Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 27 Feb 1990

Vol. 396 No. 3

Private Members' Business. - Flooding and Storm Damage: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann notes with concern the extensive damage caused to public and private property, and the grave hardship inflicted on many families both urban and rural by recent storms, and aware of the failure of Government Departments and local authorities to finance the work needed to protect the communities involved against further storm and flooding damage and coastal erosion, calls on the Government to immediately initiate a programme of action to prevent further damages, and provide the resources to carry out the necessary repair works.

This motion is tabled in the names of all the Fine Gael Deputies because of the seriousness with which we view this problem and the extent to which people are affected across the country. Every Deputy is directly affected by flooding and storm damage. I note there are two amendments tabled to the motion, one from the Minister for the Environment and the other from The Workers' Party in the names of Deputies Gilmore, De Rossa and others. We do not have any particular difficulty with the second amendment, which is quite acceptable to us. I will have something to say in relation to the Government amendment at a later stage.

Since 16-17 December last this country has been besieged by storms and subsequently by flooding. The result is that extensive damage has been done around the country. There has been extensive erosion of the coastline and extreme damage in the south and southeast, particularly in Wicklow, Wexford and Waterford. Substantial erosion has occurred in those areas which calls for immediate remedial action. The damage in Courtown and Tramore could have serious effects on the tourism industry in the coming season and corrective action must be taken urgently.

Substantial damage has been done to harbours and piers, especially at Dunmore East, Kilmore Quay, Union Hall, Ballycotton and Sligo. The fleets are unable to operate from some of these ports and the boats are tied up in other harbours. Fishermen are in serious difficulties. Many of them have not fished since the middle of December and are experiencing severe financial hardship. They have all purchased their boats and are unable to meet their major repayments to BIM and other lending institutions. They are also unable to meet insurance premiums, not to talk about providing a livelihood for themselves and their families. Extensive hardship is being experienced among the fishing community, which the Government do not seem to recognise.

There has been flooding in many areas across the country and thousands of acres are under water. It would do the Minister and his colleagues much good if they were to use the Government jet to fly at low altitude across the country and find out what proportion of it is under water. A conservative estimate is that about 60 per cent of the country is under water. Towns are flooded which were never flooded in the past.

I should have said at the outset that I would like to share my time with Deputies Deasy, McGinley and Nealon, if that is in order.

Thank you, Deputy. Is that satisfactory? Agreed.

Rural dwellings are under water which never before experienced flooding and the extent of storm damage in rural areas is very significant. Extreme hardship is being experienced by rural communities and residents of some smaller towns and villages. To date the Government have not responded or shown any recognition of these problems.

Due to the extensive flooding of land farmers will have to keep stock housed for much longer than anticipated and they have not the fodder and the preparations made to meet this crisis. Extensive areas of the midlands are flooded, as are areas in the Barrow and Blackwater valleys. There is no recognition of the hardship people are experiencing.

We must examine the Government's response to date. They have allocated £1 million to local authorities for damage to roads and bridges as a result of the storm on 16-17 December. The Minister for Finance announced the allocation of £900,000 to be used on the north beach at Arklow, but the local authority must match that money pound for pound. They are finding it very difficult to raise the money. The interest on the loan they would have to raise is far beyond their capability to meet. The allocation is of little use to the local authority in these circumstances.

During his budget speech the Minister for Finance announced £100,000 for the repair of damage at Kilmore Quay. This is chicken feed and will not cover costs arising from the damage there.

The biggest laugh of the lot was the cynicism of the EC Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr. MacSharry, in stating that he would give £120,000 to help defray the cost of agricultural damage as a result of the storms and flooding. That was an insult to the entire agricultural community. The Commissioner, as a former Minister for Agriculture, should know better than to insult the Irish people by such a mean offering.

The setting up of a ministerial committee was announced in this House about two weeks ago. The committee are to examine the problem and decide what needs to be done. We on this side of the House can clearly identify where the damage is and have a fair idea of its effect, yet four or five Ministers with the backup of their respective Departments are still assessing the damage and what needs to be done. The Minister has an opportunity to announce tonight what the committee have established and what positive action they intend to take.

The Government failed abysmally in their application for EC Structural Funds to make any application for funding in respect of coastal erosion. That was remiss and inept of the Government and very unfortunate for people living along the coastline whose livelihoods and homes are under constant threat. The Government failed to recognise that fact and ought to make a submission to Europe in that respect. The Government must act responsibly.

I am taking this opportunity to ask the Government to recognise and tackle the extensive damage caused to public and private property and to recognise the hardship caused. The setting up of a Ministerial committee to judge this situation is not sufficient. What is needed is constructive action to alleviate the hardship and to provide protection against additional damage. I call on the Minister to provide funding for urgent repairs to protect our coastline in vulnerable areas and to keep harbours and piers operable so that the fishing fleet, if these storms abate, will be able to operate from their respective harbours. The Government must prepare a national strategy for coastal and inland waterways protection works. The Government must anticipate and plan for a recurrence of these disasters. We need a long-term action plan. The Government must provide for emergencies such as those we have witnessed in recent months. The 1963 Act is totally out-dated. In the case of an emergency, under this Act the Department of Finance can provide 50 per cent of the money needed but the local authority has to match that. However, all local authorities are operating on a shoestring and cannot match any funding. The Government must present a well documented case to Europe for Structural Funds from the £3.5 billion which has not yet been allocated.

The Government should, with insurance bodies, the local authorities and the EC provide national insurance cover for storm and flood damage and for other natural disasters. This has not been seriously examined by Government in the past but we as an island nation have a responsibility to protect our people as far as possible. We need some type of insurance funding. In certain circumstances private enterprise could be included in this insurance scheme. Such schemes exist in other countries. In the US, in Florida, for instance, there is an insurance scheme to cover tornadoes and in California there is one for earthquakes. The insurance stocks change in the Wall Street market from time to time given the disasters that occur. We should seriously consider a move in that direction.

