Tuesday, 25 October 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
Deputy Eoghan Murphy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his views on the emergency response planning to deal with the severe weather crisis in the Dublin region in view of the severe flooding which took place yesterday.
Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the position regarding the major flooding crisis in Donnycarney, Fairview, Elm Mount, Artane and Clontarf; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brian Hayes): On behalf of the Government I express my deep sympathy to those affected by the flooding of recent days. In particular, I express my condolences to those who have suffered bereavement. The flooding has impacted on homes, commercial premises and infrastructure in several parts of the country. The emotional and financial impact on individuals in these circumstances is severe, with many parts of Dublin badly affected. Met Éireann has indicated that the amount of rainfall on Monday was in excess of the total for the same month last year and was extreme by normal standards. Yesterday saw the highest ever daily rainfall recorded at Casement Aerodrome.
Emergency response planning is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. That Department has informed me that the local authority services responded to the developing situation by dispatching fire services, drainage and road crews to reported instances of flooding. As the evening progressed and the scale and serious nature of the flooding in Dublin became apparent, Dublin City Council and South Dublin County Council activated their major emergency plan shortly after 8 p.m. yesterday evening, mobilised additional resources, including the Civil Defence, and activated local co-ordination arrangements in order to establish the extent of the issues and manage their combined response with An Garda Síochána, the Health Service Executive and the public transport companies, in addition to normal traffic management arrangements. The Office of Public Works provided pumping equipment at the request of Dublin City Council and will continue to provide any equipment or technical resources that may be of assistance and where called upon by the local authorities concerned.
In accordance with standing arrangements, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, as the lead Department for severe weather emergencies, was notified of the declaration of a major emergency. Departmental officials had been monitoring the situation before the major emergency was declared. Following assessment of the situation and given that the problems were confined, in the main, to the Dublin area, where the local co-ordination arrangements of the major emergency plan had been activated, it was decided not to activate the national co-ordination-level arrangements. However, Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government officials continued to liaise with staff in the Dublin local authorities and to brief officials across other relevant Departments.
A post-event analysis of the response to this emergency by the regional emergency authority will be undertaken in the coming weeks, with input from all authorities and the OPW. This will inform the effectiveness of the emergency response and identify any improvements needed. Significant damage was caused over a broad geographic area, including the southern part of Dublin where the rivers Dodder, Poddle and Camac all caused flooding. Transport systems were disrupted as roads and rail lines were flooded and became impassable and signalling systems failed. Dublin City Council’s traffic management centre worked with the pubic transport companies and An Garda Síochána to enable people to complete their journey home last night.
The rain ceased during the night and the focus of the public authorities today has been on restoring traffic and public transport to full capacity. Forecasts indicate that up to 10 millimetres of rain will fall today, but further major damage is not anticipated. Nonetheless, there remains some disruption as damage to infrastructure is assessed. Likewise, the task of assessing the scale of the damage to residential and community property began this morning. When an initial assessment is made, the Government will consider what measures may be required to alleviate the difficulties caused. A report on the activation of the major emergency plan will be prepared by the principal response agencies in accordance with standing arrangements. The OPW will input fully to the review of the response to the emergency.
With regard to the provision of assistance to those affected by the flooding, this is the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Social Protection. The supplementary welfare allowance scheme functions as a safety net within the overall welfare system in that it provides assistance to eligible persons whose means are insufficient to meet their needs and those of their dependants. The main purpose of the scheme is to provide immediate flexible assistance to those in need. The Department of Social Protection can provide assistance under the scheme to households affected by emergency events such as flooding. The type of assistance provided has included the provision, in conjunction with local authorities, of temporary accommodation, and financial assistance towards essential items such as food, clothing and bedding.
While the Department of Social Protection has had overall responsibility in regard to humanitarian aid since 2004, any decision to grant humanitarian aid is a matter for the Government. Until such time as the full extent of the damage is ascertained, the need for such a scheme cannot be determined. Arising from the 2009 floods, some €1.65 million in emergency payments was provided to more than 1,300 households throughout the country. The Government will look sympathetically on a request for emergency financial aid should it be made by those authorities closest to last night’s events.
