Adjournment Debate. - Flooding and Storm Damage.

Wednesday, 1 February 1995

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 448 No. 4

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Mr. N. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  Thank you for allowing me to raise this important issue of flooding in County Galway and throughout the west.

Mr. Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan  Zoom on Charles Flanagan  And Offaly as well.

Mr. N. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  I propose, if possible, to share my time with my party colleagues, Deputies Killeen, O'Rourke and O'Dea. In all my time in this House the present flooding in County Galway is the most serious crisis affecting my constituents. Homes, farms, property and roads have been destroyed by constant flooding.

In my own parish some houses and properties have been flooded at least once and others twice, during the past three weeks. In Ballinasloe private houses and commercial properties have had to be evacuated. In Loughrea a housing estate and some other properties have been flooded and people have had to evacuate. The same situation prevails in Gort, Portumna and elsewhere. The Shannon and Suck rivers have, once again, burst their banks. Lands in Ballinasloe, Clontuskert, Laurencetown, Clonfert, Eyrecourt, Meelick, Ballycrossaun, Tiernascragh, Portumna, Tynagh, Abbey and Woodford and private properties in these areas have been covered in water.

In my own area the Dunkellin river has once again flooded thousands of acres of farmland and the river Clare and other tributaries have burst their banks. Houses and commercial properties have been destroyed and land will be useless for at least six months of this year. Roads are impassable, bridges are under threat, lifestock, including horses, [1133] have been lost and in some cases livestock have been moved from lands and housing to other locations.

On behalf of the people of County Galway I appeal to the Government to put a co-ordinated plan which would involve the Department of the Environment — I am delighted to see the Minister present — the Office of Public Works, the Geological Survey of Ireland and local authorities into action to alleviate flooding and that a further plan be drawn up to enable the problem of flooding to be dealt with if and when it occurs in future. It is vital that a compensation fund is set up immediately to alleviate misery, loss of income and destruction imposed on many private citizens.

Mr. Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan  Zoom on Charles Flanagan  I hope the Minister is listening.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  I heard Deputy Flanagan on this subject last night without interruption.

Mr. Killeen: Information on Tony Killeen  Zoom on Tony Killeen  I am pleased to have the opportunity to support the case made by Deputy Treacy. The position in County Galway is mirrored exactly in County Clare, in some areas much more seriously than in others. For the fourth time in a month, the people of the village of Sixmilebridge have had to abandon their houses. In Ennis, Fergus Park and other areas of the town have had to be abandoned.

Deputy Treacy outlined the difficulties which people who have to leave their homes encounter: the enormous financial loss, the inconvenience and the fear that flooding will recur. Deputy Treacy has eloquently outlined the problem. There is an urgent need for State intervention to ensure that the people who have suffered on this and previous occasions have their cases dealt with in the future.

There is an element of State responsibility for the problems encountered in the west. Obviously weather conditions have played the major role but other [1134] developments have contributed to the problem, one of which is that there has been virtually no arterial drainage programme for a number of years and none is envisaged. There has been a lack of routine maintenance of rivers and drains with a knock-on effect which has had disastrous consequences. There has also been enormous development in forestry and land reclamation, developments which have been aided by State funds. It is patently unfair of the State to fail to take responsibility for the consequences of its support for these activities.

I visited a number of houses on Saturday last in Sixmilebridge and the people there who had to leave their houses in December due to flooding, had refurbished them and, once again, had to leave them, with built-in furniture, carpets and fittings destroyed for the second time within a month. Since then they have been flooded twice. It is incumbent on the State to meet its responsibility in this matter and take action to ensure these people do not continue to suffer such inconvenience and loss.

I am pleased both Ministers are in the House and I am pleased the Minister of State, Deputy Hogan, took the opportunity to visit Sixmilebridge, but there is a cynicism about politicians in that people expect them to show up on media occasions but to be absent when action is needed. Remedial action can be taken in this instance. It is within the power of the Government to remedy the defects in Ennis, Sixmilebridge and elsewhere in the west and I call on the Minister to ensure action is taken.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Howlin): Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  I thank both Deputies for raising this important issue and giving me the opportunity to address the House again on the matter of flooding. I have held ministerial office for the past two years and my record is not one of turning up for media occasions but rather of action, and I hope that will continue in the Department of the Environment.

Adverse weather conditions are an [1135] unfortunate feature of our climate but the bad weather of recent weeks has been quite exceptional. I understand that the Meterological Service's preliminary reports for January's rainfall show that Shannon Airport recorded 85 per cent more rainfall for the month while other substantial increases were reported from Malin Head, Dublin and Cork Airport. All this was, of course, additional to the heavy rainfall experienced in December 1994 — the western part of the country had about 50 per cent more rain than the normal December level.

A number of Government Departments and offices, as well as other local and public authorities, have responsibility for measures to respond to the effects of the bad weather, either during the particular weather episode or in the immediate aftermath or in regard to measures, where these are feasible, to avert a recurrence of damage.

As Minister for the Environment, I have no overall responsibility for response measures of any of these kinds, nor have I any specific directly exercisable functions in these matters.

My concern is to ensure that when adverse weather conditions arise, the local authorities are geared to respond promptly and effectively to ameliorate the worst effects in relation to these aspects for which they have a direct responsibility and, in particular, to limit the effects on individuals whose lives may be put at risk, or who may be exposed to serious hardship in the immediate aftermath of severe weather conditions.

I believe that the local authorities through advance planning and training, are generally well equipped to deal with this type of emergency in co-operation with the other emergency services such as the Garda Síochána and the ambulance service.

I would, indeed, like to pay tribute to all concerned in the current response efforts and, in particular as Minister for the Environment, to the local authority management and personnel, including [1136] the fire service personnel, who have worked so hard and who continue to work hard, often in very difficult conditions, to alleviate hardship and protect the lives and property of those worst affected by the recent storms and bad weather.

As regards Galway, there has been widespread flooding in Galway city and throughout the county, particularly in Gort and the surrounding area as well as damage to sea walls, piers and roads. I am aware, of course, that many other areas in the west including Ennis and other parts of Clare have been badly hit, particularly by flooding.

As to flooding, arterial drainage schemes are, of course, the responsibility of the Office of Public Works. As the Minister of State, Deputy Hogan, who has responsibility for the Office of Public Works, said, that office is preparing legislative proposals to amend the arterial drainage Acts to deal with more localised and pronounced areas of flooding. Drainage requirements in urban areas, such as run-off from streets, houses and overflow from drainage networks, may have a limited relevance to flooding in some cases; the initiative in making provision for such works would rest with the local authorities concerned.

Damage to harbours is the concern of the Minister for the Marine and matters relating to the impact of weather conditions on the agricultural sector are, of course, proper to my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry. Those Ministers are directly involved in monitoring the position and, I hope, will put forward proposals in due course.

There are no funds available to me for the purpose of providing assistance to householders for damage to houses caused by flooding. Householders would normally have buildings and contents insured against losses of this nature but, in necessitous cases, it is open to the health board to provide assistance to elderly householders, through the task force or Special Housing Aid for the Elderly, to remedy damage to the [1137] householder's living conditions. A health board may also assist a person under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme where an urgent need arises. Local authorities may help through the provision of temporary accommodation where this is necessary — local authorities have been communicated with in this regard.

The general conditions notified annually to local authorities grants for non-national roads require them to provide a contingency sum from their overall allocations so as to finance road restoration works which may be necessitated by extreme weather conditions. I will shortly notify local authorities of their grant allocations for 1995. It will then be a matter for each local authority to determine its programme of road works, including remedial works, taking account of the overall resources available to it.

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