The homes and properties of many vulnerable people have been seriously affected by storm and flood damage. More vulnerable people should be compensated so that they can at least make their homes habitable. I am referring to people who cannot afford insurance to meet natural disasters. Farmers have been seriously affected and farmers particularly in the disadvantaged areas whose lands have been extensively flooded should be provided with fodder for stock. When we were in Government and Deputy Deasy was Minister he provided a fodder scheme in difficult times. The present Minister should immediately introduce such a scheme.

Will the Minister arrange with the EC for an extension of the closing dates for the various fishing species to give fishermen an opportunity to make up for lost time when, due to storms they have been unable to earn money and are not in a position to meet repayments. I also call on the Minister to put in place a proper air-sea search and rescue service. Storms and flooding can result in loss of life and we should do everything to protect life. Now that the European Commissioner has indicated his willingness to locate such a service in Ireland it is opportune for the Minister to extend the hand of goodwill and co-operate with the commissioner in arranging to have that service located here. This is extremely important.

It is important for the Government to take my proposals on board as our economy is at risk and the long-term effect of the storms will be increasingly evident later on in agricultural output, in tourism, in fish catches and so on. The overall loss to the country could be quite substantial. The Government can take protective action. Many will say that it will cost a lot, and I estimate that it will cost in the region of £40 million to take corrective action, but a stitch in time saves nine and unless preventive and corrective action is taken, in a year or two from now, we will be in a worse position and perhaps unable to meet the difficulties.

The scope of the motion before us has increased considerably since I originally tabled a motion together with some of my colleagues early in January. That motion alluded to the damage to the coastal installations of the south coast and the south-east coast. However, because of subsequent storms there has been damage to virtually all our coastline, particularly the south-west and the north-west and there has been serious inland flooding. Rivers like the Shannon and the Blackwater have overflowed and caused tremendous damage.

I am extremely alarmed at the indifference of the Government. They ignored the fact that a serious problem existed for over two months. The first acknowledgment we have had that there is a problem was when the Government announced the setting up of an all-Cabinet sub-committee last week, two months after that devastating storm on the night of 16-17 December. I would go so far as to say that somebody will have to die before the Government will take decisive action. They seem to think that by ignoring the problem it will go away. Well, it will not.

I said here before and was ejected from the House for it, that the sea defences on the south coast and on the south-east coast are ruined. They are shattered and if there is one further south-easterly storm we will have a catastrophe on our hands. There could well be serious loss of life because in some areas there is no protection left at all for villages and towns. Bulwarks, sea walls, piers, promenades, sandhills and so on which were protecting some areas up to 16 December, have been decimated. The only bit of luck we have had is that there has not been a further south-easterly gale since 16 December. That is extraordinary because, on average, there is at least one such gale every month, indeed may be one every week. We have not had one since 16 December but when we do have a bad one everybody in this House — and in the country — will know all about it because in some areas there are no defences left. There have been breaches in embankments and sand dunes and it is only a matter of time before the sea breaks through with — I hope I am wrong — catastrophic results. In 1953, England, in East Anglia, people did not have adequate protection; they did not think they needed it, but 400 people were drowned in one night when the seas broke through the embankment.

The seas have breached the embankment in my constituency and in neighbouring Counties Wexford and Cork. It is only a matter of time until we have follow-up storms which will cause massive damage. Towns like Tramore and Dungarvan and villages like Ballycotton, Ardmore and Bunmahon are extremely vulnerable and the Government will have to take action. I do not know where the money will come from but I hope the Minister for the Marine will tell us. It will have to be a significant amount. The Waterford county engineer estimates that it will cost £11.5 million to do a reasonable job to protect the coastal community. If you include Kerry, Cork, Wexford and Wicklow, you are probably talking in terms of £50 million. I know the Government cannot produce that much money out of a hat overnight but they must recognise the seriousness of the problem and make plans to see that money is provided from the EC or the Exchequer.

The Coastal Protection Act, 1963, is not worth the paper it is written on because it demands that the local authority put up 50 per cent of the cost of coastal protection work. As we know, local authorities and county councils do not have any money of significance; they can mend a few potholes and cut a few briars but they do not have the money to do what is needed.

The Minister made an extraordinary statement in the House last week in answer to Dáil questions. In answer to one question he said he knew that the 1963 Act did not fit the bill, in other words, that it is useless. However, in the next sentence he said he did not propose to change existing procedures. The Minister admitted that the Act is useless but then said he does not intend to do anything about it. For God's sake, let us have an admission that there is a massive problem. Let us have an admission that the Act, which is supposed to help us solve it, is useless. Let there be an initiative to see that it is replaced by something worthwhile and which we can use to protect our communities. That is all we ask.

There have been all sorts of statements from various Ministers, even one from the Taoiseach. Three weeks ago the Minister for Tourism and Transport washed his hands of the whole matter. I could not elicit a reply from him in the House. Last week I had a question tabled to the Taoiseach and it was not answered. I was told it had something to do with a printer's error and that it could not be answered. Nobody wants to say who will provide the money and when. Everybody is running away from the problem. Will someone tell us what is happening? The Minister for Finance cut loose in Cork the weekend before last. We all heard about his Kanturk statement. A headline in The Cork Examiner told its readers that the Minister for Finance had said there would be plenty of money available from the EC or the Exchequer to deal with the problem but nothing has been said since. There has been a deafening silence on the issue of the damage done on 16 and 17 December and the Government have collective responsibility in this matter to see that the money is provided. When we had Hurricane Charlie about four years ago Government Ministers were queuing up to have their photographs taken and to be seen on television.

When we had Hurricane Charlie about O'Leary's snow blizzard in 1982 we had the same masquerade, purely because those events happened in or around Dublin. However, if anything happens in Waterford, Cork, Kerry or the west coast the authorities in Dublin do not want to know about it. It is a disgrace. Central Government, my eye. As far as I can see, all that central Government means is that if it does not happen in Dublin it has not happened.

