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Inland Waterways Maintenance (Continued)

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 971 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Pat Buckley: Information on Pat Buckley Zoom on Pat Buckley] The weir falling apart will have a detrimental effect on the migrating salmon, and the Blackwater is famous for salmon fishing.

We have a very old rowing club based on one side of the weir. It dates back to the 1800s. Rowers from this club have rowed in the Olympics. They will lose their sports club. The weir dates back more than 200 years but it has come to a point where this will have a huge effect. It is affecting people's lives within Fermoy and the general area from Fermoy to Youghal. In late April, hundreds of people demonstrated on the bridge in Fermoy to try to get something done and to call on the Government to act on this before it is too late. Unfortunately, we feel that it is a bit too late, but better late than never. Cork County Council has accepted that the weir is in need of repair but said it is a funding issue.

The biggest worry here is the economic impact, the tourism impact and the impact on sport. It will be lost forever. We are trying to promote sports, tourism and so on and I keep saying that, every time we seem to sweep down in certain areas of east Cork, we feel like we are being left behind. If we lose the weir, we will lose massive sporting recreation and fishing amenities. We will lose probably ten sports clubs, such as aqua clubs. When that is gone, it will be gone forever and we will be calling it "Ireland's Ancient Eastish". It will be missing a piece again. It will not move up the map. I appeal to the Minister of State to meet the campaign group and members in Fermoy. The local people have the best local knowledge.

It is bigger than our history of waterways, fishing, sport and the pride and beauty that we have in this country. The important thing is that we will lose a vital piece of our heritage in east Cork, predominantly in Fermoy, and everything that goes with it. It would be shameful to miss the opportunity and look back in years to come and be so regretful. One of the natural beauties that we have is that estuary and the River Blackwater. I encourage the Minister of State to go down and look over the bridge. I took photographs and will show them to him afterwards. It is vital to everything that happens inside Fermoy. If we lose this weir, I am afraid that so many people will be affected by this economically, in sport, in tourism and so on, that it will fall apart and we will end up with "Ireland's Ancient Eastish", as they call it.

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Seán Kyne): Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne I thank Deputy Buckley for submitting this Topical Issue matter. I acknowledge its importance. In recent weeks I have had conversations with all his colleagues in the constituency. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and Deputies Kevin O'Keeffe and Sean Sherlock have brought it to my attention. I thank the Deputy for raising the important issue in the Dáil and giving the opportunity to put it on record.

Cork County Council is the owner of the weir in Fermoy, as the Deputy pointed out, and is the authority responsible for carrying out any works to the weir. Local authorities are under the remit of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. My Department and its State agency, Inland Fisheries Ireland, are responsible for the protection, management and conservation of Ireland's inland fisheries and sea angling resources. The council has advised that both a project to ensure a permanent solution to fish passage and a project to ensure temporary repairs while the permanent solution is awaited are required. There has been ongoing liaison between my Department, Inland Fisheries Ireland and Cork County Council to advise how any proposed works can be consistent with fisheries and environmental obligations, particularly the EU Habitats Directive. Compliance with the directive is the key issue.

The engineering advisers of the council and Department have agreed the essential details of the permanent proposals. A number of options were considered by the engineering advisers and the primary consideration in agreeing the proposals was that they meet the requirements of the EU Habitats Directive. This is especially important for the free passage of wild salmon, a species included in the directive. The IFI regional director and senior officials of the Department met the council on Wednesday, 29 November 2017. The council advised that it is engaged in land acquisition to facilitate the permanent works. This is a matter for the council and, in the meantime, the Department has agreed to the council's temporary repair proposals for the weir. At the November meeting, Department officials requested an indicative timeline on the council's proposals for the permanent and temporary works. An update on this is awaited, following which the senior officials will again meet the council.

Funding of the works is entirely a matter for the council as the owners of the weir infrastructure. The Department and IFI have undertaken, however, to support any bid the council makes for central funding in the context of fisheries and habitat issues. The local authority is the owner. That is not to say that we would not support whatever call it would make to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for funding. As indicated in my response, the council has not responded to the request by officials from November of last year.

I have no problem in visiting Fermoy, making it my business or meeting the four Deputies or a group at some stage. I ask that the Minister of State and Deputies in the council go back to Cork County Council and ask it what it has done since November to progress this. Has it acquired land? Has it a design? Is it engaging consultants with regard to planning permission? Is it moving forward with a plan and costing that we can go to Government with? That is important. There is a valid case. Everyone accepts that work needs to be done but Cork County Council, as the owner, has to make the progress and present a case, together with the Deputies or such, and meet the relevant Ministers about it.

There is a bit of history in this with regard to proposals that the Office of Public Works, OPW, had to assist in this, going back to 2008 and 2010. There were a number of objections. There were plans to include it in the OPW contract for the Fermoy north flood relief summer scheme works in 2008. As a result, there were protests, and the then Minister of State, Conor Lenihan, agreed to a deferral of the planned works for a period to allow the council to carry out repair works to the fish pass and weir and some repair works on the weir. I understand there were extra plans in 2010. The OPW agreed to include weir works in the tender documents of the Fermoy south flood relief scheme, which was the remaining element of the overall flood relief scheme. No agreement was ever reached by the council on the rock ramp, however, and the works were not carried out. Opportunities were presented to Cork County Council at the time. There may have been funding issues etc. in that period.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. It is important. I ask that he go back to Cork County Council and let it update our officials about where it is with its plans to bring it along in design and planning.

Deputy Pat Buckley: Information on Pat Buckley Zoom on Pat Buckley I thank the Minister of State for his honesty and his in-depth answer. It seems to be a bit endemic in certain areas that some people are, unfortunately, not doing their jobs and others are trying harder. Going back to the issue of funding, the Minister of State mentioned that Cork County Council may have problems with funding. It comes from the central Government funding too. There has to be a bit of cohesion. It is not just the weir or river. It also has economic, tourism and sports impacts. There was the regatta there just a couple of weeks ago. A total of 212 races were held on that river. One can imagine the social impact it has and the positive mental health impact. It is a win-win.

I am very pleased with the in-depth answer because we are sometimes not told everything and I was not aware that somebody on the other side might not be pushing the boat - pardon the pun - far enough. I thank the Minister of State for that answer. I will raise it with Cork County Council as soon as I get out of the Chamber this evening. I will certainly tell the Minister of State, if he does not mind, and keep him updated. I appreciate his honesty.

Deputy Seán Kyne: Information on Seán Kyne Zoom on Seán Kyne As the Deputy is no doubt aware, a by-law was recently signed relating to catch and release and fly fishing only, downstream from the weir, within 10 m. Seven signs have been erected to notify the public of the new by-law. These were erected yesterday. Staff are monitoring daily all activity relating to the Fermoy weir, both with regard to water levels and angler presence. Fish stocks are under stress with the low water levels and high temperatures of water. We are told that there is a satisfactory flow of water going over the weir at one of the breaches in the south bank of the weir in the proximity of the mill race. IFI is confident that, at present, the situation is okay in the event of any fish running or migrating upriver. I was presented with some photographs taken today, showing that there is sufficient water for fish to get up. The consensus is that if fish were to arrive now that temperatures have dropped slightly, passage across the weir in Fermoy would be possible.

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