Thursday, 23 February 1995
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Neville: I welcome the Minister, Deputy Jim Higgins, and offer him my congratulations on his appointment. It is important that people from the west are in a position to influence Government. The more people from the rural areas of the west we have in Government the better. We are glad that a Minister of the ability of the Minister, has obtained an opportunity to work for the people in his capacity as Minister and to do certain things, because he is of course responsible for his brief throughout the country.
First, I wish to say how disastrous a year it has been for flooding. Even last night in the west and the mid west was disastrous. Rainfall as monitored in Shannon for the months of December, January and February is twice the average and it must be recognised that it has been one of the worst years in decades. Our county engineer in Limerick has said it has been the worst year in decades. The Minister's approach — he is making a submission to the EU — is the correct one. We should support him in every way we can and impress upon him the urgent need this year to obtain compensation for people who are in a disastrous state.
Certain areas of the country are very severely affected, including parts of counties Limerick, Clare, Galway and the midlands. It is incumbent on the Government to recognise the disastrous situation, the financial loss these people are experiencing, the inconvenience and trauma for them of having to leave their homes and the damage done to household effects. It is incumbent on the Government to recognise that and compensate accordingly. I had a call last night from a farmer who asked me if he could be assisted because 12 of his  sheep had been drowned in flooding. All I could do was suggest that he put a report together and submit it. I wish to impress upon the Minister the need to ensure that the European Union appreciates the difficulties we are experiencing and the need for the Government to ensure that people who are affected severely by this are given some type of compensation and are assisted in every way.
One of the biggest issues of concern as a result of the flooding in my own county, County Limerick, is the effect of flooding on the roads of County Limerick and other counties as well. I have been spoken to about flood damage to the roads of north Cork, but we have a special problem in Limerick in regard to roads. As this is one of the most intensive dairying areas, where there is a lot of milk collection, we have a problem with roads because of the level of milk collection and the bulk tankers necessarily travelling over those roads. Dairy farming is the mainstay of our county. Severe problems have been caused in regard to our roads heretofore; but now, with the disastrous rainfall, the situation is in crisis.
The county engineer has submitted a document to the Minister for the Environment — I know it is not the area for which the Minister here is responsible — but calculating the effect that the floods have had on the roads; and I know that after the last week that document, which was submitted about two weeks ago, is totally out of date. The situation is in real crisis now and the level of pressure on public representatives as a result of this has been the most severe I have ever experienced in my ten years as a public representative. Many roads are impassable, much damage has been done to cars. People, especially old people, are experiencing difficulty travelling some roads. It is too dangerous to walk on some of them and cycling is out of the question.
The Government must recognise that there is a situation here which is unique in that the worst floods have caused many of the roads to almost completely  disappear. We recognise in County Limerick that we have had a problem with roads and this year the council itself, through its own funds, has increased the funding by £1.3 million. We were proposing to improve the roads with that £1.3 million, but because of the flooding a lot of that money will be spent on repairs if we do not get special compensation for this emergency situation.
I also wish to raise the issue of flooding in the Foynes area. There has been severe flooding on at least three occasions in Foynes village. There has been flooding from two areas. There has been a tidal flood, where the tide coming in and the winds have raised the level of water. The water has come up from the harbour, through the harbour works, into the village and has flooded homes. There is also flooding from the hinterland, from water coming down towards Foynes. The shores are unable to take it and severe damage has been done in the Foynes area.
We will be asking the Minister to look at the situation there, first to compensate the people for what has happened and, second, to assist the harbour authority and the county council in ensuring that flooding does not take place in the future. We know that it has occurred on several occasions over the past 40 years and that has been documented; but this year's flooding has been the most severe and has done the most severe damage, again probably a reflection on the year it is and on what is happening with our climate.
I urge the Minister to examine the situation in Foynes and to assist the harbour authority in ensuring that the flooding does not take place there in the future. I ask him to ensure that the county council carry out works there to stop the tide coming up into the village and that there are proper facilities to take the surface water when it comes from the hinterland into the village.
A lot has been said about the Mulcair disaster area, as referred to by the Irish Farmers Association. It would be  expected of us in Limerick to draw attention to that, and I do so. It has been debated for as long they have debated draining the Shannon, that is, since the foundation of the State. It is indeed a disaster area and there are about 20,000 acres of primary and 60,000 acres of secondary flooding. There has been flooding in the houses of villages, on the roads and in farms and factories throughout the Mulcair basin, which is on the arterial drainage list. We urge the Minister to look at what is happening and provide funding to remedy it.
It was recently suggested by a member of Limerick County Council that a piecemeal approach should be taken: money set aside on an annual basis and the problem tackled over a period of years rather than asking for £30 million in any one year. If a few million pounds was provided each year quite an amount of work could be done with a small amount of money, relatively speaking, to start alleviating the problem. The Minister might consider a scheme of works over a period of years rather than suggesting that £30 million should be provided in any one year. Work was promised as far back as 1971 by the Lemass Government and since then by Dr. Fitzgerald's Government. Both Taoisigh promised in writing to do something. We are still waiting in 1995, but nothing has been done. We could press all we like for £30 million and might not get it but we may get £2 million or £3 million each year over a period of time.
The area has been badly flooded four times since Christmas and required fire brigades, pumping and intervention by the council on every occasion. This has caused extreme financial loss in the area and a great deal of stress. The Mulcair Drainage Society has been lobbying very strongly for a number of years on this issue. We had a visit from the former Minister of State at the Department of Finance. Deputy Phil Hogan, and he has a full appreciation of what has happened in the area. I am sure the Minister  has a copy of the file and I urge him to look at it.
A study by the Mulcair Drainage Society, the co-operatives and Moore-park research and development division shows a cost saving of £2.5 million per year on dairying and £1.5 million on stores of beef, based on Teagasc estimates, if the work is completed. This would pay for much of the flood relief, boost employment in the area, keep families there and stop the terrible stress, social pressure and financial ruin being experienced by the farmers and people of the area.
Many areas of the Mulcair have banks like the dikes in Holland, where houses and land are below the level of the river and could be washed away if the bank bursts. The Dutch are worried about a rat hole which could result in a dike bursting, while in the Mulcair area we are worried about a fox, badger, otter or rabbit burrow, which is much bigger and poses the strong possibility of a burst which would cause disaster in the area. There are serious problems with roads in Limerick as a result of flooding. The Mulcair and Foynes areas are the ones most severely affected; but individual farmers have had severe losses, such as the farmer in Rathkeale who had a number of his sheep drowned. I hope we have seen the end of it and I urge the Minister to do what he can to persuade the EU and the Government to ensure people receive proper compensation for their losses.
Mr. Norris: I was, and I also have roots deep in the midlands bog, like yourself, and it is a part of the world I love. I am well aware of the problems of drainage and flooding because ever  since I was a small child I have heard about the Shannon drainage scheme, a scheme for draining bogs and so on. Flooding is a great tragedy for many people. Even though I have never lived on a farm — I have only spent holidays in the country — as a city dweller I have had some small experience of flooding which initiated inside my house. I am well aware of the strong psychological pressure involved and the frightening aspect of the insidious and apparently irresistible encroachment of water on one's property.
I express my sympathy to the people to whom I have listened on radio and have seen on television in their homesteads and farms bewildered by the fact that what had been a paddock or a field has turned into a lake, that their local road has turned into a river and they do not know where to turn. One of the reasons for this has to do with insurance. I understand that floods are regarded as acts of God and that it is very difficult to insure adequately against them and make that kind of financial prudent provision. I support the call made by other Senators, most recently by Senator Neville, for adequate compensation to be made from the central authority to people who are in very unusual and, in some cases, catastrophic circumstances.
I was very moved to listen to a woman yesterday on the radio. She is a widow and has a substantial and very profitable farm. Her eldest son, who had been working on a farm in the mid-west of America, had come home to help her run the farm. Over the last six weeks the situation became so difficult that he has had to return to America because he could not cope with the situation caused by the flooding.
When one considers this kind of flooding, there is the element of the weather and a climatic problem. I do not believe — I am not a statistician, a climatologist or whoever looks into these matters — that we have sufficient data to work out whether this has to do with the greenhouse effect, is a blip in the weather cycle or a naturally occurring  variation within certain limits which will inevitably occur within that cycle. I believe that in certain areas there is clear human impact.
Some years ago when travelling home by plane from abroad I read with great but rather callous amusement of how Mr. Noel Carroll got himself into great deal of trouble for saying in the wake of Typhoon or Hurricane Charlie, or whatever it was, when the Dodder burst and some cottages were flooded, that people who live next to a river must expect to get their feet wet once every 50 years or so. He was very much pilloried for that, but there is some element of truth in it.
We are dealing with natural cycles but also with the balance of nature. When this is disturbed, nature will inevitably attempt to reassert itself. That has been seen in Europe where part of the responsibility for the flooding has been attributed to attempts to straighten the Rhine. In the last 80 to 100 years it has been straightened to such an extent that the river has been shortened by about 50 miles. This has had an impact on flood margins in surrounding areas of the Rhine and has contributed to the flooding. This is also true in our present circumstances in Ireland. In any measures we take, such as arterial drainage schemes, we must look at the further impact down the line which may be caused by these schemes.
I have taken an interest in this matter and some things have rather surprised me. I listened to a discussion about the question in Galway, in particular the area around the Slieve Aughty mountains. The situation there has been considerably exacerbated by developments involving Coillte and private farmers growing trees on the sides of the mountains because of the impact of vertical drainage schemes. This has greatly increased the pressure from water draining very rapidly down the mountains into lower areas and having some impact, among other things, on the water table. This is a young forest and at this period the transmission of water is very rapid indeed, but after ten years  the canopy closes. The whole thing is organic, it is developing and changing. It seems clear to me that a situation that would have inevitably led to flooding had been considerably worsened by systems involving vertical drainage. If we are thinking in terms of further arterial drainage schemes we need to look at what their impact would be further down the line.
The problem has long term implications also because it takes such a long time for the water to drain away naturally. There is the problem of soil erosion, the washing away of large quantities of fertilisers and the drop in temperature of the soil. I understand that even when the water has left the land the soil temperature takes quite a long time to recover and results in a significant stunting in the growth of grass. In addition there is the impact on livestock, farm buildings, dwellings and the health and welfare of farmers. We should urge the Minister to take immediate action with regard to roads to ensure access for people to their property and from their property to normal services, such as shops, schools and medical facilities.
I would like to pay tribute to the Air Corps because they have had a very significant impact in attempting to ameliorate the conditions for people having to deal with these problems on the ground. I am happy to support the calls from all sides of the House for positive intervention by the Minister, particularly in the most practical of areas, and that is, funding to relieve what is clearly a natural disaster.
Mr. Byrne: I am delighted to have an opportunity to say a few words about the problem of flooding. I wish the Minister every success in his new post. I am sure he is aware of the flooding problem across the country, particularly in the west around the Gort area. It is terrible to see people's homes flooded. They cannot go back to live there for the next few months because of the damage done by the floods. This has caused them a great deal of hardship. I believe that much of  the flash flooding in recent years has been created by ourselves. Coillte, for example, the body which harvests our forests, has run amok to put it bluntly. They have created major problems; we now have flooding of land and public roads which never took place before. I am sure every Member of this House who is a member of a local authority knows why this is happening. That body — which has a very responsible duty in harvesting State forests and creating valuable jobs — has subcontracted the removal of the timber from forests. The sole purpose of these subcontractors has been harvesting the maximum amount of timber in the shortest time possible. In doing that they have damaged and blocked streams and drainage areas which previously prevented flooding on public roads; they have been destroyed by the sheer greed of the subcontractors and by a lack of responsibility on the part of Coillte. I have condemned them at my own local authority meetings and I am sure the same problem exists in every county.
Coillte has run amok and created major problems on our roads. The flash flooding on roads, particularly the Cork-Dublin road outside Cahir, one of the busiest in the south of Ireland, has been the cause of fatal accidents. There was never flooding there before but now the drains and streams are blocked up and choked. I blame Coillte. Local authorities are helpless in this area and can do very little to make that body more responsible.
The surface of our county and main roads have been damaged by machinery and nothing is being done to stop it. Admittedly, every local authority is short of money but Coillte seems to be a law unto itself. I appeal to the Minister — I am sure he has come across this problem in the west and in other parts of the country — to ensure that common sense prevails in Coillte. There are very good people working there but this crazy practice is creating major problems. We now have flash flooding where it never happened before, drains and streams — built long before there were  JCBs — destroyed and, even if the area is replanted, flooding may cause problems for the new plantation. I appeal to the Minister to do something about this. Bring some common sense into the harvesting of our forests. Even private houses have been flooded because of what Coillte is doing.
