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Commissioners of Public Works (Functions and Powers) Bill, 1995 [ Seanad ]: Report and Final Stages.

Wednesday, 28 February 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 462 No. 3

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Mr. N. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy Zoom on Noel Treacy I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, line 27, after “Minister”[623] to insert “or the Government of Ireland”.

Will the Minister assure the House that this Bill will have the full force of law when enacted? I listened to the Minister's Second Stage speeches and the reasons he put forward for accepting or rejecting the amendments I tabled on Committee Stage and I see a conflict between the reasons for bringing the legislation forward and the reasons given when certain amendments were not accepted.

Will the Minister consider this amendment seriously? Since the Committee Stage debate I have spent time researching the background to the legislation. The Fine Gael and Labour Party Coalition Government under Dr. Garret FitzGerald took a number of serious decisions in the middle of 1986 on arterial drainage. First, the order of work on the arterial drainage of rivers priority list was changed. That was parochial politics being played by national government, and, more important, the functions for arterial drainage were transferred to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry. That order was given effect in a Statutory Instrument of 23 December 1986 and was published in Iris Oifigiúil on 6 January 1987. In this Bill we are vesting the powers in the Commissioners of Public Works and the Minister for Finance, acting on behalf of the Government. This is where the conflicts will arise. If this Bill is to deal with flooding under the arterial drainage Acts and the powers are being conferred on the Minister for Finance and the Commissioners of Public Works and the Statutory Instrument has conferred the functions and powers for arterial drainage on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forrestry unless this amendment is accepted there will be a serious real conflict. It may be pointed out in a month or two that the Minister has not the power to proceed and we will then need further emergency legislation. In the interest of flood victims and the best [624] possible laws that this House can enact will the Minister accept amendment No. 1?

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Coveney): Information on Hugh Coveney Zoom on Hugh Coveney The advice available to me is to the effect that when the Bill is passed it will have the full force of law. The parliamentary draftsman has advised that the standard practice in drafting legislation is to assign powers to a Minister and only in the most extreme cases will provision be made for the exercise of power by Government order. There is a well established principle that as the Commissioners of Public Works are responsible to the Minister for Finance, who is a member of the Government, the commissioners therefore act on behalf of the Government. The parliamentary draftsman and the Attorney General consider this amendment unnecessary and unacceptable and on that basis I do not porpose to accept it.

Mr. N. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy Zoom on Noel Treacy There are no references in the Bill to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry. I do not wish to waste time by reading Statutory Instrument 448/86 into the Official Report but there is nothing in the Bill revoking it. As far as I am concerned the law includes this Statutory Instrument which is an interpretation of the law pertaining to arterial drainage, and the last page of which states: “This order transfers to the Minister for Agriculture with effect from the operative date of this order ministerial functions in relation to arterial drainage.” If we are to have expenditure on arterial drainage and the functions rest with another Minister, how can we have the legal power to proceed to do remedial works whether piecemeal, medium or major? I am extremely worried. Based on the statement made in the House, on the advice of the Attorney General and the parliamentary draftsman, the reasons for introducing the Bill were such that there must have been some problem even though I accepted that the commissioners had the power. If this [625] is so, and the amendments have been rejected on the basis that they are unnecessary, I submit that based on decisions taken by a Government in 1986 this Bill conflicts with those decisions. The powers are with another Minister. We have an opportunity today to copperfasten this by ensuring that decisions which refer to the mechanisms proposed in this Bill for relieving flooding and assisting the victims are effective.

I do not want to find in the next few months when a query is raised or if a lawyer, acting on behalf of a victim or group of victims, makes a case, that we have a legal problem and that we are back in the Dáil again. I have no desire to delay the House. I have no desire to obstruct the Minister or to impede the passage of this Bill. I want to ensure it is the most positive legislation we can pass, that it will have the full force of law and that there will be no loophole that will affect the speedy payment of grants to the victims of flooding who have waited so long in frustration and also that where alleviating works are required the Minister and the commissioners will be able to proceed rapidly. Inclusion of this amendment would resolve many of the difficulties. If it is included de facto in the Bill no one can say there was any doubt about it.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Hugh Coveney Zoom on Hugh Coveney May I have permission to make an intervention?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob It is not in keeping with Standing Orders.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Hugh Coveney Zoom on Hugh Coveney In deference to Deputy Treacy — I completely accept the spirit in which he has tabled his amendment — this is primary legislation which overrides any statutory instruments. The Bill gives clear functions and powers to the commissioners. Nevertheless, I am having the matter raised by the Deputy checked. With the permission of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle I suggest we deal with the other amendments and come back to this at the end of Report Stage.

