Tuesday, 17 November 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
Deputy Deirdre Clune: On Wednesday 11 November, there was severe flooding in areas of Cork, such as Togher, Rochestown, Passage West, Glenbrook, Monkstown, Carrigaline and Ballygarvan. There was damage to housing, public property, roads and an alarming situation materialised in Glenbrook, when a stream burst it banks, the water running down a road and sweeping 12 cars with it. They literally flowed down the hill. It was a highly dangerous situation where someone could have been injured or killed. Fortunately, no one was, one of the better notes of the disastrous situation that happened last week in the area.
I have looked at the OPW website and there was similar flooding in the Cork region in November 2002 and October 2004. On both those occasions, there was heavy rain, of the order of 40 millimetres. Last week the Met Office reported rainfall of up to 19 millimetres. On both the previous occasions there was also a high tide. This time we did not have a high tide, it was about 6 p.m. and a high tide was not due until midnight. It is important to acknowledge that the cause of the severe flooding was totally land-related. There have been reports of gullies not being cleaned and capacity problems in the infrastructure.
People want to know now what steps will be taken by Cork County Council and the OPW to compensate those people whose property was damaged. We need to know in the Cork region the cause of the problem and what must be done to ensure it will not occur again. Looking back at the previous reports on flooding on the area, they refer to a lack of capacity but we need a full, in-depth report on what is going wrong and why these areas are susceptible to such severe flooding.
The Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, launched a flood risk report in Cork earlier this year and he said he was sure the people of Cork would consider it entirely appropriate they set a standard for the country. The standard set last Wednesday night was not one that should be reflected across the country.
Deputy Simon Coveney: I hope the Minister of State has some good news for us this evening. A number of families in my constituency and in Deputy Clune’s constituency are still clearing muck out of their living rooms and kitchens following flash floods last week because of exceptional weather conditions and which, in some cases, simply washed away road infrastructure, as happened out towards Minane Bridge, south of Carrigaline.
There are plenty of precedents where the OPW has made emergency funding available to compensate people and assist them to put basic infrastructure in place to ensure this will not happen again if we get similar torrential rainfall. A total of 19 millimetres fell during a three hour period, the floods were nothing to do with the tides, which are often a problem in the harbour area in Cork, this was pure water volume flowing out of fields on to roads and over blocked gullies, and there is a responsibility on the part of the local authority to rectify the situation, which it is starting to do.
There is also a responsibility on the OPW to put in place basic compensation for people in some cases for damage that insurance simply does not cover. In Glenbrook, seven or eight cars literally flowed down the street because of a mud slide, with much of that mud flowing into people’s gardens and houses. Those people need help and even in tough financial times we are not talking about huge amounts of money.
It is important that the OPW recognises, as it has done in the past in the Carrigaline area, that when there are extreme weather conditions, when the infrastructure simply cannot deal with them and when there is significant damage as a result, it should step in and not only carry out a survey so we know what caused the problem and try to rectify it, but that in the immediate term it should give people some redress or some compensation.
Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady): In the absence of the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, who must travel to a Council meeting in Brussels, I thank the Deputies for giving me an opportunity to come into the House to discuss the serious flooding in the Cork area in the past week.
Locations in a number of counties have been affected by serious flood events in recent weeks and the impact on the communities in the Carrigaline, Rochestown, Glenbrook and Minane Bridge areas of County Cork was severe. Having previously visited locations where extreme flood events occurred, the Minister of State is aware of the devastation and hardship caused by flooding. He is pleased to have the opportunity to place on the record of the House his personal sympathy and concern and that of the Government for those affected by flooding. It is only by seeing such events at first hand that it is possible to get a full sense of the hardship and worry that flooding causes.
Responsibility for the maintenance and repair of the local road infrastructure primarily rests with Cork County Council. The role of the Office of Public Works is to work with local authorities and other State bodies to reduce the risk of future flooding both through the provision of defences to best practise standards and by taking steps to mitigate or reduce future risk of flooding.
In this regard, the OPW and Cork City and County Councils jointly initiated a major study in 2006 to assess the degree of flood risk in the Lee catchment and the possible measures for the management of that risk. This study, which is the pilot for a national programme, is now nearing completion. Flood maps for the areas known or considered to be at risk have been produced and are publicly available through the project website. A draft flood risk management plan setting out measures for managing flood risk in the Lee catchment will be made available for public consultation in the near future.
In a parallel exercise, a screening process is currently underway to identify other areas of County Cork, and indeed nationally, where the flood risk may be significant. This exercise includes a review of past floods, and the recent flooding in Cork will be taken into account to help the identification of high risk areas and solutions.
The areas where flood risk is considered significant on the basis of the screening exercise will, under a major national programme, then be subject to more detailed analysis, including the preparation flood maps and development of a plan of mitigation measures such as those that are being prepared for the Lee catchment. This programme was initiated on foot of national flood policy but it will enable the State to meet the requirements of the EU floods directive that came into force in 2007. The OPW, in partnership with other State bodies is implementing a range of initiatives to reduce future flood risk including the production, in partnership with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government of guidelines for consideration of flood risk in planning development and management. Pending the formalisation of a detailed flood risk management plan on foot of the screening exercise and studies being undertaken by the OPW, the Minister of State recognises and accepts that there is need to address immediate localised flood problems in the Cork area. To this end, under an initiative announced recently, the OPW may provide financial and technical assistance to local authorities to carry out studies or works to address small-scale flood problems, subject to specific economic and environmental criteria. Already in 2009, €31,500 has been allocated for minor flood mitigation projects in County Cork. Further applications for funding will be considered by the OPW, subject to availability of resources.
Prior to possible submission of applications for additional funding for minor flood relief measures, Cork County Council has begun an analysis of the flooding in those parts of the county most affected by the flooding that occurred last week. The OPW has been in contact with the county council, and has carried out an initial inspection of the area. It is expected that the council will complete a detailed report on the flooding shortly.
Once the report from Cork County Council becomes available, OPW officials will meet the local authority’s engineers. If the report indicates that measures are possible to reduce future risk of flooding, and provided these are acceptable on economic and environmental grounds, the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh will endeavour to ensure that funding will be available to allow works to proceed at an early stage.
The Minister of State is conscious that in addition to the trauma caused by the flooding, people may also have suffered financial loss arising from damage caused to their property. Householders should, where applicable, consult their insurers in the first instance on property repairs.
The Department of Social and Family Affairs has responsibility for providing humanitarian assistance where it is considered appropriate. Assistance may be available through the community welfare officer network to victims of the recent flooding. Where people have suffered hardship, they should contact the local community welfare officer for assistance, and each case will be dealt with confidentially and on its merits. Recent humanitarian assistance schemes have not extended to cover business or agriculture. Local community welfare officers are available to provide assistance on an individual basis where that is warranted.
Deputy Mansergh asked me to assure the House that the Office of Public Works will continue to work in partnership with Cork County Council to try to alleviate the risk of future flooding in the areas affected.
I again express my sympathy and that of the Minister of State to those affected by the flooding, assuring them of the Government’s support for the efforts that are under way to address future flood risk in the Cork area.
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