I also have something uncomplimentary to say about the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and EU schemes, particularly in the last 25 years. People have modernised their farms; fences and ditches have been removed and paddocks introduced. These measures have caused other problems. The Department and the local authorities are separate little empires. They do not work together. There is no liaison. Over the years the Department introduced various schemes and grants for the development of farms.
Where fences have been removed flash flooding resulted thus creating major problems on the roads and land adjacent to farms. There should have been more thought put into this. People ask why this flooding has taken place. If there are ditches they prevent water — particularly in a very wet year like this one — from seeping on to main roads. However, ditches have been removed in many areas and flash floods have been the result.
More thought should be put into farm development. Teagasc should think more about this. In some areas where there have been local authority and private house developments bends on the roads were straightened. We remove one problem and create another. There is no foresight. A housing development in a small town or village might contain half an acre of concrete and the water flows on to the road. This can lead to flooding and then the local council or county manager, as part of a deputation, may have to ask to the Minister of the day for help. There is no advance planning.
The same may apply to the development of a private residence. A person gets planning permission, pays the development and water connection  charges, etc., but what happens next? Nothing. The house is built with a concrete apron at the front and all the water flows onto the road creating another problem for the local authority. We must change our thinking. In frosty weather water can be a terrible hazard. We should be more careful when it comes to housing and farm development.
With land reclamation, the removal of hedges and ditches, etc., we interfere with small streams which can cause major problems a half mile or two miles down the road. We bring in JCBs and push on regardless; the paddocks are nicely designed but this development creates more problems. Our agricultural advisers and Department officials should bear in mind the problems that can be created by the indiscriminate rape of old systems. We might laugh at the way old people did things but they kept their streams and drains clean without any mechanical help. In this way a lot of flooding was avoided, even though they also had wet years.
We bring in our JCBs and think we are doing a great job but we are actually creating many problems along the way. Along the River Suir in Tipperary, where there is the finest land in the world, many holdings have been continuously flooded over the years. In a little village not far from Ardfinnan homes have also been flooded continuously and I do not know if we will ever get around to dealing with it. The Shannon and the Suir have been drained many times before — at all the general elections that I can remember — yet we still have not started the work, even though successive Governments have promised to drain these rivers.
There are, of course, many problems relating to drainage. Some 30 years ago my own local authority had a flooding problem outside Clonmel on the River Anner which was creating difficulties for people in their homes. The local authority did an excellent job. Unfortunately, all the rubble and waste that was dredged from the river was piled up on  the riverbank and so there were High Court and Supreme Court cases which went on for years. As a result, South Tipperary County Council lost out heavily through being concerned about the problem and so I do not think any local authority will get involved in that way again.
We are all great for pointing out why this and that should be done, but the minute you go and do it people will threaten to take an action against you and claim you have no right. We are all so busy worrying about our rights that we cannot go one step ahead, but with a bit of co-operation between local authorities and the Office of Public Works some of those problems could be sorted out at very little cost.
The head men in Coillte should be more responsible and I hope that their organisation will be brought to heel. It is not good enough to balance the books and get your timber to the factory at the cheapest cost if you are going to create other problems by flooding people's homes and farms as well as the public roads. It is going to cost money in lives along the way and it is not good enough for a State body to be carrying on in that fashion. I am sure the Minister is well aware that Coillte has been warned by many local authorities over the years and yet we seem to be helpless in bringing them to heel. My own local authority has taken them to court seeking compensation for damage they did to public roads with heavy machinery, apart from the flooding, but that case has not yet been sorted out.
We can blame the Government and county councillors, but much of the flash flooding in recent years could and should have been avoided by having some commonsense in farm and forestry developments as well as in local authority and private housing developments. We have a slipshod attitude to development. Despite all the development charges — to develop what — they allow the problem to go on for years before sorting it out.
While it is no reflection on the Minister, we are slow to get things done in  this country. There are quite a lot of potholes around the country due to the bad weather, but for the past five or six years there has been a big pothole inside the Kildare Street entrance to Leinster House. As a member of the Oireachtas Joint Services Committee for the past four or five years I asked the chairman why something could not be done about it. He mentioned the Office of Public Works and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. Because of the layers of waffle and bureaucracy we cannot get anybody to deal with the problem. It is an example of how bogged down we are that we cannot even fill a pothole inside the gates of Leinster House, despite the fact that staff and members of the public cannot go in or out without cars splashing them, as Senator Farrell mentioned yesterday. It is a national scandal, but nobody seems to care and the buck does not stop anywhere anymore. I am not attacking the Minister, because many Ministers have come and gone but the pothole is still there.
It is really sad when nobody cares and nobody is prepared to carry the can to see to it that the job is done. It is a reflection on our inability to get things done. I appeal to the Minister for a bit of commonsense, particularly in the Department of Agriculture, Coillte and the local authorities, in regard to their development plans so that we can avoid much of the flash flooding and save money as well.
We can blame God for many things — and when it rains it is an act of God — but we create many problems ourselves which we should own up to and sort out. We should stop passing the buck from one Department to another because that will not solve anything. With money so scarce it is going to cost even more if problems are left unattended for too long rather than acting upon them swiftly in a businesslike way.
Mr. McDonagh: I am sure that you have been through Turloughmore on many occasions. The derivation of the word “Turloughmore” means big, dry lake. However, unfortunately and regrettably, the lake is no longer dry. Indeed, the entire county of Galway and much of the west is no longer dry because it is totally submerged in water. I am sure that everybody here and around the country sympathised with the flood victims when they saw the pictures on RTE television last weekend of boats bringing the Minister for Agriculture to the hinterland of Gort. People who were not directly involved may have forgotten those pictures, but the terrible trauma caused by the recent deluge continues to affect families.
Many farms and homes are still submerged in the south Galway area adjacent to the town of Gort, which has been particularly badly hit. The focus of the entire nation is on that area, which by any standards has been the worst affected in the nation. A few years ago a number of families in the area were forced out of their homes for up to two months, so this natural disaster is a continuing process.
Farmers must be compensated for the loss of livestock and fodder. The budget assistance for farmers is welcome, as is the recent announcement of aid to Gort by the Minister, Deputy Yates. A major initiative must now be undertaken to prevent the recurrence of flooding in Gort and other areas. One cannot imagine the tragedy of people seeing their houses flooded up to a depth of three feet of water, their kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms and household utensils ruined.
Villages, have been cut off, farmers have to use tractors to get in and out of their houses and children are suffering enormous hardship. It should be stressed that children have had to forfeit  the bus service and go through fields to get to school. Many children have to bring an extra set of clothes with them and change their wet clothing when they get to school so they will be dry for the day. This is a terrible situation and totally unacceptable in this modern age. There is a great risk to the health of children and there is also a great physical danger to children travelling adjacent to flooded areas.
Flooding is a natural disaster and very hard to control. It goes without saying that a major effort must be made to help people who are caught in this dilemma. The people have suffered in silence for too long. No Government since the foundation of the State has done anything to relieve the flooding situation in south Galway. Little has been done anywhere to alleviate flooding or prevent its reoccurrence in the last 100 years.
Prior to and during the 1890s many drains were put in place, but unfortunately some of them only went 90 per cent of the way. This was in the era of the congested district boards. In those days they often worked backwards from the rivers and, because of lack of funds, the boards went out of favour and much work stopped short of completion. It has been left there and nothing has changed over the last 100 years. If sufficient funds had been available in those days, we might not have the current problems and the rivers would have continued down from Gort, on to Kinvara and into the sea. However, that is history and we must face the situation as it is.
There is now deep concern and a genuine commitment from the Government to do something meaningful to alleviate this terrible problem. I compliment the former Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Deputy Hogan. Immediately after his appointment, he came to Gort to view the flooding and also brought his officials. He sent his officials back down a second time. His successor, Deputy Higgins, who is in the House today, has shown the same concern and  has gone far beyond the call of duty. He sympathises with the problem. I personally thank Deputy Higgins for the concern he has shown. I know he will continue to show that concern and if anyone is to find a solution to this problem, Deputy Higgins will not be found wanting.
Recent announcements in the budget and further announcements from the Minister for Finance, Deputy Quinn, that a complete survey is being carried out with a view to implementing a programme to prevent reoccurrence of these flooding problems are very welcome. Money must be provided to the county councils to enable them to raise roads in areas prone to flooding and to help them clean out the swallow holes. It is necessary to drain the Gort river which caused flooding of private houses and businesses in the town of Gort.
One of the saddest days of my life was during the Christmas holiday season when I was asked to go into Gort and view at first hand the scene of houses being flooded, householders trying to continue their businesses and Christmas shoppers using ramps and timber hoarding to get into the shops. This must not be allowed to recur. It is important that any money spent by the local authorities during the emergency that prevailed over Christmas and in the months of January and February is refunded. The councils have used much funds in cleaning debris and helping to battle the waters. They are to be complimented for the enormous work they have done. Hopefully, they will be reimbursed for any money that has been spent. It is not good enough for this money to be taken out of the roads programme for the coming year.
I make a special appeal to the Minister for Environment that Galway County Council, which is under enormous strain helping the people in the Gort area, will not suffer and that the roads programme will not suffer in the coming year. They should be reimbursed and special allocations made and the roads programme should not be affected in any way. We all welcome the  view promulgated by the Ministers, the Minister of State and his predecessor that a body with full responsibility for drainage would be put in place immediately and that the idea of passing the buck from one Government agency to another would cease forthwith. It is imperative that a body like the Office of Public Works be given the task of drawing up a plan to relieve the problem and given full statutory powers for all drainage works.
It is vital that Europe responds to the crisis that prevails in this country. I understand that Article 130 of the Maastricht Treaty requires the causes rather than the consequences of environmental damage be tackled and adherence to planned joint action in close co-ordination with national authorities to protect the environment. I also understand that according to Article B4/340 emergency relief can be supplied to help the victims of the floods and restore the badly hit economic infrastructure.
A motion on the floods in Corsica and south eastern France, calling on the Commission to release medium and long term funding to enable local authorities to undertake the work required in the form of priority measures in the areas likely to suffer from torrential rains, received great support in the European Parliament as recently as 14 November 1994. There was a call for the European Union to intervene, as it has done in the past.
Similar exceptional cases relevant to flooding in north Italy and emergency financial aid for the regions affected also received much support. Another motion concerning central and south eastern France called on the Commission to propose measures to contribute to the restoration of the affected areas and to the strengthening of the means of prevention and protection against flooding. It is high time that the European Parliament responded in a tangible and positive manner to a motion from this country calling on the European Union to assist the prevention of flooding in Ireland, particularly  in the worst hit areas of Gort, south Galway and north Clare. In my own parish, the dry lake parish of Turloughmore, the national school in Coolarne had to be closed for over a week and a road in Canteeny is still covered with water. Both walls of the road in this location have fallen in and it is a major danger to commuters and passers-by and a major danger to life.
Our MEPs and our Commissioner should be called on to highlight the major problem that exists in this country, particularly in the west of Ireland. They should be more forthright and forthcoming in putting the case for Ireland and the disastrous situation that now prevails. It is an emergency crisis situation which should be put before the European Parliament with a view to acquiring funds to help the people who are suffering.
People have suffered due to the deluge of water pouring into their homes and I witnessed this at first hand. These people are not covered by insurance and some clause should be inserted whereby they would be aided or assisted in some way for the grievous losses they have suffered in the past number of weeks and months. I hope the motion comes before the European Parliament in the immediate future.
As I already stated, I trust that the county councils, who have used their supplementary grants to help those suffering from this crisis, will not suffer as a result and that the Minister for the Environment will ensure that they are not left at a loss because of the money they gave to help people in the flooded areas since Christmas. I hope funds will be given to Galway County Council to help them to raise the roads in Gort, Coolarne, Turloughmore and other places where flooding has caused major havoc in recent times.
Never before in the history of this State were the words of the famous recitation more apt: “We will all be ruined, said Hanrahan, if this rain don't stop.” Many people are already ruined and many areas are devastated. We must now stop talking about helping them;  we must act. This Government will not be found wanting in that regard.
I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Yates, but the existing fodder relief is too restricted. I appeal to the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Jim Higgins, to ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry to change the format. A clause or caveat should be inserted to allow people who have been forced to buy fodder to claim compensation. Many farmers are under enormous pressure throughout the country, particularly in the Gort area. Senators have seen the trauma and suffering experienced by people there. Under the terms for fodder relief, which is currently being circulated by the offices of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, there is no help for people who must buy fodder. These people must buy fodder, therefore they should be given compensation. This clause would be of enormous help to the people in south Galway, particularly in the Gort area, who have suffered many problems as a result of the flooding.
