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.