Tuesday, 7 February 1995
Dáil Éireann Debate
That Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to provide emergency funding immediately to compensate for the extensive losses incurred by our rural communities as a result of severe flooding in recent weeks.
Mr. Dempsey: We in Fianna Fáil have tabled this motion because of the total inaction of the Government to date on this issue which has affected thousands of families and seriously threatened many livelihoods. We have tried repeatedly here over the past two weeks to highlight the very serious problems created by these floods. I regret to say that, so far, the Government has ignored our efforts, indeed has shown a complete lack of sensitivity to the plight of those affected by this disaster. The Government has continuously ignored appeals from this side of the House to advance some positive proposals to  what was a fairly devastating period and experience for people in many parts of the country.
About two weeks ago we debated the issue of the Government appointing two additional Ministers of State, on which I criticised them not because of the individual Members they appointed but rather because as an afterthought, they decided that the west was very important. I said it was an afterthought that they had appointed a Minister of State for the West, that they could have had another Minister at the Cabinet table from the West if they were so seriously concerned, that the need for a Minister of State with responsibility for the West emerged only when it was discovered that your position, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, was not available for Deputy Carey—was the commitment to the West.
What I said last week has been borne out by what has happened over the past two weeks since these floods hit various areas, those worst affected being in the West, Galway and Clare in particular, the midlands and the south. The west was particularly badly hit, to which there was no response on the part of the Government, no response whatever on the part of the Minister of State with responsibility for the West. Was that not a glorious opportunity for the new Minister of State to prove his mettle by co-ordinating Government response to that disaster? Was that not ready made for him?
Mr. Dempsey: Yes, this was a chance for one of the Taoiseach's—what did he call them? —trans departmental warriors to spring into action. What happened? Nothing. All I could discern was a major interdepartmental row between the Department of the Environment and the Office of Public Works, the responsibility of the Minister of State, Deputy Hogan sitting opposite—
I should like to avail of this, my first opportunity, to congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Hogan, on his appointment and wish him well in his portfolio which I know he will find interesting. Indeed I have no doubt that he has found it to be very interesting to date, although he lost many of his functions over the past week or so resulting from parliamentary sleight of hand on the part of the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Higgins, when half of Deputy Hogan's portfolio and budget disappeared.
It appears to me, and all those affected by these floods, that the only decisive action and/or decision taken by this Government was to decide that the Office of Public Works should carry the can in this House and the Minister of State be here to reply to the motion on this issue.
The Minister for the Environment, when challenged in this House last week, informed us that he had no money for flood relief. Yet today, appropriately enough in the circumstances, by way of another leak from Government we were informed that a relief package would be announced in tomorrow's budget. I hope it is true as I am sure do the many thousands of people in the West and other areas affected by these floods. I hope such a package will be announced tomorrow. It would be my hope that the persistent attempts on our part over the past two to three weeks have borne fruit  resulting in the Government announcing such a package tomorrow. Perhaps the Minister of State might even be in a position to announce some of its details this evening.
This disaster has shown, at a very early stage in the life of this Government, that it appears to be insensitive and immune to the plight of our people, particularly in rural areas. I regret it has taken this party two to three weeks to get the message across to this Government that serious issues have to be addressed, that a serious problem exists, that serious losses having occurred, people having suffered substantial serious losses, not merely financial but also their homes. Before entering the Chamber for this debate I saw a news item on television portraying two families rowing back to their homes to see them still under three feet of water, water up to the window-sills, their furniture floating around inside. The woman interviewed said that compensation was not sufficient, that something more must be done in the long term, a matter I will address shortly.
I regret very much it has taken this Government so long to grasp this message, one that everybody on this side of the House has been preaching in recent weeks, indeed one I received loud and clear more than 12 months ago when similar circumstances arose in certain areas, when the necessity to ammend our Arterial Drainage Act was impressed on me in order to take account of such flooding. That message has only just got through to this Government. I wonder why. How has it become so comfortable so soon? Is it so isolated and protected by its £3 million-worth of programme managers, advisers, special assistants and so on that it has become totally immune to the plight of so many of its citizens? I hope that is not true but the initial evidence in this respect is extremely disturbing.
We have seen thousands of acres of land under water, livestock isolated and lost, fodder and feedstuffs contaminated and destroyed in many rural areas; we have witnessed families, not just in rural  areas but in urban areas also, forced out of their homes; we have witnessed people unable to walk the streets of their towns because of flooding and during all this time, we have witnessed Government inaction, even worse, Government indifference.
I hope the Government tomorrow, or perhaps this evening—I hope the Minister of State will receive some compensation for having lost so much of his portfolio—will produce a relief package. It will have to be very substantial to meet the needs of the farming community in certain areas who have lost so much. I will leave it to my colleague, Deputy Cowen, to deal with agriculture, but people in that area must be compensated.
I want to address briefly a serious problem that has arisen in certain parts of the country as a result of the heavy rains, floods and frost, the destruction of many county and regional roads which are now impassable and have been almost washed away. I want to put down a marker tonight that I am seriously concerned about the commitment of this Government to county and regional roads. The Estimates did a good job concealing that the amount of money allocated for county and regional roads is substantially down, by as much as 20 per cent, on last year. Whatever package in respect of roads is announced in tomorrow's budget, the Government must restore the amount allocated for county and regional roads, increase that allocation in line with the 6 per cent increase on last year's figure provided in other sections of the Estimates and make an allocation in respect of serious storm damage.
Mr. Dempsey: I know from where it came. It was very wisely spent and I hope the money collected from the taxpayer this year will be equally wisely spent; I hope it will not be spent before it has been collected.
I advocate the provision of emergency funds to alleviate the plight of the many people affected by floods as an immediate solution. We must plan for such matters on a longer term basis. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and farming organisations should set up a disaster fund in conjunction with the EU to relieve hardship caused by, for instance bad weather— which can result in crop losses, etc.— and other disasters. Last year the livelihood of many potato farmers was put in jeopardy as a result of heavy rains. If such a fund were set up many problems could be solved and many hardships addressed.