If there is a catastrophe or a disaster of the type to which I referred earlier it will be the fault of Government because we have had two months inaction. The people in my constituency are outraged at the lack of action on the part of any Minister or the Government. These are not people directly in the firing line but they all know what happened. We did not even have one Government Minister in County Waterford to see the damage. They are expected to run the country by remote control. I doubt if a Minister has visited Cork or Kerry either. Perhaps they went as far as Arklow or Courtown.

We want answers here tonight and tomorrow night as the public and our constituents are entitled to them. I hope the Minister for the Marine will tell us if the Government have any plans in this regard.

I wish to thank Deputy Taylor-Quinn for giving me some of her limited allocation of time. It is appropriate that we debate this matter in the House because, even as I speak, 20,000 homes in south-west Donegal are still without electricity. When I left at 6.30 a.m. a blizzard was raging in south-west Donegal and all those homes were cut off. That is not an isolated incident, it has happened half a dozen times since the beginning of the year. Indeed, I must compliment the ESB crews who are out morning, noon and night carrying out repairs in spite of all the hazards. Unfortunately, no sooner are the repairs carried out than the gales or lightning again strike and they are as badly off as ever.

Today 1,000 islanders — the inhabitants of four islands in Donegal — have been cut off from the mainland. We are used to Tory Island being cut off but Aranmore, where they have a fine ferry which makes six or seven trips every day to and from the island, has been cut off all day. I was in touch with both islands this evening and the situation has not changed from early this morning. A mail-boat is scheduled to go to Tory Island twice a week but since last Christmas it has succeeded in going there only twice. I know that people on that island depend on social welfare and unemployment assistance and some of them have been waiting four, five and six weeks for their money. Indeed, I understand that arrangements were made yesterday to have the Army helicopter go to Tory this afternoon but, due to the gales and storms, they could not manage it. The inhabitants of the island are running out to basic foodstuffs.

The motion refers to recent storms and Deputy Deasy recalled the storms that occurred last December. I should like to tell the House that the storms that have hit the north west were as bad as the storms that hit that area on 16 and 17 December. I should like to refer to another problem facing those living on Tory Island. It concerns the storms and coastal erosion. From the reaction of the Government one would imagine that the island was a solid rock in the ocean and that coastal erosion would not take place. In the past the inhabitants of Tory Island got their domestic water supply from the south lake on the island but over the years, particularly in the last three years, the salt water has succeeded in getting into the lake. The result is that the water of the lake cannot be used for domestic purpose. Pipes, electrical appliances and other utensils corrode in no time through the use of the water from the lake. The people of the island must look for a domestic water supply elsewhere on the island. They have directed their attention to the north lake, but, unfortunately, that goes dry every summer. The only solution is to construct a proper reservoir on the island. It is important that the people of the island get an adequate supply of domestic water.

Deputy Taylor-Quinn highlighted the plight of fishermen in recent weeks. Due to the storms in recent months fishermen have been unable to get to sea. We are almost into the third month of 1990 and the fishermen of Bunbeg, Burtonport and other ports, have been unable to get to sea. Some of the big trawlers operating out of Killybegs have succeeded in going to sea but those in other areas have been unable to do so to earn their livelihood. In the past when farmers and others suffered heavy losses successive Governments went to their rescue. There was national and EC assistance for those farmers. They deserved that assistance and the grants made available to them kept them going. I wonder why fishermen are not assisted when they suffer heavy losses. Why is it that the Government, and the EC, do not come to the assistance of fishermen, their crews and those employed in the processing factories on the mainland? Those people are finding it impossible to make ends meet. They do not have any income and have not had any since the beginning of the year. If we can help other sections of the community when they are in trouble I do not see why we cannot help fishermen and those who work in processing factories. Fishermen are often forgotten. They are constrained and restricted by quotas, the price they must pay for fuel for their boats and so on. We should produce a package of assistance for them because they must meet repayments on their boats.

Coastal erosion is galloping in Donegal. We have heard of it creeping in other areas but that is not the position in my county. I was on the golf course on Cruit island in the parish of The Rosses on Saturday week and I noticed that due to coastal erosion one of the greens is ready to fall into the Atlantic. That is one of the most spectacular courses in the country, work on which was completed in the last two years. Adjacent to the green is the slipway that serves Owey Island. The road to that slipway which was used by tractors and cars has fallen into the sea. One can only approach that slipway from the sea or by walking. It is useless and I have written to the Minister and the Office of Public Works asking them to repair that road.

Golfers will be able to sink every put on that course.

I note that £1 million was made available to deal with coastal erosion and the protection of sea walls in the south east. I do not begrudge them that money and I accept that they have problems but people in other parts of the country have problems, particularly those in the north west. I suggest that an immediate survey be carried out in Donegal to ascertain where the most serious damage has occurred. Whatever money is available should be earmarked for that work because if things continue as they have been going our coastal protection will be swept away.

I should like to thank my colleague, Deputy Taylor-Quinn for giving me some of the time allocated to her. She feels passionately about this subject and she could have used all the time allocated to her but she has given me an opportunity to bring home to the Minister, and the ministerial committee, with all the emphasis at my command, the desperate plight of the people living around the Sligo coastline. Damage there was not only caused by the recent storms, bad and all as they were, but was the cumulative result of successive pounding of the coastline in recent years. I am now talking of one area, or of a section of the coastline. From Enniscrone away to the west, an area that the Minister knows well, on to Mullaghmore in the north, there have been many disasters. The latest occurred yesterday at Gibraltar, near Strandhill. The sea has swept away the natural and man-made defences along that coastline. The result is that when a moderate storm blows up those areas are subject to flooding from the sea. Severe damage is caused when storms blow from the west or north west.

Very often in a county like mine fields along the coast are the most fertile of all but fields that were once the best in the country have disappeared entirely under water or under tonnes of stones swept in by the sea. A couple of weeks ago I inspected one of those fields in Pully-heeny, a 28 acre field. It is now a vast lake, beautiful to look at, and, perhaps, to fish in but it is not suitable for cattle grazing. The approach road to Pully-heeny pier has been covered by tonnes of stone and rubble from the sea. That pier used to cater for 15 boats during the fishing season.