[626]Mr. N. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy Zoom on Noel Treacy I have no difficulty with that.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Joe Jacob Zoom on Joe Jacob There is a mechanism whereby if the Minister wishes to elaborate further on this matter and other Members wish to speak, the Minister can have the amendment recommitted, thereby allowing us to deal with the matter on Committee Stage.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Hugh Coveney Zoom on Hugh Coveney I am very anxious to complete the legislation today. When we come to the end of the other amendments I will have a definitive answer for the Deputy.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 not moved.

Mr. N. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy Zoom on Noel Treacy I move amendment No. 4:

In page 4, line 41, after “kind” to insert “provided such buildings, structures, works or other property have been in use heretofore”.

This is a simple amendment. A number of victims of flooding have serious reservations about the fact that buildings or structures may have to be demolished. I have no difficulty in certain situations once the State is recompensing people for losses incurred as a result of a natural disaster, such as flooding. No matter what laws are passed, there will be exceptions to every rule. I ask the Minister to accept this amendment because unless a property had been in use prior to the flooding there is no justification for demolishing it. I was not convinced by what I heard on Committee Stage that the State would have power to demolish buildings. Unless they were in use they should not be demolished.

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern Zoom on Michael Ahern During the Committee Stage debate on section 3 I asked whether this section gave powers to the commissioners to carry out emergency [627] works in the absence of a scheme being prepared. I also requested the commissioners' definition of the word “scheme”. I would be pleased to hear the Minister's response.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Hugh Coveney Zoom on Hugh Coveney It was never the intention, contrary to the fears expressed by Deputy Treacy, that the relocation scheme would involve us in demolishing structures which were not lived in or used for domestic purposes. However, I cannot accept the amendment because it would effectively impose restrictions on the commissioners in the exercise of their functions generally. The section as it stands simply empowers the commissioners to demolish buildings. The commissioners are still bound by the planning laws and do not have a free hand in any sense to demolish structures in an indiscriminate way. They are placed on an equal footing with a private developer or any individual. The proposed amendment would place an unacceptable limitation on the commissioners' powers to demolish buildings generally. That is a power the commissioners need to have in relation to a whole range of buildings, Garda barracks and so on. The Deputy also indicated on Committee Stage that he was concerned that the power to demolish was being sought in the context of the unfinished visitors' centres. I can assure him that is not the case. The provision was included in the Bill at the request of the Chief State Solicitor and in the context of the home relocation scheme. It is there to copperfasten a general power and not for any other purpose. We have no plans whatsoever to demolish buildings under the relocation scheme, except in the context of their being used previously in the form referred to by the Deputy.

On Committee Stage last week Deputy Ahern referred to the debate on the Arterial Drainage (Amendment) Act, 1995, which took place last summer and referred specifically to the carrying out of works without the preparation of a scheme. It is necessary to differentiate [628] between schemes carried out under that legislation and schemes for humanitarian assistance proposed under this Bill.

A drainage scheme, whether on a catchment basis or purely for the relief of localised flooding, must take account of a number of matters, such as the effect of the works elsewhere and their impact on the environment. Careful attention must be paid to these matters in the preparation and execution of works. A scheme for humanitarian assistance, whether in the form of money or home relocation under this legislation, cannot be compared with a drainage or flood relief scheme. The same criteria do not apply.

Deputy Ahern raised another matter, which I promised to consider, regarding whether there should be a time limit in section 2 (4) within which the commissioners should give effect to a determination by the Minister for Finance, that is, where the Minister receives representations from anyone to whom the commissioners have refused assistance. No time limit is specified. The section states the commissioners shall give effect to the determination and it can be taken that, once a determination is made, immediate effect will be given to it. A determination could also be in the negative. The chairman of the Select Committee, Deputy Jim Mitchell, also asked that I consider the matter for Report Stage and bring forward an amendment if necessary. I considered the matter and I do not propose to introduce an amendment. It would be impossible to impose a time limit on implementation of a scheme as there could be many variable factors in any scheme. It is not necessary to provide a time limit for notifying people of a determination. This should be done immediately and that is normally the case.

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack Zoom on Pádraic McCormack Is the provision regarding the demolition of buildings or structures related to the relocation of farm buildings? Deputy Treacy stated it [629] involves moving buildings or structures, but I favour moving the problem rather than the building. If the problem of flooding was removed, there would be no need to worry about the relocation of buildings or houses.

I seek further clarification on the point raised by Deputy Ahern regarding unplanned schemes for emergency works. If my house was threatened and water was rising at the rate of a couple of feet a day, I would do emergency work in co-operation with my neighbours and others to alleviate the problem. Provision must be made for such cases in the legislation. People should not be held liable for carrying out emergency work which would save their houses, but which would not affect others or the environment.