In relation to urban flooding, I believe the solution lies in the speedy amendment of the Arterial Drainage Act. When I left office the amending Bill was at an advanced stage in the Office of Public Works; it was with the Department of Finance. I hope the Minister and the Minister of State will expedite it; I was pleased that last week the Taoiseach eventually gave a commitment to expedite it. That measure which would facilitate the relief of urban flooding would allow more targeted drainage works. That would be of enormous assistance in dealing with the type of flooding we have been in the past few weeks. The day of the large arterial drainage scheme is over and I do not believe such schemes will be set up again because of the cost benefit analysis which must be carried out in respect of them and EU policy which dictates that we set aside land and so on. I do not envisage the Exchequer expending money on large arterial drainage schemes to make land more viable when the EU is paying out money to have land set aside. For that reason I believe the Arterial Drainage Act must be amended to allow the continuation of arterial drainage works to  relieve urban flooding and flooding in specific areas, such as areas in Deputy Nealon's constituency in Sligo where there is a serious problem and other such areas. I ask the Minister of State to introduce legislation to amend the Arterial Drainage Act as a matter of urgency. He will have support from this side of the House for that legislation which was ready to be introduced before the previous Government left office.
Action needed to be taken last week to deal with this problem; better late than never. If today's lead is accurate, I am glad Fianna Fáil's decision to put down this motion tonight prompted the Government to wake up to its responsibilities and to take action. I am glad the message has got through to a Government whose Ministers and Ministers of State are largely urban based, that it should recognise that there is a rural community and they have a responsibility to it.
Miss de Valera: Like my colleague, Deputy Dempsey, I want to underline that we are dealing with an emergency. References were made today to emergencies in this country, but we are dealing here with an emergency resulting from flooding. The flooding was very serious in many areas, particularly in the West and my constituency of County Clare. There has been much frustration in the county not only about the nature of the problem but about the manner of dealing with it. As Members are aware, it is not just a question of one Department dealing with the issue of flooding. Responsibility can be divided among the Office of Public Works, the Department of the Marine, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, the Department of the Environment, local authorities and sections of the health boards.
My constituency has suffered tremendously over the past two weeks. In Ennis, where I live, not only has the business community suffered, particularly the area surrounding Parnell  Street and the Mill Road, but many residences have been flooded in Fergus Park which is near my home. The frustration and anxiety caused by the flooding not only to the elderly but to younger people who have put all their financial resources into their homes cannot be discounted by this Government. The Minister is only too well aware of the serious problems facing the people in Sixmilebridge in County Clare. The people had to deal with a flooding problem on three occasions before Christmas and had to put up with water and sewage flowing into their houses. Many of those people then had to leave their homes, particularly those who live on the Limerick Road, and seek accommodation with friends and relatives. I know the Minister is well aware of the problem and I thank him for taking the time to meet those people. I am sure he appreciates the urgent need for a relocation of a sewerage plant in the area and recognises that a similar plant must be set up in another location to deal with the needs of a growing population within the Sixmilebridge area.
Ennis and Sixmilebridge are not the only areas affected by flooding; Newmarket and particularly north Clare were badly affected. The approach to Corofin from Ennis was flooded in a number of places. Leaminagh, New Quay, Tuber and Boston were also badly affected; much of Tuber and Boston are still under water. We may be given the excuse that this is partly due to the geological make up of the area, the limestone and the lakes, the turloughs etc. Such physical characteristics add to the problem but there were no fewer than 65 road closures in north Clare alone during the past two weeks due to flooding and that does not take account of the great difficulties facing our agricultural community.
As I am sure the Minister is aware, many problems will arise in respect of fodder and livestock and getting the land back into proper condition. This will mean not only great financial hardship but will be a cause of concern to farmers.
 Deputy Dempsey referred to the condition of the roads. I echo his concern at the substantial decrease in the allocation for regional and county roads in the Estimates. I hope the road repairs which are necessary following flood damage will be recognised and that money will be forthcoming. The raising of the roads because of flooding will cost millions of pounds in County Clare alone. Not only must the problem be recognised but there must be practical application to eradicate the problem once and for all and this can be done only by the provision of substantial funding to assist local authorities in their work.
The Minister may not be aware of the extensive damage done in Ennis because of the flooding of the River Fergus. I understand there has not been flooding of that magnitude since 1962, and prior to that time there had not been such flooding since 1947. Immediate drainage work is required. I hope the Minister will take this opportunity to ensure that the Fergus catchment area is reviewed. The population of Ennis has trebled since the 1940s and, obviously, much maintenance work needs to be carried out. During the recent flooding the tidal traps were out of action and this caused major problems. To emphasise the seriousness of the matter it is necessary to point out that the average rainfall is 40 to 50 inches per annum and that 12 inches of rain fell in both December and January last.
Last night I visited areas of my constituency to see the problem first hand. The people in Fergus Park in Ennis are particularly concerned because the bank of the river needs to be built up. I am told that the next spring tide will occur on 28 February. If the Minister saw the condition of the 20 houses in that estate he would realise that immediate action needs to be taken not only to protect property but also to protect life. I emphasise that money is needed to pay compensation. While some families were lucky enough to have insurance  cover others were not. However, insurance cover will not resolve the problem because one can imagine how difficult it will be for those families to secure insurance cover again and, if they do, the price of their premium may be out of their reach.
The flooding in Clare has caused great heartache not only for people in their homes and business but also for the farming community. Clare County Council will be sending a submission to the Department which I hope will get not only a sympathetic hearing but will secure practical and immediate financial aid, the importance of which I cannot over emphasise. The Minister may be able to get financial assistance from the European Union. There is no doubt other countries throughout Europe which have also been affected by the recent high rainfall will seek financial aid from the European Union and I hope such aid will be made available. I was pleased to hear a package may be made available, something which may have been encouraged by the tabling of this motion.
I agree with the sentiments expressed by Deputy Dempsey that there is an immediate need to amend the Arterial Drainage Act, and I hope the Minister takes action in that regard. I remind him that not only are we talking about financial damage to premises, land and homes but also the psychological effects this damage has had on many people.
The recent flooding was so bad that even our national and primary routes were affected. The N17—made famous by the Saw Doctors—was impassable at Castlegar, a few miles from Galway city. People using the road had to divert through the Ballybrit Racecourse to gain access to Galway city. The flooding of one of our national routes brought home to me the seriousness of the situation.