On Sunday last I went to Raghly and discovered that the peninsula would have become an island were it not for the preemptive action of Sligo County Council. I inspected the work with local county councillor, Joe Leonard. Sligo County Council, who are responsible for a small area of coastline, spent in the region of £30,000 to prevent a disaster. I do not know where they got the money from but their action was essential. That is an indication of the amount of money that is needed to help coastal areas. I accept that it will be difficult for the Minister, or any local authority, to find the necessary finance but, as Deputies Taylor-Quinn, Deasy and McGinley have said, the money will have to be found. The problem will not go away. Sligo County Council, and other local authorities, cannot cope with coastal erosion or storm damage.

I accept that under the 1963 Act local authorities must provide half of the necessary finance but I should like to ask the Minister where would Sligo County Council get £10 million, or £5 million or £1 million. That type of money is not available to local authorities to do other work. We must take action to compensate farmers who have lost their land. In that respect I should like to remind the Minister that Deputy Deasy, when he was Minister for Agriculture, made such areas eligible for what was described as dry land reclamation under which farmers were given grants to remove the stones from their land. That was an imaginative scheme and the Minister should consider re-introducing it. I understand that £120,000 has been given by the EC Commission but that would not pay for the cleaning up after all the damage that was done.

Deputy Taylor-Quinn has outlined very cogently the steps the Government should be taking to compensate farmers and others who have suffered losses as a result of storms. There must be fire brigade action to help the people. It is important that there should be a coastal and headland strategy. I should like to remind the Minister of the problems that have arisen along the Owenmore and Arrow rivers. In good times those rivers cause extensive flooding. When in Government I tried to have those rivers attended to under the arterial drainage scheme but I failed. I approached the Government about the matter but they postponed the issue. I appeal to the Minister to remind his colleague who is responsible in that area.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and to substitute the following:

notes with approval the measures already undertaken to deal with storm and flood damage; welcomes the Government decision to establish a special Cabinet sub-committee to examine and report as a matter of urgency on the impact of recent storm and flood damage and notes its intention to finalise its deliberations at an early date.

May I share my time with the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Deputy Kirk.

Is that satisfactory? Agreed.

First, I reject the suggestion of complacency or neglect on the part of the Government with regard to the damage that has been sustained in the storms. Second, I want to state that those of us who are involved in this area accept full responsibility, do not want to slough responsibility, accept it fully and will act upon it. I thank Deputy Taylor-Quinn for some constructive ideas in her contribution. I am sorry to hear that Tory has been isolated for six weeks and I hope that relief will be available to Tory and Aranmore very soon.

My Department have taken over responsibility for coast protection from the Office of Public Works since 1 January last — less than two months ago. The Office of Public Works had a budget for that purpose of between £100,000 and £150,000. The large figures that have been bandied about here were not available to OPW and are not available, as of now, to me to deal with this particular situation. I accept what the Deputies have said that the damage caused on 16 and 17 December was massive but the House knows very well that since then, that has been added to considerably and we are still not free or clear of the storms.

I went to Bray and to Arklow and the Minister of State at my Department went to Kilmore Quay as a result of what happened in mid-December. We did not have any cameras. King Canute was trying to keep the sea back in a rather helpless way, but King Alan Dukes obviously wanted to keep it back with cameras. There were no cameras on my parade but Deputies from all parties helped me to see what was wrong particularly in the Arklow, Bray and Wexford areas. A 50 per cent grant to Wexford County Council for the pier at Kilmore Quay was the immediate result of those inspections, and that was given within 24 hours of the inspection.

As has already been acknowledged by Members from the opposite side of the House, the Minister for Finance provided £950,000 assistance for coast protection for the north beach at Arklow. I inspected that area and saw there was grave danger to industrial plants and to dwellinghouses and, as Deputy Deasy stated in other connections, the total defences had been wiped out by the 16-17 December storm. As well as that, I indicated that £100,000 would be available for boat repairs at Kilmore Quay. I should also like to put on the record that the people who are replacing boats there may very well be able to get Economic Community aid as well in that regard.

As I said the storms continued throughout February and we then had to take further action. A ministerial committee — a crisis committee — was set up. There was no neglect, there was no delay and there was no lack of realisation of the seriousness of these storms in my Department or in the other Departments involved. Because there were so many Departments involved, a committee comprising the Departments of the Marine, the Environment, Agriculture and Food and Finance was set up. Our brief from Government was to report urgently. That has been adumbrated by what I said in my amendment.

Prioritisation of schemes also has to be determined. In order to do that we have set in train a comprehensive report on what has happened around the coast. I utterly reject any suggestion that we have neglected any of the coastal areas that are affected and for which I have responsibility. For example, in the Wicklow area a survey was done by a combination of local authority engineers and engineers from the Department of the Marine of Bray, Kilcoole, Dunmurray, Wicklow, north beach Arklow, Arklow, south beach. In Wexford the following areas were surveyed: Courtown, Ardamine, Cahore Beach, Cahore Harbour, Ballyconnigar, Ballinesker, Coolrainey, Rosslare Strand, Ballytra, Kilmore Quay, Ballyteigue Burrow, Cullenstown and Fethard. We have a comprehensive report and figures for all those areas. That is the kind of raw material we are putting together and every one of the places in Sligo that Deputy Nealon mentioned have been covered in that report.

What have they got?

Louth, Meath, Dublin, Wicklow, Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Clare, Galway, Mayo, Sligo, and Donegal——

What has been done for them?

What is the Deputy getting excited about?

What we are looking for is action.

You are all claiming to be civil engineers. I have expert advice here. I do not have "innis ban dom gur innis ban dí" stuff in this report and we will act on it and I am not going to be distracted by bluff——


The interruptions must cease.

——from the other side of the House. From Louth to Donegal a punctilious study is being made for action in the sub-committee of the Cabinet. I can guarantee this House that action will be taken; so will my colleagues, the Minister for the Environment and the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Deputy Kirk. The House can be assured that a good and tight job will be done as far as this crisis is concerned.


