Wednesday, 8 February 1995
Dáil Éireann Debate
That Dáil Éirean 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.
“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.”
Mr. E. Byrne: I am very happy to support the amendment. What is remarkable about this Private Members' motion is that it is coming from our Fianna Fáil colleagues. I understand from contacts with the farming community that the IFA and other farming lobby groups very much wanted to contact the Fianna Fáil MEPs but, to their horror, they discovered that they were not accessible because the telephone numbers to the hotels in Guadeloupe were not widely available. The Fianna Fáil Party would want to stop making attempts to embarrass this Government on such issues as its response to the very tragic plight of people in the west when, in fact, all six Fianna Fáil MEPs were high flying and sunbathing in Guadeloupe where the average rainfall is so low one would wonder what they were doing and why they could not leave telephone numbers where the IFA could contact them.
Those who have lost crops, livestock or property through flooding deserve to be treated better than to have their losses used as a party political football. No party or individual is indifferent to the suffering caused by the recent floods.
While I have never experienced flooding in the west, I saw the devastation in the wake of Hurricane Charlie  and other adverse weather conditions in the Dublin region. I am aware of its effect on communities and of the loss of property involved. We have a harmless looking stream, the Poddle River, which man has tried to contain. It is one of the most historic rivers in the capital. I witnessed at first hand the havoc caused by this tiny stream in flood in the Harold's Cross, Kimmage and Whitehall Road areas of my constituency. We remember the damage caused by Hurricane Charlie when the floodwaters of the Dodder River overflowed. Very fine cottages along the Dodder bank were destroyed as were fine houses in Donnybrook. Little Bray was devastated in the recent past and has suffered flooding on successive occasions.
I extend my sympathies to farmers who have lost property and livestock. Flooding occurs somewhere in the country every year. No party is to blame and no party has a panacea. I welcome the Minister's comments regarding arterial drainage. Floods are an act of God, though some people would describe them as an act of nature. However, some of them are as a result of an act of man. Man tried to contain the Poddle River by using concrete pipes to take its flow but they were not big enough to take the waters when the rains were sufficiently heavy to cause a flood.
We have tampered with nature, reclaimed moorlands and turned them into set-aside lands which are particularly susceptible to flooding. We must review our land use policy and strike a balance between the needs of the farming community and the environment. I welcome the Minister's announcement yesterday that the Office of Public Works will compile a list of 90 urban areas known to experience flooding. It is clear that the Office of Public Works is the only office capable of co-ordinating measures in this regard. There must be a co-ordinated policy for the management of our waterways and for local authorities. This is a contentious issue in some areas but we will not be able to avoid it in the long term. However, in the short term, EU assistance for flood  victims is welcome. It is just as well we were not depending on MEPs from the Fianna Fáil Party to get those few shillings for us.
As we saw on television, many areas in the European Union have been devastated by flooding. The EU should try to devise a long term policy aimed at preventing flooding as a result of man made causes and at minimising the effects of floods. There could be an exchange of expertise and technology, grant aiding research into the problem and compensatory funding of the kind being provided. Unless both national and EU measures are put in place we will continue to have this debate on a yearly basis.
The Government's policy and its recognition of the hardship caused by flooding is worthy of a Government of this composition. Fianna Fáil need to be more honest in putting down Private Members' motions if they are to be taken seriously as a party in Opposition.
Mr. Kemmy: I wish to share my time with Deputies Kavanagh and Connor. We are closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. We have seen the horrors of flooding in County Galway, Sixmilebridge in County Clare and Cappamore in Limerick on television and read about it in our newspapers. There have been graphic illustrations of how flooding has caused distress and inconvenience to many people. Anyone who has suffered from flooding, even where a water tank overflows, knows the misery involved trying to clean up and dry out carpets, lino, books and furniture.
I went to see the damage at first hand at Sixmilebridge and Cappamore where I met the Minister of State, Deputy Hogan. As a young man in 1963 I went to Holland to study the building industry. I saw Dutch engineers and construction workers building dams and dykes and reclaiming land from the sea. Most of Holland is below sea level. Despite the fact that it is no bigger than Munster it feeds 14 million people and exports surplus food not only to this country and to Limerick which is the  heart of the Golden Vale but to other parts of the world. The Dutch are practical people but despite their ingenuity, this time much of their lands were flooded. However, we can learn a lot from them. I would like to see local authority engineers spend some time in Holland learning how the Dutch keep the sea at bay and how they reclaim land. We can learn a great deal from the Dutch. Engineers, particularly those working for local authorities should spend some time in Holland seeing how the Dutch cope with excessive waters, reclaim land and keep the sea at bay most of the time. Many of them could well benefit from such experience.
On the television programme “Questions and Answers” on Monday evening last Mr. Ken Magennis of the Ulster Unionist Party spoke about flooding in response to a question put from the audience. He made some very pertinent, if not profound remarks, drawing attention to the contradiction where on the one hand, many of our farmers and others with agricultural interests are reclaiming wet, sloblands while, on the other farmers are being paid to set aside land. Surely there is something wrong in that equation, highlighting the need for greater co-ordination and a more positive policy in that respect? Recently due to more extensive intensive farming, dykes, trenches and ditches which absorbed rain have been eliminated so that the water now flows uninhibited into rivers and streams causing the water to rise higher than adjoining lands in many regions.
I agree with Deputy Eric Byrne that prevention is better than cure. There is no point in our throwing our hands up in horror at the problems caused by flooding in recent weeks, contending that it is a tragedy or an act of God. That is a simplistic, facile response. Rather, we must investigate regions wherever such flooding occurs, ascertaining whether it can be prevented in the future. There is need for a co-ordinated policy between the Office of Public Works and engineers working for  local authorities. There is no reason, with such co-operation and planning, a recurrence of this flooding cannot be prevented. There is no reason we cannot channel that water into rivers that can take it. That should be a simple expedient. Since we were able to build canals in the last century to divert waterway traffic into our rivers, there is no reason we cannot now build other canals to take this water. A very good axiom is: a stitch in time saves nine. A properly, co-ordinated policy involving the Office of Public Works and local authorities can prevent future flooding.