 I support the proposals to endeavour to obtain emergency funding to compensate for the extensive losses incurred by rural communities as a result of the severe flooding. I have never seen the roads in my parish and local village in such bad repair. This was caused by flooding from heavy rain and melting snow in the Galway region in the past few weeks. If it were not for the work of the engineers and staff of Galway County Council, the Mount Bellew fire brigade and the local people who removed water with pumps and tanks, the position would be much worse. What happened in my village was repeated in many areas throughout County Galway.
I have never seen people so angry, particularly those in the farming sector, because of a lack of a co-ordinated plan at local level. All we were told was that Galway County Council would do its best and it did that even though it was short of money. We were told—and I am sure we will be told again tonight —that priority is not given to drainage matters at European Union level. The opposite is the case. There is a movement towards setting aside land and we are told that the position may not improve. While I accept the position in regard to arterial drainage, it is important that each local authority has the necessary funding to deal with the serious problems that have arisen as a result of the recent flooding.
I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Hogan, on his recent appointment. I am glad he visited County Galway to see the position for himself. I welcome the fact that on his visit to Gort he promised legislation in this area. Farmers are very annoyed at the new cultivation systems being used by the forestry authorities and I have been told that such cultivation methods in the south Galway area are contributing to the speed at which water is running into the lawlands. Some farmers consider that too many dykes and drains are used and the flow of water has speeded  up adding to the problems in south Galway. Farmers have told me that the fertilisers used by Coillte is generating algae which is disrupting the flow of water. Will the Minister investigate these matters and perhaps he can tell us if this is so? As the Minister of State is aware from his visit, there has been very serious flooding in south Galway not only in recent weeks but for years.
Because there is no priority for drainage in the Office of Public Works we have to talk about priority for the families who have suffered losses due to the flooding. In Galway many families who had to leave their homes have not yet been able to return as they area waiting for the flood water to recede. Galway County Council, the fire brigade and the civil defence used every available pump to try to resolve the problem which will become even more serious in the future if action is not taken. Galway County Council distributed sand bags. This is the first time I have seen so many sand bags used to protect people whose businesses or homes were threatened by flooding.
The Irish Farmers' Association proposed that drainage grants be introduced in County Galway where it is estimated that in excess of 10,000 acres of land was under water when the flooding was at its worst.
Our motion calls for emergency funding. A similar fund was established in 1990 by the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy O'Kennedy. I hope the Minister for Finance will announce a similar type fund tomorrow. There have been many leaks about what type of funding will be announced. If I recall correctly, a former Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Deasy, introduced a fodder scheme in the mid eighties. We would like to know as soon as possible if a fund will be established by the Government and the position in regard to the legislation promised by the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Hogan, during the course of his visit to counties Galway and Clare.
There is a great fear about the effect  on the soil of long lasting pollution due to the recent flooding and the various substances deposited on people's lands and in the villages and towns of Galway. The sad fact is that farmers who had cattle indoors for months had to release them on to unsuitable land because the slatted houses and sheds were flooded. In many instances farmers had to sell a large part of their herds. I appeal for special help for such farmers particularly where fodder stocks are used up and more will be needed during the coming months.
The rivers Clare, Dunkellin, Shiven, Suck and Shannon burst their banks and flooded hundreds of acres of land. It is probable that the Minister of State saw some of those areas during his recent visit to Galway. Now is the time to put together this action plan and the necessary funding for the farming community. Like other local authorities, Galway County Council has submitted an application to the Department for funding. Galway is the second largest county so obviously we now have a huge road structure in a state of disrespair, many of the problems resulting from the recent bad weather. I hope the Government will respond positively to the submission from Galway County Council.
We have had a good response from the staff of local authorities, the ESB, the fire brigade and voluntary organisations, such as civil defence but tonight we would like to hear the Government response. It is feared there will be a cutback in road spending and that Galway County Council who has devoted moneys to keeping roads open and repaired will suffer a cutback in funding.
We need a response from the Government. It has been a traumatic time for families. In some houses carpets, furniture and bedding had to be removed, there was serious damage to heating systems, sockets and wiring, kitchen units were ruined and clothes were destroyed. The response of the Government cannot be: “Sorry, we have no money”. I would like to hear a more positive response this evening.
Mr. Killeen: I welcome this further opportunity to draw the Minister's attention and that of the House to the damage caused by the recent floods and to urge him, as my colleagues have done, to make financial provision to compensate the people and to ensure, in so far as possible, that further damage is not done.
I had the opportunity to address the House on the Adjournment on 1 February last and to hear the response of the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin. The people who heard the response were extremely disappointed. I searched for positive signs in the Minister's response and perhaps I can lay them before the Minister of State in the hope that he will take positive action on foot of them. The Minister said he did not have any direct responsibility but indicated that the health boards could be of assistance to householders. Will the Minister of State urge his colleague, the Minister for Health, to ensure that adequate and generous funding is made available under housing aid for the elderly and supplementary welfare allowances? Some of the people the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Hogan and I have seen, particularly in Sixmilebridge, will need substantial financial aid. The Minister also mentioned that the local authorities are unable to provide temporary housing but in some cases the local authority may wish to provide permanent housing for some of these people. That matter ought to be constructively examined.
The question of roads is one of enormous concern to all county councils and county councillors. It is not possible to raise the matter of national roads with the Minister any more because responsibility has been passed on to the National Roads Authority, which is even more remote from elected Members. In County Clare one national secondary road has been closed for approximately a month and was closed for about 50 days last year. The members of a household are confined to  their homes unless they escape through the fields. Clearly the county council cannot respond in this instance, whereas the National Roads Authority most definitely could. I urge the Minister to ensure that provision is made in respect of that area in New Quay, in north Clare.
As Deputy Kitt said, there was a huge lack of funding for regional and county roads long before the recent flooding arose. This means that local authorities in counties Clare and Galway are not, and will not be, in a position to address the current problems. It will fall to the Minister or to his colleague, the Minister for the Environment, or to a combination of Ministers to make provision.
I urge the Minister to ensure that a token provision is not made as that would add insult to injury for those who have suffered in the present crisis. A token provision in tomorrow's budget would send a negative signal, it would raise people's expectations and would not address the problem in the way we wish it to be done.