In the narrow debate on the right of a householder to save his home and the rights of the environment, I would uphold the householder's right. People who live in an area pose no danger to the environment when their families may have lived for generations and would not do anything which would cause long-term damage to it. There seems to be an idea that farmers or householders have no regard for the environment. However, this is not true; they have as much regard for it as others because they live there and must continue to do so when the floods abate or are alleviated. Much relief work can be done without affecting the environment. In emergency works it is not necessary to remove all the water from the area, but to provide a way for the excess flood water to drain away. Will the Minister clarify what emergency works can be carried out in those situations? I support householders who, provided they are not affecting others downstream, carry out emergency works to save their homes during flooding.

Mr. N. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy Zoom on Noel Treacy I endorse the comments of Deputies Ahern and McCormack. Perhaps the Minister will address the matter on Fifth Stage. In deference to the Minister's assurance that the legislation will not be used to [630] dismantle tremendous work already commenced by the commissioners to provide visitor facilities in parts of the country, I am prepared to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. N. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy Zoom on Noel Treacy I move amendment No. 5:

In page 5, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:

“4. —The Commissioners of Public Works and/or the Minister for Finance acting on behalf of the Government of Ireland, may—

(a) vary the offers made to any persons, bodies, or companies whose properties deserve special consideration in exceptional circumstances;

(b) allow only pro-rata insurance compensation allowances against any offers being made by the State to any person, bodies, companies or otherwise;

(c) waive all or any taxes, fees, etc., of any type, or part thereof, which would be payable by any person, body, company or otherwise, in any subsequent transaction, in either the restoration or replacement of an existing property, or in the acquisition of a new or other property, deemed necessary as a result of any disaster;

(d) allow any person, body, company or otherwise to salvage parts, pieces, sections or otherwise, of any property affected by any type of disaster and remove same, including personal belongings, etc.;

(e) allow all of these personal removals, free from inclusion or absolute deduction, from any subsequent financial entitlements under any compensation scheme;

(f) allow any compensation payable to any person or body, company or otherwise, to be inclusive [631] of all or part of any other similar public grant for the acquisition or development of a similar property, in any compensation being paid by the State, or any of its Agencies, or Departments.”

I am making a special appeal to the Minister to consider this amendment. I stated on Committee Stage that there are advantages and disadvantages for people in whatever law is proposed. No matter how a situation is judged, there will always be exceptions. For one reason or another some people will not qualify for or gain from what is proposed to the same extent as others.

There are exceptions involving flooding victims in my county and I am sure this is the position elsewhere. In certain cases people, who are still young and raising families, used their life savings to build beautiful homes. They now find themselves out of work and their homes face a constant threat of flooding. If they are compensated as proposed, they will not be able to replace their houses. I ask the Minister to accept the amendment which will give him the power to vary offers. He can take account of the information available to him and the visual aspect of the situation where it is obvious that the value of the house prior to the flooding was much greater.

Many people have been put out of business as a result of flooding, but the Bill does not propose to compensate them or assist them to set up new businesses or restart operations. It is vital the Minister has flexibility under law to consider this aspect and make offers to people to ensure their rights as self-employed people in traditional businesses are protected and retained. We have a duty to ensure people are assisted to remain in business and are not driven from the area. It would be a disaster for the west and many other parts of the country if that happened. I appeal to the Minister in that regard.

Where insurance companies have [632] compensated people at the rate of a percentage of £40,000 and the Minister proposes to compensate them at the rate of a percentage of £60,000 and subtract deductions from that amount, the percentage deduction should be equal to the percentage of the £40,000 they received in compensation on the insurance claim. In other words, the deduction would be pro rata and would not place an unfair burden on people. If the total deduction from a greater figure is taken into account, people will have less money to replace their homes and ensure they can secure the best option away from future flooding.

I also ask the Minister to take into account that people may have already paid stamp duty for previous purchases in addition to Land Registry fees. The amendment seeks to ensure the Minister has the right, in consultation with the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners, to either waive all or part of fees and so on in view of the fact that people, as a result of flooding, will have to pay fees and taxes which they would not otherwise have to pay. The amendment also seeks to ensure people will not be penalised for salvaging personal belongings and other items of value to them. In terms of demolition, it would be of assistance to the State if these people were allowed to remove anything which is useful and personal without being penalised for doing so. People who are forced to build a new house because of flooding are ineligible for a new house grant or any other type of subsidy. The Minister should take that into account in his overall package of compensation and provide an allowance or a percentage of any offer being made.

This is a composite amendment which gives the Minister the flexibility to take everything into account in making a fair and humane decision and ensuring that the victims of flooding receive some compensation, not only for their personal losses but also for the terrible trauma they have suffered over the past year and a half.