Deputy Taylor-Quinn was heard without interruption. Extend the same courtesy to the Minister.

It is important to distinguish between coastal erosion from storm damage and coastal erosion which is an ongoing concern of anybody charged with this responsibility. So far as storm damage is concerned that is quite a distinct thing and most of that report is concerned with storm damage. We have already indicated that £950,000 have been made available for works on the north beach — that is to deal with coastal erosion which is an ongoing problem in that part of the country, in Wicklow and Wexford in particular. So far as the storm damage is concerned, we are covering piers and harbours for repairs, small scale remedial works on walls and coastal defences. The coastal protection is on a larger scale and is a different proposition altogether and that is the one for which some money has been made available. Coastal protection is a highly skilled engineering job; it cannot be done by the seat of his pants, so to speak. Structures are important.

Rock armoury is very effective.

Did I use words that excited the Deputy?

No, the Minister——

Civil engineers who are practised in coastal erosion erect certain types of structures on the coast. Beach nourishment is another method, and this has been used at Rosslare for many years in what is a very highly specialised engineering activity. There was a lot of caterwauling here about local authorities but the primary responsibility is still on local authorities.

Deputy Deasy referred to the 1963 Act. I agreed with him already in the House that it is not a very useful weapon but it was the only weapon available since 1963 for the purposes of coastal protection. It is a complex Act but I am sure the people at Rosslare Strand; at the Murrough, County Wicklow, at Moville, at Strandhill — in Deputy Nealon's constituency — in Youghal, in Rossnowlagh and Enniscrone who had substantial works done under that Act would agree that it was useful as far as they were concerned but the problem is that it is a long drawn out process. It takes too long and therefore is not really suitable for emergencies, as I have said. If Deputy Deasy thinks that, since taking responsibility for this area on 1 January this year I could have put new legislation on the Statute Book he is not as shrewd a man as I used to think he was though I still think he is a shrewd man.

Does the Minister think there should be new legislation?

An amendment should be made to that Act in order to expedite works in this case or some other method should be devised within the law to expedite works in case of an emergency.

What does the Minister intend doing?

There is a strong division of responsibility and, as I said, the primary responsibility rests on the local authorities who with central Government will have to try to bring some order into the chaos which has developed as a result of the storms.

Reference was made to EC funding. Arising out of the damage done in December, very early in January I made application to three different sources in the EC. Somehow or other I find it difficult to understand how scorn can be poured over the £120,000 which the Commissioner, Mr. MacSharry, has made available. I do not know if more money will be made available from the EC for this purpose but I hope there will. I do not consider it right that the sum of £120,000 amounts to an insult. I know the Deputy was only repeating what the Leader of her party said in that regard but Pooh-Bah was the kind of person who accepted that kind of insult.

It would not be enough to repair a half mile of road.

Reference was made to fishing and an extension of the season. I think it is the white fish fishermen who have been most severely affected. I am sure Deputy McGinley will be glad to know that the intrepid Donegal fishermen have caught close on 50 per cent of the quota of mackerel allowed for this year. The storms did not in any way stop them from putting to sea.

Only the super trawlers.

Are they the super trawlers from Donegal or where are they from?

If the Minister listened to what I said——

Let us hear the Minister without interruption.

The super trawlers have caught almost half the mackerel quota for the full year already, roughly half of which they landed at Killybegs for the processors. The Deputy will be very glad to hear that the other half was sold over the side or at Lerwick and other places. Secondly, with regard to herring, the Celtic Sea fishery has been closed because they have caught a huge amount for which they got very high prices. I cannot express but my admiration for the fishermen from Donegal and those who fish in the Celtic Sea for the dedication they have shown to their business in this regard.

The entire white fishing fleet is tied up in Donegal.

I have already admitted that to the House but I do not want half truths in the House and that is why I wanted to put the other on the record.

What is the Minister doing in relation to white fish. Is he going to look for an extension?

The fact of the matter is that the prices received by the fishermen who fish in the Celtic Sea and the fishermen from Donegal were very substantial indeed. That of course is to their benefit and that of the economy. I just want to repeat that this House

notes with approval the measures already undertaken to deal with storm and flood damage; welcomes the Government decision to establish a special Cabinet sub-committee to examine and report as a matter of urgency on the impact of recent storm and flood damage and notes its intention to finalise its deliberations at an early date.

When does the Minister expect to receive their report?

Not too far away, probably the calends of March.

I join with the Minister for the Marine, Deputy Wilson, in rejecting the assertion from the other side of the House that the Government are not doing what they should be doing in relation to the problems which exist at present. I am sure the Deputies on the Opposition benches realise and fully appreciate that wind storms and flood damage are a hazard during most of our winters to a greater or lesser extent. If we look back over the pages of history and in particular over the past ten years, we will find that there has been the odd winter when we had severe flooding and wind storms when damage was done but we must realise that the location of dwelling houses and farm buildings in vulnerable areas exacerbates that problem.

Various reports have indicated that farm houses and outhouses in the basins of a number of rivers have been affected by the storms between the end of 1989 up to the present. There is no doubt that the reports in many instances have not been as accurate as they might have been in relation to the extent of the damage caused. The reality is that farm dwellings and outhouses and other dwellings adjacent to river basins have to put up with the problems of flooding and wind storms. Farmers in these areas have had to learn to live with these problems. Inevitably there will be exceptional years when they will be overwhelmed. We all dearly wish to be in a position where we can exert absolute and complete control over flooding and wind storms but the reality is that that is not possible.

On Saturday last I had the opportunity to travel from literally one end of the country to the other, from Dundalk to Cork. Because of my involvement with the Cabinet sub-committee dealing with storm and flood damage it was my function to see what damage had been caused in the Counties of Louth, Dublin, Laois, Tipperary and Cork. The extent of the flooding in those areas was quite slight. Perhaps the extensive flooding——

The Minister of State should have taken the jet when he could have flown at low attitude.

——existed in other parts of the country through which I did not travel.

The Minister of State took a wide berth.