The OPW has responsibility for capital flood relief activities, in which it has invested more than €218 million in the last ten years. This has resulted in the completion of several flood relief schemes throughout the State which have brought much needed relief and peace of mind to residents and business owners in those areas. Dublin City Council and the OPW recognise flooding as a significant risk for the city and are pursuing a programme of structural flood relief works to reduce flood risks in areas throughout the city. Work on the lower stretch of the River Dodder has been ongoing since 2007, in association with Dublin City Council. The completed works in the Irishtown area mean the general area was free of the flooding arising from the severe weather in recent days. Relief works on further stretches of the River Dodder are in the planning stage and we hope they will be implemented in due course. The OPW has also profiled expenditure for 2012 on the River Wad in the Donnycarney area, where flooding has occurred on several occasions in recent years. A scheme has been designed by Dublin City Council and agreements are being finalised with local stakeholders on its progression.
In addition to these capital schemes, a national programme of catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, is being commissioned by the OPW throughout 2011. The OPW appointed engineering consultants, RPS, in May 2011 to undertake the eastern CFRAM study. This work will identify and examine in detail the causes of flooding throughout the eastern river basin district catchment area and provide an integrated plan of specific measures to address the significant flood risk factors in a proactive and comprehensive way. The consultant is currently gathering flood event data to analyse what happened and to design solutions for flood risk management measures.
It is often necessary to address localised flood problems in a catchment that require immediate attention pending development of a CFRAM study or where a capital scheme may not be appropriate. To this end, under an initiative announced in 2009, the OPW has provided financial and technical assistance to local authorities to carry out studies or works to address localised flood problems. This scheme is open to all local authorities and will provide them with resources and access to appropriate expertise to develop and implement flood mitigation measures.
From 2010 to date, the Office of Public Works, OPW, has allocated funding of €1.35 million to four local authorities in Dublin and Wicklow to address flooding problems in those regions. The minor works scheme was introduced in 2009 to provide funding to local authorities to undertake works and studies to alleviate flooding problems within their administrative areas. A number of areas have availed of this source of funding from the OPW and have been protected from recent events.
The Office of Public Works is assessing a number of applications from the local authorities. A funding application from Dublin City Council for works on the Santry river in Raheny, with an estimated cost of €150,000, is currently under consideration. Two applications with an estimated total cost of €670,000 from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council for coastal works at Corbawn Lane and a coastal study are also being assessed. In addition, a further six applications from Wicklow County Council, estimated at €570,000, are currently under consideration. All applications are being assessed having regard to the scheme criteria and the availability of funding for flood risk management.
I reiterate my deep sympathy for people who have suffered loss or hardship as a result of the flooding and affirm my determination and that of the Government that a thorough review of the response by the relevant agencies will be carried out to ensure that we understand what we got right and what we got wrong and also that sufficient funding is put in place to remedy those issues where they arise.
Deputy Joe Costello: I extend my sympathies to the family of the 35 year old woman from Parnell Road who drowned in the flooding last night and to the family of Garda Ciaran Jones who died in the line of duty working heroically to prevent the lives of other people being endangered.
First, in my constituency of Dublin Central virtually the entire area was flooded to a greater or lesser degree. Cabra, the Navan Road, Ballybough, Botanic Avenue, North Strand and East Wall were all badly flooded. This is the fifth flooding in ten years. Why does that position still pertain if that degree of flooding is taking place? Second, why were sandbags not available for Cabra or the inner city which would have alleviated the problem and may have prevented many houses being flooded? People were prisoners in their own homes. They had to use bed clothes and various garments to try to keep the water out and had to sweep it out themselves.
I am glad to hear from the Minister for Social Protection, who has just arrived, that short-term measures will be available through the supplementary welfare scheme to allow people deal with issues such as temporary accommodation and financial assistance. How extensive will that fund be available to people in need because enormous damage has been done to residents’ homes, property and so on?
What will be done to alleviate this problem in the future? We do not want to hear again and again that this is a once in 50 or 100 years event. This is becoming almost an annual event — effectively every two years in my constituency. We will have to bite the bullet and address the issue of the structural works that will be required to deal with this matter once and for all.
Deputy Brian Hayes: I know the part of the city the Deputy represents very well and he correctly outlined the extensive flooding that has occurred there over many years. In the first instance it is the responsibility of Dublin City Council to make applications to the OPW in respect of works it believes must be done. I will convey immediately to Dublin City Council the Deputy’s comments about the scale of works that he believes need to be done because it is clear this is an annual problem.