[633]Mr. Nealon: Information on Edward Nealon Zoom on Edward Nealon I appreciate the points made by Deputy Treacy and I have sympathy for the proposal regarding storm and fire damage which was ruled out of order because of the expenditure it would involve. The difficulty is that the Minister has a relatively small amount of funding available to him this year and the more demands that are made on him the more he will move away from his original objective, namely, draining the rivers that are constantly flooding. People who suffer as a result of flash flooding have to be compensated but the problem is far more serious for those who have suffered the effects of flooding for the past 20, 30 or 40 years. The Owenmore and Arrow rivers in my constituency were at the top of the priority list for arterial drainage but, for cost benefit reasons, there will not now be any further arterial drainage. I accept that but all arterial drainage has been suspended and that is unfortunate for the other rivers on the original list. I am sure the Minister, who follows a logical theme in all his activities, will ensure these rivers are placed at the top of the new list which I believe is to be drawn up in the next six weeks. While I sympathise with Deputy Treacy I cannot support any expansion which would place additional demands on the limited funds available to the Minister.

Mr. N. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy Zoom on Noel Treacy I am very disappointed.

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack Zoom on Pádraic McCormack I thank Deputy Nealon for supporting my proposal to solve this problem. I know he feels as passionately about the Owenmore and Arrow rivers as I do about solving the problem in my own county. In relation to the amendment before us, I understood householders were allowed to salvage personal belongings from the abandoned house so that proposal in the amendment is unnecessary. I have sympathy for people who have to leave their flooded houses. In my county, I am aware of four or five cases where the people involved had to abandon what were originally modern homes. Those [634] people did not relocate by choice; they could not return to their houses because of flood damage and the fear that the flooding may recur. Nobody would return to a house that had been flooded with three or four feet of water without the original problem being resolved.

There should be more co-operation between Departments in solving this problem which is not only the responsibility of the Office of Public Works but of the Department of the Environment and other Departments. People who are forced to leave their homes and buy new ones because of flooding should be treated as first time buyers because they do not have any choice in taking that action. The Department of the Environment should consider allowing those people to avail of the grant for first time buyers. A case might also be made with regard to stamp duty or other similar expenses which are necessitated by people being forced to abandon their flooded homes.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton In regard to the debate on this Bill, much of what we would have liked to have spoken about is now water under the bridge in that the details of the scheme have already been announced. The reason we are here today is because the Office of Public Works did not have the necessary authority to pay moneys that have been owed for quite some time, particularly in the Gort area.

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern Zoom on Michael Ahern We pointed that out last June.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton After today I expect cheques to flow into Gort, the likes of which have not been seen since——

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern Zoom on Michael Ahern Frank Fahey's time.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton The above-mentioned gentleman did not allocate too much to our area.

Mr. N. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy Zoom on Noel Treacy That is not fair.

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern Zoom on Michael Ahern That is not correct.

[635]Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton I do not want to get into any conflict with the Deputies other than to say the figures speak for themselves. Where did the £8 million go?

Mr. N. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy Zoom on Noel Treacy It never existed.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton More money was put into the system down there than in the past 25 years.

Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell This is the first time the former Deputy Fahey has been referred to as “the above-mentioned gentleman”.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton In the context that he decided not to stand again in my constituency.

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack Zoom on Pádraic McCormack He is welcome in my constituency.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton I believe he intends to stand for election again in another area and I wish him luck. I hope that the next £8 million will be spent on draining the area. Despite the fact there has been a major drawdown of taxpayers' money, including EU funding, and given the fact that a number of householders have been waiting for their cheques for quite some time, I hope those cheques wil be issued by the Department as early as next week. We have talked about this problem ad nauseam but I will simply say that there are ten or 12 people in my area who do not have a house and who cannot return to their homes because they were ruined by flooding. We must ensure that the cheques go out to those people. I realise the Minister put much work into solving this problem but I appeal to him to ensure that these cheques are issued so that people can make arrangements during the summer months to build new houses. We can then put our minds to ensuring that the problem does not recur and that can be done by draining the area over the coming years.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Hugh Coveney Zoom on Hugh Coveney On the proposed [636] amendment, I said last week — and I repeat now — that all the items in the amendment are being considered in the context of the individual scheme for humanitarian aid resulting from the floods of 1995. There is a problem with including in enabling legislation the details of a specific scheme in the sense that a similar occurrence in the future would almost certainly require a different detailed response. It would, therefore, be inappropriate to include the details of a specific scheme in response to a single event. Furthermore, the parliamentary draftsman has advised against accepting the amendment which he considers unnecessary and says there is a danger that a court might at some stage in the future interpret the provisions as defining limits to the commissioners' powers, rather than conferring extra powers as intended. Judging from his comments on other amendments, the last thing Deputy Treacy would want to do is limit their powers to deal with similar, but not identical, situations in the future. For this reason I do not propose to accept the amendment.

I do not intend to debate the individual items in detail as they have been discussed previously. There is a scheme in place which can be availed of by those who require assistance. A response has been received from the two organisations which represent their interests. They have asked us to meet them to discuss some of the points raised and I am willing to do so without opening up the possibility of substantially changing the scheme.