I cannot recollect any road which was so badly flooded that we could not get through.

National primary roads all the way.

I am not saying that problems do not exist in either County Donegal or County Waterford but we have to put this matter into context. I am talking tonight from an agricultural perspective. The reality is that our farmers realise that adequate and quality housing is of the utmost importance. There has been considerable investment in proper housing for stock during the winter months. However in different parts of the country farmers for one reason or another did not make the investment in quality housing for stock which is so necessary. On farms where stock roam across the grazing lands and where grass growth is retarded subsequently in the following spring, a very strong argument can be advanced that the economic damage done in those circumstances is far greater than the damage that will be done over the shorter period because of flooding. While I am on this point let me also say that quite generous grants are available to farmers to invest in farm out-offices and farm buildings to house their stock during the winter. I take this opportunity of exhorting them to consider immediately making investments in this most important of areas.

And the price is falling.

The reality is that there are a number around the country who have not realised the importance of making this investment. Subsequently, the management of their farms and the grazing routine in the subsequent spring, summer and autumn is adversely affected because the stock are free to roam over the lands. I am looking forward to the investment that is needed in this area being made to come to terms with the problem.

The Deputies on the other side of the House can rest assured that the Government are concerned about the problems arising from the recent bad weather which has been unusually wet with persistent windy conditions over the past month in many parts of the country. As an expression of that concern, the Taoiseach recently announced the establishment of a Cabinet sub-committee consisting of the Ministers for Finance, the Marine, the Environment and Agriculture and Food to examine and report on the extent of the impact of the recent storm and flood damage as a matter of urgency. We can all appreciate the problems caused by the recent flooding and, as a Government, we are anxious to help. The various Departments have the appropriate expertise to assess the different types of damage as well as considering means of alleviating the hardship caused. My Department are carrying out an extensive examination of the situation in the agricultural sector. This is being updated on a daily basis and we also have the benefit of an input from farmers and other interests.

The latest reports indicate that there is no serious widespread damage in so far as crops and livestock are concerned. As far as can be judged, the only significant stock loss to date has occurred in the north-west. There are severe cases of isolated flooding in parts of the country, particularly in the midlands, the south-east, the south-west and the north-west. It will not be possible, however, to assess the extent of the damage in the agricultural sector until there is some abatement in the present climatic conditions. Certainly there has been some loss of fodder and some farm buildings have been damaged, particularly in parts of the west and midlands, but it does not appear that the damage is widespread even in the regions I have mentioned. That is not to say that the losses may not be serious for certain individuals. In a situation like that there will always be individual cases where the losses will be much more severe than for others. Even where there is not significant damage, having to live in an isolated area confronted by widespread flooding can be an extremely traumatic experience.

I am certainly not trying to minimise the seriousness of the situation in which many farm families and others in rural Ireland find themselves. What I am saying is that the extent of the damage to fodder supplies and buildings cannot be fully assessed at this stage. The evidence so far is that the damage is not widespread, while livestock losses have been small. I stress this is on the evidence so far but the situation is changing by the day as the stormy wet weather continues. It is, therefore, essential that the extent and nature of the damage be quantified and this can best be done by utilising all relevant State Departments and agencies as well as local authorities. Voluntary organisations and bodies representing the various interests affected have scope for an input into central planning. In addition, they are using their skills, resources and local knowledge to cope with these serious weather problems.

Many of the problems do not involve significant long or short-term damage but rather the practical difficulties of coping with widespread flooding and disruption. This is where co-operation between the public and the voluntary agencies on the ground is essential. The House can be assured that the Cabinet sub-committee are actively applying their mind to the problem as it exists and as it is unfolding. This debate is being held at a time when we cannot anticipate when the storm will abate but we will endeavour to help as best we can in the circumstances.

I feel there is a certain whingeing from the Opposition benches who are effectively using the misfortune of those affected to make cheap political points——

We are using the debate to highlight an inadequate Government who have not responded to the problem.

——instead of coming into the House to give encouragement and assistance to the Government in the matter.

You needed a prod to get on with the job.

We are not going to be deterred in the matter. We will endeavour to assist as best we can in the circumstances. It is a question of waiting until the storms have abated——

How much money will the Minister for Finance provide? Is he coming in to let us know?

——to be in a position to assess the extent of the damage and take the necessary remedial action at that time.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Ferris, O'Shea and Howlin.

The recent disastrous storms which brought severe flooding to many parts of the country, particularly the southern, south-eastern and western areas also brought with them a taste of future weather patterns if we are to believe our weather experts for now it seems that in this part of Europe we are in the path of future storms which will inevitably bring gale force winds, driving rain and consequent flooding and high tides.

The recent storms hit people very badly. Not alone did they do damage to farmlands and the agricultural sector but they have had a devastating effect on urban areas, on our coastal communities, and have caused massive problems for local authorities throughout the country. County council officials are still counting the cost and there is still the possibility of severe weather to come which makes the coming weeks a matter of serious concern for both the public and private sectors. In the agricultural sector experts believe that over 3,000 families in the catchment area of the Shannon are affected, with disastrous consequences. In Cork the River Lee has overflown its banks and has caused severe hardship for many. It is the same picture throughout the country; in Tipperary and Carlow rivers have burst their banks and have flooded land and high winds have damaged property and machinery.

While some of these losses may be recouped from insurance sources, it is the owners who will have to pay in the long run through higher insurance premia. If the meteorologists are correct in their predictions, it is quite on the cards that insurance premia will sharply increase in the coming years and this will have a serious effect on those struggling to make a living at present. While this damage is considered very serious, and in some quarters insurance assessors are considering themselves very lucky that it is not more serious, it is to the local authorities, the ESB and Telecom Éireann that the most serious damage has been done.

Cork city and county estimate £5 million in infrastructural damage including damage to sewage pumping stations, sea walls, roads, piers and coastal defences. In Waterford coastline damage is reckoned at £11 million. It is safe to say that from Galway to Wexford, from Waterford to the Dingle Penninsula and from Cork to Donegal serious damage has been inflicted on private and public property.