This is the first occasion I have had to congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Hogan, on his appointment. I know he is taking a particular interest in this problem. Since we do not receive much publicity in Wicklow, I would ask him to take note that my county too has been very badly affected in recent weeks, while not as badly as it was during Hurricane Charlie in 1986. Although many Wicklow residents work in RTE it appears they leave their cameras at home when they come to work, perhaps preferring to focus on other areas. At our most recent county council meeting on Monday last we were given an estimate of the cost of repairing damage wrought on County Wicklow roads, the area engineers reporting that it amounted to some £550,000. Yet, in our annual estimate there was no provision for it so that, if repair works are to be carried out in the course of this year, Wicklow County Council will require an additional subvention from the Minister's Department. While flooding has not been an enormous problem for householders in County Wicklow, some households were affected recently. The overall county roads structure has been badly damaged, particularly in the areas  of Greystones, Bray, Wicklow, Blessington and Tinahely, all reporting considerable damage. In one area, a road stretching for approximately half a mile in the direction of Luggala — where an interpretative centre was being constructed — was already in such bad condition, it was practically washed away in recent floods. It is strange to observe so much money being spent on an interpretative facility while the roads leading to it remain in such bad condition, now almost beyond repair.
I must emphasise that all local authorities are already very badly stretched in their estimates even to maintain their present roads structures, particularly county roads. Indeed, the removal of practically all local authority outdoor staff by a former Minister for the Environment, now Commissioner Flynn, has meant that cuttings, gulleys and so on which were very effective in taking water from roads have become totally clogged up. It is only at times like these that one observes such damage. It is a quasi-saving if enormous works have to be undertaken to repair or reinstate roads formerly maintained by local authority outdoor staff who kept cuttings and gulleys clear during drier periods.
Although we in Wicklow did not receive much publicity for the problems recently encountered in our area, the damage perpetrated is estimated to be in the region of £0.5 million which is not available to us.
Flooding always has been an issue in Ireland, particularly along our west coast where it has constituted a serious problem. There are very few winters when flooding does not occur. It has been particularly acute so far this year. While welcoming the opportunity to debate the issue, one must comment on the authors of this motion which reads:
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.
Those are fine words and we fully accept that it is a problem to be addressed. Nonethless, that is a far cry from Fianna Fáil's response when in Government, to the flooding that occurred in my constituency and in the west generally in 1990, when it was of much greater severity than recently. Not a single shilling was provided by the then Fianna Fáil-dominated Coalition Government when hundreds of people in my constituency had to leave their homes in the Suck and Shannon valleys. Therefore, it is a little too much to have to take some of the declaiming, cant and barefaced hypocrisy of Members opposite last evening, advising and lecturing this Government on what it should do about flooding.
However, I welcome the fact that the Minister of State, Deputy Hogan, is to address this problem, first, by establishing an inter-Departmental committee to examine flooding nationwide. What has bedevilled our response to flooding here more than anything else has been the lack of a co-ordinated approach to its resolution. I take it that included in the composition of that inter-Departmental committee will be the Commissioners of Public Works, for which Office the Minister of State is responsible, along with the Departments of the Environment and Agriculture, Food and Forestry.
We must take into account also the changed nature of practices in agriculture and industry generally, for example, those employed by Bord na Móna and their effects on the capacity of our rivers systems to carry additional waters. For instance, over the past 40  years in the midlands, or even more recently, tens of thousands of acres of high boglands have disappeared, having been turned into commercial turf cutting areas, yielding milled peat and so on, particularly on the Bog of Allen and those bogs fronting the Shannon in Counties Longford, Roscommon, Offaly and elsewhere. Nature ordained a role for those great areas of peatland and high bog which acted as huge sponges in times of heavy rainfall, absorbing billions of gallons of water and discharging it slowly into the river systems. Nowadays, that work of nature is being interfered with, leading to water being discharged in much greater volume and at speed into our river systems. There has been no response to this problem certainly not by way of any policy on drainage.
Rather than engage in drainage of major arterial catchments, I welcome the approach to respond immediately to the type of flooding that has occurred in south Galway, in the Gort area, and to what may well happen in the Suck or Shannon valleys in counties Galway, Roscommon or Westmeath, Longford and so on.
Under current legislation the Office of Public Works, the main agency which deals with flood problems, could not respond. The new flexibility promised by an amendment to the arterial drainage Act is welcomed. The last arterial drainage scheme was sanctioned by the then Minister for Finance, Deputy John Bruton, in the 1981 budget in which he sanctioned works on the Boyle-Bonnet drainage scheme, the headquarters of which was located in Ballaghaderreen in my constituency. It is 14 years since the last arterial drainage scheme was sanctioned by a Government.
While I agree with almost everything the Minister said last night, I notice he stated that the Boyle catchment drainage scheme will be closed later this year. I utterly disagree with that decision. The Boyle River drainage catchment scheme will take a further two years to complete and it would be absolute folly if a decision were taken to terminate it. If it  is not properly completed it will result in further land and road inundation and other adverse effects of heavy rainfall. I appeal to the Government, the Minister for Finance and his junior Minister, whom I know sympathises with me on this because I have spoken to him about it to ensure that the drainage scheme is completed. There is no point in terminating it prematurely at the end of this year because many of its upper reaches still cause major flooding. It would be regrettable if this scheme were terminated to facilitate generating funds to address problems elsewhere. I regret I did not have more time as this is a subject I could debate all day as indeed could the Acting Chairman. Thank you, Sir, for your indulgence.