Dáil Éireann acknowledges the extent of high rainfall over the winter months and the hardship caused to many families and communities and notes the resolve of the Government to implement measures to deal with the resultant hardship.
I thank Deputies de Valera and Kitt for their constructive comments and congratulations. I also thank Deputy Dempsey for his congratulations on my appointment and assure him that, unlike the response of the Fianna Fáil Party in 1991 and 1993 when nothing was done  to deal with real hardship, this Government is in tune with the flooding problems that have been the subject of much scrutiny by the media and have affected many local communities in recent weeks. The last person who should talk about the ineffective measures put forward by this Government is Deputy Dempsey because he would have been reminded of the need to amend the legislation to which he referred when an urban area around Duleek in his own county was flooded twice in 1993. The Deputy had ample time to do something about the matter and I regret he did not take the opportunity to do so.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to come into the House again to address the serious issue of flooding. The Government at its meeting this morning decided to establish an interdepartmental committee to co-ordinate its response to the effects of the recent severe flooding in both urban and rural areas. It will be my privilege as Minister of State to chair the interdepartmental committee. The members of the committees which I am at present in the process of establishing will be drawn from all the Departments which may have a role to play to delivering an effective response to the hardships and losses sustained by a great many people in recent weeks. It is my firm intention to ensure that the committee will be effective and will be seen to be so and that it will produce results quickly in so far as possible.
I again assure the House, as I did in responding to the Adjournment debate last Wednesday, that the Government is extremely concerned at the whole range of problems experienced by people living in areas affected by the flooding in recent weeks. Everyone will have seen the pictures in the newspapers and most graphically on television of areas covered in water, houses and business premises flooded in some cases to very considerable depths and of course sizeable areas of agricultural land inundated. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry will make an announcement in the budget debate on  measures dealing with agriculture. As many Deputies will be aware, I have shared the widespread concern at these recent events and I have been to several of the worst affected areas to see the problem at first hand. Indeed as early as Monday, 9 January, I visited Newport, Cappamore, Sixmilebridge and Gort all of which were badly affected. Last week, I visited Graiguecullen, Carlow, to see the problems there at first hand and to meet local public representatives as I had done on my earlier tour of inspection. I am fully familiar with the problems in Kilkenny city and county. I and my colleagues in Government have in addition been kept fully appraised of the situation around the country by Deputies and Senators from areas affected.
Three fundamental problems can be identified. The first is related to the capacity of our rivers to discharge very heavy and intense rainfall. The second is the addition of the effect of high tides and prevailing winds on such discharges and the third relates to the unique problems of the south Galway area where the karstitic limestone with swallow holes is unable to discharge the rainfall.
The Government has decided in the light of all the information available that it is necessary at this stage to have a coherent co-ordinated response to the problems now facing individuals and communities in the after math of the flooding. The interdepartmental committee which I will chair is the vehicle which will oversee that response and co-ordinate the inputs from the various Departments and agencies which have responsibilities in this area. Furthermore, the Minister for Finance will be outlining the position regarding the availability of funds or otherwise to deal with the problem in his budget speech tomorrow. The House will understand that I am not in a position to give further information on this aspect of the matter in advance of the budget.
It is appropriate at this stage to pay tribute to all those who have, so to speak, been in the front line dealing  with the immediate impact of the flooding. Many people from a whole range of services have responded magnificently to meet the needs of those affected. While it is probably invidious to mention any particular group, it is only fair to acknowledge the sterling work done by the staff of the various local authorities at all levels, the Garda, the fire services, the Civil Defence Force, the Army and Air Corps and of course the invaluable assistance lent by the many friends and neighbours to their less fortunate fellows.
I will turn now to the work which the interdepartmental committee will do in the coming weeks and months. I intend to deal with the effects of the flooding on two fronts: compensation where that is appropriate and the implementation of measures to try to mitigate wherever possible the effects of flooding because of adverse weather conditions in future.
On the question of compensation, I am happy to assure the House that the Government will seek funds to assist those who have suffered losses from non-insurable risks as a result of the flooding. I intend as a matter of urgency to approach the EU Commission to seek assistance from the fund which is being established to assist victims of the flooding throughout the European Union recently. It will be my intention through the work of the interdepartmental committee to deliver a flexible and imaginative response to the undoubted problems caused by the flooding.
It is vital, in addition to dealing with the immediate aftermath of the flooding, to also take steps to try to prevent a recurrence of at least the most severe effects of flooding of the kind we witnessed in the past month. The House will be aware that the flooding is the result of exceptionally heavy rainfall. While precise data is not yet available, preliminary returns make it clear that in many areas rainfall for January was close to or above twice the normal levels for the month. Rivers have been unable in many cases to cope with the exceptionally large volumes of water  which have been discharging into them, with the result that lands and premises have been inundated. While the exceptionally heavy rainfall has clearly been the main cause of the recent flooding, it is clear that the accelerated rate of run-off of water from hard surfaces associated with development has also been a contributory factor. The fact that in some cases houses have been built below the flood level of nearby rivers, has given rise to flooding on this and previous occasions. We must look closely at all the factors which have contributed to the recent flooding to see what lessons need to be learned for the future.
The House will be aware that the Office of Public Works is empowered to undertake drainage works under the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945. This Act has always been interpreted as only conveying power to deal with drainage on a complete catchment basis. The Arterial Drainage Act, 1945 was introduced in response to the findings of the Browne Drainage Commission which sat between 1938 and 1940. Among its many important findings, the Browne Commission found that much of the drainage work which had been undertaken previously on a piecemeal basis merely shifted the problem from one area to another because of the failure to take account of the effect of the improvements elsewhere throughout the river catchment. It recommended that future schemes should be designed taking into account the effect of works throughout the entire river catchment.
Since the Arterial Drainage Act was enacted in 1945, a total of 40 schemes have been completed. One scheme, the Boyle catchment drainage scheme will be closed later this year. The major benefit from catchment drainage schemes has arisen from the improvement of agricultural land either through bringing additional land previously unusable because of the extent of flooding or waterlogging into production or increasing the productivity of land through improved drainage. It is an unfortunate reality that the current EU  policy of limiting or discouraging production of many agricultural products which are already in surplus in the Community has had a drastic effect in reducing the value of increased agricultural output, and as a consequence there is at present virtually no prospect of devising a catchment drainage scheme which will give a positive or even a break-even cost-benefit ratio when it is subjected to economic analysis.