I thank the Minister for the interest he has shown in this crisis and I know he will do everything in his power to assist the people. It is a difficult task, but this is an important and traumatic situation. I appeal to him to do all in his power to continue giving help to the people of south Galway. I hope the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry will insert this clause or caveat to allow people who must buy fodder to claim grant aid.
Mr. McGowan: I join with other Members in welcoming the Minister here and I hope our contribution will help to highlight the national problem. I come from a county which has had its share of flooding over the years. We have reached the stage where no one who has suffered a serious loss from flooding would appeal with any confidence to a Government Department. I am delighted to have the opportunity to  speak and I am also delighted that the Government parties have agreed to discuss Senator Daly's Bill next week. I hope we continue to discuss this problem until we establish a fund which will contribute to this situation.
Some 20 years ago the then Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Deasy, visited Donegal and had his photograph taken for the front page of a newspaper while standing in Wellington boots in drills of potatoes belonging to a farmer involved in tillage. This man received no aid or assistance and he suffered so much that he had to sell three farms of land. He then died from a heart attack. Perhaps that is a dramatic ending, but it started with a promise of help which was not kept.
Some years ago flooding occurred in Bray, County Wicklow. The former Taoiseach, Dr. Garrett FitzGerald, inspected it and promised the people an immediate response. That night he appeared on television. Other areas were also flooded at that time because floods do not select one area, whether it is Galway or Dublin. Nothing annoys people more than seeing someone on television or in the newspapers, which suggests that the Government is doing something, when they know nothing will happen. That situation has prevailed for many years.
It is wrong for the Government to give the impression that it will tackle the serious flooding problem and it was wrong for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Yates, to be seen on a boat and to give the impression that he would deliver something within weeks. Approximately £2 million was announced in the budget for flooding relief, but there was no money for those who suffered serious damage to their houses or stock. I would not like to wait on a farm which has suffered serious damage for part of the £2 million promised. It is a mistake to appear on television or in a photograph and to promise relief to the hard pressed people, such as the person I referred to in Donegal who lost his three farms of land and his life as a result of such pressure.  That is a mistake by any Minister or Government.
This is a serious problem and I hope it will continue to be recognised as such and that we have an opportunity to express our views. I am delighted that Senator Daly's Bill will be discussed next week and I hope it will have the unanimous support of this House. This Bill is timely and I believe it will be passed.
I attended an EU conference on flooding and coastal erosion and I was impressed by the one, not 20, page document which was presented. The person delivering the paper only had that one page document. He highlighted coastal erosion, inland tributaries and the damage being caused. When he finished he put his one page down. He did not carry a bundle of papers which people had to read later; everyone was aware of the problem when he finished. That Scottish representative succeeded in getting EU aid for coastal erosion and funding is available at present also.
It is the Government's responsibility to put money towards this and ask for support. The Dutch recently had serious flooding problems. Before the flooding danger was past, the EU promised aid and flood relief to Holland. The Irish flooding might not have been on a similar scale; nevertheless the existence and livelihoods of small farmers here are threatened.
I visit many areas of the country and this problem is not confined to one area. A sea wall in Arranmore Island off County Donegal is washed down every second year and a part of the island is flooded thereafter. It was a serious mistake to wind up the old land drainage organisation because nothing has replaced it.
One Member said local authorities should get money from the Department of the Environment in order to be in a position to do more. There is no possibility of local authorities having funding; they are unable to fill potholes in the roads. No drainage has taken place and whoever is blamed — Coillte or any other body — no funding is available to  clear drains, repair river banks, remove fallen timber from rivers, etc. That sector has suffered neglect for many years.
The greatest disservice that can be done to those people seriously affected by the flooding is a Minister putting his photograph in the newspaper, promising aid. When people promise £1,000 to repair a road, people in Donegal say: “It wouldn't put the oil in the warning lamp”. Giving £2 million to tackle this national problem is on just as small a scale. No one takes it seriously; it is a political gesture by the Minister and nothing more. It will do nothing for those who have suffered serious damage.
I do not want to be totally negative and condemn everything. About 20 years ago the River Finn in Donegal posed a problem. The arterial drainage body said the problem was twenty-ninth on its list and would not be tackled for another 15 years. The late Noel Lemass was the Minister in charge of the Office of Public Works at the time. He came to Donegal and made an aerial inspection of the river as it passed through Lifford, Castlefinn, Killygordon and Ballybofey. I am telling this story so I can give the message to the Minister in the House today.
Minister Lemass saw how the problem was caused; there were many broken riverbanks and fallen trees. He said he did not have money for this problem and mentioned the priority list. However, he made us an attractive offer. The Office of Public Works had 22RBs which it was not using at the time. He offered to lease them for a year if an organisation was willing to insure the machines and got the agreement of everyone involved along the river to build proper embankments. An organisation was found. The local authority contributed up to £20,000; the banks, the marts and other bodies also helped. The machines were hired, the banks of the Finn rebuilt and the towns and villages were saved from continual flooding. There has been no flood along that river since.
 This may seem a small matter to some in this House but the then Minister took a practical approach; he inspected the problem and offered a solution. He did not go on television to offer funding; he offered machines for hire at a nominal sum of £1 per week. That was a welcome offer, the whole community became involved and the River Finn was successfully banked. I tell the Minister that story because it is significant. A positive, practical approach must be taken.
No one should say here that the local authority should have done more by clearing the drains. What is the real problem? Is there more rain, or have we had a change of climate? People are looking for someone or something to blame for the flooding but the matter is simple. The inland drains and culverts have not been cleared and river banks have not been repaired. Only in this emergency do we see £2 million offered as a piecemeal peace offering to those affected. It is not good enough.
The Minister recently showed courage which will do him no harm in his political career. I ask him to continue to show courage. At some stage a Minister will have to take this problem by the scruff of the neck. Whoever does it cannot lose because it is a national problem. The Minister should not be party to an offer to appease a small section because that will get us nowhere and no one will believe him. It is like throwing a cap in the river, it amounts to nothing. No one is impressed by a token contribution. A policy must be put in place.
I ask the House to support the Bill which Senator Daly will introduce next week. It is important legislation that is long overdue. This House can make a major contribution to solving a national problem which we have allowed to develop as a result of total neglect. Flooding is a good subject to discuss but perhaps it is a hard problem to solve. However, we should make a start. I invite the Minister to continue his courageous start and tackle this serious  problem. If he does so it will not do his political career any harm.
Mr. D'Arcy: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Higgins. I wish him well in his political career as a Minister. No doubt he will be appointed a full Minister before long. I have known the Minister for a long time and I appreciate his qualities, not least the fact that he represents a rural area.
I wish to take issue with Senator McGowan about a few points he made regarding the allocation of funds for flooding over the years. Long before our time — I think it was 1954 — one of our greatest Ministers for Agriculture, James Dillon, made approximately £26 million available to flood victims in this country. The equivalent sum today would be certainly six times that amount. He made that money available to everybody in the country. When I was a Minister of State in the coalition Government of 1982-1987, the then Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Austin Deasy, made similar funds available during 1985-86. With regard to the criticism of his appearance in a potato field in Donegal, he cannot be blamed for everything. Funds were made available to farmers who suffered hardship and loss during that period and I compliment the Minister for that.
I also disagree with Senator McGowan's criticism of the visit by the present Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Ivan Yates, to Galway. I represent County Wexford, yet I received phone calls from people in Galway, Clare and Limerick asking me to use my offices to influence Deputy Yates to assist them. Down through the years I have had great contact with farmers and they know of my interest in agriculture. They asked me to seek support for them from the Minister for Agriculture. What better support can the Minister give than to visit the area and view the devastation and awful hardship at first hand? It is wrong to criticise the Minister for doing that. People know that they have a Minister who is concerned and who will visit them. Deputy Yates  could have spent his day on several other activities, not least spending the day with his family in Wexford. However, he spent that Sunday in Galway and the surrounding areas to see the effects of the flooding.
Flooding is not a new occurrence in Ireland. We are subject to dreadful floods and the attendant problems from time to time. To some degree I agree with Senator McGowan that one cannot deal with flooding after it has occurred; some arrangements must be made to at least look at the problem in anticipation of the fact that it will occur again. In addition to dealing with the immediate aftermath of flooding, it is vital that we take steps to try to prevent a recurrence of at least the most severe effects of flooding which we have witnessed in the past three or four months. Flooding is the result of exceptionally high rainfall. I understand that the rainfall for January this year was double the average. That is very serious.
We all view the problem of flooding from different perspectives. I will look at how the flooding has affected roads in my county and, indeed, across the country. While the worse effects of the flooding were felt this time in the west, we have had to deal with Hurricane Charlie and other floods. We, too, had severe problems as a result of flooding during January this year and I sought a report on its effects from our county engineer. Last Monday he reported that an assessment had recently been made of the current condition of roads throughout the county, particularly in view of the exceptionally heavy rainfall of recent weeks. While the assessment survey was not that comprehensive, it nevertheless gives a good indication of the overall position.
Approximately 450 miles, or 23 per cent, of roads require complete resurfacing and extensive drainage. The pavements are structurally defective, are totally out of shape and, as a result, are difficult and expensive to maintain. The current cost of this resurfacing work is approximately £40,000-£50,000 per mile totalling approximately £20  million for County Wexford. A further 600 miles, or 30 per cent, require extensive patching, drainage and surface dressing at current rates of £15,000 to £20,000 per mile, costing approximately £10 million. We already have a bill accumulating to about £30 million. The remaining 950 miles require normal maintenance, potholes repairs, drainage, etc. and surface dressing at appropriate intervals.
This outlines the overall position, which, if anything, is understated. Obviously, grant allocations of the order of £30 million will not be made available to address this problem in the short term. However, this assessment highlights the reality and puts the current roads situation in perspective. Many Members of the Oireachtas are also members of county councils. The Government of 1977 stripped the county councils of their authority to raise moneys for the drainage and maintenance of roads. Car tax and, more importantly, rates on houses were abolished. We have been fighting since then for a system of collection of rates or service charges, although no system is as good as the collection of rates on houses. By and large, the majority of people did not object to rates, despite the existence of pressure groups.
From 1977 to now the neglect of roads — not only in Wexford but everywhere — has been disgraceful. The county engineer's report outlines the problems in Wexford, but the same problems exist in every other county. There is a huge investment in roads. County Wexford has approximately 1,800 miles of county roads that service the entire rural community. The county engineer tells us that the period between surface dressings should be seven to eight years, yet we are now talking about a period of 27 years between each surface dressing. There is serious deterioration anyway and the additional problem of flooding results in a bad situation that is ongoing.
We are in receipt of huge sums of money for arterial road work. Successive Governments have tried to persuade  the EU to give us money for county roads. However, the case should be made again and again until we persuade our EU partners to make moneys available for this work. If it is not made available the 1,800 miles of road in Wexford will deteriorate over the forthcoming ten years creating further and greater problems for any Government and in particular for the county council and the people who live in those areas. It is a very serious situation.
In 1977, according to the county engineer, Wexford had approximately 380 men working on the roads with the shovel and slash hook. They opened the drains and inlets and kept water off the roads. Today the county has approximately 180 men to do that work, or one man to every 11 miles. There is no way that one man can do a good job on 11 miles of county roads, although I am aware that responsibility for trimming has been taken away from the men and that a certain amount of it is undertaken mechanically. However, the growth on the roads will, on an annual basis, block the water channels on the sides of the roads, and it is impossible to clear this growth with tractors and machinery because it is very expensive. Nevertheless, given that the difference in income between the roads men and those drawing unemployment assistance is so small, it is scandalous that on the one hand people are idle and on the other hand there is work to be done on the roads.
In this respect the SES scheme has not worked, because the unions are objecting to this kind of work being done by a road man. There are 180 men in County Wexford on the SES schemes working on the roads, but they are only looking at bridges and undertaking minor work. They are not allowed to take up a shovel and get the water off the roads. This is a serious situation. I therefore ask the Minister to do whatever is necessary to approach our European partners and insist on getting some of the moneys which are spent on  arterial roads — perhaps 5 or 6 per cent — to go on county roads. The taxpayer cannot be expected to fund this kind of work. A debate on charges has taken place over a prolonged period of time which has caused so much friction as to prove disastrous for the maintenance of our roads and the collection of money by our county councils.
Senator Daly has put down a motion on arterial drainage and I welcome the debate that will take place in the House on this issue. The former Minister of State, Deputy Hogan, described the Office of Public Works as having both the expertise and the countrywide organisation required to undertake effective schemes to alleviate the worst effects of localised flooding. He went on to advise that proposals for the amendment of legislation has been formulated to allow the Office of Public Works to undertake this work. This raises the issue of money. It is fine to have the expertise and the organisation across the country, but the job is not being done, and this has been the position under successive Governments.
