. It is a Government body and it could alleviate summer flooding and reduce the scale of winter flooding along the Shannon and its tributaries. We have been calling for that for a long time and it is incumbent on us to ensure this happens.
Maintenance or even large-scale works will not completely prevent flooding but could delay it and ensure land is not flooded. People will be able to keep their animals out for longer. It would also ensure housing is not flooded. Any legislation improving that position should be supported and I wanted to be here today to support Senator Murphy's Bill.
I thank the Minister of State for his response.In case I forget to say it, I fully agree that if we manage to get this legislation through, it has to be very carefully managed. I accept that. Listening to the Minister of State and Senator Paul Daly, it is extraordinary the amount of money that has been invested in flood relief from 1995 right up to now. There is a serious commitment from the Government to continue that, and that must be acknowledged. One shudders to think, if we had not done that work, the consequences we would have had in this country in recent years.
I thank Senator Boylan, who spoke first, for a very valuable contribution. I will have no difficulty working with her on this issue. She is right that sometimes we get public consultation wrong. I fully agree with her. I very much endorse what she said about the way we do public consultation. It is really important that people get into back gardens and say:
Look. This is what we mean. It might not be as it is coming out in Meath or wherever. We will explain it to you this way.
I know that some of Senator Boylan's fellow Sinn Féin Oireachtas Members have been involved with a Bill. We commenced this work in 2016 and 2017, when I was a Deputy. Unfortunately, when the Government fell, the Bill fell. That is why we are back where we are today.
I also thank Senator Carrigy for his very valid contribution and his colleagues for their support. I repeat that this is work everybody should do together. If we have to make some amendments or changes, we should do that.
To clarify, one of the problems we need to understand with dredging is that, down through the years, the silt and peat have taken away valuable space in the river. That is the reality. We need to take that away. Now that the Bord na Móna areas are not really operational, we need to look at taking that peat and silt away because that will automatically generate extra space. I have not got the figures yet, but I know a huge amount of peat and silt has built up in the river around Lanesborough and places like that. Senator Carrigy will be aware of that. It has been shocking there for years.
The other point we need to bring on board is the extraordinary damage that has been done to our flora, fauna, wildlife and birdlife. They have been decimated along the River Shannon and we need in our new plan, if we get it through, to be able to take that on board, to protect all that again and to bring it back in many respects. Floodwaters do serious damage in that regard.
I will not labour proceedings any more. I thank all the Members for being here to discuss this Bill. I really appreciate the fact that we are now able to move the Bill on and I look forward to discussing it with them all. Thank you, Chair, for your forbearance, and I thank the staff, as usual, for their help.