Mr. Molloy: I want to move an amendment in the names of Progressive Democrats Deputies to delete all words after “Dáil Éireann”. In other words, the motion would read: “That Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to take immediate steps to establish the full extent of——
Mr. Molloy: It is a pity because the motion put down by the Fianna Fáil Party does not adequately cover the problems that have arisen around the country. It merely mentions the granting of compensation to rural communities for flooding damage that has occurred. It omits compensation for storm damage, it omits urban communities and any reference to the need for a study of the cause of the serious extensive flooding that has taken place, the need for a solution and how it might be brought about.
The severe storms and exceptional rainfall in recent weeks left a trail of destruction across the country that has caused extreme hardship to many people living in rural and urban areas. In one sad case in Spiddal, County Galway, the storms caused mountainous seas to crash across the main road sweeping a motor car and its driver into adjoining fields resulting in the driver's tragic death from drowning. During the night of that terrible storm coastal communities in the west, particularly along the Galway coast where the storm struck most severely, suffered a terrible battering from the high winds and seas that smashed piers, washed away roads and walls, damaged houses and other property and caused serious coastal erosion. In the Salthill-Claddagh area of Galway city private houses and business  establishments were flooded to a depth of several feet. In a new house which I inspected the flood waters reached a depth of seven feet in the basement. Floods in urban areas caused the added hazard of sewage overspill which, in the Galway city area, added greatly to the distress of the occupiers of houses. People in the Salthill area who had just completed mopping up after the tidal flooding had a recurrence of serious flooding within a few days because of exceptional heavy rainfall which again resulted in a backing up of the inadequate sewerage system to a depth of several feet. I mention this because any survey of flood damage must take account of inadequacies in local authority infrastructures, the effects of new developments, pipes that may have been laid incorrectly or of the wrong size. All of those matters contribute to serious flooding with major financial consequences for occupants of houses.
The damage from the storms is extensive and local authorities should be requested to submit information to the new interdepartmental committee established under the chairmanship of the Minister of State, Deputy Hogan. I wish the committee well but, from my experience of previous investigations carried out by Government Departments, very little action was taken subsequent in regard to damage caused by storms. There is plenty of evidence along the Galway coast of broken piers, damaged roads and fields that have been washed away where there has been no compensation or action undertaken to rebuild the piers or repair the roads. That regrettable evidence highlights the neglect of rural communities. Kilmurvey pier on the Aran Islands was smashed in a storm several years ago and has been neglected for many years because money has not been provided to repair it and a Government Department has not taken responsibility for it despite the fact that Galway County Council sought funds from the Department.
The extensive flooding results from the extremely high rainfall and has caused serious hardship over a wide  area of the country. I have seen much of the damage in my constituency. I have also seen some of the damage caused in County Carlow when I passed through it. The consequences for the people who have suffered is horrendous. I note that the Minister in his speech last night stated that the compensation fund which the Minister will announce in the budget this afternoon will only cover non-insurable risks as a result of flooding.
In all of these things where there are promises of help, the rules and regulations that apply to them exclude many deserving cases. I hope that this clause referring to non-insurable risks will not eliminate many people who have suffered financial loss because of the damage from the storms and the floods. The other speakers in the debate have listed the effects of the flooding on the farming community such as farmers and towns being cut off. In my district of County Galway a national primary route has been flooded on three or four occasions over the past four years, at Kiltiernan on the Gort-Galway road and also at Labba. It is extraordinary that with a national roads authority a national primary route linking Galway and Cork and all the southern counties can be flooded to such an extent, causing problems for passing traffic. Any low motor vehicles would have difficulty getting through the water at its highest point.
The fact that as a result of the flooding farmers are not able to grow root crops should be highlighted in any estimate of compensation because the floods in south Galway which occurred in 1990, 1991, 1994 and again in 1995 are unique. They have occurred in an area where there is no river to take the water to the sea. The flood water cannot escape to the sea except through subterranean streams and rivers because of the unique local geological structure. As these floods have occurred with such frequency and been so extensive, it is surely incumbent on the parties in Government to take some positive action to ensure that they will not recur.
 The flooding in south Galway is unique because of the geological structure, the lack of an outlet to the sea for the water and, in particular, because it takes such a long time for the flood waters to recede. Farmers there tell me that it will be April before the waters recede, which means that having lost last year's opportunity to plant root crops they are denied that opportunity again this year. The consequences of that for any farming operation are horrendous. Additional problems are caused by stock being marooned at lambing time, foxes taking away the young lambs and lambs dying from neglect in isolated areas as it is not possible to bring them where they can be watched by the farmer. Farmers usually like to keep young lambs close to the house.
Despite the pleas of Deputies, Senators, MEPs, the president of the IFA, the ICMSA, the Bishops' western conference and hundreds of individuals, nothing positive has yet been done to seek a solution to the problem in south Galway. The lack of concern at official level has been most disappointing. The lack of appreciation of the seriousness of this problem for the people affected, and the refusal to come to their assistance over recent years, is unforgivable and difficult to understand.
Compensation is only of short term benefit. Property owners do not want to have to live in fear of floods year after year, which is the situation that obtains in south Galway. Up to now, their plight has been ignored by successive Ministers. Small compensation amounts were paid to some of those who suffered in the 1990 floods in south Galway but no serious effort was made to take any action that might help to avoid the flooding in later years. We have had visits from different Ministers over those four or five years. The most recent visit was by the Minister of State, Deputy Hogan. Is it any wonder that cynicism about politicians is growing in the area due to a lack of action?
I have files of correspondence and replies from Ministers on the issue.  Different Ministers have been in office over the period but the result was very much the same. We were told the matter is being looked into or there are no funds. I wish to quote the following from a letter from the Office of Public Works:
As none of the rivers in this region are included in the programme and as our resources are fully committed to our responsibilities under this programme, we are not in a position at present to pursue this matter (of undertaking drainage work which would relieve the situation).