I travelled through the village of Gort four weeks ago last Saturday and I felt sorry for the people in the village. Women were sweeping out water, there was one and a half feet of water on the street and the council was doing its best, pumping here and pumping there. Nevertheless, people's houses were flooded for up to a day and a half before it was brought under control. Nobody can understand the awful affect which flooding has on carpets, the smell in a house with muck being washed through it, and the devastating impact on the morale of the family. It is a dreadful situation.
The problem with rivers could be dealt with by the county council. There is overgrowth and undergrowth, and the overgrowth occurs where the roots of trees move themselves across the road and in certain instances go down into the bed of a small river. I have always  argued at county council level — and I argue it again today — that the neglect over a long period of maintenance of a small river will create localised flooding, although I am not aware that this was the cause of the flooding in Gort.
In the last month a number of houses have been flooded in County Wexford. One woman had two and a half feet of water in her house because the river was blocked and unable to carry the surplus water. This is the job for county councils. They have the men and the engineers and they do not require other facilities; all they require is a small amount of money. If possible, the Minister should obtain assistance from the EU to give councils in Ireland an allocation of money specifically for this purpose. If the rivers are maintained the road structures are saved. There are 1,800 miles of road in County Wexford and a small allocation should therefore be made to maintain the rivers and keep the undergrowth and overgrowth cut. There are enough people to do this, including engineers and supervisors. All that is required is the men to undertake the job and small amounts of money. The Minister should try to obtain an allocation of resources from the EU on an annual basis, as it is useless to provide an allocation in one year simply because of a huge flood. This would only result in a small amount of compensation and would mean that three, four, five or ten years into the future there would have been no maintenance of the rivers and waterways, resulting in further similar damage when the floods return. There is a great old saying that a stitch in time saves nine, and a little maintenance on a regular basis is all that is required as it save the rives and the roads.
Regarding the compensation for agriculture, I welcome the decision by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Yates. I understand that further efforts are being made to try to get the EU to supplement the fund of £2 million made available in the budget.  However, I am somewhat perturbed to note that the question of fodder is not included. This is a serious matter, because loss of livestock is one thing, but loss of fodder is another, and the more serious of the two is the loss of fodder.
If a man gets compensation for livestock and then buys in livestock but has not got the money to buy fodder, he is in a worse situation. However, if he waits and does not buy in his livestock he may not get it at the right price. This is a serious situation. For example, I saw pictures on television of farmyards under four or five feet of water for the past six to eight weeks. The point has already been made by previous speakers that the question of fodder should therefore be considered with regard to compensation.
I welcome the fact that the Minister, Deputy Yates, has stated that he is prepared to start paying this money within the next four to five weeks, because often the situation arises where compensation is offered but six months later arguments are still taking place over amounts. On one occasion, for example, arguments took place over one year about the level of compensation to be paid in respect of potatoes in County Donegal. This is inefficient and not in keeping with the requirements of those who have suffered as a result of flood damage.
Funds should be obtained from the EU to maintain rivers and county roads. In this respect I am pleased to note that the Minister and the Government have decided to ask the EU to supplement the funds amounting to £2 million already committed in the budget. I hope the Government is successful in this respect as the sum should at least be doubled. I also welcome early payment of compensation.
Mr. O'Brien: I also welcome the Minister to the House and wish her well in her portfolio. The terrible weather conditions of the past couple of months, and especially of the last three weeks, are causing enormous difficulty and hardship for many of our people throughout the country. It is important that we in the House today take the opportunity provided to us to discuss constructively how the problems can be alleviated.
Met service figures illustrate that for January 1995 rainfall had doubled on previous years. It should be noted that the annual January rainfall figures are always the highest of the year. This dramatic increase has placed us in a national crisis, with huge flooding throughout the west and midlands, of which many of my colleagues from the most affected areas are well aware, with the met reports, and especially the television pictures, horrifying us all.
Personally, I have never experienced the equal of the weather conditions in the past number of weeks in County Monaghan. With continuous rainfall, the consequences have been enormous. Returning to the situation in County Galway and the surrounding counties, the hardship being caused to people is totally unacceptable in this day and age. To subject people in rural and urban areas to the flooding of their homes, farmyards and businesses is a situation which cannot be allowed to continue and must certainly never be repeated in future years.
We must have a co-ordinated approach from the Government and all the relevant agencies — the Office of Public Works, the Department of the Environment, the ESB and the county councils — to improve the drainage so as to prevent a repeat of the current flooding. The interdepartmental committee  must act urgently to deliver an effective response to the hardships and losses sustained by many people in recent weeks. It must have as an urgent priority the formulation of a solution to this annual nightmare which can only be round through proper management and maintenance of our waterways.
The consequences of the recent heavy rainfall in my area of Monaghan and Cavan are enormous. Our road surfaces have been disastrously affected by the bad weather, with potholes emerging everywhere, and many county roads are now virtually impassable. The county roads in Monaghan and Cavan require very urgent action by the Government as the current heavy rainfall is virtually washing them away. Due to the hilly nature of the land, water is running down the hills into the roads, which are already waterlogged, and causing horrific damage.
Our total dependence on road transport of our goods and services places us at a severe disadvantage to other regions. I ask the Minister of State to convey a very sincere appeal to the Minister for the Environment to provide additional funding to the normal allocation to help alleviate the hardship. The people of Monaghan and Cavan are suffering due to the rainfall over the past couple of months, particularly the past three weeks. The hardship and financial cost to road users is huge due to the damage to their motor vehicles — for example, the cost of replacing springs etc. There is a huge use of county roads in Cavan and Monaghan by our intensive poultry, mushroom, pig and dairy industries.
I urge the Government to grant my request for extra funding to alleviate the flooding damage as people are crying out for an improvement in the condition of the roads. There is a willingness to help to improve the condition of the roads by voluntarily carrying out drainage and hedge cutting along the roads to help the county council save money  which it can then spend on much needed surface repairs.
While all sectors of the community have suffered great losses, the farming community has been particularly severely hit. It will continue to be hit for some time to come, with extra fodder having to be purchased as supplies begin to run short. I urge the Minister to immediately instruct his Department to pay farmers the moneys due to them under the final 1994 premium and headage payment as this would help to pay for extra fodder.
The Government must also make a very urgent case to the European Commission for assistance from the fund which is being established to assist victims of the flooding which has occurred throughout the EU recently. There is a very strong case for this fund to assist victims of the flooding in Ireland.
I wish to compliment the members of the various State services who have gone beyond the call of duty to assist many families isolated by the flooding and to ensure that they received essential services and commodities. This type of crisis makes us appreciate the good people in our society who are willing to help one another in times of need. We have all a role to play to ensure that none of our citizens is ever again subjected to the hardship and pain caused by the recent flooding and bad weather.
The Government should look very seriously at the hardships which have been caused and should provide funding. It is not only the land which has been flooded; the county road network has also been very badly damaged and affected, which is causing great pain to road users. I thank Senators Rory Kiely and Dardis for sharing time with me.
Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy McManus, to the House and congratulate her on her appointment. I wish her every success in the Department of the Environment,  where I have every confidence that she will be very successful.
We are discussing a very important problem which is affecting practically the entire country, that is, the problem of flooding. An unprecedented situation has developed here over the past few weeks. As Senator O'Brien stated, there has been double the normal amount of rainfall during January. The combination of heavy rainfall, high tides and storms has resulted in extraordinary damage. However, we cannot lay the blame entirely on nature taking its course, as a combination of factors has resulted in the serious flooding.
Over the years local authorities, which are responsible for the maintenance of rivers, have diverted money from the maintenance of rivers to roads, which is causing a serious problem. For example, in my own county of Clare we spent about £200,000 ten years ago on river maintenance. Over the past ten years that money has been diverted to road repairs, particularly within the county road network, resulting in serious problems. The rivers have not been maintained and there is a great deal of silting and blockages caused by bushes, trees and various debris. As a result, there are fewer free flowing rivers than there were 20 or 30 years ago. We must also recognise that these local authorities were forced to divert these moneys in many instances because their primary concern was to give people easy and free access. This meant that it was necessary to have a proper road network in place.
In 1977 the rates were removed from local authorities and were supposed to be replaced by a proper rate support grant. However, the rate support grant to most local authorities has dwindled each year and most counties are now receiving about 50 per cent or 60 per cent of what they should receive. A very serious decision was made at that time in relation to the whole functioning and powers of local authorities. We are now  seeing many of the serious results which have emanated from that decision. Local authorities have been handicapped and are operating on a shoe string because of a decision taken 18 years ago, from which there has been a major fall-out in a variety of areas.
There are various difficulties on another front. When flooding occurs in an area, the biggest problem is to identify who is responsible. Is it local government, the Department of the Marine, the Office of Public Works or the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry? The frustration experienced by people and public representatives going from Department to Department, while everyone passes the buck, is ludicrous. This situation has gone on for years. The Office of Public Works may have acted as agents of the Land Commission at one stage, but the scenario of buck passing continues. It is unfair, particularly to those badly affected. This issue must be urgently addressed.
A particular problem with regard to responsibility arises where embankments have been built. Some say it is the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, while others say it is the responsibility of the Department of the Marine or the Office of Public Works. Embankments in low lying lands have been neglected over the years. This is particularly true in my constituency around Ballynacally, New-market-on-Fergus and the lower River Fergus tributaries into the Shannon. It is also the case that a number of sea walls and sluice gates, built by the Office of Public Works 40 or 50 years ago, have been neglected. A whole series of sluice gates are broken, inoperable and totally neglected with the result that huge flooding is occurring at different points. This matter has never been properly addressed.
We have seen various frightening reports from the south Galway/north Clare area, around Gort, Tubber and  Carron, in recent weeks. There are various theories as to why flooding is occurring in this area and these must be fully investigated. One theory is that due to the nature of farm development there, in terms of the restoration of lands and the clearing of natural rocks, a complete change has come about in the ecology of the area. Much of the drainage went into fissures and cracks of the topography there but now silting is occurring underneath and the water is not reaching the swallow holes. These are becoming blocked and the water cannot seep down to the underground rivers. This is a very difficult problem to address because it concerns a natural structure which is not man made, it is not a drain or culvert.
Some resolution must be found to that problem because what the people there are experiencing is quite frightening and unprecedented. It was always taken for granted that there would be a certain level of flooding on particular roads at various times of the year in that area, that roads would be impassable with one or two feet of water for a mile or so, but once the water subsided, the problem disappeared. However, the situation at present is unprecedented and the level and depth of flooding is appalling.
Various Ministers have taken a specific interest in this matter, particularly the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, and I welcome the action taken to date. However, we must look very closely at the results of flooding, which have a variety of impacts in different areas. People whose houses have been flooded have suffered enormous damage to their property, furnishings and lifestyle. I know of one women who spent her and her husband's life savings of £25,000 refurbishing and redecorating their house in Sixmilebridge. The whole place has been destroyed. They cannot get compensation because insurance companies refuse cover to people living in such  places. This issue also needs to be addressed. A number of households have been damaged but they are not insured because insurance companies refused to offer them cover. This is a particular difficulty and some consideration must be given to people experiencing extreme hardship.
Another difficulty has arisen in Sixmilebridge as a result of flooding into the local sewerage plant. Raw sewage is in the back gardens of some households and along the streets. The Department of the Environment must take up this matter immediately. It requires urgent attention because it is a serious public health hazard. This should be addressed as a priority.
I referred to the River Fergus in relation to embankments. However, the town of Ennis has been severely and repeatedly flooded over the past number of months due to the lack of drainage of the river. This is causing much distress. Flooding does not just cause distress to private households but also to businesses. Many people have suffered from lack of trade because customers could not gain access to the businesses; and there was damage to their property and goods in their shops. They too cannot get insurance cover from any company, for that particular problem.
The agricultural sector has been well dealt with and I am delighted the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry introduced the £2 million compensation fund for the fodder scheme. I am also glad that he plans to pay people within the next three weeks. I urge the Department to move speedily to deal with this problem. However, another aspect also needs to be addressed.
Many areas in the west and in my constituency of west Clare have been flooded by sea water. The salt water comes onto the land and the salt stunts grass growth. This will seriously set back such growth in that area and those farmers should also receive fodder compensation.  I know of one farmer who has 30 acres of land flooded. This land will be inaccessible to him for about three or four months longer than normal and he will have to buy fodder rather than allow the cattle onto it. This is also an important issue which needs to be addressed. It could be overlooked but it needs to be considered in the context of the fodder compensation scheme.
