Adjournment Debate. - Coastal Erosion.

Wednesday, 14 February 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 461 No. 5

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Mr. Kirk: Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  I thank the Chair for the opportunity to raise this matter. It is really a continuation of tonight's maritime theme.

Coastal erosion is not a phenomenon unique to the coastline in County Louth; it is a problem all along our coastline. We have a particular problem in County Louth, where dwelling houses and farmland are under serious threat from coastal erosion and, while it is not an immediate problem, there is also the matter of the deposition of the eroded material along the coast.

Those who have inhabited County Louth longer than I have say there is clear evidence of substantial agricultural land loss because of erosion, particularly in south-east Louth, around Annagassan and along the coastline in the Cooley Peninsula. Many of those areas have been severely affected and individual farmers and householders have taken steps to combat the serious threat posed by the sea at these points.

Remedial work to tackle coastal erosion is expensive. Some remedial work is undertaken without the benefit of proper surveys and the necessary professional advice, and in some cases the benefits are of short duration. To tackle erosion on a long-term basis would require significant resources and I know the Minister has funding available to deal with the problem. Meath County Council was successful in its application for grant aid to tackle coastal erosion.

Will the Minister briefly outline the Department's policy on coastal erosion as it is a serious issue and there is a need [1500] for a degree of consistency in the matter? If one county procures significant grant aid and a neighbouring county is not successful, there is clearly an element of dissatisfaction. Is the Minister prepared to give some grant aid to Louth County Council to get a worthwhile remedial scheme under way in the county?

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  The coastline is recognised as a resource of immense value in economic, environmental, ecological and sociological terms. In recent years it has become generally accepted that erosion is a major threat to the coastal environment. The coastal resource is fragile and non-renewable and the systems operating in the coastal zone will significantly depend on the preservation of the coast.

Our coastline stretches for some 5,800 kilometres. In 1992, a needs study by the National Coastal Erosion Committee of the County and City Engineers Association showed that out of the total coastline of 5,800 kilometres, some 1,500 kilometres are at risk and some 490 kilometres require immediate attention, at an approximate cost of £125 million.

Erosion can also impact on local ecological environments. Loss, for example, of sand dune systems can disrupt the natural habitats of a number of birds and other animals. Erosion can, in certain instances, pose a social threat to isolated coastal communities. Apart from the obvious economic disruption, erosion threatens the communications and transport links of these communities. Being cut off from the mainland would have serious and potentially catastrophic consequences for these communities.

The Government is conscious of the threat posed by erosion and the need for coast protection. In 1994, the Government decided that EU Structural Funds should be made available to [1501] help address the serious erosion problem, and allocated moneys from the Operational Programme for Environmental Services 1994-99, amounting to £5.1 million, to tackle priority erosion problems in that five year period.

The aim of the investment programme is: the preservation of the State owned foreshore, local authority owned property including county road networks, tourist amenities, including beach and dune systems and natural habitats and their ecology. Such preservation works support rural development, tourism, environmental protection and other activities which contribute to increasing the economic potential of coastal regions.

The County and City Engineers Association estimates that some £125 million is required to tackle all the most urgent erosion problems. In view of the fact that funding under the operational programme is limited to £5.1 million, it was obvious that priority projects for possible funding under the programme needed to be identified. Therefore, in order to draw up a targeted programme of priority coastal locations, consultations were held with coastal local authorities and submissions detailing their top four priority proposals were sought. Given the limited funding available and demand levels, all the local authorities were advised that value for money from investments in coastal protection schemes must be achieved.

In other words, the cost of undertaking any scheme must be considered against the benefits, tangible or intangible, arising. Such benefits would include property, infrastructure, transportation, livelihoods, community concern, conservation value and commercial value. These proposals are with the Department and works being undertaken to the end of 1999 will be chosen from among the priority proposals submitted.

A number of projects identified by [1502] the local authorities were aided by the Department last year. In 1995, some £773,000 was invested in protection works at ten locations: the Maharees Peninsula and Waterville in County Kerry; Courtown and Duncannon in County Wexford; Inishboffin and Roundstone in County Galway; Bertra Beach in County Mayo; Killiney County Dublin; Laytown, County Meath; and preparation work in Bray, County Wicklow.

To date, no works in County Louth have been grant-aided. However, I am sure Deputy Kirk will fully understand that the funding available in any one year is limited and as a result it is only possible to undertake a small number of works in any particular year. Louth County Council's proposals, which I will detail, will be considered along with all other priority proposals received over the remaining years of the operational programme.

The proposals submitted by Louth County Council are as follows: (1) protection of a seven kilometre stretch between Greenore and Whitestown; the proposed works, which include a variety of protection measures, are estimated to cost in the region of £365,000; (2) protection of seven kilometres of coastline between Callystown, Clogherhead and Dunary Point at an estimated cost of £390,000; (3) protection of the coast at Annagassan, including reshaping the beach and providing rock armour, the cost of which is estimated at £200,000, and (4) protection of seven kilometres of coast at Clogherhead, including the beach and dune system and a number of caravan parks and holiday homes. The works, which include a dune management scheme, will cost approximately £130,000.

The total cost of these four proposals is £1,035,000. The total cost of all the proposals submitted to the Department of the Marine exceeds £25 million. Funding over the life of the programme is limited to £5.1 million. The House will [1503] appreciate, therefore, that demand levels far exceed the funding available.

Final decisions remain to be taken on the programme of protection works to be undertaken in 1996.

I can assure Deputy Kirk I will bear in mind the points he made. I share his concerns, and those of other Members who have spoken to me about the damage being caused through coastal erosion. As the House will appreciate, we are talking about huge sums of money.

I have also asked my Department to contact local authorities to ascertain whether we could resort to community employment schemes, working in conjunction with local communities, to undertake some immediate works [1504] which, while perhaps not of the Rolls Royce type, would halt further erosion pending more moneys being made available in future years to undertake a proper job. Perhaps some immediate works can be undertaken at reasonable cost under community employment schemes thus preventing the problem worsening. We will continue the major works planned under the operational programme.

I am conscious of the problems to which Deputy Kirk referred and assure him that the projects selected will be dealt with fairly, no priority being given to any one county over another.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 15 February 1996.

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