This difficulty is graphically illustrated by the fact that schemes recently designed for the Mulcair river in counties Tipperary and Limerick and the Arrow and Owenmore Rivers in Sligo have so far proved to be economically unviable despite the closest consultation between the Commissioners of Public Works and the local drainage action committees to ensure that all possible benefits are included in the assessment. The Commissioners of Public Works have always acknowledged that, despite the outcome of the economic analysis, there are areas within both catchments where unacceptable levels of flooding occur on a regular basis. This point was very dramatically underlined in the most recent flooding by the problems experienced in Cappamore, County Limerick in the Mulcair catchment. As I mentioned earlier, I saw the situation there at first hand and it is unacceptable by any standards. Regular flooding of houses in particular is unacceptable and it will be part of the remit of the inter-departmental committee under my chairmanship to examine this problem and to devise appropriate solutions for consideration by the Government.
The Commissioners of Public Works are powerless at present to undertake work for the relief of localised flooding which the most recent events have clearly shown to be necessary. Local authorities have some statutory powers in this area, but, for a variety of valid reasons, only fairly minor schemes have been undertaken by them.
The Office of Public Works has both the expertise and the countrywide organisation required to undertake effective schemes to alleviate the worst  effects of localised flooding. The Commissioners of Public Works prepared proposals for the amendment of the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945, to provide them with the necessary powers to undertake work for the relief of localised flooding by rivers. These proposals have been under consideration in the Department of Finance for some time. I have asked the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance to give early consideration to the enactment of this proposed legislation.
The first thing that must be done before an effective scheme can be designed for flood defences or for any purpose is the collection of relevant data to define the nature and extent of the requirements. The Commissioners of Public Works, as part of their existing remit, collect a sizeable amount of data at present. Other information is available from local authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency. The Commissioners of Public Works, in consultation with the Department of the Environment, have compiled a list of 90 urban areas which are known to experience periodic flooding. There is insufficient data available at present in respect of many of these areas or in respect of some rural areas which are subject to flooding and where flood defence works might be an appropriate solution to enable definitive decisions to be taken or, where appropriate, designs to be prepared. I have asked the Commissioners of Public Works as a matter of the utmost urgency to consider the steps necessary to collect the data required.
I have asked the commissioners, through their regional offices, to let me have very early reports on the precise nature, extent and, where possible, the causes of the flooding in recent weeks. These reports, together with information I will be seeking from local authorities and other agencies who may be in a position to do so, will provide invaluable information to the inter-departmental committee when it commences its deliberations.
Mr. Hogan: It is also my intention to try to arrange early meetings with appropriate interest groups so that their views and experience can inform the deliberations of the interdepartmental committee and influence the actions that will be taken by the various Departments, offices and agencies to deal with the consequences of the flooding.
I am realistic enough to know and appreciate that given the complexities of the problems now facing us there will be areas where we may be able to offer little or no assistance. There may be other areas where we will not be able to meet the full aspirations of individuals, communities or interest groups. We may even have to grapple with conflicts of interests as our work progresses. At this stage, I simply want to assure the House and every one who has suffered hardships as a result of the flooding that the Government is concerned about the problems that exist and is anxious to respond to them as effectively as possible. It will be my task, and that of all the Departments participating in the interdepartmental committee, to try to find solutions that will reflect the deep sense of care and concern which we feel and which will at the same time be prudent and realistic while also being speedy, flexible and not unduly restrictive. It is a very complex, multifaceted and difficult task we are undertaking but I am confident that with the full backing and support of the Government we can achieve worth-while results for the victims of the flooding.
Mr. McCormack: I wish to share my time with Deputies Nealon and Browne. I support the amendment moved by the Minister of State. I wish to outline the serious problems and hardship caused  by the severe and frightening flooding in the south Galway area. I am very familiar with this area and the problems associated with the flooding there over many years. In recent years the flooding there has got worse and at present it is much worse than it was during the peak flooding period 1990-91. This evening a landowner from the area told me that the highest water point is now three and a half to four feet higher than it was in 1991.
The problem in this area is unusual in that the major flooding occurs in five or six areas. The overflow from Coole Lake has isolated 40 houses in the Killamoran, Ballinasteigue, Garryland and Hawk Hill areas. The people in those areas have no access to their houses and some families have had to be evacuated from their flooded homes. The flooding also spreads as far as Kiltartan, where the church is flooded, Ballyaneen and Ballylee. It also backs up further to Loughawadda in the Peterswell area and Grannagh where families have had to be evacuated from their houses. This gives an idea of the seriousness of the flooding. The overflow from Coole Lake stretches from near Gort town at Glenbrack, where four families have had to be evacuated, to Ballinasteague which is four miles away and covers thousands of acres.
There is also serious flooding at Tarmon, Fiddane and Rathope on the Clare-Galway border and several families have had to be evacuated. On the main Gort-Galway road at Kiltiernan, Keamsella and Carragadoo the main road is blocked and eight houses in the village of Carragadoo have been completely isolated and the only access is through approximately half a mile of land which is now almost cut off.
The people in this area were so frustrated at having their problem ignored over the years that they decided to organise a pilot scheme to alleviate the flooding. When I visited the area last Sunday I was shocked at the extent of the flooding and by the damage caused. Having seen the work already carried out I believe this pilot scheme will be a  success. I will endeavour to have their efforts recognised and to have grant-aid provided for this work. Their enterprising efforts are an example of what can be done through self-help and the co-operation of farmers and landowners.
There is further flooding in the Cregeclare and Labane areas, at Rashane and Carrigian, where there is serious flooding, and at Roo and Tierneevan. The flooding is mainly caused by the Derrybrien river and the Cloon river between Peterswell and Ballylee. The Cloone river goes underground at Ballylee near Thoor Ballylee. This is a feature of the terrain in south Galway — rivers suddenly disappear underground and rise again in other locations.