He said the EU disaster fund was of no use either, as it was intended to meet the immediate needs of families suffering the consequences of bad weather. In all the efforts to try to get compensation the response has been pathetic and only last week, the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin's response was most disappointing. He went down the same road of saying that he had no responsibility, he had no funds and he generally was not going to do anything. I am pleased that this motion has at least brought about a reaction from the Government. It has formed a committee with the Minister as chairman and there is a commitment that some funds will be paid in compensation.
I wish to explain the unique position of south Galway. A Geological Survey of Ireland report, which I commissioned as Minister for Energy, and reported in January 1992, was the only serious study undertaken in regard to the problem of flooding in south Galway. None of the recommendations in this report have been acted upon by any of the Ministers or Governments that have been in office since it was published. The report states:
 Water flows in several streams off Slieve Aughty and sinks underground shortly after the streams flow onto the cavernous limestones. All the water within the large area — over 500 km² — must flow underground to Galway Bay. (This is the point I want to emphasise.) There is no surface outlet to Galway Bay. The capacity of the underground drainage system to allow water to flow to Galway Bay depends on
Coole Lough apears to be the hub of an extensive underground drainage system taking water from a vast area including Slieve Aughty and the limestone area to the south west. The water then flows underground from Coole to Kinvara.
According to local farmers, major flooding has occurred three times in living memory (this is a 1992 report) — 1924, 1959 and early 1990. So (up to recent years) major floods have occurred every 25-30 years.
Constructing drainage channels or tunnels would have major benefits for local people. There would be less disruption during periods of excessive rainfall, less concern about possible flooding in the future and increased agricultural production.
The report goes on to list the obstacles and disadvantages which the construction of drainage channels or tunnels would cause. One of them, of course, is the fact that to provide such a channel from the Coole Lough area to the sea at Kinvarra would cost several million pounds, but unless that option is taken by the Government, flooding is going to recur practically on an annual basis in this part of Galway. I urge the Minister to take remedial action in regard to the future flooding as well as the moves they have taken to provide compensation because otherwise farming in that area will become a dead loss.
Mr. E. O'Keeffe: It gives me no joy to speak on this very important motion. We all know about the hardship that many people have suffered. I wish to congratulate the Minister on his appointment. I am sharing my time with Deputy Ellis.
I congratulate the Minister on his courage in coming in here to listen to the debate and I also want to wish him well in his position. I look forward, as both a farmer and a politician, to working with him. He has got off to a very good start and I compliment him on that.
This motion is very important. Storm damage and heavy rain have caused massive hardship on people throughout the country. On storms, I wish to refer to a vitally important matter and we do not have any terms of reference or code  of practice in that area. I refer to the great danger caused by the many trees growing on roadsides. No one seems to have the authority to have those trees removed or to have them cut back. They cause difficulties for people when they fall and can be a danger to life. Local authorities should be empowered in some way to have this corrected because if not they will be the cause of loss of life.
Heavy rain is part of the Irish way of life, I suppose and it has caused irreparable damage to roads and land as well as flooding rivers. The biggest problem arising from this is that of household insurance claims. If corrective action is not taken by the authorities people will not be able to insure their household goods because of the high cost of insurance premia. For that reason it is vitally important that corrective action is taken by the Government. We can talk for as long as we like about county councils and engineers. They have the expertise to do the job but they do not have the funding to carry out the necessary works. The county councils have many files documenting the corrective action and works that could be carried out. I commend the engineering staff in many local authorities who, year after year, come to grips with the problems of flooding and storm damage.
County roads are in a deplorable state. We heard recently about the liner Lusitania and a preservation order for it is being talked about. Given the existing potholes we will be boating on our county roads if something is not done. I am concerned about people living in rural areas who cannot travel because of the state of the county roads. The potholes are full of water — that is the new technology for filling potholes. Dykes on the roads are also becoming quite a problem.
I drive every week to Dublin and on the Cork side of Cullahill I have seen a mass of water on the main arterial road and no corrective action taken. I was surprised that as late as Sunday of this week when I was travelling to Dublin  the problem was still there. It is highly dangerous and I appeal to the Department of the Environment to take corrective action on that road to remove the danger caused by the flooding. It is an ongoing problem, it did not just happen this year.
I listened with interest to Deputy Kemmy. Tragically, all Fine Gael and Labour Governments have always been identified with bad weather. We lost a hay crop under a Coalition Government and there was little compensation available to farmers — it was an historic year in agriculture. Deputy Kemmy spoke about Holland. Had our flooding been as bad as Holland we would all have been drowned because of the policy of this Government. Many areas in Holland are below sea level and dykes have been built to protect them. The Deputy talked about the leaks; there have been more leaks this week than ever before. The budget has been leaked and, like the rain, it is flooding.
A sum of £2 million for flood damage is practically worthless. We have to be realistic; £2 million would not solve the problems of County Cork. I live in the Blackwater valley and we were lucky this year that the area did not flood. However, I can remember years when we had three huge floods which destroyed the towns of Mallow and Fermoy, and many of the villages and the farming land in the area. We were promised support and funding in the past but we never got it. We are an island nation but we will have a great number of islands inland if we do not take corrective action.
Rivers are not being cleaned; they are overgrown with trees, briars and scrub which further aggravates the problem. Because of the floods there have been large losses of livestock and sheep which many farmers can ill afford. There was a loss of fodder where farmyards were flooded, etc. Compensation must be provided in those cases. Farmers' livelihoods have suffered severely and they have no way of making a living unless they get compensation. It is the small farmers who suffer most. I am proud of  Fianna Fáil's record with regard to compensation; we have always looked after the people in rural areas, especially the small farmers. It is the party which has always done what it could for rural Ireland and I am proud to speak on this motion.
An interdepartmental committee is being set up by the Office of Public Works, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. I am glad the Minister of State, Deputy Hogan, is to be its chairman. He was involved in co-ordinating the budget, and it appears to be a good budget. If he has the same clout and can put the same effort into this committee there will be a lot more than £2 million available.