People in all sectors have experienced serious financial setbacks as a result of flooding. While it is physically impossible to financially compensate everybody, the cases of greatest distress and hardship, in terms of households, businesses and agriculture, should be examined. It is difficult to do this but it should be done. One could blame the consequences of the flooding on the failure of successive Governments to execute their responsibilities in different areas. However, the issue of afforestation and the major forestry plantations across the country has not come hugely into play.
I was in Connolly in mid-west Clare last Tuesday night and I was amazed to hear people there discuss the change in the nature of the land and drainage in their area due to afforestation. They specifically mentioned large vertical drains being placed quite close to each other. The result of this in heavy rain is that water gushes down the large drains to the bottom of hills to normal drains at the side of the road which are unable to take this amount of water and the roads are being eroded. This is causing major difficulties which must be addressed.
Perhaps it is a matter for the Departments of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the Environment. Perhaps each area should consider laying down specific conditions in their county development plans regarding afforestation so that people are not allowed to plant trees without any type of planning control. Over the years we have seen hundreds of thousands of acres being planted without any reference whatever  to the local authority. That issue should be addressed both by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment to bring some sort of procedural control over such areas so that the type of problems that have arisen will not recur in future.
The Government has taken immediate action on the matter; the fodder issue is an example of this. Real cases of household and business hardship should also be investigated. There is a case to be put to the EU. Other member states have already pushed for emergency funding from the EU for flood damage.
There is also a need for a long term arterial drainage action plan to be drafted by the Government. A proper arterial drainage scheme should be drawn up, prioritised and put into place. Promises have been made for many years about the proper drainage of various rivers, but this has never occurred. Funding should be provided to local authorities to exercise their responsibilities. The Department of the Marine and the Department of Agriculture also have a responsibility in this matter. I am delighted that the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy J. Higgins, is now chairing an interparliamentary committee of the various Departments to co-ordinate some type of action plan. However, there is a need for a long term action plan to be prioritised and put into place.
Mr. Farrell: Before I speak about the question of flooding around the country, I wish to refer to the flooding at the front gate of this House. I raised this on the Order of Business yesterday and the Leader of the House said that there was nothing he could do about it. It is a disgrace. Someone will trip in that pothole and it will cost the State a lot of money. Could the Minister use her good offices to do something about it?
Mr. Farrell: Flooding has been a major problem for a long time. Maintenance work used to be done on the rivers but this is now a thing of the past. Rainfall now is not that much higher than it was before, but when has anyone seen maintenance work being done either on the main rivers or their tributaries? We used to have a rural drainage scheme in operation many years ago and it worked very well. Those were the days when people were hungry for work and were delighted to get it; indeed, I worked on some of those schemes myself. Those schemes put main drains through farmers' lands. All of this contributed towards keeping the water courses clear.
We do not have a huge flooding problem in north Sligo — we are beside the sea so maybe the excess water gets out quicker — but the maintenance of our rivers is not as it should be. Sligo County Council does not have the money to maintain the few rivers for which it is responsible. Lough Arrow and the River Owenmore are causing massive flooding in south Sligo and the matter has been raised at council meetings over the last ten to 15 years. Nevertheless, we were getting nowhere. This was because, under the relevant Act, the Office of Public Works appointed the county council to do the maintenance work but it did not have the money to do it. If a tree falls into a river the council will take it out, but that is all it does. There is no proper maintenance. In fairness to Deputy Treacy, he tried to initiate a change in the law when he was a Minister of State to allow a better system to operate. That was followed by Deputy Dempsey, who also did a lot of work on the matter. Senator Daly is also bringing in a Bill to deal with this, because this is where the real problem lies.
 The Office of Public Works seems to think that a huge scheme is needed to alleviate flooding. It was made so big that nothing was done in the end. Those with an interest in fishing and those living in mountain regions objected to too much drainage because it would leave their lands without water and drain their weirs. What is needed are smaller schemes. There is no need for huge schemes like those amalgamations that were envisaged in the past. We should start with minor drainage schemes and money should be made available for them.
The local people should also be consulted. There used to be terrible flooding in Bunduff in north Sligo over the years. I spoke with the residents there and they told me that the council's actions were only alleviating the flooding for a while. They said that opening up the old watercourse would alleviate the problem. I persuaded the council to accept the people's advice. Some of the older residents had lived all of their lives in the region. We are inclined to think that the only person who can give good advice is someone with half a dozen letters after his name. Those people who have worked the land and lived there all of their lives have a lot of simple answers to many problems. The river was put back on its own route and since then there have been no real problems with flooding in that area. We do not always need big schemes and millions of pounds of money to solve these problems; all we need is some commonsense.
Senator McGowan referred to a scheme in which he was involved in County Donegal. I have seen machines belonging to the Office of Public Works lying idle. If they were made available to local communities, there could be a community effort and money could be raised locally to help alleviate the problem. The community could be assisted with grants to do much of the minor drainage, which would solve many of  the problems. As the old sayings go, Ní hé lá na gaoithe lá na scolb' and 'A stitch in time saves nine'. We could alleviate many of these problems in this way.
From looking at the television one can see the massive damage that has been done by this flooding around the country. I heard that the Minister will be giving an immediate grant of £5,000. With all due respects, that will not even be pin money. While it is welcome, it is a small amount when one sees houses being flooded to a great height, with carpets and walls damaged. I once had experience of water coming in under the door of my house and flooding some of my hallway. All of the carpet in the hall had to be taken up and it was a hell of a job to dry it. I do not know how those houses will be restored. I also had experience of a caravan that went on fire. We stopped the fire, but its interior was ruined and had to be thrown out.
Those people are at a terrible loss and their homes are destroyed. We have to get some money from the EU to help them. I do not know how it will be done. We seem to be able to find millions of pounds for inquiries, but when farmers holdings are flooded we do not seem to have money to cover that disaster.
I understand from the farm development offices that no claim forms are available yet. I appeal to the Minister to get the claim forms out immediately. Give people a bit of hope anyway by filling in an application form, because they are going to the farm development offices every day and ringing up to see if the forms have come. As of today they had not arrived. I appeal to the Minister to provide them quickly and try to get something done in that regard.
Small schemes could be useful here too. We have a big unemployment problem, but many people could be employed both in rural Ireland and also in our towns, because many towns were flooded. I wonder whether the rivers running through the towns have been  maintained recently? We have to use big machinery to maintain our rivers, but for generations people with drags and shovels cleaned the waterways of Ireland and kept the water running. I do not see why we could not put people out on those rivers, get them cleared and get the water running.
If the water is running it will not overflow. It is overflowing because the watercourse is blocked somewhere. When there is no rain there is a trickle coming through, but the flood cannot get through. We should get a scheme going to tackle this — there is enough money coming from Europe for schemes. FÁS schemes and local improvement schemes have done wonders. People on FÁS schemes have done great work on many things that we thought were impossible some years ago. Some of those schemes could be used to help alleviate flooding in rural areas and in towns. With land not as useful as it was, because of set-aside and quota restrictions, farmers do not take the same interest in draining their land, because they have more grass than they need.
It is sad that a farmer can only produce a certain amount now. Some farmers could produce far more, but because they do not have to do so they are not taking the same interest in keeping their land drained; therefore we must fill that vacuum. We all learned in school long ago that nature abhors a vacuum, but that is what is happening. Much land is now left idle and for that reason it is causing flooding. Simple answers could be found to many of these questions by reactivating some of the old rural schemes which were so useful in years gone by. County councils could create hundreds of jobs in these days of unemployment if we could activate them and make the small amount of money necessary available.
The Minister will have to go with his officials to Europe to get funding.  Holland seems to have got money almost immediately. Whenever there is flooding on the Continent they seem to have no trouble getting money. Of course, they are nearer to the headquarters and they can kick up a bigger racket. We never seem to get money for flooding. In my own county about six years ago one man lost his home. We saw the photographs in the paper where the sea came in and people were cutting turf down on the sea shore after the sand was washed back; there was turf cut where they never knew there was turf before. One man lost his home. Another young man, married with one child, woke up to find that he and his family had to get out the window. They could not get out the door and could never get a penny compensation. We did our best for them, we applied everywhere.
I am afraid that many of the people in the west will not get compensation. A vigorous and vociferous attack must be made in Europe to ensure that we get money, because £30,000 would not make good the damage suffered by anyone who has been flooded. Floors, carpets and furniture are gone. A mediocre three piece suite costs £1,000 and can cost as much as £7,000. A suite of furniture that has been submerged in water for a week is useless. I understand that a lot of this damage will not be covered by insurance. I understand that insurance companies will claim that it is an act of God and that they are not responsible. If these people cannot get insurance they will never survive and they will be in a very serious situation.
I do not see us making any serious effort to come to grips with this problem. Are there any people from the Department down the country at present estimating the cost of all this? Have we any rough estimate of costs at all? We should have people in rural Ireland since the day of the flooding trying to estimate what it has cost in livestock loss, in fodder loss, in damage to  property. Unless we know what costs are involved for those people, we can never hope to make a claim in Europe. We all know that the first thing to be done is to prove the loss. If we are not prepared to estimate the cost, do the survey work and make some assessment, we should tell the farming bodies and the communities to have their own assessments done by professionals so that the Government can make a claim in Brussels.
It is not possible to go to Brussels and simply ask for a certain amount of money. We will be asked what we want it for and we cannot simply say that we need it because we have had a lot of flooding. That is no good in this day and age. We are business people. We must be able to show the total cost of flooding in each county and break each figure down further into loss of houses, property, livestock, fodder etc. We must prepare a proper case, but I see nobody doing so. I do not even see any journalists writing an article on it, trying to estimate the cost to those people affected. Unless we do that we will never come to grips with the damage caused by this flooding.
If we do not get help from Europe the Government will pay in the long run because we will have to supply those affected with houses. We will be looking for local authority help, but the local authorities do not have the necessary funding and they will all look to the Exchequer. I appeal to the Minister to start immediately to do proper surveys and assessments to see what the damage is. I know the Minister went down and travelled around in a boat and that he has a fair idea what the damage is; but he does not have it on paper and we all know that unless it is down on paper, itemised and properly presented, nobody will listen. Therefore, this is very important. The Minister should look again at how we could organise small rural schemes such as those we had in years gone by. Drain the tributaries  to the main rivers, drain the main rivers and get the water running.
Another thing that kills a lot of big drainage work is that when big machines go in, the spoil they take out of the river spoils acres of land. This is unnecessary in many cases. I have seen spoil taken out and piled high. I saw a river cleaned down in Leitrim and the amount of spoil taken out was so great that they could not get rid of it anywhere. It was built up on land and some of the land then flooded behind the spoil because it could not get into the river.
Ms O'Sullivan: I realise that many of us will inevitably say many of the same things in this debate as the flooding is affecting most parts of the country at this stage. In some ways we, as Members of the Oireachtas, see this better than many people because we travel a great deal when coming to the Oireachtas. In my journey from Limerick to Dublin this week I saw extensive flooding throughout the country. The traffic had to be diverted in one place because of flooding on the road. It has been an exceptional winter in terms of the amount of rain which has fallen. I will try not to repeat what I presume has been said by other Senators.
Next week we will debate the 1945 legislation on arterial drainage when Senator Daly's Bill comes before the House. I do not want to go into detail on that at this stage but when the Minister replies he may be able to give some indication of the effectiveness of that Bill in the current situation. I have heard differing views on whether it is necessary to amend the present legislation in order to carry out necessary works or whether they can be done under it. I am not very clear about this and would welcome information on it.
 Inevitably anybody who is speaking in this debate will be parochial because we are all aware of the problems in our areas. There are very specific problems in my area, the biggest one being in the Mulcair region. Before I was born there was talk about draining the Mulcair in east Limerick and parts of County Tipperary which would also be affected, but so far we have not seen any action. Every time there is an election there is talk about the drainage of the Mulcair.
Recently the then Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Hogan, visited a number of places, including Cappamore in County Limerick which has been very badly affected by the recent flooding and is in the Mulcair River area. People in this town have experienced problems of flooding over many years, and this year alone there were a number of occasions when water came into their houses and caused very serious problems.
There has been ongoing discussion for many years on this issue and I have a communication from the Mulcair Drainage Society on the specifics. The society is looking for a flood relief scheme on the main channels as distinct from a complete arterial drainage system. A flood relief scheme for the Mulcair has already been designed by the Office of Public Works and people in the area want it to be implemented as soon as possible. I have been told by the society that it has been promised since 1971 that a start would be made.
There is some confusion as to whether it is possible to do it on a phased basis or whether under the current legislation the entire area has to be drained rather than doing it in stages. It has been suggested that it could be done in stages and that it would begin at the mouth of the river and work backwards to avoid causing problems if it was done in a piecemeal way, which has been tried before but has not been successful.