The severe flooding is usually blamed on two factors. Some people blame new developments and forestry on the mountains in the Derrybrien area, and believe that the new drainage structures in that area have led to water flowing down much more quickly to Gort and the surrounding areas. Another theory is that farm reclamation and the use of more plastic in farm activities — plastic bags, plastic silage bale covers and plastic silage pit covers — has led to some swallow-holes which previously took the water being closed up.
I thank the Minister of State for responding so quickly to my request and for visiting the area on 9 January. I assure the people of that area that I will give him an update of developments on a daily basis. The problem is much more serious now than when the Minister visited the area on 9 January, and he is fully aware of that. I have been impressed by his determination to do something about this problem. He is a son of the soil and he fully understands the hardships being suffered by the people in this area. I also thank the county council and local farmers who have helped people in trouble. When the farmyard and silage pit of one farmer was flooded his neighbours looked after and fed his cattle until the flood waters had receded. These heroic efforts should not go unnoticed.
 I am glad the Minister of State, Deputy Hogan, has given a commitment to amend the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945, to allow relief work be carried out. I hope that in the budget tomorrow the Minister for Finance will provide an allocation to deal with the problem. I am aware that the Minister of State will be inundated with requests from all over the country but I will be fighting the case of the people I represent — this is the way the democratic system works.
If we receive the co-operation of landowners, the local authorities and the Office of Public Works we can solve this problem. I understand that the land around Kinvara and Ballinderreen in South Galway, where the flooding can be frightening, is between 17 and 30 feet above sea level. People like me will not allow the Minister of State to rest until a solution is found.
Mr. Nealon: During the past few weeks we have all seen on television the damage caused by flood waters throughout the country. Sligo did not figure on this occasion, not because there was no flooding but because there were no cameras. Sadly, the floods were just as bad and damaging as those in Carlow, Galway, about which we have just heard, or along the Shannon. We also had our quota of swamped houses with the flood waters in places lapping against the duvets in the top bedrooms. Unfortunately, this is not news in Sligo.
In the Owenmore and Arrow catchment areas there are floods in the middle of the summer each year, not just in an exceptionally bad year. They cover 29,000 acres of land and a total of 3,000 farmers are directly affected, mostly small farmers, whose losses each year are substantial. The average farm size is approximately 42 acres and on average the floods last for 21 days.
The case for the artertial drainage of the Owenmore and Arrow has been made constantly in this House by the Sligo Deputies since 1927, the first time it was mentioned in the House. The  Owenmore and Arrow drainage committee has been seeking action since 1942. As these rivers, with the Mulcair, came to the top of the list the previous Government decided to abandon arterial drainage schemes. I understand that the only work now in progress is the completion of the work on the Boyle river.
I am glad that the Minister of State, Deputy Hogan, intends to amend the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945, to enable the Office of Public Works to consider localised flood relief measures rather than comprehensive catchment schemes. In fairness, Deputy Dempsey carried out some considerable work in this regard. Even this limited activity could be of enormous benefit in freeing the flow of water and preventing flooding on an annual basis on the Owenmore and Arrow.
I appeal to the Minister of State, who has special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, to ensure that there is no delay, that the legislation is introduced quickly and to then tackle the Owenmore and Arrow which are at the top of the list with the Mulcair. The machines are available as they are no longer needed at the Boyle river and farmers have been waiting a long time to see the dredgers on the horizon.
I congratulate the Minister of State on taking prompt action and providing compensation. On the question of legislation I am tremendously encouraged. The Minister of State said he had asked the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance to give consideration to the early enactment of this proposed legislation. When a Minister of State makes such a statement it means “it is done”. If he delivers on his commitment we might erect a statue of him at Temple House in the Owenmore Basin above high water level.
Mr. Browne: (Carlow-Kilkenny): If the Minister of State, Deputy Hogan, can rescue us in Carlow, I can save him the bother of travelling to Sligo; he can take a shorter trip to see a statue of himself on Graiguecullen bridge. Today  there were references on several occasions to the leaks about the budget. Unfortunately, we witnessed the greatest “leak” of all time during the past few weeks. As a result many people, including farmers, homeowners and business centres have been placed at a tremendous disadvantage. While we are lucky to have a direct line to Ministers what we really need is a direct line to God.
The town of Carlow has been flooded on three occasions since 1990. There had been no serious flooding on the river Barrow between 1947 and that date, a gap of almost 50 years. It is obvious that something has gone wrong in terms of arterial drainage works; we may have put the cart before the horse in the sense that drainage works have been carried out upstream with the result that water is draining into the river more quickly and flooding Carlow, Leighlinbridge and Graiguenamanagh. This matter needs to be tackled and I suggest that dredging could be of enormous help. If such work was carried out many people in Carlow could sleep more easily. We should seek EU funding to enable the Office of Public Works carry out major drainage work on the Barrow to prevent a recurrence.
I hope also that the rumours are true, that tomorrow there will be good news for those who suffered and they will receive compensation. Because of their geographical location and the fact that there was flooding in the past many cannot obtain insurance cover with the result that they are in a difficult position. Action needs to be taken and we need to plan for the future; prevention is always better than cure. The Minister of State, with the Office of Public Works and the Department of the Environment, should ensure that a proper drainage system is put in place to prevent flooding in Carlow where, apart from the problems caused for homeowners and businesses, flood waters have blocked the link road between Rosslare and the west. Until the bridge we have been seeking for many years is built traffic to the west will have to use  this route. When there is flooding detours are necessary.
Éamon Ó Cuív: I am delighted that this matter is being discussed as I do not think anyone fully realises the extent of the damage caused by the recent spell of bad weather. I was surprised that the Opposition had to table a motion to have the matter discussed in this House. Last week efforts were made to have it discussed as a matter of urgency but time was not provided for a debate. It is a matter of regret that we had to wait until this week but I hope, following this debate, action will be taken to alleviate the hardship caused by the flooding and storm damage in recent weeks.
During the recent Packard dispute there was reference daily on news bulletins to its effects. In that instance the livelihoods of a large number of people were at stake and, rightly, it was at the top of the news agenda. However, the total number of livelihoods now in jeopardy as a consequence of the recent flooding and storm damage is equal in number and I hope the Government will give it the same priority.
Many people are suffering because their homes have been flooded and personal household goods have been destroyed at huge financial cost. As pointed out by previous speakers, people living in areas prone to flooding find it almost impossible to obtain insurance cover. For the farming community the problems are equally grave.