Slurry at farm level is of concern to everybody. We have huge volumes of slurry now stored at farm level and the problem is aggravated by the heavy rainfall. I suggest that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry make funding available because it is important that assistance is given to the farming community by way of a new grant system. The volume of effluent at farm level at present is huge; it cannot be disposed of and if it overflows it will affect many rivers and cause problems. This serious problem caused by the volume of effluent and intensive agriculture must be recognised. Unlike other countries where intensive farming is practised, no farmer here, big or small, has the storage capacity to cope with the weather in Ireland. A special concession must be made available to Irish farmers for the storage and disposal of slurry. This must be looked at in a special light. I have no doubt the Minister will take the matter in hand.
Flash floods are highly dangerous; they have serious effects in many areas. Heavy downpours cause hardship to many people, including the elderly. They can damage carpets, furniture and homes. A more sympathetic approach should be adopted by the community welfare officers and the health boards who should rescue and assist those  people. Damp homes are not comfortable or desirable for old people. There are solutions to these problems and the health boards should be advised by the Minister for Health and the Minister for Social Welfare to deal with them in a sympathetic way. In many instances this is not done because a flood is seen as an act of God. I support the motion. I have no doubt we will see more than £2 million provided in the budget to meet this problem. I am glad to see the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry is here to listen to what I have to say about the farming community. I know his heart is in the right place and I have no doubt that he will take note of my appeal for grant aid for slurry storage given the weather we have had.
Mr. Ellis: Having listened to the Minister of State last night I am worried about what he proposes to do vis-à-vis changes in arterial drainage legislation. A reply to a parliamentary question I put yesterday states:
The proposal to amend the provisions of existing drainage legislation will provide the mechanism to enable the Commissioners of Public works to deal with localised flooding, in particular urban flooding, on a countrywide basis as opposed to the existing catchment scheme approach. These proposals are under consideration in the Department of Finance.
This shows that the Minister of State does not intend to do anything about some of the problems which have arisen in my constituency with regard to unfinished work. I was glad to hear Deputy  Connor say he was not happy about the unfinished work on the Boyle river scheme. The Office of Public Works will now act like Pontius Pilate and wash its hands of what had been agreed by the previous Minister of State, Deputy Dempsey, that a revision of the arterial drainage legislation would allow for the introduction of small alleviation schemes for farm loss caused by flooding. I hope that at this late stage the Bill as originally proposed by Deputy Dempsey will be enacted.
It might be more appropriate to raise this matter if the Ceann Comhairle were here, but a question I put down to the Minister for the Environment to know if he will give supplementary grants to local authorities to repair damage done to county roads caused by the recent storms, and the amount he will provide to each local authority was refused. It was refused because the Minister for the Environment is not prepared to tell the people of rural Ireland what he intends to do with the allocations in the budget for county and regional roads. I hope that what I have heard on the grapevine is not true, that is, that it is intended to cut the amount that will be available for county and regional roads.
I see the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry smiling. He represents a rural constituency, but perhaps not as rural as the area I represent, County Leitrim, which only has 11 miles of national primary roads. If the money for county and regional roads is cut by the drastic amount which we are led to believe, rural dwellers will be left in the same position in which they were left by the last Coalition when it cut the allocation for county roads on an annual basis in its period of office. The result was that every rural road was left in a mess and the incoming Fianna Fáil Government had to deal with the problem. This continued to be dealt with during the Coalition with the Progressive Democrats and during the lifetime of the last Government — the Fianna Fáil-Labour Government — when substantial improvements were made. The  work which the Department of the Environment did under Deputy Smith by providing money for the improvement of county and regional roads is a credit to him. I hope what I have heard is not true, but I am reliably informed that the cuts will cause major problems for local authorities.
I ask the Minister for the Environment to provide money to deal with the recent storm damage to roads but it appears that he is not prepared to do this. Local authorities and rural dwellers will be left to suffer as they have before under Coalition Governments. We are aware of the damage caused to farmland by flooding; we have seen the frightening pictures of flooded farms. Last night on television we saw houses where water levels had reached the window boards. This calls for immediate action. Although Deputy O'Keeffe mentioned £2 million as a possible allocation, I believe £20 to £50 million is needed.
The establishment of an intergovernmental committee to examine the position is not the way to deal with this problem. I am puzzled as to whether it was an afterthought by the Minister of State last night because it did not appear in his speech to the House yesterday. It was probably because he felt the heat was being turned on. Intergovernmental committees examine and report, but they cannot do anything if the necessary funds are not provided. The Government must provide sufficient funds.
Proper and long term assistance must be given to deal with the problems caused by this storm. There is no use saying that when the floods subside everyone will be all right. In my area I have seen land which was flooded as a result of work on the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal. The damage which has been done to that land is permanent even when the flood subsides. This means that while compensation is paid in some cases, it is still under consideration in other cases. I appeal to the Government to provide sufficient funds  in today's budget for the farming community and local authorities to get them over this hardship.
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates): I congratulate Deputy Cowen on his appointment as the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Agriculture. It is an important portfolio and I look forward to working with him in serving the needs of the largest and most important indigenous sector of the economy and in improving the plight of farm families. I propose to share my time with Deputies Flanagan, Ring and Finucane.
Mr. Yates: There is no doubt that the recent flooding has caused considerable problems and indeed individual trauma for those living in the affected areas. Neither I nor the Government need any convincing about that fact. My immediate concern is the impact on the agricultural sector and on farm families in particular. Large areas of agricultural land have been subject to flooding of varying degrees of severity. This flooding has impacted on pastures, farmyards, buildings and silage pits. There have been losses of feed and some loss of livestock. I am aware of the hardship experienced from my travels, from meetings and from meeting with Deputies and Senators from my party.
My Department has carried out a preliminary assessment on the consequences of flooding, which I asked for early last week. While a lot of the flooding has receded, local problems still persist. My officials are still receiving reports on a daily basis from different counties. The preliminary report suggests there are severe problems in Counties Galway, Roscommon, Clare, Carlow, Westmeath, Limerick and Offaly. While these reports are not complete, a considerable volume of data has been assembled. There are precedents  for relief measures, for example, in 1986 and 1990.