We will look sympathetically on any application but I make the point to all Deputies that where an application comes in to the OPW, it is assessed on one simple criterion, namely, the impact of building a wall or doing some drainage works. If we believe that value comes from the expenditure of money on that we will make that decision. This scheme is open on a 24 hours, seven days basis throughout the year. Local authorities can apply to our Department for funds to deal with alleviative flood risk measures such as those I mentioned earlier.
I cannot answer the Deputy’s question on sandbags not being made available. That is a matter for Dublin City Council in the first instance. If it knew such an event was forecast and its likely effect it should reply explaining the reason sandbags were not provided. That was unacceptable.
On the question of social welfare relief, the Minister may respond to that but in the first instance funding is provided through the social welfare system. The Government will look sympathetically on the need for additional funds to be provided but that must come from the agencies responsible for this area locally, namely, Dublin City Council. We will look upon that request sympathetically.
As to the future, already significant sums of money have been put into flood defences in the past eight years. We are working on the basis of the CFRAM studies, one of which is in the eastern area, but regarding Dublin city and particularly the low lying areas of Dublin city, significant funds have been put in already. More must be put in but as the local authorities produce schemes we will have them assessed and ensure those funds are made available where they can make a difference in these events. These are very significant events some of which occur once every 50 or 100 years. The total amount of rainfall last night was extraordinary but we will continue to respond as the applications arise.
Deputy Joe Costello: At 3.30 p.m. yesterday afternoon my office contacted the local authority to ask if a flood alert had been issued because we had heard a flood alert was issued to the business community. The reply from the local authority was that there was no flood alert. It was only at 8 p.m. that my office was contacted about the flood alert and not until 9.30 p.m. that local councillors were contacted about it.
Deputy Joe Costello: There is no point in the Minister of State saying this was an exceptional event. We had knowledge of it for a period of time. Measures could have been introduced at the time and to keep that information from public representatives is a scandal.
Acting Chairman (Deputy Peter Mathews): I want to give the parameters of this discussion. Eight Members put down questions for consideration. They all wish to ask supplementary questions. Both Ministers are here to deal with them but we must be mindful that there is a total of 40 minutes for this discussion and therefore I ask the Deputies to make a mutual effort in that regard.
Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Since around 2004 the Department of Social Protection has been responsible for humanitarian assistance. The level of humanitarian assistance is a matter for the Government as a whole but is administered in general by the Department through community welfare officers. The critical issue that Members can assist with is information on people who are in terrible distress. I am aware of that. I was out last night in the floods. The SWA scheme is meant to provide humanitarian assistance. More complex, longer-term works relating to flooding are obviously primarily a matter for the Office of Public Works.
Acting Chairman (Deputy Peter Mathews): We have agreed that we will take the questions from groups of three Deputies. I call Deputy Eoghan Murphy, who will be followed by Deputy Billy Timmins and Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.
Deputy Eoghan Murphy: I do not believe this is only about money. We must acknowledge that the local authority in Dublin city is no longer the correct responsible authority to deal with emergency responses in this city. Deputy Costello has already alluded to the lack of response from the local council last night. I can only outline my own experience. I tried to telephone officials at 9 p.m. last night but the emergency response number for the city council was down. When I managed to get somebody on their private mobile phone, they were not even aware that the number was down. I went onto the website but there was no indication that the number was down, nor was there any indication of the road closures or transport disruptions that had been occurring in the city for approximately four hours.
When I went to Gordon Street with Councillor Kieran Binchy, I found Deputy Humphreys there helping residents to sandbag their homes. I did not see any council officials. I learned that the flooding of those homes could have been averted had the council acted more quickly, but at that stage it had not acted at all. I commend Deputy Humphreys for what he did. The people there owe him a debt of gratitude for the effort he put in. It was something to see.
I then went to Newbridge Avenue to see the flood defence walls along the Dodder. The floodgates were still open, although it was between 9.30 p.m. and 10 p.m. The residents and fire crews were trying to close them and when they did, they found they could not lock them because they did not have the correct keys. When the council officials arrived, they did not have them either. We can spend all the money in the world, and we have spent €3 million on the flood defence wall on this stretch of the Dodder, but that type of incompetence renders flood defences meaningless and useless. The local authority must hold up its hands and explain why those gates were not closed. People telephoned Dublin City Council in the afternoon to recommend that they be closed as a precautionary measure, but that did not happen.