In many cases we are talking about the household damage and, in addition, severe loss of livestock, fodder, etc. I will return to this subject later. It is of great importance that any measures to be introduced should be comprehensive in nature and should look to the total recompense of people who, through no fault of their own, suffered serious loss due to the recent flooding and storm damage.
 Ba mhaith liom aird an Aire a dhíriú ar fhadhb atá thar a bheith trom chúiseach ar chósta Chonamara, is é sin an dochar a rinne na stoirmeacha do bhóithre, do bhallaí, nó do chlaíocha mar a thugaimid orthu, agus an damáiste ar fad atá déanta don talamh ar fad atá le cósta. Tá dochar déanta ar na céannaí agus tá áiteanna le cósta go bhfuil an t-uafás dochair déanta, dochar nach bhfuil aon chaint air.
Rud amháin is féidir glacadh leis; bhí a fhios ag na feirmeoirí fadó céard a bhí á dhéanamh acu agus ar an ábhar sin is féidir leat glacadh leis áit ar bith go bhfuil na claíocha tógtha i ndeisceart Chonamara nach áit é go h-iondúil go dtéann an fharraige. Tá scéalta, agus tá sé feicthe againn fhéin, an damáiste a rinne na stoirmeacha le cúpla seachtain anuas ar an dreapa talúna le cósta. Tá claíocha leagtha leis an gcósta ar fad ag síneadh ó Chathair na Gaillimhe siar go Carna agus siar ó thuaidh ansin go Béal an Chaoláire Rua.
Tá gá le scéimeanna speisialta leis na claíocha a thógáil, leis na garraithe a ath-thógáil. Tá a fhios agam go bhfaighaimid scéal ó na húdaráis nach fiú na garraithe seo a shábháil mar nach bhfuil ann ach garraithe beaga ach do na daoine lena mbaineann sé leo is garraithe tábhachtacha iad, is cuid dá gcuid talúna iad agus is é an t-aon talamh amháin atá acu agus is é an t-aon talamh amháin a bhéas acu. Mar sin, tá gá le scéimeanna a réiteadh an fhadhb seo do na daoine agus a chuireas caoi uair amháin eile ar na ballaí atá leagtha, ar na céanna atá leagtha agus ar na bóithre go bhfuil damáiste déanta dhóibh.
Ba mhaith aird an Aire Stáit a dhíriú go speisialta ar fhadhbanna atá ag éirí go mór ar na hOileáin Árain, áit a bhfuil creim na costa go síor-leanúnach ag déanamh an t-uafás dochair agus áit go bhfuil an-contúirt ann, munandéanfaí rud éigin go luath, go scriosfar pé beag talún atá ag cuid mhaith de na feirmeoirí atá ar na h-oileáin.
I ask the Minister of State to consider a remedial package for the Connemara area that would protect the needs of the  farming community there. It is important that special schemes be introduced to reinstate the piers, roads and all the other infrastructure that have been damaged. In addition, serious damage has been done to the stone walls that bound the fields in those areas and many boulders have been thrown up on the land. There is need for remedial action in this case.
In that context, I was disappointed to receive a reply from An Roinn Ealaíon, Cultúir agus Gaeltachta, ar a bhfuil tú fhéin mar Aire Stáit inniú, saying that in regard to storm damage and coastal erosion, the Department of Arts, Culture and and the Gaeltacht has no function in the Gaeltacht in relation to remedial works. That was a most disappointing reply and I hope the Minister of State can influence the Minister to reconsider that policy. This matter is intimately related to the functions of the Department and I hope that an issue which is very close to the hearts of the people of the Gaeltacht will be readdressed.
On the general issue of coastal erosion being caused by storm damage, we must have a comprehensive plan. I understand a small amount of EU funding has been made available for coastal erosion and I am aware that Galway County Council has made some submissions in this regard. That plan, however, falls far short of the problem. I accept that the money available is limited but it is important that comprehensive plans are drawn up to ensure that coastal erosion is prevented. I accept the sea will not be held back in every area but where this is not possible it is important that a scheme be instituted whereby people who are losing land on a yearly basis through coastal erosion would be compensated for the loss of that land. To those people the loss of the land means the loss of their livelihood and to date no compensation has been given to them.
I wish to refer to the specific area of Gort; my colleague, Deputy McCormack, has already spoken about this area. I wish to put on the record the  scale of the damage we are facing in this area. From figures given to me, I understand that more than 60 houses in that area were flooded, 40 roads were closed, and 34 are still flooded; the land of 400 farmers has been flooded and 200 farmers have lost fodder. I will give an example of how serious is this loss of fodder. One farmer has had 185 bales of silage destroyed which, at £15 per bale, is worth £2,775. To many small farmers in the West, that is an unsustainable loss.
We are facing the flooding of 15,000 acres in south Galway and north Clare. It must be remembered that we are not talking about long term flooding. One of the difficulties in this area, as the Minister of State no doubt is aware, is that the flooding will last for a considerable time because the drainage is subterranean and nobody knows when the floods will subside. In a river bank or tidal situation, the damage can be very severe over a short period but at least the effects are not continuous whereas in the areas to which I have referred, one is dependent on a series of subterranean channels to drain the water.
As the land drains in the higher areas, flooding can increase in the lower areas; in fact, the draining of one area can lead to the flooding of another. There is a need for a package of compensation for farmers whose land will be effectively non-usuable for a considerable time to come. I will give an example of how little the waters have receded. A helicopter made a special flight to drop food, fuel oil and hay into the area recently. I give credit to the Government for organising this and thank the Ministers for the action taken. My understanding is that this will have to continue in future weeks. This gives some idea of the scale of the damage. What is required now is a comprehensive review of the damage resulting from inability to use land, damage to houses, the loss of fodder, the problems of coastal erosion and the damage caused by boulders thrown up on the land as happened in south Connemara.  What is needed is an urgent and comprehensive plan to deal with these issues. I hope that we will not get a small package of aid that is selective and limited. All the people seriously affected by storm damage and flooding should be aided.