I will refer to some of the speeches made. The sum of money made available in 1990 was £700,000 and in 1993 and 1994 no moneys were made available for mainline farming, although there was something for fruit and vegetables. In fact, one of the difficult files I have inherited relates to individual farmers who incurred substantial losses and who nearly went out of business in 1993 and 1994. I am now endeavouring to resolve that difficulty.
I want to achieve an adequate response which will be available quickly. I understand the consequences for farmers whose feed has been destroyed and whose pasture has been flooded or waterlogged. My colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Hogan, referred to the establishment of an interdepartmental committee last night and my Department will actively participate in it. There have been suggestions that this should be the responsibility of one Department. I do not believe that is realistic because flooding by nature impacts on different sectors and activities. A range of skills, expertise and resources are required from different Departments to deal with this effectively. I assure Deputies that the full and active co-operation of my Department will not only be forthcoming but will be vigorous. In the long term we must look at the amendment of the Arterial Drainage Act to give the Office of Public Works more broadly based and effective statutory powers. This would be an important step.
I would strongly support a programme which would find solutions to localised flooding. I am confident that farmers will be able to recover. My colleague, the Minister for Finance, will deal with this matter this afternoon in his budget statement. I do not wish to pre-empt any announcements he may wish to make. However, I am satisfied that the resources which will be available from any Government decision in this regard will be adequate to meet  agricultural needs. I advise farmers with particular problems to contact the Farm Development Service and Teagasc to have their losses of livestock and fodder validated and independently verified. As far as my office is concerned, there will be the utmost co-operation in ensuring that losses of livestock and fodder will be met. While I do not want to get into specifics, I would like to accord my appreciation of the understanding which I have received on this matter from the Minister for Finance and my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Hogan.
Mr. Yates: No, because there is an interdepartmental committee and a number of Departments will be involved. My area of responsibility is in relation to fodder and livestock losses. The Minister for Finance will address this matter and I am satisfied that any scheme will be as good as the previous one, not the fruit and vegetable scheme but the nationwide scheme which applied in 1990.
The compilation of the report in relation to the worst affected areas is nearing completion. We want it to be as full and as accurate as possible. I hope that will be done shortly. Arising from what the Minister for Finance will say this afternoon, if administrative arrangements are necessary, I will not be tardy in facilitating any scheme put in place.
Some of my colleagues, including Deputy Flanagan, have asked about disadvantaged areas and the reclassification and extension file which has been going on for many years. When I took office on 14 December I was dissatisfied with the lack of progress which had been made on this issue. I am meeting a Commission official on Friday to convey to him what I have already conveyed to Commissioner Flynn, that is, that I am not satisfied with the way this issue has been dealt with to date. I will  ask that early progress be made. There are a number of problems but I sympathise with the point made by Deputy Flanagan.
I assure the House that the Government is understanding, sympathetic and concerned with the losses that many people, particularly those in the agricultural sector, have suffered. Having heard the Minister for Finance's statements on the matter this afternoon, any fair and reasonable minded person will have to conclude this Government is acting positively and decisively in this area.
I compliment my party colleagues, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Yates, and his junior colleague, Deputy Hogan, who is also in charge of the Office of Public Works, for the speed with which they reacted to this serious problem. I have no doubt that in the Budget Statement this afternoon will be some type of compensation package that constituents of mine have been seeking over the last few weeks.
My constituents, especially those in west Offaly and south-east Laois, have experienced much trauma due to flooding. I am speaking particularly of the lands comprising the Shannon basin and those farmers attempting to farm land in the basin of the rivers Clodigh and Brosna in west Offaly. Areas like Clara and Shannon harbour, Mucklagh, Belmont and Rahan have been under severe pressure over the last few weeks. Livestock has been lost and fodder has been depleted. The difficulty experienced must be considered in the context of parts of County Offaly being under water for months on end annually, curtailing farming activities. This simply has to stop. Householders in Gregcullen, at the far end of my constituency, are being subjected annually to evacuation from their private dwellings. Houses and householders in parts  of my constituency are unable to obtain adequate insurance cover because of the high risk involved and that too should be addressed.
I take some solace from the fact that the Minister of State is moving swiftly to set up the interdepartmental committee. I look forward to an early report but I now call on the Minister to co-ordinate all the agencies involved — the local authorities, Laois and Offaly County Councils and the relevant State agencies. The ESB and Bord na Móna, for example, have a constructive approach to containing flood waters with special reference to the River Shannon. There is a role for the farming organisations, the IFA, the ICMSA, the UFA, the Department of Agriculture Food and Forestry, the Department of the Environment and the Office of Public Works in this effort. We need a co-ordinated approach rather than allowing one Department to take responsibility on one occasion and another on the next. The approach must be to provide assistance to people who are suffering, farmers and householders in particular. That committee must also ultimately produce a programe of action to avoid this hardship during the months of January, February and March of each year. I address these points particularly to the Minister for Agriculture Food and Forestry, the Minister for the Environment and the Office of Public Works.
Why does it take a drastic flood before people realise that something is wrong? In south County Mayo, for instance, small farmers in the Ballinrobe area have had this problem for 15 years and this year is no different. I have written to the Department of Agriculture Food and Forestry and the Office of Public Works asking them to investigate this problem. I know of a small farmer  whose holding is flooded for nine months of the year. He has to travel 15 miles to get around to his farm. It takes flooding in the midlands and elsewhere to highlight this problem. The Minister should not wait, the problem gets worse every year. I agree with Deputy Flanagan that the county councils, the Office of Public Works and other interested parties should get together in the months ahead, especially during the summer months, and not just pass the buck as has happened in the past.