 An environmental impact study and an economic assessment have been completed and there has been extensive consultation with Teagasc on the agricultural aspect of the scheme. People in the area are prepared for a flood relief scheme to be implemented and the evidence suggests it is long overdue. I have been told by people in the area that drainage of the Mulcair is first on the list. I am not sure what this list is or who has it, and maybe we could have some clarification.
There were some serious incidents in the area in the recent past. One person was rescued just in time and I was told that it could have been very serious if she had not been rescued. There is a real concern for the safety of people in the area and the disruption to agricultural life and the ordinary business of living in the area.
In specific areas of Limerick city the effect of heavy rainfall, high tides and winds coming together caused serious problems. The situation is similar in many other parts of the country. It happened this winter and last winter on a number of occasions in specific streets. Some action has been taken in relation to sluice valves but further action is needed. I would be interested to know whether it is possible to have finance from central Government to strengthen river walls. Part of the problem is that water actually seeps through the walls of the river — this is basically a wall that has been constructed at the edge of the river. While the sluice valves are affected to some extent, there is still a serious problem. Some homes have been subject to consistent flooding over a number of years and it has not been possible to claim insurance compensation, except on the first occasion. The owners are not adequately compensated for the problems they are experiencing.
Another issue which has been raised from time to time is the influence of the power station at Ardnacrusha in relation to flooding. There are various  views about how the ESB can help by the periods of time they let water through in order to relieve flooding further up the Shannon. Theories have been presented that the ESB could be of assistance in this regard. The concerns of people who live below the power station at Ardnacrusha also need to be taken into consideration when this question is being examined. If water is being drained off to relieve flooding above, problems are likely to be caused below. That too should be taken into account.
As I said at the outset, I realise there will be a fair amount of repetition in this debate. I too say that we should do whatever we possibly can, whether it be through legislation, implementing schemes already discussed — in particular the Mulcair drainage scheme where the environmental impact study and economic assessment have been completed — or in relation to specific small schemes which are needed in towns, villages and cities. I realise finance will be a major element in this. It will be extremely costly to implement much of what Senators are asking for. There are people in various parts of the country who have repeatedly had very serious problems in relation to flooding. I would like to think we would be able to address those specific areas in particular because these people have heard many promises from time to time. I think we should take this issue seriously and that we will be able to offer relief to people who have had the worst of the problems over the years. There is no doubt that this year has been the worst in terms of flooding.
Mr. Dardis: I welcome the Minister, Deputy Durkan, to the House. I am glad to see him here as my constituency colleague. I congratulate him on his appointment. Maybe I should wish that he will return to the House, but I will not be so ungracious as to do that.
 On the question of flooding I can safely say that if the individual needs of everybody who has spoken in this debate were met, we would not be talking about millions but billions of pounds to alleviate the problem. Perhaps we should revisit the drainage of the Shannon and the billions could then become several billions. We must also be aware there are cases where relief was and is required. Financial assistance should be given to people who were seriously discommoded, and whatever work needs to be done should be undertaken. I come from a constituency where the problem was not as severe as it was elsewhere — although we did have a fairly serious case when we had the summer flood — but the area around Gort, parts of the town of Carlow and parts of the Shannon basin, would be a priority.
Perhaps I should not say this — as it is coming to the Government's aid to some extent — but we must be realistic in acknowledging that there are very scarce resources to be allocated to meet very large needs. To be fair to the Government, they cannot be held responsible for the weather.
Mr. Dardis: To be fair they cannot be held responsible for the rains that are poured down on us by God's providence. Perhaps it is fortunate we do have those rains; it might be a great deal worse if we did not. Having said that, it has to be accepted that there were people who were badly affected and are in need of relief. It is a question of allocating resources where they are most required. However, it should not fall to the local authority to find the money from its resources in cases where there is severe hardship. The Minister would be aware of the fact — he was a member of Kildare County Council — that we had to find the money for snow clearance  from the motorways in County Kildare. The previous Minister for the Environment, of sainted memory who has gone to greater things in Brussels, could have been reminded of the fact that he gave an undertaking that he would reimburse the council. If the council has to intervene it is only right that it be reimbursed.
A fact which must also be taken into account — possibly this is a matter for the Roads Authority or somebody else — is that in a county such as Kildare where there is very significant road development we have to be aware of the effects on watercourses where highways are being built because they can have really severe consequences for some individuals. I do not think that is often taken into account. A case in point is the garden centre outside Naas, a very prominent and successful one, but because of road development, it suffered major economic consequences by virtue of a flash flood. Plants were severely damaged and much of the stock in trade had to be sold off. We have to be aware of those types of implications.
That raises the questions of the moneys allocated in the budget to alleviate flooding. A sum of £2 million was found to assist people. It was represented as if this would alleviate all the problems. Then we read the fine print and discovered what the £2 million is for. It is not for flood relief; it is for loss of livestock and loss of fodder which is a much narrower set of circumstances. I do not think there are too many cases where there was loss of livestock as a result of flooding, although I am sure there are some. This public relations exercise of representing a £2 million allocation in the budget as being a solution to some people's problems from flooding is totally false.
That brings me to the second point, that is the photo opportunity where the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry set sail on his boat from somewhere  near Gort and was pictured on television and in the national newspapers: Captain Cook arrives on the beach to view the natives.
Mr. Dardis: I take serious exception to this photo opportunity type of allocation of moneys to a needy population. It is not good enough to represent the £2 million in the budget as flood relief when it only goes for loss of livestock and fodder; it is not good enough to have this type of photo opportunity to suggest that flooding problems are being alleviated by the Government. It is very laudable for the Minister to go to these areas; of course he should. That is not the issue. The issue is that it is being represented as solving the problem which it is not doing.
There is another matter of which we need to be aware, and which has already been referred to several times in the House, and that is that it is not really fair to make comparisons with what happened in Holland and France. For the individuals affected it is, of course, just as severe; but when you consider that in Holland 100,000 livestock had to be moved out of the flood area it gives some idea of the different scale of the problem.
The European Union also has obligations in respect of these matters which have not always been fulfilled. References were made to past flooding in Italy and Holland, and since there is provision for EU aid in respect of natural disasters the Union should be reminded of its responsibilities. A call  was made for this matter to be drawn to the attention of our Commissioner and Commission officials. That should be done, because if moneys are available and we are entitled to them as a result of a natural disaster those moneys should be drawn down.
That brings us to the length of time it takes to process applications for relief. We had a situation in Donegal several years ago where potato growers were given relief for crop damage, but it takes so long to process such applications that one wonders if the interest on the money is not being eaten up, as a result of the disaster, by the time it is allocated. I appeal to whoever is responsible to ensure that applications made in respect of the £2 million should be treated as a priority and that the moneys be allocated quickly, otherwise the value of that assistance will be minimal.
The question of arterial drainage also arises. I realise that a Bill on this matter is to be introduced in the House by Fianna Fáil next week, so I do not want to go into any great detail now. We should, however, be aware of the effects on the environment from arterial drainage. Some of the arterial drainage schemes implemented in the past did more damage than good, so we must be careful. There seems to be a presumption that if you have a river such as the Barrow or the Shannon with a small fall from the headwaters to the sea, an arterial drainage scheme will solve the flooding problem; but, of course, it will not. Because the fall is not adequate it does not matter how much arterial drainage you put in, it is not going to solve the problem. It may alleviate some flooding in certain areas but in reality it is not going to do a great deal.
I would suggest that in the case of the River Barrow, where there have been problems, it is much more important to maintain the waterway than it is to introduce an arterial drainage scheme. Trees have fallen into the Barrow blocking the watercourse and creating islands  as a result of the silt gathering behind them.
At a time when there was nothing more than shovels and steam engines, it is extraordinary that the British, for all their ills, could maintain these waterways in a far better condition than we can as a sovereign State. I do not understand why that has happened or what has caused it. There are proposals under Leader and other schemes to improve the Barrow and that should be done, because towns like Athy and Monasterevin would benefit from cleaning up the river.
We do not have a flooding problem with the River Liffey most of the time, except in Celbridge, and we are now confronted with the reverse problem. We will rapidly reach the point where we would welcome the Shannon's flood waters to replenish the Liffey, because if Dublin County Council has its way it will abstract half the waters flowing down that river — if you take a mean flow rate as opposed to a peak flow rate. From an environmental point of view that is not acceptable and must be resisted. Taking into account the needs of industry and the population of Dublin for an adequate water supply, the easy option is being taken, but it should be resisted. The construction of a hydroelectric dam at the headwaters of rivers would obviously solve a lot of flooding problems but that would cost billions and so it is not feasible.
Mr. Cotter: Ba maith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire. I wish to offer my sympathy to those who were so badly affected by the floods. I have not encountered in my lifetime that kind of suffering, involving the trauma of isolation, lack of services and, loss of stock and fodder. While I have experienced minor overnight flooding, this was something on an entirely different scale.
I had to smile when Senator Dardis spoke of the Minister going for a photo call, because the Minister went down to  see what was happening. A photograph was published and it is disingenuous to suggest that he travelled all the way down just for a photo call when Senator Dardis must know that that was not the case. Newspaper photographers love good pictures and what better way to get them than to have a boat ready for the Minister to sit in. However, the purpose of his visit was entirely different; it was to evaluate the situation on the ground and try to be of some assistance.
The Government has taken a compassionate view of this. Although you could say that their efforts are quite miserly, the fact is that the Government has set aside funding to alleviate some of the suffering involved. People who lost stock and fodder will now get some compensation and assistance, and everyone welcomes that as an appropriate step.
Those who know about flooding speak of 25 and 50 year flood phenomena, which is a hard concept to understand. Evidently, there are 50 year floods which sometimes occur in consecutive years, thus confusing everybody. How can this problem be controlled and how much will it cost to stop further flooding? We do not know what the weather is going to be like from November 1995 to February 1996 but we do know that the same period just ended has been disastrous, particularly for people in rural areas.
The flooding in Monaghan and Cavan has been minor compared to the problems in the west. Over the past few days I have seen flooded fields but nothing like the floods we have seen on television which devastated people's lives and made the task of the local authorities extremely difficult. Much of the good work that has been done by local authorities over the past number of years has been entirely negated by the rains since last November.
We now have an enormous task and must undertake it from scratch. Not  alone should compensation be provided for people who have suffered devastation in the west, but local authorities should also be compensated because all their good work has been wiped out. I do not know how we are going to handle the new allocation; but no matter how much money the Government provides this year by way of road funding it has to be more inadequate than it has been for a number of years because of the enormity of the difficulties we have now.
People living on county roads have a right to be able to travel and avail of services in their locality and to have deliveries made and taken from their holdings. People in rural Ireland are underlining more and more that this right is not widely available to them. Many are living in terribly bad conditions and are ashamed when anybody comes to visit them. They have to travel over a moon surface in order to get to their dwellings and this is not at all acceptable.
When one holds discussions with senior executives in the EC they say it is a matter for the local authority. When one goes back to the heart of rural Ireland and talks to the people who live on those roads, they are firmly convinced that it is a matter for Government. They see the local authority as being more or less irrelevant at this stage. They have lived with the problem for so long that they have come to the decision that local authorities cannot solve the problem. People will talk about 1977 and various other things, but in the end they will say that it is a Government problem. They want the Government to step in and sort it out for them, but the Government is not able to do it on its own.
Senator Dardis talked about scarce resources, which has always been a problem. We have to ensure that our resources are better spent. We have to develop a world class approach to improving our roads and providing good  road surfaces for people. I am not in a position to state what that entails, but we certainly have to improve the type of work we have been doing, which certainly could not be classified as world class.
I had reports yesterday of road surfaces that were made good two or three years ago and are now in a mess again. I would not call that a world class operation; I would call it a blooming disaster. Something has to be wrong there, whether it is bad materials, bad workmanship or bad design. It is an absolute disaster for the taxpayer in so far as money is spent in good faith to provide a good road surface but this is not achieved. We are certainly not in a world class league at this point in time. It is in everybody's interest that we make an effort to get into a different gear or the problem will beat us forever. We will eventually be asking people to leave rural Ireland and move nearer to the towns where we can maintain a few roads. We will be putting up the gates and telling people they can no longer travel in rural Ireland.
The implications of the flooding and the long rains of this winter are incredible for those of us on local authorities and those of us who represent rural constituencies. We have to offer some answers. The same old cant we offered in the past about shortage of money and deferring work until the following year will no longer suffice. The people out there who live in these areas want realism.
People are willing to co-operate. It is incredible that when spring comes and the weather improves, a local individual may look at the road surface and decide to fill in a couple of holes to make it better for themselves but the local authority will not let them. They say that one does it at one's own risk and will not be covered by their insurance. In spite of the nature of the job to be done after the rains this winter, a local authority will say that to people. They are trying  to prevent people from carrying out a little work which would be helpful. It is quite incredible that we cannot come up with a better response.