Businesses in this city pay rates; in Dublin, 25% of the businesses nationally pay 50% of the total amount of rates to local authorities. Is the local authority the correct authority to protect their properties and businesses in this regard? Can we turn to home owners and ask them to pay rates to a council that cannot protect their properties? I realise the Minister cannot answer these questions directly but it is incredibly important that the local authority does. I believe its representatives should appear before an Oireachtas committee and answer these questions. If they have explanations, they should give them and if they do not, they should put their hands up. I recommend that the Minister consider a proper emergency response plan for this city, one that does not fall to the responsibility of the local authority in the city.
Deputy Billy Timmins: I extend my sympathy to the family of Garda Ciaran Jones, who tragically lost his life. I also extend my sympathy to his parents, brother, sisters, the wider Kilbride community and to the GAA community in Wicklow, of which Ciaran was one of the leading lights. I also sympathise with the family, relatives and friends of the Filipina lady who died and with the Filipino community in Ireland.
The Minister, Deputy Brian Hayes, has put a great deal of time and effort into the provision of funding for flood relief since he took office, but my main concern is the emergency response to the sudden flooding. This is more appropriate to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Department of Justice and Equality than to the Minister with responsibility for the OPW. Notwithstanding that, I am very angry about this. A number of weeks ago I raised the issue in the House. I spoke in the House after the last big freeze in Dublin when there was chaos. Although I do not have any empirical evidence, yesterday’s events were a shambles on the part of the authorities.
I was an hour away from Dublin yesterday, in Wicklow, but at 6 p.m. I knew there was chaos in Dublin and that something had to be done about it. At 6.50 p.m. I was so worried that I telephoned the newsroom in RTE to ask that the station broadcast an alert about the dangers with bridges and small rivers. People who were out in the weather had contacted me and told me it was frightening and dangerous. Only they realised how serious it was, but there was no response. I spoke to people who left Dublin at 4 p.m. yesterday to travel via Jobstown and the Embankment and they told me it was chaotic. I spoke to a lady on the telephone at 6 p.m. She was at Jobstown and at 8 p.m. she was still there, driving around in circles. She had seen no sign of a garda, a fire brigade or ambulance. There was nobody to direct her. When I drove in this morning there was a report the road was closed off. There was a Garda van parked across the road but there were no directions as to where one should go. One had only to look at the surrounding green areas to see the chaos and fear that existed last night, but nothing was done about it.
It is very difficult to merge services that are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and services that finish at 5 p.m. I ask the Acting Chairman to bear with me on this issue because I am tired——
Deputy Billy Timmins: You will be very familiar with the frustration of trying to get to the point. I have seen you encounter difficulties in the past in that regard, so you will appreciate the difficulties I have.
Deputy Billy Timmins: It is very important that the Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, and the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, bring this message to the relevant Ministers and get the local authorities in. We run the emergency plan exercises. I am sure Kingswood was flooded last night. Would the Minister agree that it was chaotic and nobody was in charge? There were some individual workers on the scene but there appeared to be no co-ordination and no plan. It is totally unacceptable. There is a lovely booklet and lovely centre, and the Minister of State gave a lovely speech. However, the effect on the ground is that nothing happens, which is unacceptable.
The Minister should invite the relevant bodies to speak about what they did. Who was supposed to be in charge and where were they at 3 p.m., 4 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.? I am glad the Minister gave a commitment about the funding. Several areas in County Wicklow are cut off because bridges and roads have collapsed. I also wish to make another small point.
Deputy Billy Timmins: Yes. Would the Minister agree it is regrettable that we have only 40 minutes to discuss a situation in which two lives were lost — it could have been 20 lives — but on other days the Dáil sitting is suspended because we do not have business to fill the time? It is crazy that we only have 40 minutes.
Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: I will be brief. I share the anger expressed already and also express my condolences to the families who have lost family members. I will limit my comments to the emergency relief fund and its potential. I understand the complications that might be involved in who oversees and administers it. Ultimately, that is a decision for the Government.
I ask the Ministers to focus on the central issue that most concerns me for the future, house insurance. Deputy Finian McGrath and I were in Donnycarney this morning. I was in Clontarf last night and residents in Artane were on the telephone to me all day today. Since the Wad River has burst its banks on previous occasions the insurance companies are now refusing to insure homes in the Donnycarney area. Those houses are de facto worthless. One cannot sell one’s house if one cannot get home insurance because a potential buyer cannot get a mortgage if they cannot get house insurance. The houses are worthless and the owners are liable for all the work that must be undertaken in those homes. Families not only have the emotional trauma of having to move out for the couple of months required to fix things again, but there is also the huge financial heartache.