I will keep a close eye on the Minister over the next seven months to see what is happening. I hope we get some funding from the European Union to tackle this problem, but I also hope problems which have occurred for the past 16 years will also be examined.
Mr. Finucane: I welcome the intention to amend the Arterial Drainage Act. The river Maigue was dredged a few years ago but some of its tributaries and streams have created problems over the years, especially for farmers who live adjacent to them. It is frustrating that these tributaries cannot be dredged at present but I hope they will be dealt with when this amendment is made.
With regard to the recent excessive rainfall and flooding, our hearts go out to those we saw on television in various locations around County Galway who had to use boats to gain access to their properties. The village of Foynes in County Limerick, which is in my constituency, has been subjected to flooding on two successive occasions. I visited some of the premises in the area and saw the frustrations of the people and the havoc that can be caused by flooding. Responsibility probably comes down to the local authority and the Office of Public Works.
When one analyses the cause of a flooding problem one often discovers that culverts were blocked with pallets and all kinds of debris and watercourses were not cleaned out. Maintenance is an aspect, that could be considered here. Within local authorities there has been a considerable erosion of the manpower  allocated to work on the roads so that culverts and drains are not properly maintained. Officials, have told me this is because of constraints on manpower resources. I would like to think people would be taken from the community enterprise development programme to do this kind of work.
It is sad to see excessive flooding on national primary and secondary routes, which also take a heavy volume of traffic. One would have to ask why this happens? It happens in many cases due to a drainage problem on the sides of those roads because the local authorities do not have the manpower resources to properly maintain watercourses and drains and to open up culverts. This interdepartmental committee should address this specific area or else there will be a similar problem when excessive rainfall occurs next this year and the following year.
Serious flooding has affected County Carlow for the third time in five years. Houses and businesses have been seriously damaged by the recurrence of this flooding. Since February 1990 there has been a regular pattern of flooding of the river Barrow south of Athy. Prior to 1990 farmers, business people and householders living and working in low-lying areas of the river Barrow could expect to be affected by an overflow from the river on a very irregular basis, mainly as a result of unusually heavy rainfall but, since 1990, the pattern of flooding has been once every 18 months. One must assume from this pattern that this will be an ongoing problem and must be faced up to by the authorities.
The area most affected by flooding is the low-lying area of Carlow town, where the river Burrin flows into the river Barrow. A combination of continuous heavy rain in south Leinster has resulted in this part of Carlow being  subject to flooding which is caused by the back-up of the River Burn and the River Barrow overflowing its river walls upstream off Carlow town. The recent flooding has caused the closure of the national secondary route, the N9 at Kennedy Street, Carlow. The result of the closure of this road means that traffic travelling from the south-east, most importantly from the ferry port in Rosslare, to the midlands and west, who use this access have had to divert through Athy, Ballylynen and Stradbally. Commuters using Graigcullen bridge have had to use a six mile diversion to get from one side of the river to the other. The flooding has brought business in this part of Carlow town to a stop. While motorists have had to endure the discomfort and nuisance of making a detour to avoid this section of road, it was a very minor annoyance compared to the hardship inflicted on the householders and businesses immediately affected in the low-lying area of the town.
Until 1990 businesses and individuals in the affected area had little difficulty in securing storm and flood damage insurance for their properties. However, they have now found it impossible to get insurance for their own property. They have told me that no insurance company will now even quote them for cover. If something is not done immediately for these unfortunate families by the Government or the Department, they will be left in a very serious financial situation. An immediate and very effective means of giving help to these individuals would be to subsidise their insurance premia. Insurance companies have confirmed that there are only two or three areas in the country where they will not quote for flood damage insurance because of the history of claims in these areas. This part of Carlow town is included as one of these black spots for flood damage insurance. I ask the Minister to consider mandating insurance companies to impose a small levy on all household and commercial insurance to cover the extra risk in granting  insurance to individuals affected by this problem.
It should be pointed out that the history of flooding has meant that individuals have taken certain precautions to minimise the damage caused by flooding. It should also be pointed out that people who live and work in this area are aware, at least a few hours in advance, of the possibility of flood water damaging their premises. They always make every effort to move their goods and household effects to reduce the risk of damage. The Minister might also consider giving a small subsidy to the insurance companies to cover their increased exposure as a result of insuring families unfortunate enough to live and work in the affected areas. In the motor insurance business the Minister for Enterprise and Employment can insist on insurance companies quoting individuals who previously had motor insurance with them. Perhaps the same regulations could apply to flood damage insurance. This is an area at which the Minister can look sympathetically.
Mr. M. Brennan: I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Yates, and the Minister of State, Deputy Hogan and wish them every success. This has been a terrible year for flooding, not just in Ireland but all over Europe. I will briefly dwell on flooding in my own constituency. This has been a problem for a number of years on the Arrow and Owenmore river basins. I fully understand and appreciate the concerns of people living in these areas. For many years they have had to put up with waterlogged farms and holdings and have watched helplessly as their lands were flooded during heavy rainfalls, not just in winter but in summer. They have sometimes lost crops, hay and silage and their grazing and pasture lands have been damaged because there was no effective drainage scheme. County roads, in particular have also been affected. This flooding covers approximately 29,000 acres and over 3,000 farmers are affected. Many of these farms are small and fragmented, with an  average size of 35 to 40 acres, much smaller than farms in the Minister's constituency.
When Deputy Nealon spoke on this motion last night, he stated that just as these rivers and the Mulcair came to the top of the list and were about to be drained, the previous Government decided to abandon arterial drainage. This is not the case. I remind Deputy Nealon that when his party was in Government in 1986, the priorities attached to arterial drainage were changed and, as a result, the European Commission took a decision not to support arterial drainage. It was not until Mr. Ray MacSharry became Minister for Agriculture in 1987 that an environmental impact assessment was ordered on the Arrow and Owenmore rivers. During the Order of Business last Tuesday, this was raised in my absence when I was attending a Council of Europe meeting. Deputy Dempsey asked the Taoiseach when he expected the amending of legislation to allow arterial drainage to be brought forward. The Taoiseach's reply was that legislation had not been promised by the Government. I hope the work done by Deputy Noel Treacy and Deputy Dempsey to change the Arterial Drainage Act will be continued by the Minister of State, Deputy Hogan, and I am sure it will be. Until this Act is changed, rivers like the Arrow and Owenmore rivers cannot be drained.