We could offer guidelines and provide that if the person stays within the guidelines and carries out the work in a particular manner, they will be covered by insurance and will have nothing to fear. I cannot believe the mentality of people who, when offered co-operation, say they do not want it; but that is the position all over Ireland with local authorities today. People who want to help are told they cannot. The implication is that they would make a botch of the job or are not good enough to do the work. I hope the Minister for Environment will note what I am saying because when co-operation is offered, it cannot be accepted.
I am occasionally invited to Cavan to look at what used to be a road. This has been said here so often that people are fed up of listening to it, but it has to be said again. One gets into first gear and uses the clutch to slow down the car and one eventually arrives at the house to talk to the poor individual. All one can say is that one is sorry and that it is a terrible mess. It is not possible to say that it will be done next year or the year after; neither does one get into a discussion on human rights as it would be entirely inappropriate.
The local authority in that area will tell people that they cannot fill in the holes themselves because they will not be covered by insurance. What balderdash; it is quite incredible. I cannot imagine us running the country and trying to get a satisfactory outcome in a variety of areas while that attitude prevails. I ask the Minister for the Environment to take a sensible approach and talk to the local authorities. If their powers need to be changed, I ask him to change them and give people an opportunity to help themselves if that is all that is available to them. Some openness, honesty and truth would go a long  way towards sorting out the problem. We are moving into an era of self-help and people all over the country are willing to stand up and help themselves. But when they want to do it they are told that they cannot and that they will not be covered by insurance.
I digressed somewhat there, but it was important. We have huge problems to solve after the winter rains and I hope that the Department of the Environment will be able to offer some assistance, in addition to the ordinary assistance we get, before the year is out. I hope the Department will be making announcements later in the year and that we will get a few pounds to help us to repair the terrible damage that has been done by the winter rains over the last few months. Everybody knows we were not able to maintain the roads surfaces under normal conditions and after the devastation of the winter we certainly are not in a position to make any headway this year. We need assistance and I hope very much that we will get it.
Mr. R. Kiely: I congratulate the Minister of State on his appointment and welcome him to the House. I wish him well in his portfolio, however long it will last. I am sure it will last longer than his predecessor. Neither Ireland nor Europe previously experienced the amount of rain we have seen in the past six or seven weeks. It has made us aware of the damage that can be caused by flooding so that we can eliminate it in future.
The Arterial Drainage Act was placed on the Statute Book in 1945. Until then, drainage works were carried out on a piecemeal basis and dealt with drainage problems in localised river catchment areas. Some 700 hundred of these minor schemes were carried out under various statutes in what became known as drainage districts, the maintenance of which became the responsibility  of the local authorities. There are still some in existence. The inadequacy of this piecemeal approach in dealing with drainage problems was highlighted by a number of drainage commissions, especially by the Browne Commission in 1938-40.
In his speech the Minister said that “areas which have benefited from drainage works under the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945, appear, by and large, not to have been affected by the flooding and, where they were, the floods subsided much more quickly than elsewhere.” I concur with the Minister on this point. I live in the Deal catchment area and an arterial drainage scheme was carried out there between 1962 and 1968 which benefited 11,900 acres of land, some of which is my own. Flooding occurred previous to this, although it is no longer evident, and it caused hardship to farmers and other dwellers in the catchment area. The Acting Chairman, Senator Kelly, who knows the area well, knows that the arterial drainage system was successful in eliminating such flooding.
A scheme was carried out on the Maigue catchment area, with which the Acting Chairman is also familiar, between 1973 and 1986 and it benefited 30, 500 acres of land, to which I am adjacent. It also eliminated flooding in these areas. Before that happened I often had to make a detour on my way to Charleville because of flooding on the road which left many acres of land under water. That has now been eliminated as a result of the arterial drainage scheme. Other areas were not lucky enough to be included in the arterial drainage scheme, but I will deal with those later.
The piecemeal approach before 1945 was because the Browne Commission was appointed to see what could be done about flooding and drying land. There were no drainage policies before that and lack of maintenance was also a problem. Land could be drained, but it soon became useless as a result of non-maintenance  because the drains filled up. I compliment the Office of Public Works on the way it has maintained the Deal and the Maigue. The workers come back every three or four years to ensure that the work done will continue to be of benefit.
There is a problem in the Mulcair catchment area. I understand that since the Arterial Drainage Act was enacted, 40 schemes have been completed. The major benefit from catchment drainage schemes has arisen from the improvement of agricultural land either through bringing additional land, previously unusable because of the extent of flooding or waterlogging, into production or increasing the productivity of land through improved drainage. We have experienced this development. In his speech the Minister also stated:
This difficulty is graphically illustrated by the fact that schemes recently designed for the Mulcair river in counties Tipperary and Limerick and the Arrow and Owenmore rivers in Sligo have so far proved to be economically unviable despite the closest consultation between the Commissioners of Public Works and the local drainage action committees to ensure that all possible benefits are included in the assessment. The Commissioners of Public Works have always acknowledged that despite the outcome of the economic analysis, there are areas within both catchments where there are unacceptable levels of flooding on a regular basis. This point was very dramatically underlined in the most recent flooding by the problems experienced in Cappamore, County Limerick in the Mulcair catchment....
The Commissioners of Public Works are powerless at present to undertake work for the relief of localised flooding, which the most recent events have clearly shown to be necessary. Local authorities have  some statutory powers in this area but for a variety of valid reasons only fairly minor schemes have been undertaken by them. Many river catchments cross county boundaries. Consequently the effect of any remedial measures to deal with flooding problems generally impacted on several local authorities' functional areas, making it virtually impossible for a single authority to take effective action.
The new Arterial Drainage Bill, 1995, which will be introduced by Senator Daly next week, will overcome these problems and will be able to set up a flood relief scheme, which the Mulcair Drainage Society Limited is requesting. One could not grant — I am open to correction — a flood relief scheme under the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945, because it had to cover the entire catchment area. I understand that the Mulcair river is number one on the arterial drainage scheme, but studies have shown that it would be uneconomical to drain it under this scheme. The change proposed in the legislation by our spokesperson would provide a flood relief system, especially in the Mulcair catchment area. A long time ago it was promised that work would start in this area, but nothing has been done. If drainage work could continue at the mouth of the Mulcair river around the main streams and if minor work was done on the tributaries. I am sure it would solve the flooding from the tributaries which flow into the Mulcair. The arterial drainage scheme always drained the tributaries. I am sure that would alleviate the flooding problems in that area.
The people in the Mulcair catchment area are worried about this situation. They have suffered immensely over the years, but especially this year. The Minister's predecessor. Deputy Hogan, visited the areas. He was appointed Minister of State at the Department of  Finance on 20 December 1994 and he was euphoric at his elevation to high office. He probably got indigestion eating his Christmas dinner in an effort to go on an ego trip. I considered his visit to these areas as an ego trip at the time. Action, not ego trips, is needed in these areas. Legislation is promised in the other House. Hopefully, the Bill presented by Senator Daly will be acceptable to the Government and proceeded with rapidly. Then it will be on the Statute Book and work can be done in these areas and in Galway. Everyone can be parochial, although Senators should not be because they have a wider constituency than Members of the other House. Be that as it may we must help these problem areas as soon as possible.
The Cork Examiner yesterday published pictures of flooding in Foynes after the downpour in the south. It is a council problem. Although I tried to become a member of the county council I failed to get a nomination, so I bowed to the wishes of the party and looked on as others were elected. Senator Neville spoke already today and he is a member of Limerick County Council. Remedial work could be done to alleviate the flooding. I appeal to the council to do it straight away because this is the fourth time that town has experienced severe flooding this year.
The county roads are suffering because of the unprecedented rain. That may not be connected with drainage, but it is not wrong to mention it. My colleagues, Senator Farrell and Senator Byrne, were worried about a pothole in front of Leinster House. I am much more worried about the potholes on the rural roads in my area which are much bigger.
The publicans and their customers who came here some time ago would be surprised to hear us complaining about a pothole in front of Leinster House when they think of the severe potholes. They told me that interfered with their  trade more than the Road Traffic Act, since people could not go to the pubs because of bad roads. I do not mind crossing the pothole outside to discuss the matter before us today. Money has been allocated in the budget for the improvement of rural roads. It may not be sufficient, but local authorities should get down to the work immediately and improve the roads because one can hardly travel them at present.
The budget allocated £2 million to aid farmers who had lost livestock or feed. Application forms must be completed and sometimes these forms have strange questions. The forms should be so designed that farmers or others who suffer losses can easily complete them and send them to the local farm development office, which issues the forms. Some farmers in the severely flooded areas could not obtain forms. The Government should send them out as soon as possible so those affected can get help. They should be enabled to complete them satisfactorily so they can be compensated quickly.
I welcome this opportunity to say a few words. I also welcome my colleague Senator Daly's Bill to amend the existing legislation to ensure all flooded areas can be attended to so that flooding can be alleviated and eliminated.
Mr. Enright: I welcome the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works. This is an important and prestigious appointment and he follows in the footsteps of many excellent people. He has a great task ahead but he has the ability, the energy and the intelligence to have a successful period of office. I wish him and his officials well during his term there.
In my lifetime I have not seen flooding as severe as we are currently experiencing in County Offaly. In the 1950s flooding was so bad the Army was called in. It has not been called in on this occasion and some things have changed — livestock is not left outdoors,  for instance — but nevertheless parts of Offaly are in crisis at present.
The Shannon and Brosna rivers, along with some canals, flow through parts of County Offaly. The Shannon poses a major ongoing problem. It is silting up and the flow of water has slowed down. There is a further problem downstream at Ardnacrusha where the ESB controls and regulates the flow of water. The Acting Chairperson, Senator Kelly, is familiar with this because her constituency is close by. The ESB diverts water through locks and prevents it reaching the sea at specific times. The Minister may not have power over the ESB, which is a semi-State body, but I ask him to examine the existing position. Is water being held up by the ESB at present and is this causing flooding? He should ask the Government to direct that the water be allowed flow to the sea, because it is believed the ESB is responsible for some of the flooding upstream in County Offaly.
Bord na Móna is also causing problems because a considerable amount of silt flows out of its bogs and is building up in the middle of the river, forcing water over the banks. Although there are ponds to hold the silt they are not sufficient. I ask the Minister to do what he can to remedy this also.
I am deeply concerned about the flooding in County Offaly. An area of west Offaly comprising Lusna, Shannon Harbour, Banagher and Shannonbridge has the most severe flooding one could envisage. Fanners and householders experiencing this must be reimbursed. A sum of £2 million has been mentioned towards compensating farmers for flood losses, but additional funding is essential.
Acting Chairman (Ms Kelly): I must interrupt the Senator to give a message to the House. I welcome the members of PROBUS from Athlone, the home of the Cathaoirleach and Leas-Chathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann. We hope they  enjoy their visit here. Senator Enright does not live too far away from them——
Mr. Enright: My mother was from the Athlone area. I will make a confession — all my family were involved in the licensed trade in that area. That is why I took such an interest in the Road Traffic Act. I join in welcoming the visitors.
Substantial money is required from Europe to deal with the level of flooding in that area of Offaly and, indeed, throughout the country. It is urgent that we apply to Europe for funding to help this country deal with the flooding problems we are experiencing at present. In one area outside Birr, Ballindown, a family has had to leave its home because of flooding. Some weeks ago they were obliged to leave the house and they returned shortly after the flooding receded. However, after the recent rainfall they have had to vacate their house once more. The woman is a farmer and it is a tragedy for her to have her home destroyed. All the people in the Ballindown area are affected. The council carried out major works there which left a hollow area. The consequent flooding requires urgent works. I hope the Office of Public Works can assist that area.
Villages and towns throughout the county have been affected. Towns such as Kilcormac suffered severe flooding. The interiors of private homes were damaged severely with consequent loss of carpets, linoleum, furniture and clothing. The people of Kilcormac, Kinnity, Banagher, Lismagh, Ballindown and even parts of Tullamore town were affected by the flooding. It is important that those people be given some type of compensation by the Government. I realise that the Government  does not have an endless supply of funds. Nevertheless, we cannot allow families, who were finding it difficult to make ends meet in the normal course of events, to suffer such losses without making an effort to compensate them. That is essential. Even parts of Laois — although most of the county escaped the effects endured by Offaly — were affected by severe flooding.
The problem of flooding must be tackled and funding must be provided for that task. With regard to the Shannon and Brosna, we must prepare a good case to approach Europe for funding to at least relieve the flooding. I do not know if funding might be available from Europe to drain the Shannon. However, some effort could be made to at least relieve the flooding and the consequent hardship to farmers and ordinary homeowners.