The city council has let them down time after time. Although moneys have been provided by the previous Government and this Government for the works to be undertaken, people are still waiting for those works to be carried out. Meanwhile, they are left exposed to the elements.  Today, women, children and families are in floods of tears because now they must bear the financial cost. I have a direct question for the Minister. Those families are financially liable because, through no fault of theirs, they have no home insurance. They have been left high and dry by the insurance companies. Can we find a mechanism to support them at this time? They must keep an eye on the skies every day of their lives until the next flood, which is inevitably only months away unless those essential works are carried out.
Deputy Brian Hayes: On the last question raised by Deputy Ó Ríordáin about floods and insurance, I have visited many parts of the country and spoken to many communities. A number of them have seen important work carried out by the local authority or the OPW but they still cannot get insurance. I have already met with the Irish Insurance Federation and I hope to be in a position to announce a new protocol over the next month which will give a measure of better communication with the Irish Insurance Federation and the insurance companies, whereby they will know the work we have done and will take account of that. Where the State invests colossal sums of money it is utterly wrong that the insurance companies do not provide the insurance cover.
The Deputy spoke about people being unable to get insurance cover. That is a very real issue for communities throughout the country. My officials are in discussion with the Insurance Federation to see whether we can make some progress on this issue because I am determined that we have a much better means of communication between our Department and the insurance companies that they understand that funding is being put in place.
Deputy Billy Timmins spoke about the emergency response and was critical of it. We have got to learn lessons from this. In the first instance, it is the local authority’s responsibility to lead with other local authorities in responding to the crisis. We need to review that and it will be done. As the Deputy rightly pointed out, it comes under the remit of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government but I will ensure the Minister is made aware of the Deputy’s comments and the comments of Deputies Eoghan Murphy, Joe Costello and other colleagues about the lack of response that occurred.
Deputy Costello raised the question of flood alert. I understand it is the responsibility of Met Éireann to inform Dublin City Council or whichever local authority and it is the decision of the local authority to declare a flood alert. It must be asked why this did not happen.
Deputy Brian Hayes: I will investigate that issue. Until the Deputy gave me the information I had no information on that issue. I will investigate that and come back to the Deputy. It would be outrageous if a flood alert was issued to the business community but not to householders. This is the first time it has been brought to my attention.
Deputy Eoghan Murphy referred to the lack of communication between the local authority and the agencies. That is his view and I appreciate that view. However, very substantial work was done last night by crews, local authorities, the Garda Síochána and Civil Defence personnel across the city. In some circumstances, if these events are so dramatic and so vast in terms of the amount of rainfall in one day, it is difficult to have the perfect solution. I agree with him that we need to learn lessons from this and we need an immediate review to see what went right and what went wrong because in the first instance it is the responsibility of the local authority — those on the ground — not central Government. If the local authority is seeking additional help we will look upon that request sympathetically.
Acting Chairman (Deputy Peter Mathews): The next four Deputies in the order I call them will be invited to ask supplementary questions — Deputy Kevin Humphreys, Deputy Finian McGrath, Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Deputy Mary Lou McDonald.
Deputy Kevin Humphreys: I recognise that staff on the ground did much hard work but, unfortunately, the response was poor. Many people in my area have been flooded three and four times. They are not insured not because they did not want to pay, but no insurance company would give them cover, despite having carried out extensive work. I welcome the Minister’s response to that issue and suggest the need to move on quickly and look at ways of helping people. I was in the home of an 84 year old gentleman whose neighbours helped to lift the furniture out of his house. He had no household insurance because he cannot get it. That is horrendous.
The response was poor. If it was vandalism, I committed vandalism last night. I went along with other residents and we hacksawed locks off containers to get sandbags, even though I had been in touch with the council at earlier stages. For me to have to lead a group of residents to cut locks off sheds in order to get out sandbags is unacceptable and needs to be accounted for.
Irish Rail built a dam underneath the DART bridge in Ballsbridge and Ballsbridge has been flooded yet again — I will pass on the information to the Minister of State. A dam continues to be in place. Who gave Irish Rail the permission? Why did it not respond? There must be accountability. We cannot push this further down. After 2002, people were given a guarantee this would not happen again. After Hurricane Charley, the people were promised it would not happen again. We have a responsibility to get to the bottom of this issue. We need to hold the insurance companies accountable.