Deputy Connaughton made the comment that cheques should be sent out tonight. I want to resolve the matter as quickly as I possibly can. After this legislation is passed we will agree to a meeting with the South Galway Flood Victims' Group and the local branch of the IFA and write to each individual with a firm proposal which they can either accept or reject. We can then arrange for the completion of the arrangements and the payment of cheques. I would not, however, like the [637] message to go out from this House that we will be writing to them this afternoon, much as I would like to do so. I do not intend to spend any more time than is essential to bring the matter to an early conclusion.

Deputy Nealon mentioned the Owenmore and Arrow rivers. This matter has been brought to my attention on a number of occasions by him and Deputy Mattie Brennan. As Deputies are aware, there are eight schemes at various stages of design and which will proceed to construction this year, the most advanced of which is the scheme for Six-milebridge. I am approaching with urgency the task of producing a short list of priority projects to be completed in the near future.

Mr. Nealon: Information on Edward Nealon Zoom on Edward Nealon I am only interested in the projects at the top of the list.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Hugh Coveney Zoom on Hugh Coveney There is an overcrowded pipeline, but the case for the Owenmore and Arrow rivers has been made eloquently by more than one Deputy. Although it is possible to alleviate the problem through localised works, without giving any guarantee I will ensure every consideration is given to including the scheme on the next priority list.

Mr. Nealon: Information on Edward Nealon Zoom on Edward Nealon I take that as an absolute guarantee.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Hugh Coveney Zoom on Hugh Coveney Deputy McCormack made a number of points. There is an overwhelming temptation to do something urgently when flood waters are rising in a person's home to relieve their difficulties and pain. I hope a balance has been struck in providing funding through the Office of Public Works for the scheme with which the Deputy is especially identified. While I accept that people are intensely concerned about their local environment there are conflicts about environmental issues whenever there is a need to do something urgently when a person's home is under threat. There is the possibility that this could ultimately lead to environmental [638] damage. It will always be difficult to strike a balance. I have great sympathy for what the Deputy said about the need for emergency works. There is nothing in this Bill which would preclude us from doing so in the future.

Mr. M. Brennan: Information on Matt Brennan Zoom on Matt Brennan I welcome the reply of the Minister of State to Deputy Nealon. Last week when Deputy Nealon was out of the country I went to the Minister of State——

Mr. Nealon: Information on Edward Nealon Zoom on Edward Nealon That must have been the only week the Deputy was in the country. It was the one time in the last two years that I felt it. I approve of the Deputy leaving the country.

Mr. M. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell Did I only imagine the Deputy was in South Africa last year?

Mr. M. Brennan: Information on Matt Brennan Zoom on Matt Brennan I am sorry for irritating the Deputy. I spoke to the Minister of State last week about the Oranmore and Arrow rivers as the local committee was disappointed with the reply I had received to a parliamentary question. I am sure the Deputy will agree that what it is looking for is £200,000 for drainage works on the Owenmore river and £100,000 for the Arrow river. If money is scarce, it would be prepared to accept half these amounts. A survey has already been carried out. This scheme should be included as one of the eight priority projects, this is not too much to ask. For many years the people of the area have suffered the consequences of flooding.

While we accept that something must be done to alleviate the pain and trauma of the people of Tipperary and south Galway whose homes have been flooded, the land, houses and roads adjacent to the Owenmore and Arrow rivers, have been flooded for several years in succession and the position continues to deteriorate. The people affected are not asking for major works to be carried out, but for the rivers to be cleaned. I am sure the small amounts of money required can be found.

[639]Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack Zoom on Pádraic McCormack Bring it up with the Council of Europe.

Mr. M. Brennan: Information on Matt Brennan Zoom on Matt Brennan I have done so.

Mrs. T. Ahearn: Information on Theresa Ahearn Zoom on Theresa Ahearn Not to have all the emphasis on flooding in the west, it is important to stress the extent of the flooding in south County Tipperary. I am delighted with the Minister's response to date and we await further good news from him.

The causes of flooding and the means of compensating those who have suffered immeasurably from it must be addressed. The most important issue is to locate the cause and resolve the problem. In south Tipperary it was not so much land but housing and living accommodation that was enormously affected. While those involved are pleased that the Minister has responded positively to calls for compensation, it must be asked if money is well spent in redecorating and refurbishing houses that continue to be liable to flooding. We had enormous flooding last October which was repeated last month. Three weeks ago, on another very wet weekend, all the residents of the areas likely to be flooded remained up all Saturday night waiting in trepidation as the waters rose. Thankfully the waters only came as far as the doors.

We must look seriously at the possibility of providing different accommodation or enabling those involved to move. This is the reality that faces us in south Tipperary. The properties of those involved have been devalued. Many of them have been resident in the area throughout their lives, like their forebears, and never intended to move. There should be some means whereby they can be helped to relocate. This is the final solution to the problem. It is important they should not bear the loss involved unaided. It is not their fault they have been flooded. Many of the houses involved were built in the past five to ten years after planning permission was granted. Part of the responsibility should be assumed by the planning authority. These people cannot [640] afford to move house unless they get some kind of financial support from the State. I ask the Minister to consider this.