The opening of the Ballyconnell canal and the development of the Shannon has made that area a major tourist attraction. However, if the congestion and other problems continue on the Shannon its suitability for tourism will not be developed to its full potential. The Office of Public Works has played a major and positive role in improving the Shannon. That can be brought a stage further by making an effort to relieve the problem of flooding and preventing the losses suffered by farmers as a consequence of flooding.
I am glad that the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry has allocated £2 million for loss of stock. The cause of death must be certified by a veterinary surgeon. That is a wise procedure. Similarly, when fodder is lost or damaged, it must be retained for inspection by Department's inspectors. However, this policy can be brought a stage further. I have seen cattle knee deep in muck in flooded fields. Many farmers have cattle who are hungry but they have no fodder with which to feed them. I hope additional compensation will be allocated for farmers who can prove that they had to buy additional fodder to feed their cattle. I ask the  Minister to examine this problem and to see if further finance can be made available to deal with it.
I am glad we have had the opportunity to debate the flooding problem. A farmer in Clara, County Offaly, lost 50 sheep as a result of flooding. That was a terrible loss to be sustained by one farmer. I congratulate the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry on moving so swiftly to provide compensation for that farmer and other farmers who have lost stock and fodder; he moved expeditiously to ensure that payments would be made. I ask him to examine if more moneys could be made available for people who have had to buy fodder.
A huge area of Offaly suffers from annually recurring flooding. That area should be declared severely disadvantaged. I ask the Minister to use his good offices with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry to ensure that the entire area is declared severely disadvantaged. In addition, areas in north Offaly such as Edenderry and Clonbullogue have experienced severe flooding and I ask the Minister to declare parts of that area severely disadvantaged.
Moneygall, on the border with Tipperary, has also endured severe flooding. Huge floods swept down from an area known as Army Hill into Moneygall village. The floods even affected a housing estate in the village with consequent losses for the inhabitants. I hope some effort will be made to reimburse those people.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry will pay for loss of fodder and stock. The Office of Public Works will help to relieve the flooding of rivers. Local authorities will monitor losses and what is happening to householders in villages and towns. However, I welcome the fact that the Minister is chairing an interdepartmental committee. Offaly County Council held two debates on this issue and in the course of those debates one councillor recommended that we contact the Minister for the Environment, another recommended  contact with the Minister with responsibility for the Office of Public Works and another recommended contact with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry. Others advised that we contact the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach. It is good that one individual will co-ordinate the matter at Government level and I wish the Minister success in that capacity.
It is essential that money is made available to local authorities. The roads across the country are in as bad condition as I have ever seen. In this respect, the Minister's Department, in conjunction with the Department of the Environment, may be able to provide funding for local authorities and I look forward to the debate in the House next week on arterial drainage.
Mr. Reynolds: I welcome the Minister, Deputy Higgins, to the House. It is his first time back in the Seanad since he became a Minister. I congratulated his predecessor and wished him good luck in his Department, so I will add longevity in my good wishes to the new Minister in his Department. I know he will undertake his duties with his usual good humour, ability and energy. As a west of Ireland man, I was delighted that another one of us has been appointed to high office.
I welcome these statements on flooding because this year the flooding over the entire country has been very severe. However, coming from County Leitrim, which has the highest amount of rainfall in the country, I believe we should be allowed to raise this issue every year. Perhaps the only way to solve the problem would be either to drain the River Shannon, as my colleague. Senator Enright, has suggested, or build some kind of roof from County Donegal to County Kerry, which would be a difficult task to undertake.
This year severe difficulties have been experienced by many farmers and others in areas throughout the west coast and midlands. Such difficulties also occurred in Europe, where we all  read about the horrendous flooding in Holland. In view of these difficulties everybody will be seeking extra funding, thus creating a bottomless hole, regardless of the amount of money provided by the Government. However, I understand that a special fund has been established in the EU which will provide for areas which have been affected by flooding, including disaster areas, and the Government should endeavour to obtain some funding from this source. The provision of £2 million by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry for the farming sectors in the areas affected is worthwhile and welcome, particularly in view of the fact that it is very difficult to obtain extra money for agriculture from the EU because the European ethos at present is to take land out of circulation and production. Hopefully, therefore, the funding provided by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry will be spent in the areas and on the people most affected by the disaster.
Over the past number of years schemes of arterial drainage have been slowing down and phased out. However, there continues to be a number of problems throughout the country which require a certain amount of arterial drainage. Nobody, including the farming communities, expects that the schemes undertaken a number of years ago at huge cost to the taxpayer require to be put in place again. I am speaking from experience on this point, because, for example, the Bonet scheme in County Leitrim ultimately cost the taxpayer between £8 and £10 million over a six or seven year period. While it was of great benefit to a large number of farming families in the county and in the catchment area of the river, parts of the scheme were never completed and the flooding which has now occurred in those areas was much worse than on previous occasions.
There is, therefore, a strong role for the Office of Public Works, if it can undertake some kind of limited works which would at least solve the problem of major flooding on an ongoing basis  rather than proceeding with big schemes of the kind which have taken place previously. In view of this I ask the Minister to seriously investigate the possibilities of setting up various schemes along these lines.
The River Drumdeirg in the Aughavas area is another region in County Leitrim where there is severe flood damage at present. The local communities are very worried that if no drainage scheme can be put in place, much land will be taken out of production for nine months of the year or so. In such circumstances farming families would find it impossible to survive economically.
Regarding the arterial drainage of the Owenmore and Arrow rivers in County Sligo, about which Senator Daly is familiar, I recently consulted a Dáil debate that took place around 1954, when the issue was raised by my grandmother. The floodings have become bigger and better since that time, but nothing has been done about it.
Mr. Reynolds: If he visited the area at this time of the year the Senator would drown without difficulty. A scheme should be put in place to alleviate the huge difficulties which farmers and the entire community experience for six months every year, as it makes it extremely difficult for people to farm their land viably once it has been flooded. I therefore welcome the decision made by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry to provide funding in the budget to farmers who have suffered loss of stock and fodder, as it is a measure which will be of great significance. In addition, the Government should make a strong case to the EU for extra resources from the fund which has been established for disaster areas as this could help to rectify some of the problems which have been caused.
Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. J. Higgins): I thank Senators from all sides of the House for the quality and constructiveness of the debate last Thursday and today. I will attempt, in the short time available to me, to reply to as many issues as possible raised by Senators. In this respect, I assure the House that I have taken careful note of all that has been said and that, in so far as it is possible, those concerns will be addressed as quickly as possible, by me, the Office of Public Works or through the inter-departmental committee — Senator Enright referred to it — which I am chairing, whichever is appropriate.
In my opening statement to the House I announced that I was commissioning a major study of the problems of south County Galway. That is a commitment. Consultants will shortly be invited to tender for carrying out that study and I give the House a guarantee that it will commence as quickly as possible. I am aware that there is a certain amount of scepticism about studies and committees. Senator Fancy said that further studies are unnecessary and that the solution to the problems were identified in reports prepared by geologists and engineers in the past. As one who, like Senator Fahey, has seen the plight of the people in south County Galway at first hand, I sincerely wish this was the case; but, unfortunately, it is not.
There are a number of recommendations for action in various reports which may relieve the situation, but none of them would guarantee a full solution, despite the fact that the cost of implementing them would be in the order of £40 million. The basic fact is that the flow pattern of water in the area is not fully understood. Until such time as it is understood, it will not be possible to know what measures are appropriate or can be put in place to deal with the problem, what costs are involved and how they can be economically and environmentally justified.
The study which is being commissioned will therefore attempt to answer all of these questions and to put  us in a position to consider appropriate action. I am not in position today to advise the House of a date for the completion of the study, but I assure the House that it will be undertaken as quickly as possible. I give the House a further guarantee that it will not be used as a delaying tactic and that I will continue as Minister, and in my capacity as chairman of the interdepartmental committee, to take a personal interest in the problem. I intend to be hands on in this regard. I want to deal with the problem in south Galway in a positive and realistic way which will offer long term relief to as many people as possible at the earliest opportunity.
A number of matters of general concern were raised during the debate, including the payment of compensation and measures to deal with the damage to county roads. Senator Reynolds raised the issue of compensation as did other Senators. I have already indicated that I intend to seek EU funding for this purpose. My Department is at present collating all the information and costs involved. I intend to travel very shortly to Brussels to meet Commissioner Flynn and other officials, including our own MEPs who, I hope, will be in a position to assist us. The preparatory arrangements are well in hand to ensure that we will be able to present a strong, convincing case to the Commission.
The House will be aware that assistance is already available. I indicated last Thursday in my speech to the House that £2 million has already been provided for compensation for items such as loss of fodder and livestock in the agricultural sector. I have taken on board the comments in relation to form filling which I will bring to the attention of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry. He has since outlined the details of the scheme and how it will operate.
I am happy to inform the House today that the legislation governing the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is funded by the Department of Social Welfare and administered on its behalf by the health boards,  contains provisions which enable the health boards to respond to the exceptional and urgent needs of people. While supplementary welfare allowance is normally payable only to people on social welfare or health board payments, there are provisions in the legislation which allow boards to respond to the urgent needs of those normally excluded, for example, those in full-time employment. Guidance issued to boards over the years gives flooding as an example where boards may assist persons normally excluded. Therefore, I am saying to the health boards that they may be in a position to assist people with exceptional or urgent needs arising from non-insurable risk due to flooding.
I have also been informed in relation to damage due to insured risk, that the insurance companies and banks appear to be adopting a very understanding and constructive approach. I very much welcome this and compliment the relevant institutions. It is an area where I intend to see if there is scope for even further improvement.
The House will also be aware that an additional provision of £4 million was made available in the budget for the maintenance of county roads. I understand that some local authorities have already submitted details of their requirements to the Department of the Environment while others are in the course of preparing theirs. I have no doubt that the Minister for the Environment and his Department will deal with this matter as expeditiously as possible.
I have, of course, heard the view expressed that the provision is inadequate. However, an additional provision of £4 million is considerable by any standard. We still do not know the amount of money involved and, as I said, it is up to each local authority to make its submission as soon as possible. A sum of £4 million is reasonable, particularly in times of economic stringency. The size of the provision must be seen as indicating the Government's commitment to deal with the problems of county roads, including those caused  by recent bad weather. However, I take on board the point made today that if we look after the rivers the roads will be in much better condition.
Senator Daly has introduced his Bill to amend the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945. The Leader of the House is to be complimented on his constructive approach to dealing with this proposal which, I understand, will be debated in the House next Wednesday and Thursday.
The House will be aware that the Government recognises that it is important that the Office of Public Works should have the power to undertake the execution of schemes for the relief of localised flooding, particularly in light of the present difficulty in formulating economically viable catchment drainage schemes. The Government will ensure that the Office of Public Works will have the necessary powers to undertake localised flood relief schemes as Senator Reynolds requested.
Some Senators were critical of the development of a priority list for attention. However, I believe such a list is essential so that the worst affected areas can be dealt with initially. However, I agree with Senator Lanigan that the causes of flooding should be examined and a long term programme should be prepared.
I am aware that several Senators addressed the House in order to bring to my attention and that of the Office of Public Works specific problems in their own areas. I would like to have been able to respond individually to each point made but, unfortunately, I cannot do so in the time available. I can only repeat my assurance that all the concerns expressed have been noted and will be taken into account.
Senator Daly mentioned that the time for committees is long past. I can assure the Senator that I intend to ensure that the interdepartmental committee, which I will chair, will be the last such committee. We are not doing it for the sake of semantics but to get a blueprint of a long term plan of action.
 I do not accept the argument that flooding is inevitable and must be accepted. We have to see this in human terms — the devastation to people's lives, the disruption of their way of life and the destruction of premises and businesses. However, we have to ensure that what we ultimately come up with is a long term solution, taking into account the various environmental, agricultural, ecological and other factors. We have to adopt an orderly approach to a properly plotted and planned course to ultimately deliver a long term solution.
I thank all the Senators who expressed their good wishes to me personally and were so complimentary on my assumption of office. I expected a baptism of fire in relation to this issue; I got a baptism of water but I also got a great deal of understanding. I thank the Senators for their courtesy. It was a privilege to come to this House where I began my national political career on my first official duty in the Oireachtas as a Minister.
I assure all those who are suffering from the effects of the recent bad weather, in particular from flooding, of the Government's concern. We are determined to show that concern through positive measures such as those already undertaken and by whatever other steps may be necessary in the future. That concern will be expressed in a long term, viable, successful solution.
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