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Estimates for Public Services 2020 (Continued)

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 995 No. 5

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Deputy Joe Flaherty: Information on Joe  Flaherty Zoom on Joe  Flaherty I commend both Ministers of State on an excellent insight into the Estimates. It is good to have an opportunity to speak to them here today. Later this afternoon we will see the launch of the July stimulus, which is all about securing jobs, securing the viability of businesses and attempting to address regional imbalance across Ireland. Political commentators and economists are telling us that the way to deal with the crisis we face is to borrow money and subsequently to spend that money on capital projects. It has never been as cheap or as opportune to borrow money, with sovereign finance now available at nominal rates just above 0%. In reality, we have a blueprint for getting the country back on its feet that is Project Ireland 2040. It is further copperfastened by the current programme for Government.

On the back of Covid-19 we have the opportunity, and possibly our best chance ever, to truly address rural imbalance and especially some of the regional and structural deficiencies that haunt counties such as Longford. In Longford we have waited ten years for the N4 upgrade. It is one of the final pieces of major road infrastructure that needs to be completed. It is probable that every industrialist or investor who has travelled on that short section of road will say that it is one of the single biggest impediments to foreign direct investment in Longford and the wider region. Covid-19 has challenged us on an awful lot of levels. It has challenged us to look at how we live and how we function. It has also challenged us as a Government to do better and to ensure proper regional growth and development will, in time, take the strain off our big cities and urban centres. The N4 is the big ticket item for County Longford at the moment.

We also note that our second and third largest towns in the county, Edgeworthstown and Ballymahon, are both effectively at a standstill with further development because both require new sewage treatment plant upgrades. The challenge for Longford as a county, and for many other similar-sized counties, is to try to kick-start commercial house building activity within the county once again. We have not had a three-bedroom semi-detached house built in Longford in more than 11 years. This is the standard-bearer in commercial house building. There is a difficulty for any developer who wants to build a scheme in Ballymahon or Edgeworthstown now because Irish Water would inflict heavy and punitive charges onto that developer in an attempt to finance the upgrade of those sewage treatment plants. Both of those projects need to be addressed.

Staying in Ballymahon, it is more than two and a half years since the county council submitted a request for a new fire station in the town. Since then Center Parcs has opened in Ballymahon, which is the largest new tourism project in Europe, let alone in Ireland. When it is fully operational, the park attracts 2,000 visitors to the town each week. It is simply unbelievable to think that the town does not have a modern and up-to-date fire station at this stage.

Moving on to Longford town and out towards the Dublin Road and still within the 40 mph speed limit, houses there were built more than 30 years ago that have still not been able to connect to the main sewers. These houses have extremely deficient and archaic septic tanks. Within the town confines, two of our oldest and proudest estates, Teffia Park and Annaly Park, have sewerage systems that are creaking. Going across to south Longford and to Lanesborough, there is an issue with the rising main leading to the reservoir that serves up to 4,000 houses in the south Longford area and into Longford town. At one point this was at the top of the list for an upgrade, but suddenly Irish Water appointed a new contractor, and because the work would have required cutting through limestone and the contractor only likes to work with clay-based projects, it has fallen down the pecking order.

How we respond to Covid-19 and the challenges it presents will define us as a nation. We have an opportunity as elected Members in this House to make the right decision on so many levels: the right decision for rural Ireland and, more importantly the right decision for future generations.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan Do I have time to respond to the Fianna Fáil Deputies?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Mattie McGrath): Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath The Minister of State has time.

Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan Much of what Deputy Flaherty referred to is covered in the national development plan under a number of different agencies, including Transport Infrastructure Ireland, Irish Water and the councils.

With regard to Deputy Crowe's comments, I do not have responsibility for water in the sewerage system. This is under the remit of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Darragh O'Brien. I have attended the meetings organised by Deputy Carey and I also referred to Deputy Quinlivan in the Sinn Féin group.

I am well aware of the issue around Shannon Group and I know what is being tried and attended to. My colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Naughton, will have a role in this because she is the line Minister with responsibility for aviation and the Shannon Group.

I remember the Clonlara incident when a lady had to be lifted out of her house. As Deputy Crowe has rightly said, Clare County Council has submitted an application to An Bord Pleanála. I am glad the Deputy referred to objections. The Acting Chairman will also be aware of this. As a Government we are going to have to do something about what defines an objection. I am veering off-script now but we have to try to make sure that objections to large infrastructural projects, which are there to protect property and protect people's lives, are not vexatious objections. Often many objections are submitted, especially on flooding issues, and every rural Deputy will be aware that sometimes those objections do not even come from the area where the flood relief scheme is to be built. It is a source of massive frustration for local authorities. The OPW normally gets the blame then. We get the blame for people lodging objections, which has nothing at all to do with us. If schemes are outside the Arterial Drainage Act, then Clare County Council can apply, and naturally consideration is given to all applications. The better the application, the more likely it is to be funded.

Deputy Joe Carey: Information on Joe Carey Zoom on Joe Carey I congratulate the Ministers of State, Deputies O'Donovan and Smyth, on their appointments. I wish them well in their new roles.

I support the Estimate as presented. I have a number of issues I want to raise, predominantly around the OPW and the work it does. There are many unresolved issues in County Clare. The flooding at Clonlara and in Springfield is an issue that has raised its head far too frequently over the past two decades. There was flooding in Springfield in 1995, 2002, 2009, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2020. While floodwaters have disappeared since the spring of this year and the residents who were evacuated have returned to their homes, it is important that when this scheme secures the necessary planning approval from An Bord Pleanála, it proceeds with pace. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, can give me an assurance that he will support this very important scheme when it comes before him. I also join the Minister of State in his comments on serial objectors. This scheme has been held up as a result of that.

Another important issue is the Shannon town and environs flood relief scheme. The scheme was launched last year. It is a three-element scheme that will protect Shannon town and provide the necessary flood defences to protect families, individuals, communities, companies and the driver of economic activity in the mid-west and west, Shannon Airport. It is important that this project is enabled to progress through all the different phases in a timely manner.

There are many other issues such as the Kilkee flood relief scheme, the Spanish Point minor works scheme, and the White Strand at Miltown Malbay scheme.

I turn now to the continual flooding of the Limerick-Ennis railway line. As Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Rural and Community Development, I brought all the stakeholders together. Up to that point it had been a case of pass the parcel.

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