Mr. Cowen: I hope the officials in his Department will be as accessible to me as they are to certain vested interests. An indication has been given that they will be and I am sure this is so. We are delighted, as a result of the motion we put down, that the alternative Government on this side of the House is getting  some response to what has been a catastrophic month for many people because of the unprecedented flooding throughout the country. As Deputy Brennan pointed out, in this House we got a commitment from the Taoiseach that he knew of the existence of a proposed reform of the arterial drainage legislation and, after much following up by himself and me last week in the House, he agreed to prioritise that legislation. That was indicative of the indifference this Government has had towards a catastrophic situation for many families throughout Ireland.
The farming sector is most vulnerable and has been hard hit. Smaller livestock farmers, dry stock and suckler farmers, the 70,000 dry stock farmers who have an average income of £3,300 per year, the small farmers of west Offaly, south Roscommon, east and south Galway, Clare, west Limerick and west Tipperary have suffered year in year out over many years. According to the Minister with responsibility for the Office of Public Works the recent floods are the worst since 1947 and I have no reason to disbelieve him.
We have not seen the type of response one would expect from a Government to what has been an unprecedented problem. I take no comfort from the Minister's undertaking to the House that we will have a scheme as good as the 1990 scheme to deal with that local problem. There is an unprecedented flooding problem — the worst in almost 50 years — spanning ten or 12 counties, and we are being told that the Government will at least meet the more localised needs similar to the 1990 scheme.
In response to this motion, we expect a scheme which is just as unusual as the flooding. The Government has only acted in response to the alternative Government on this side of the House which tabled this motion. There were no speeches in the PR machine from Minister Yates or Minister Hogan who was a bit slower off the draw. We have had no such commitment, just a “please get  in touch with us immediately if you have any problems”. That is the first time we have heard that, and it came today in response to the Fianna Fáil motion.
Mr. Cowen: A man in my parish lost 58 ewe lambs which were drowned last week on a Clara farm. I am sure the Minister can expect a registered letter from him. According to my inquiries, no one is aware of any detailed evaluation taking place, within the farm advisory services in particular, to decide the level of loss. Last night the Minister of State, Deputy Hogan, in his excuse for a speech, said that “the question of compensation should be examined. I will bring the matter to the attention of the appropriate Ministers.” He went on and said he was very concerned at the widespread hardships that flooding was causing and expressed his concern for all those who have suffered hardship, and his appreciation for the magnificent response of the emergency services everywhere.
If we had half the magnificent response from our Government as we have had from the emergency services trying to deal with a catastrophe in half this country, perhaps we would not have heard the mealy-mouthed assurances we heard in this House last night and today.
This is the most leaked budget in the history of the State and we were told last week about a £7.5 million compensation scheme. In this morning's Irish Independent we are told that it is £2 million, so there is obviously a bit of shaking down going on at the moment. Quite clearly when there are three parties in Government everyone has to get a piece of the action and a piece of the cake. I am sure we will have many claiming credit for it before the evening  is out. It may be that that is the reason for the afterthought about an interdepartmental committee, because it is not in the Minister's speech. I listened to “Morning Ireland's” Oireachtas report this morning and first on the list was the important announcement by Minister of State, Deputy Hogan, that we will have an interdepartmental committee to look into this problem. It was not so important that he could include it in his speech.
Mr. Cowen: Clearly it was an afterthought when he was coming to the House. He asked his colleagues, “is there anything else I can say, apart from this, which is aspirational to the tune of `we'll have a united Ireland but not yet'?” It is a clear case of a Government that has no strategy to deal with a catastrophy. Perhaps the reason we have not seen such a great response is because it affects smaller farmers — the small livestock, dry stock and suckler farmers — who are not particularly flavour of the month with the parties in power. They are not from the strong milk lobby nor the big grain lobby. Many of them are part-time farmers on an average annual income of £3,300. We want action.
In the midlands we have had an unprecedented increase in acreage due to previous extensions and reclassifications under the disadvantaged areas scheme operated by the former Ministers for Agriculture, Senator Michael O'Kennedy and Deputy Joe Walsh. Up  to 72 per cent of my county was thus affected. We have always said that the Shannon valley basin was a case that needed reclassification as of right because of the perennial problem there.
Mr. Cowen: That has been involved in the appeals procedure in which farm organisations' representatives have also been involved. As regards the fact that we are awaiting an outcome. Deputies know as well as I do that a decision on that matter is due in the next couple of months. Let us not have little Ivan coming in here saying, “I am going to wave the magic wand and I will get the response that has been coming anyway since last December.”
Mr. Cowen: We want an adequate response to the motion. We are happy that it is as a result of tabling this motion that we are getting some response from a Government which has shown such callous indifference to the most severe hardship that farm families have suffered from flooding in the past 50 years. We look forward to this give-away budget. I hope it will not involve too much indebtedness which future generations will have to pay for.
Broughan, Tommy. Crowley, Frank.
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Dukes, Alan M.
Durkan, Bernard J.
Higgins, Michael D.
|Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Creed, Michael. McGahon, Brendan.
Noonan, Michael. (Limerick East).
Browne, John (Wexford).
Burke, Raphael P.
de Valera, Síle.
Hilliard, Colm M.
Kitt, Michael P.
Morley, P. J.
Nolan, M. J.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
O'Malley, Desmond J.
 Amendment declared carried.
Amendment No. 2 not moved.
Question, “That the motion, as amended, be agreed to,” put and declared carried.
Sitting suspended at 1.35 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.
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