While some may shrug off this disastrous situation as an act of God which could not be helped, someone somewhere must pick up the tab. Local authorities already experiencing severe financial constraints in their everyday operations cannot foot such a massive bill. Already many local authorities have cut back on necessary roadworks. Our roads are a mass of potholes. Dykes remain choked and overgrown and the road surfaces in many cases leave a great deal to be desired, to say the least.

The long hot summer, which was very welcome, also had its effect on our roads. Tarmacadam melted and in many cases the recent severe rains washed any temporary improvements away. It is now accepted that on very many of our secondary roads and even on our main roads there are treacherous stretches which are terribly dangerous to everyday users. While we heard much emphasis placed by Government on bringing our roads up to European standards, the fact remains that for many motorists the recent storms and flooding mean that our roads have taken on a prehistoric image.

Ireland, being an island nation, should have a more positive attitude to coastal protection and Government should have a comprehensive policy to see that our fishing ports and harbours are properly protected and that damage done by recent storms is not a burden on local ratepayers. The bill for such damages should be paid from Community funding. It is ridiculous and disgraceful to suggest that just over £120,000 was all Ireland was entitled to under these circumstances. Our fishing industry is now at a standstill with hundreds of boats tied up around our coast. Since last November the fishing industry has been devastated with losses estimated at between £10 million and £15 million. A knock-on effect of such a serious situation is that something like 4,000 families have been without a regular income for nearly 12 weeks. When one considers that bills and rising mortgages have to be paid and loans have to be met, surely for many thousands affected this terrible weather and its aftermath constitutes a disaster.

Ballycotton pier in County Cork is in a collapsable condition. Renard pier in County Kerry has been declared unsafe due to storm damage. Union Hall, one of the main fishing ports in the south, has suffered over £200,000 worth of damage and serious damage was done to other coastal protection works in the region — Tragumna, Bantry. Castletownsend, the list goes on. The overall damage to fishery harbours is estimated at around £3 million in south and south-west Cork alone, and there is no possibility whatsoever of Cork County Council, already starved of finance, footing this bill.

Holiday resorts around the south-east, south and south-west coasts have been seriously damaged and will cost thousands of pounds to rectify, yet what we are offered is a pittance considering the damage done. One can only wonder if, in the event of Dublin sustaining the same type of damage, Government Ministers would be so lackadaisical in demanding aid from European funding. The Government have targeted the tourist industry as a prime area for job creation and possibly with our scenery and much publicised clean environment we can attract into this country many thousands of people who would give the economy a much needed boost, but what will we have to offer them this year? Potholed roads, washed out bridges and derelict harbours, certainly not the image we would like to portray to our potential visitors. There is now an urgency that remedial work be carried out so that the disastrous effects of recent storms and the hardship many thousands of our people are experiencing be alleviated. Ireland's position on the periphery of Europe means we are probably more prone to this type of storm damage than most other countries in the Community, and if the forecasting experts are right provision must be made so that Community funds are made available in the future.

The Minister indicated recently that special funding would be available from Europe only in the event of a major disaster such as an earthquake or a hurricane. I suggest respectfully to the Minister that for many people, including local authorities, the recent storms have had a similar effect. The tenants of the Riverview Estate in Blarney in my constituency had flood water flowing in through the front doors and out the back doors destroying carpets, furnishings and electrical fittings. Now these tenants, many of them unemployed, are taking the council to court seeking to recover some of their losses. For them and many like them the recent storms have had disastrous consequences. Their houses are devalued and their contents ruined.

This motion before the House will have my support because if nothing else it will highlight the plight of many thousands of our citizens who through no fault of their own have suffered severely. It would appear at this time that the Coalition Government have no interest in seeking finance or aid from the Community to try to help them through a very difficult period.

It is important in this debate to pay tribute to the many workers — local authority, ESB, Telecom Éireann, the fire service, ambulance crews, gas workers, search and rescue, the lifeboat service, our Naval Service, the Army, the Air Force and the many voluntary organisations — who worked, very often in appalling conditions, to save lives, rescue the injured and restore services. The country is indebted to them. Often the heroic efforts of these people go unnoticed. Is it too much to ask that their efforts be complemented by adequate resources from either national or European funds? This country in the last few weeks has been buffeted, battered and beaten. Serious damage has been done to our roads network. Our land is completely waterlogged, our coastal defences have been breached and major repairs are needed to our harbours. The Government must act now to tackle this disastrous situation because for many people time has run out.

I welcome the opportunity to share time with my colleague. Most of the debate has concentrated on coastal regions as mentioned in the Fine Gael motion. Whereas we all agree that our coastal regions suffered tremendous buffeting damage affecting fishing and ports and the livelihood of fishermen, tremendous damage has been done throughout the country, right down through the heart of Ireland. I was surprised to hear the Minister of State, Deputy Kirk, say tonight that in his pleasant travel from Dundalk to Cork he passed through Tipperary and saw no sign of damage. He is like any fine weather politican. If you come out when the floods are over you will not see what happened, but I wish that on 8 and 9 February he had visited any part of South Tipperary and see at first hand the damage done to the heart of County Tipperary, the Golden Vale, the heart of our agricultural land, the mountain region of the Galtees, the basin of the rivers Arra, Aherlow and Suir, culminating in flooding stretching from Bansha to Clonmel such as had not been seen by anybody, engineers or others, for the past 20 years. Cars were submerged, as was seen on the national TV network, to such an extent that there was loss of life, limb and property. Tremendous damage was done throughout the region. On the night we mentioned the matter here on the Adjournment — the Leader of Fine Gael had a further Adjournment debate a week afterwards — we itemised and spelled out for the Government what they should do in response to a demand for urgent funding. On that night the Minister fot the Environment said the funding he had made available was as a result of damage done in October 1989 and December 1989 and the only hope he could hold out for us was that the additional funding he had already indicated to local authorities could be used in the interim. Immediately I contacted my local authority in South Tipperary and notified them that they could start to spend some of the money that was intended to be spent throughout the full year of 1990. I was told it would not suffice to take account of some of the damage done. We identified ten days ago that £300,000 worth of damage was done in the South Riding area. Since that figure was submitted at the request of the Department a similar amount of damage has been done.