I ask the Minister of State to head up his Department and ensure that many areas of Dublin are not flooded again. I welcome the Minister for Social Protection to the House. There is a large job to be done by her Department. As I said earlier, many vulnerable people have not got the money to get back on their feet. This is the third and fourth time this has happened. I ask for as generous a response as possible. It is difficult for residents but I ask that she speak with her community welfare officers. Many who will be in tears in the coming days do not know how to get back on their feet. I ask that her community welfare officers to respond in the best manner possible.
Deputy Finian McGrath: I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to raise the important issue of flooding. I will deal with three issues — the emergency response, the insurance issue and the action that needs to be taken. Last night and this morning I visited Clontarf, Donnycarney, Fairview, Elm Mount and Artane and spoke with residents and saw at first hand the major damage to their homes and the hurt and anger. The real issue in regard to the response was why no major preparations were made. I was told that Met Éireann informed Dublin City Council that a major issue was about to happen. Even residents told me that they knew more about it than Dublin City Council. The response of the emergency services was pathetic.
In regard to the services, I spent hours on the telephone last night. When I tried to get through to the fire services I waited 25 minutes for a response. Eventually I got through to the person dealing with the fire services but he was apologetic because he could not get through either. If this is an emergency plan, and I as a public representative cannot get through, God help the poor residents and citizens. The Minister of State mentioned the river water in the Elm Mount-Donnycarney area. A flood prevention project has started to deal with the underground river and drainage issue but we need to get on with it.
I met a gentleman this morning who has had at least €15,000 worth of damage caused to his house. He has no insurance and cannot get it. That family is suffering. He has asked me to raise the matter with the Minister. It is all very well to say we will try to do something about it but those people need action and a response from Dublin City Council and the Minister and they want to know when and how it will be done.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: All Deputies want to thank the emergency services for the Trojan work carried out last night by Dublin City Council, the Defence Forces in Wicklow today, Civil Defence and the Garda Síochána in particular, despite the fact that we all have criticisms.
Will the Minister of State convene the national emergency team to examine specifically the national emergency plans to see what went wrong yesterday because if nothing else, we need to learn? Is it appropriate that it is the local authority that declares an emergency of that scale? The local authority has failed on a number of occasions in Dublin, but not only in Dublin where the local authority has not acted as quickly as we would like and as we presume it is able.
It is a sad day for the HSE and the Filipino community who have lost a worker and the Garda who has lost a colleague, Garda Ciaran Jones. It is also a sad day for many other households and businesses, many of which are in my area and in areas affected by rivers which are culverted and some of which are open but which have not flooded for many decades. While I hope it a once in a lifetime event, I ask the Minister of State to liaise with the local authorities specifically to carry out a survey of culverted rivers in the city to ascertain if they contain material which is causing blockages. Much dumping has taken place in recent years on some of those rivers. If they were clear perhaps that would lessen the problem for some people.
Given what Deputy Timmins and others have said, a survey of the bridges and riverbanks should be carried out. There is a need to ensure they are safe to cross. We recall the problem when the railway track fell in at Portmarnock and it was only spotted by the scouts. We do not want that to happen. Surveys must be undertaken immediately.
Does the Minister of State agree that the problem is exacerbated by the constrained budget, in particular of Dublin City Council? I have been informed that in recent times the clearing of gullies has been reduced at this time of year from once a week to once a month which means that much of the drainage in Dublin was blocked and caused the road flooding which made them impassable. The other factor relating to costs and the constrained budget of Dublin City Council is the fact that we are operating in the city with a reduced number of staff in the fire brigade. Its numbers are reduced by 60 to 70 people because of a recruitment ban. If the positions had been filled then up to 70 extra people would have been available to help with the situation or answer the telephones yesterday.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: I join with other colleagues in offering sincere sympathies to the families of Garda Ciaran Jones and the young Filipino woman who lost her life in this tragedy. I do not know whether the Minister of State has seen the film “Groundhog Day”. It is a film in which a repetitious cycle of the same day is played endlessly. That is really what the situation is like. In my constituency, all across Cabra, the Navan Road, Blackhorse Avenue, East Wall, Sheriff Street and Drumcondra, flooding occurred and one could have predicted to a household those that were going to get flooded because it had happened before. Any reflection on the emergency response or assessment of the works done to date by the State have to be taken in conjunction with that reality to the forefront of our minds. Houses that had been flooded were flooded again and unless we change the way we do things and invest in preventative measures, they will be flooded from here to eternity.