We must once again look at our policy on arterial drainage. I welcome the Government's commitment to reviewing the Arterial Drainage Act. However, we must go further. Large grants were given in the 1970s for land drainage and much land was drained. In addition work was done on rivers. However, it seems to be forgotten that the effect of draining land in certain areas is not permanent and work must be ongoing. It is wrong to think that one can drain land, streams and small rivers and think it can then be left. I hope the Minister will look at the possibility of introducing a comprehensive scheme to drain small and large rivers to prevent the kind of flooding we have had on this occasion, some of which is avoidable whereas some is just an act of God that we have to live with. In those cases awarding compensation is appropriate but in the other cases there is a need to review drainage policy.
Ba mhaith liom na tuillte a tháinig isteach ar Chladach na Gaillimhe agus isteach go cathair na Gaillimhe féin a lua. Rinne siad sin an-damáiste agus tá go leor daoine sa cheantar sin nach bhfuil árachas orthu; go mbeidh cailliúintí móra orthu i ngeall ar na tuillte a tháinig isteach ar Bhóthar na Trá agus isteach sa Chladach i nGaillimh. Tá súil agam, nuair a thiocfaidh an pacáiste atáthar ag rá linn a thiocfaidh — amárach nó arú amárach — go mbeidh na daoine sin san áireamh ann freisin nuair a fhógrófar é. Fadhb an-mhór í seo: fabhb a chosnóidh airgead.
Mar a dúirt mé ar dtús, ní féidir linn dearmad a dhéanamh ar an gcineál chúiteamh a thabharfaí dá mbeadh 1,000, 1,500 nó 2,000 duine ag cailleadh a bpostanna nó dá mbeadh tithe scriosta ar bhealach ar bith eile ar an oiread sin daoine. Mar sin, creidim go bhfuil dualgas ar an Rialtas féachaint chuige go  ndéanfar cúiteamh a thabhairt do na daoine ar fad a chaill an oiread sin sna tuillte le gairid.
Tá gá ann freisin go ndéanfar cinnte pleananna a réiteach le féachaint an bhfuil bealach ar bith, go mórmhór i ndeisceart na Gaillimhe, leis an damáiste atá á dhéanamh ag stoirmeacha le blianta beaga anuas a mhaolú. Ní féidir linn dul ar aghaidh sa cheantar sin bliain i ndiaidh bliana le tuillte móra; le feirm-eoirí ag cailleadh airgid go trom i ngeall ar fhadhbanna atá áirithe sa cheantar sin maidir le draenáil talúna.
Tá gá freisin athbhreathnú a dhéanamh ar pholasaí na Roinne féachaint le dualgais agus cúramaí maidir le creimeadh talúna agus damáiste stoirme a thabhairt do Roinn na Gaeltachta. Caithfidh mé a rá, mar dhuine atá ag cónaí sa Ghaeltacht, go bhfuil díomá an tsaoil orm go bhfuil an oiread tarraingt siar ag Roinn na Gaeltachta — an Roinn Ealaíon, Cultúir agus Gaeltachta mar a thugtar air anois — ó chuid de na feidhmeanna a bhí acu 20 agus 30, nuair a bhí scéimeanna beaga ar fáil do mhuintir na Gaeltachta agus a réitigh cuid mhaith de na fadhbanna a bhí acu. Tá cuid mhaith de na scéimeanna a thugtar isteach anois i bhfad ró-mhór agus i bhfad ró-chasta agus níl siad feil-iúnach don chineál saoil atá ag an bpobal ar an gcósta agus amuigh ar na h-oileáin.
Tá súil agam, nuair a dhéanfar an chás seo a scrúdú, nach ndéanfar dear-mad ar na h-oileáin ar fad ar an gcósta a fhulaingíonn go leor chuile bhliain i ngeall ar stoirmeacha agus a d'fhulaing go leor i mbliana. Tá go leor talúna i mbaol orthu agus ní amháin talamh ach tithe, bóithre agus chuile rud eile. Tá siad ag lorg cúnaimh, agus déanfaidh siad an obair iad féin má fhaigheann siad cúnamh, le chuid den damáiste a rinneadh a réiteach.
Ar an ábhar sin ba mhaith liom tac-adh leis an rún atá curtha ar aghaidh ag Páirtí Fhianna Fáil os comhair na Dála. Creidim gur maith an rud é gur phléadh an t-ábhar seo anocht. Chuir sé ríméad orm a fheiceáil anocht an oiread de  lucht an Rialtais a bhfuil spéis acu san ábhar seo an tseachtain seo. Tá súil agam go mbeidh siad in ann áiteamh ar an Rialtas beart de réir a mbriathar a dhéanamh anois; seasamh lena bhfocal agus dul agus rud éigin ceart, cóir a dhéanamh do na daoine seo ar fad agus do na daoine ar fud na tíre. Luadh Ceatharlach agus áiteanna eile atá tar éis an t-uafás airgid agus stoic a chaill-eadh i ngeall ar an tuillte a tháing le gairid. Creidim go bhfuil sé i lámh an Rialtais anois gníomhú ar an bhfadhb seo agus tá súil agam go ndéanfar an cás seo a réiteach agus gur pacáiste ceart iomlán a fhógrófar nuair a fhógrófar an pacáiste atá geallta.
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Carey): I am glad to have this brief opportunity to say something about the flooding as it affects my constituency. My constituency has suffered over the years because of differences of opinion between Departments of State, the Office of Public Works and Clare County Council. There has been a slackening off in river and stream maintenance. It is calculated that in the Clare constituency £2 million has been directed away from the relief of flooding through non-spending of the Fergus drainage money or the rates which Clare County Council allocated for the maintenance of our rivers.
Short-term relief is necessary, as outlined in the response to this motion, but long term matters must also be addressed. I hope the interdepartmental committee now being set up by the Minister of State will address these difficult issues. It is necessary also that responsibility for particular areas be established.
Deputy Ó Cuív mentioned that the responsibility for dealing with coastal erosion should be ceded by Roinn na Mara to the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltachta. I understand that both Departments work hand in hand. At present Roinn na Mara is doing good work on the Aran Islannds, Inis Meán and Inisheer, putting together the Structural Funds proposal  instituted by the previous Minister. I do not see Deputy Ó Cuív's proposals being accepted by this committee. Nevertheless some means should be found to iron out the difficulties that have arisen. I hope long term work will be considered by this group.
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