Given that the Minister is in charge of rivers and waterways I ask him to keep in constant contact with the local authorities concerned. I was very disappointed and annoyed when, in response to a request by me to Clonmel Corporation to investigate the causes of the extreme flooding in Clonmel, indicating that the recently installed sewerage system may have been a contributing factor, the corporation got the consultants who designed and installed the system to examine their own work with a view to ascertaining if it contributed to the flooding disaster. To invite the team that undertook the work to examine its own work was a waste of public funds. Naturally they concluded that their work did not contribute to the flooding. I ask the Minister to arrange for an independent investigation of the recent works on the banks and on the river bed within south County Tipperary and to advise if they have contributed to the problem.

We look forward to the forthcoming visit by the Minister to Clonmel. We are grateful for the convincing and successful case he put on our behalf in Brussels. However, we must never forget that, while the flooding is over and the water has receded, people continue to live in their residences in undesirable circumstances. Many of them are still confined to their upstairs quarters. The sooner we put in place the compensation level the more it will be appreciated by the residents. We do not want to see them facing the summer with their houses in their present condition.

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern Zoom on Michael Ahern I am disappointed that the Minister has not accepted the amendment. Under section 2 of the Bill the Minister and the commissioners will be empowered to make schemes or other arrangements for the provision of assistance and so on. Most Bills which give such powers to Ministers, commissioners, bodies etc. include an appendix listing what may or may not [641] be done. Why is this not possible here? The Minister said that a court may determine that it could be the definitive list of what may or may not be done. Would it not be possible to include these provisions in addition to a clause empowering the Minister to add or delete from it, rather than leaving it to the Minister of the day to make a decision as to what is or is not allowed?

Mr. N. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy Zoom on Noel Treacy I listened with interest to what the Minister said, both here and on Committee Stage. It is vitally important that the House should empower the Minister and the commissioners so that there is no ambiguity [642] for the future. As legislators we have a duty to have an input to this, acting as we do on behalf of the people who sent us here.

This is the most important amendment we have tabled. We tabled 15 amendments on Committee Stage but reduced that number today on the basis of what the Minister said. I appeal to the Minister on behalf of Members, the people we represent and especially the flood victims in all parts of the country. The flexibility he needs and that his staff and commissioners will require is provided for in the amendment. I hope the Minister will accept it.

Amendment put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 55; Níl, 74.

Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Michael.
Ahern, Noel.
Aylward, Liam.
Brennan, Matt.
Brennan, Séamus.
Briscoe, Ben.
Burke, Raphael P.
Byrne, Hugh.
Callely, Ivor.
Connolly, Ger.
Coughlan, Mary.
Cullen, Martin.
de Valera, Síle.
Doherty, Seán.
Ellis, John.
Fitzgerald, Liam.
Flood, Chris.
Foley, Denis.
Foxe, Tom.
Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
Haughey, Seán.
Hilliard, Colm M.
Hughes, Séamus.
Kenneally, Brendan.
Killeen, Tony.
Kitt, Michael P.
Kitt, Tom.
Lawlor, Liam.
Martin, Micheál.
McDaid, James.
McDowell, Michael.
Moffatt, Tom.
Molloy, Robert.
Morley, P.J.
Moynihan, Donal.
O'Dea, Willie.
O'Donnell, Liz.
O'Donoghue, John.
O'Hanlon, Rory.
O'Keeffe, Batt.
O'Keeffe, Ned.
O'Leary, John.
O'Malley, Desmond J.
O'Rourke, Mary.
Power, Seán.
Ryan, Eoin.
Smith, Brendan.
Treacy, Noel.
Wallace, Dan.
Wallace, Mary.
Walsh, Joe.
Woods, Michael.

Níl

Allen, Bernard.
Barrett, Seán.
Barry, Peter.
Bell, Michael.
Bhamjee, Moosajee.
Boylan, Andrew.[643]Byrne, Eric.
Carey, Donal.
Connaughton, Paul.
Connor, John.
Costello, Joe.
Coveney, Hugh.
Crawford, Seymour.
Creed, Michael.
Crowley, Frank.
Currie, Austin.
Deasy, Austin.
Deenihan, Jimmy.
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Doyle, Avril.
Dukes, Alan M.
Durkan, Bernard J.
Ferris, Michael.
Finucane, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Brian.
Fitzgerald, Eithne.
Fitzgerald, Frances.
Flaherty, Mary.
Flanagan, Charles.
Gallagher, Pat.
Gilmore, Eamon.
Harte, Paddy.
Higgins, Jim.
Higgins, Michael D.
Hogan, Philip.
Howlin, Brendan.
Bhreathnach, Niamh.
Bree, Declan.
Broughan, Tommy.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Bruton, Richard.
Burton, Joan.[644]Kavanagh, Liam.
Kemmy, Jim.
Kenny, Seán.
Lynch, Kathleen.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McDowell, Derek.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
McGrath, Paul.
McManus, Liz.
Mitchell, Jim.
Mulvihill, John.
Nealon, Ted.
Noonan, Michael (Limerick East).
O'Keeffe, Jim.
O'Sullivan, Toddy.
Penrose, William.
Quinn, Ruairí.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Ring, Michael.
Ryan, John.
Ryan, Seán.
Sheehan, P. J.
Shortall, Róisín.
Stagg, Emmet.
Taylor, Mervyn.
Timmins, Godfrey.
Upton, Pat.
Walsh, Eamon.
Yates, Ivan.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies D. Ahern and Callely; Níl, Deputies J. Higgins and B. Fitzgerald.