I do not have the words to describe not just the tearfulness, but the sheer misery only a few short weeks from Christmas of households that have been flooded and the consequent disruption for families. Many of the households have no insurance cover. I welcome the fact that the Minister is in discussion with the Irish Insurance Federation. Let us be frank: sufficient resources have not been invested in flood defence because of the State’s coffers. I dare say the Minister of State will not be able to put his hand on the kind of resources that need to be invested. We have potentially a number of families who cannot now get insurance. What is the State going to do about that? I suggest to the Minister that if the commercial insurers will not insure those homes then the State must.
I ask the Minister for Social Protection to issue clear instructions to community welfare officers to actively assist those individuals and families affected by flooding and that they do not block them with endless red tape, complications and bureaucracy. People have lost virtually their shirt. Their homes are destroyed and they need immediate assistance.
The criticisms of Dublin City Council have been fairly made in the Chamber today. I share the concerns expressed. Equally, it should be said that Dublin City Council is working under considerable financial constraints with the loss of overtime and the recruitment embargo, and it is also dealing with all of the other State agencies such as the emergency services that are understaffed and under resourced. When the Minister of State undertakes a review of the emergency response, he should by all means call each of those agencies to account — that is as it should be — but he should also analyse the Government’s performance and what needs to change in respect of resourcing the arms of the State correctly and also supporting families who are now not just tearful but raging that yet again they are put in that position.
Deputy Brian Hayes: On the last point, more than €210 million has been spent over an eight-year period on capital works on flood defences. We are coming from a poor position in comparison to other European countries that have much more sophisticated funding mechanisms in place for many years. Despite the adjustments in recent years this is one area where we have managed to date to ring-fence the budget. This year €40 million will be spent plus a carry-over of €5 million from last year. A significant proportion of that is continuing. Needless to say all Departments are under pressure on the capital side but as far as I am concerned this is a priority area. We know that these events are happening with greater frequency due to climate change. We have a responsibility to catch up in comparison with other countries which, historically, have invested in flood defences. That is my intention as Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, OPW.
The previous Government examined the possibility of a State insurance system for families that could not obtain insurance from other sources and turned it down because of the potential liability. I give an assurance to the Deputy to examine the issue again to see if progress could be made. I have met many communities across the country, from Dublin to the west, the south and the north. I am aware of the enormous psychological damage that it causes in communities when one’s house is flooded and one feels a sense of destitution. We have a responsibility centrally and locally to get things right.
Simple things could be done. I was horrified by the lack of communication outlined by Deputy Finian McGrath. I spoke to officials from across Dublin last night from 8 p.m. until 12 midnight about what was happening. I was texting them, ringing them and finding out what was happening through social media. Some local authorities were better than others. It is unacceptable that public representatives would not receive a text message or be otherwise informed of what was happening in their community. I will raise the issue with Dublin City Council. We must improve. Basic things do not cost much money. I refer to things to do with cop-on such as communication through text messages about issues on which Deputies must be informed because invariably they are deluged with calls from constituents. That issue must be sorted out.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh made a sensible suggestion that I will consider further. He is correct about culverts. In recent years because of the level of development in the city many small rivers and tributaries have been put underground. The question arises of whether the culverts are deep enough given the severity of weather events. OPW engineers have informed me that it is not just a question of the depth of the culverts, it is the angle at which they are built and whether the angle allows the flow to get out into the river as one would expect. We must liaise with local authorities on the issue. I will follow it up.
My understanding about the situation in Dundrum is that it is due to an underground river. Deputy Olivia Mitchell is seated behind me. The river was put underground to facilitate the development. We all saw last night on YouTube and elsewhere the enormous damage that was caused within seconds because a culvert burst. Questions arise in that regard which I will follow up. It is sensible that we would examine the matter of gullies as well, which is also a matter for local authorities. Keeping them clear is particularly difficult at this time of year with falling leaves leading to blockages in the system which exacerbated the situation.
I accept what Deputy Humphreys said about the necessity for much greater responsibility and emergency planning from all and sundry. We must review what has happened and learn lessons from it. My colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, who has responsibility for this area is leading the review. We must work together to find a better way to ensure that our response to crises such as this represents the best of joined-up Government locally and nationally.
I will send a transcript of the debate to the agencies with responsibility for the issue and seek an immediate reply on the substantive points raised by Deputies for which I or my colleague may not have responsibility.
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