I welcome the fact that the Government have set up a special committee to examine what they should do to address the problem, but committees are no good unless they come forward with reassurances to county managers, members of local authorities, county councils and urban district councils that specific funding will be earmarked to address the problem of storm damage whether on agricultural land, to business property, private property or private dwellings or particularly dwellings where old people are incapable of meeting the demands that will be made on them.

The Minister in his reply to the Adjournment Debate on that night said "There are of course, as the Deputies fully appreciate, limits to the area of my responsibility and to the funds at my disposal...". Our problem with the Minister's response is that he has said there is a limit to the funds available to him. The Minister said in column 1229, volume 395 of the Official Report that "there are no funds available to me to compensate for any damage caused by the storms to private properties". The Minister expected that everybody would be insured for this catastrophe, which may well be the case for business premises but may not be the case for poorer people. Again I quote the Minister from column 1232, Volume 295, of the Official Report:

In the EC there is such a thing as disaster funding but it was never intended to be used for localised disruption of this kind. It is for disasters such as earthquakes and avalanches or disasters of that dimension. The amount of the fund is very small but if I thought there was a bob to be got for this kind of damage I would look for it.

Tonight the Minister for the Marine has said that Commissioner MacSharry has been generous. We have been told by one Minister that there is no funding from Europe, yet another tells us there is. Will the Minister come clean and say whether the Government or the Community will put up the funding to meet this problem. We, as local authority members want to know how we can address the problem. If a tree on private property falls on to the public roadway who is responsible for the damage to property or the unfortunate loss of life? At present the local authorities are identifying the trees which in their opinion, on the advice of the forestry section of the Department, are dangerous, and the trees are then marked and the landowner informed that the marked trees are dangerous. If such a tree were to fall from private property on to the public roadway and damage property or kill a person, will the Government say who is responsible? It is a straightforward question we need a straightforward answer.

Irrespective of the flood, storm, wind damage where signs and roads are damaged, we at least want to know who is responsible when a tree falls from the constitutionally protected private property on to a public road for which we all feel a responsibility.

With your permission, Sir, I would like to share the balance of my time with my colleagues, Deputy O'Shea and Deputy Howlin, who both represent coastal regions. However, I wanted to put on record that the heart of Ireland suffered during these storms.

In dealing with this problem tonight, I would like to refer to the national plan for increased Structural Funds which was submitted by the Government to Brussels for approval. One remarkable feature of the proposal was that there was very scant provision for coastal erosion. In the south-eastern region, from Wicklow Head down to Wexford and into County Waterford there is an ongoing and dramatic problem with coastal erosion, yet there was very little provision made for it in the submissions to Brussels.

The worst of the damage to the coastal regions happened in mid-December. It took six weeks before the Cabinet sub-committee was set up. We welcome the fact that some action is being taken but we want more than just an appraisal, we want money to carry out the work. One of the major problems is what has happened to the local authorities over the past three years. They have been denied £160 million which was due to them and as a result the local authorities are in no position to respond to this kind of problem. For instance, in County Waterford, a sum of £20,000 was provided for coastal erosion this year, but the mop-up operation in the aftermath of the storm cost £60,000. I come from one of the towns most affected, Tramore. The storm wall is very badly damaged and will cost at least £65,000 to repair, that is if it is not damaged to an even greater extent in the weeks ahead while we await Government action. However there is an ongoing and more serious problem in Tramore, that is the problem with the sand dunes. At the neck of the sand dunes nearest to the town of Tramore, there are only 70 metres between the high water mark on the front and back strands. If on the night of 16 and 17 December the high spring tide had concided with a northerly rather than a south-easterly gale, the water would have broken through from the back strand to the front strand, rendering the sand dunes an island. They would have been eroded quickly and we would then have had the problem of the sea attacking towards the town. If this had occurred the whole area would have been destablised. The slob lands on the back strand of Tramore are of national importance as a bird sanctuary. If the mud flats were covered over by sand the feeding ground for the birds would have disappeared and a very important asset for tourism in the area would have been lost. There is a major problem, as I found out when people came to me in the aftermath of the storms of 16 and 17 December. Years ago when there was a wreck on the strand of Tramore I found out that when it comes to the removal of wrecks no one is responsible and we face the very same problem now. Constant coastal erosion is now the problem of the Department of the Marine since 1 January 1990. However, no major coastal erosion project was carried out since 1981 while responsibility rested with the Office of Public Works. The problem is that the Government did not view coastal erosion seriously. As I said this was proven earlier when they submitted their plans to Brussels to avail of the increased Structural Funds.

They have now set up a Cabinet sub-committee but one of the best ways of kicking a problem to touch is to set up a committee to discuss it. Nobody on the Government side has said that money will actually be provided and that there will be real money on the table to tackle the problem. The Minister of State, Deputy Kirk, talked about the effects on the farming community. In fact there is a farm of 180 acres adjoining the back strand of Tramore where the dyke was breached and the land is now completely and totally flooded by salt water. A great deal of money has been spent on reclaiming this land. If the money needed to repair the breach in the dyke had been available to the local authority, the problem could have been dealt with at a much earlier stage.

Before I give way to my colleague, Deputy Howlin, I will conclude on this point. Tourism in Tramore, Bunmahon, Ardmore or other places in County Waterford are very much contingent on immediate funds being made available. The Government can have all the subcommittees they like and discuss the problem all they like but it is action and the allocation of money that we need.

The scale of the problem in relation to the fragile sandy coasts of the south-east has been totally ignored by the Government. I hope tomorrow night to have a few minutes to put the situation in perspective and hopefully the Minister will take cognisance of the disaster facing the people in the south-east.

Acting Chairman

Will the Deputy please move the adjournment of the debate? He has ten minutes remaining in the debate tomorrow evening.

Debate adjourned.