Amendment declared lost.

Mr. N. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy Zoom on Noel Treacy I move amendment No.6:

In page 5, line 38, after “accommodation” to insert “save where the Commissioners of Public Works provide the necessary moneys to do so”.

This amendment would allow the Commissioners of Public Works to make funding available for emergency accommodation, either through purchase or construction, in the case of a disaster or crisis, thereby preventing any delays which may arise if it had to be provided by the local authority, Department of the Environment or some other State agency. I ask the Minister to accept the amendment.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Hugh Coveney Zoom on Hugh Coveney It is proposed in the Bill that any arrangements between the Commissioners of Public Works and the local authority for the provision of living accommodation would be agreed on a voluntary basis. The amendment would place a statutory obligation on the authority concerned to provide such accommodation whenever the commissioners provided it with the necessary funds. Where the authority, for whatever reason, is not in a position to provide living accommodation at the commissioners' request, the commissioners would have to make other arrangements, and would do so. The commissioners are being given the facility under section 2 to make moneys available and no additional provision is necessary. I assure the House that there is no question of housing authorities being required by the Bill to provide living accommodation from their own resources as part of a humanitarian assistance scheme. I cannot accept the amendment for the reasons stated.

[645]Mr. N. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy Zoom on Noel Treacy Rather than delay the House, I will withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 1.

Mr. N. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy Zoom on Noel Treacy I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, line 27, after “Minister” to insert “or the Government of Ireland”.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Hugh Coveney Zoom on Hugh Coveney I promised to come back to the Deputy on amendment No. 1.

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern Zoom on Michael Ahern I support the proposal in amendment No. 1 to insert the words “or the Government of Ireland” in this section. I do so because for many years arguments have arisen between the Departments of the Environment, Marine and Defence about responsibility for works to be carried out in coastal and harbour areas, with the result that works have not been carried out swiftly. If one Department had responsibility for these works they would be carried out as soon as possible.

The Arterial Drainage (Transfer of Ministerial Functions) Order, 1986, transferred responsibility for arterial drainage to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. Will the Department and the Commissioners of Public Works need to have discussions on every problem which arises, thereby causing further delays and possibly giving rise to more damage? It is important to sort out this matter now so that it will not be necessary in six to eight months' time to make further changes. The argument that this is the way it was always done does not hold water. If this was the case we would not be able to introduce any changes. As a businessman the Minister knows it is not good enough to say that because something was done such a way ten, 20, 30 or 40 years ago it can only be done that way today. If [646] something has to be done then one should do it. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Hugh Coveney Zoom on Hugh Coveney The two Deputies raised the issue of a Statutory Instrument of which I had not been aware. I have a complete answer and they are entitled to have it. Statutory Instrument No. 128 of 1987 under the Arterial Drainage (Transfer of Ministerial Functions) Order, 1986, states that the functions vested by virtue of that order in the Minister for Agriculture and Food under the Arterial Drainage Act are transferred back to the Minister for Finance. That answers the point. This Statutory Instrument was implemented during Deputy Treacy's tenure as Minister of State at the Office of Public Works.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy Zoom on Robert Molloy That is very unfair.

Mr. N. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy Zoom on Noel Treacy I am delighted the Minister has been able to find this valuable information. It shows the positive thinking in the Department at that time. Is the Minister accepting the amendment?

Mr. Coveney: Information on Hugh Coveney Zoom on Hugh Coveney There is no need.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Hugh Coveney Zoom on Hugh Coveney I thank Deputy Treacy and Deputies on both sides of the House for the constructive way in which they have approached this Bill. I also thank all the parties in the other House.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy Zoom on Robert Molloy There is more than one party in Opposition here.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Hugh Coveney Zoom on Hugh Coveney Of course I thank all the parties here as well.

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern Zoom on Michael Ahern The Deputy's party did not submit any amendments.

