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Flood Prevention Policies: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1000 No. 2
Unrevised

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Seán Canney: Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney] Maps are indicative; they are not the full facts. That is something that must be emphasised when the Minister of State is talking to the insurance representatives.

Channel cleaning creates problems throughout the country. There are many anomalies and much confusion. In some cases channels are in the charge of the OPW while other channels or rivers are in the charge of the local authority. Then there are the channels which are under the charge of neither but are the responsibility of the riparian owner. The farmer is usually the riparian owner. Farmers are willing to carry out works, but there is a huge amount of paperwork to be done. We must develop a scheme for the rivers similar to the local improvement scheme. The local authorities could carry out the work and the local farmers could put a small amount of money into it, perhaps 5% of the cost. Everybody wins in that case. The local authority has the expertise to do the consents and to talk to Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI, and the National Parks and Wildlife Service to ensure that everything is being done correctly.

Another charge that is made is that when channels are being cleaned out the machinery and buckets being used do not have such an impact that they will get the silt out of the river. It is a very light clean. That is something we must work on with IFI to ensure we can do something meaningful, rather than just have a machine tagging along. Channel cleaning is one of the major things we have neglected over the past 40 years. There was a massive amount of drainage work carried out in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, but then we let it sit. Now we have inherited a problem that must be dealt with. The OPW should provide some funding from the €1 billion available for projects. Small projects such as cleaning the channels every two or three years will have more of an impact than spending millions when a problem has spilled over into communities.

I thank the Minister of State for his time when we met recently. I have many ideas that I will share with him. I also urge him to visit Gort in south Galway and Portumna and to meet the people there so he can get a good sense of what is being done in Galway. I compliment Galway County Council on the fantastic work it has done in making applications for up to €3 million in funding for minor works schemes over the past few years. It is important that the Minister of State encourages the local authorities to make the applications because the local authorities can get the work done speedily.

Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly I welcome the opportunity to speak on this. I come from Galway city and represent the city and the county. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, who is present, is well aware of the problems in Galway. The latest one was in Clifden in early September when the Owenglen river surged unexpectedly and severely. It caused severe flooding damage. The rain was unexpected and the flooding was sudden and severe. We can list the number of people and properties affected.

I have with me a report of the flood policy review carried out when Tom Parlon was the Minister of State in 2002. It is a detailed report on the flood measures that must be taken. The problems were highlighted 18 years ago. We have moved to a completely different level since then. I am not here to give out. I am saying that we must work together. We have no choice. We are facing both a biodiversity emergency and a climate emergency. I welcome the motion, although I do not agree with it in its entirety. I certainly agree with what the Rural Independent Group is trying to bring to our attention, but the elephant in the room is climate change. I will return to the local matters relating to local authorities and maintenance, which I agree with, but the climate change challenge and our emergency declaration have brought this to a new level. Now we have to be grown up adults, because that is what the children are begging us to do, and state the challenges we face.

The Office of Public Works has done a brilliant job. I am one of its greatest admirers. It has worked for many years to produce various plans. Politicians were kept quiet when that was taking place. That process is complete and now it is rolling out the projects it has identified and providing resources. We must have an adult conversation on that. The national plan for the next ten years has provided for a certain amount of money, but the Dáil has been talking about monopoly money in the past few years. I want to know what is needed so we can protect our communities, the money that is necessary and the timescale to roll it out. Most importantly, what is the driving force? Who is now driving this?

As has been mentioned, the local authorities have been starved of funding. There is a blame game taking place all the time. I have visited the county councils, as all Deputies have, and am told they do not have money. We are also being told they are cutting back on services. The Rural Independent Group made a point about ongoing maintenance. I live in The Claddagh. I am lucky in the sense that where I live is slightly higher than other houses and I have not been affected by flooding, although my office has. Other houses, however, have repeatedly been subject to flooding. There is the insurance problem and the maintenance problem on the streets. Let us take that practical problem. I use a bicycle and I cycle through floods. I praise the council because its workers come out when one calls them, but there are ongoing problems because of a failure to tackle the source of the problem. On the one hand we are encouraging cycling and walking, yet we are flooding people. However, that is minor. My inconvenience is minor compared to what households suffer when houses are flooding and they cannot get insurance. I welcome the Minister of State's confirmation that he is disappointed that progress with the insurance industry has not been as good with regard to the demountable solutions. They appear to be an integral part of the solution and if the insurance industry is not going to proceed with us on that, God help us.

Galway has been flooded many times. There has been a debacle over what looks like a long tube in the Spanish Arch. It has been subject to puncture and I have no idea of the cost involved. It is being replaced. We are in that type of debacle with regard to what the solution is. I have the presentation to the council in 2018 and, as I will stick to my time, I will not go through it. It identified the areas in Galway, including my area, the Claddagh basin, The Long Walk, Salthill, the Dock Road and down by what is called the swamp, appropriately, but known as South Park. That is where walls of 1.2 m will be built. Obviously, it will cause consternation. What we need is open communication with people, a recognition that works must be done to protect us and to identify the best works while bearing in mind that Galway is a tourism city. It is dependent to a massive extent on tourism. The Claddagh basin is a protected structure, as are parts of The Docks. How do we marry these two issues and do it in the most open and accountable way possible?

I have a difficulty. I worked at local authority level for 17 years. The Wolfe Tone Bridge is the last bridge where one can see the powerful water from the Corrib going through. Three reports were done on that bridge. The first two told us that there was an urgent need to impose weight restrictions to stop heavy vehicles crossing it. We never got sight of any of the reports but the third report told us that, suddenly, we did not need weight restrictions on the bridge. I am cynical and I suspect it was because it was impossible to impose restrictions on the most important bridge in Galway. However, this bridge is in trouble. It has been cited as a bridge that requires work to be done on it. I use that as an example. It does not inspire me with confidence when we get two reports telling us to do something and the third report does not. Now we are into a phase where Galway is referring to consultants. With Clifden it went to consultants to get the solution to what happened with the Owenglen river.

We must tell people openly and honestly that we have a problem here because of climate change. There is also a problem because we neglected it for donkeys' years. We left the OPW struggling and we ran down and denuded our local authorities.


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