Adjournment Debate. - County Cork Coastal Erosion.

Tuesday, 20 February 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 461 No. 7

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Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  A Cheann Comhairle, thank you for allowing me raise this important matter on the Adjournment. Last weekend I viewed with alarm the enormous problem caused by coastal erosion in Ballycotton. This is not a new problem as the question of action on coastal erosion has been raised for decades by the people who have been informed by Cork County Council that [2103] it is at the top of its priority list. However, the problem has got progressively worse and is now at a critical juncture.

In the autumn of 1995 the retaining wall under the village was breached and the area council engineer and other officials witnessed the perilous situation facing Ballycotton residents. During the Christmas period and since then, this area has been exposed to long periods of easterly gales and the retaining wall has been further breached. There are gaps of 35 feet and 18 feet in the wall which now offers no protection to the cliff behind it. The cliff face of clay is 15 feet behind the line of the wall and has no rock base. The greatest concern is that the top of the cliff is less than 12 yards from the roadway and if the cliff is eroded at the same rate during the next few months, there will be no access by road to Ballycotton. It is imperative that remedial works are carried out immediately to protect the roadway into Ballycotton and that work is done on the remainder of the retaining wall, which in places has been undermined, and in other places cracks have appeared.

Yesterday, not for the first time, I visited Ring Strand, Knockadoon and Ballymacoda to view the damage caused by coastal erosion. Since last autumn, easterly gales have caused havoc in the area. Part of a 20 foot deep cliff has been washed away. If nothing is done to prevent erosion, the remainder of the cliff will soon be washed away and as the land between the cliff and the village is low lying the sea will then encroach on hundreds of acres of land stretching to Ballymacoda village.

In January last year, a coastal protection scheme was submitted to the relevant Department by Cork County Council. It covered the coastline stretching from Ballycotton to Knockadoon. Will funding be forthcoming? On behalf of the residents of those two areas, I beg [2104] the Minister of State to ensure the necessary remedial works are carried out in coming months, otherwise there will be no entrance to Ballycotton and many houses will be in danger of falling into the sea. In Ring, farmers will lose hundreds of acres of land and the village of Ballymacoda will be threatened.

Minister of State at the Department of the Marine (Mr. Gilmore): Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  The coastline is recognised as a resource of immense value in economic, environmental, ecological and socialogical terms. In recent years it has become generally accepted that coastal 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.

This country has a coastline that stretches for some 5,800 kilometres. In 1992, a needs study carried out by the National Coastal Erosion Committee of the County and City Engineer's 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 of sand dune systems, for example, can disrupt the natural habitat 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 for 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 [2105] for the first time to 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 over that six 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; 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 has estimated that some £125 million is required to tackle all the most urgent erosion problems. Given 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 now on hand in the Department and works to be undertaken to the end of 1999 will be chosen from among the priority proposals submitted.

A number of the projects identified [2106] by the local authorities have been aided by the Department during the last year. In 1995, some £773,000 was invested in protection works at ten locations: the Maharees Peninsula and Waterville, County Kerry; Courtown and Duncannon, County Wexford; Inishboffin and Roundstone, County Galway; Bertra Beach, County Mayo; Killiney, County Dublin; Laytown, County Meath; and preparation work in Bray, County Wicklow. I am sure the Deputy will 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 year.

To date only one protection scheme in County Cork has been awarded grant-aid. That scheme involves the protection of the main access road to Pallas pier, Ardgroom, which has been undermined by erosion and which is used by those involved in the local aquaculture industry to transport their mussels. The total cost of these works is some £26,000. I understand that a further £13,000 will be spent by Cork County Council on road reinstatement works. The council has appointed a contractor for this scheme and he is due to commence work during the first week of March.

With regard to the two locations referred to by the Deputy, Cork County Council has informed the Department of the Marine that rock armouring costing £100,000 is required at Ballycotton and road protection costing some £150,000 is required at Ring Strand. However, fully costed, designed and justified proposals are still awaited from the council. I understand that these will be forwarded shortly. When Cork County Council's proposals are received they will be fully considered over the remaining years of the programme.

I will bear in mind the points the Deputy has made in respect of the area he represents. I share his concerns and those of the other Members who have spoken to me about the damage being [2107] caused through coast erosion. As the House will realise, we are talking about huge sums of money.

I have 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 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 —[2108] resorting to community employment schemes — thus preventing the problem from worsening for the time being. In the meantime we will continue the major works planned under the operational programme. The projects to be aided over the lifetime of the programme will be chosen from the priority proposals submitted, on the basis of their merit, having regard to economic, environmental and ecological criteria rather than geographical location.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 21 February 1996.

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