[647]Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy Zoom on Robert Molloy Amendments would only get in the Minister's way.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Hugh Coveney Zoom on Hugh Coveney I thank Deputy Molloy for that too. He saw the necessity for dealing with this matter urgently. I am pleased that something which only came to my attention before Christmas is now dealt with in legislation. This legislation copperfastens the Government's powers in this respect and allows the Government to do the things that everybody in this House, particularly the Deputies from the west, wish it to do in relation to humanitarian aid. In particular, it allows the Government to get behind the causes of flooding and to come up with some solutions.

I am anxious during my tenure as Minister of State to receive the conclusions from the major consultancy work in south Galway, which I regard as almost the most important work in progress in the Office of Public Works. I hope to have a debate about those conclusions in this House during my tenure so we can look forward to dealing with the problem rather than the consequences of the problem, although dealing with these is also important. I thank all the Deputies who took part in the debate for their co-operation and support.

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern Zoom on Michael Ahern I thank the Minister for bringing forward this Bill. Fianna Fáil saw this legislation was necessary during the debate on the Arterial Drainage Bill and when the Minister saw the necessity for it he brought it through the other House and accepted the amendments proposed by our spokesperson there. This is important legislation. I wish the Minister success.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy Zoom on Robert Molloy I wish to express my sincere thanks on behalf of my party to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and to his predecessors, Deputy Jim Higgins and Deputy Hogan for their caring approach to this difficult problem. I congratulate the Government on the initiative it took in bringing forward this Bill. These floods were not a once off phenomenon. [648] They have occurred every year for several years. I have raised that matter as a public representative for that constituency while in Opposition, requesting the Government of the day to take some positive action to relieve these people of the possibility of serious flooding year after year. No action was taken by the previous Government in that matter.

It is proper that the record should show my thanks to the present Government for the action it has taken. At all times the Minister has proved himself most understanding and considerate in the way in which he has met and dealt with this issue. I hope the Government will not sit back now that this Bill has been passed and feel that it has made its contribution. Consultants have been asked to make recommendations on the major works that will be required to alleviate flooding so as to ensure that this phenomenon does not recur. These recommendations will be the subject of much debate in this House.

To date the Government has acted in the best way it could in providing humanitarian aid and, through this Bill, providing for the housing of people whose homes are irretrievably damaged. The people of south Galway have suffered enormously. I congratulate those who organised themselves to fight the battle which has resulted in the Government's taking this action, particularly the south Galway flood victims action committee, which has done phenomenal work on behalf of its neighbours. The leaders in that group did a great service to their community. The south Galway IFA played a major role in organising meetings locally and nationally and in drawing up reports on the effect of the damage. Those two groups have had to work extremely hard and very long time in order to achieve some of the action that has been taken to date.

I hope that when the steps to be taken for the long-term solutions to this problem are seen, the Government will not be found wanting. It would be very remiss of me not to express my sincere thanks to the Minister, Deputy [649] Coveney, and to the Government for the action taken today.

Mr. N. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy Zoom on Noel Treacy I wish to be associated with the remarks of the previous speaker in paying tribute to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and his predecessors for the very positive way they have dealt with all those involved in this serious situation. I also pay tribute to the Office of Public Works for its professional expertise and for the way it has dealt with the people not alone in this situation but over the decades in serving their country.

I appeal to the Government to stop destroying the Office of Public Works. Last month the Government took a serious decision pertaining to the Office of Public Works. It is now proposed to establish another quango, an inland waterways authority. This kind of expertise is already available. The Office of Public Works has served this country with great distinction and the government now proposes to destroy the tremendous expertise, commitment and staff morale within the Office of Public Works which has served this country so well for so long. I hope the Taoiseach will listen to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and ensure that the Office of Public Works is allowed to continue to serve this country. It has a tremendous record of service and a great ability to serve our nation.

I wish to pay tribute to the south Galway flood victims action group. I was exceedingly disappointed that the Minister for Social Welfare did not see fit to give them a grant to underwrite their huge administration expenses. Perhaps he might reconsider. I also pay tribute to the south Galway IFA and the Kilternan flood action group. Those people, working together, took initiatives to assist their own communities and flood victims. They received State support through the Office of Public Works. I pay tribute to Galway County Council and the Western Health Board for the tremendous work they did. Only £50,000 extra was made available to the council to carry out a huge amount of [650] work in our country. Perhaps further moneys could be made available to assist them in upgrading the roads.

I also want to remember the tremendous work being done by the community in north Galway particularly in the Williamstown, Glenamaddy and Dunmore areas which were also victims of serious flooding. I am confident that once this Bill is passed, the Commissioners, guided by the Minister, will ensure that offers are made rapidly to the victims of flooding and, more particularly, vital remedial works will be commenced as quickly as possible so that we will not have to go through this trauma again in the future. Míle buíochas do gach duine agus ba mhaith liom chomhgháirdeachas a ghabháil don Aire.

Question put and agreed to.


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