Adjournment Debate. - Coast Protection Work.

Deputy Martin O'Toole has given me notice of his intention to raise the matter of coastal erosion caused by storms on 5 January last. The Deputy has five minutes at his disposal and the Minister for the Marine five minutes to reply. The matter is in order.

I thank you for selecting this matter for debate this evening and I also thank the Minister for the Marine for attending. On 5 January last the west coast was lashed by a 100-mile an hour gale when tides were at their highest — 4.5 metres on that morning. As a result, considerable damage was caused along the coast from Kerry to Donegal. Since this damage was caused mainly by the tides, the location of the damage is limited. We in Mayo have roughly 530 kilometers of coastline and, including the islands, something in the region of 700 miles. I am delighted to have the opportunity to put this matter on the record because this drastic storm got very little coverage in the media. There was a short clip on television but it went almost unnoticed. For that reason I want to bring it before the House so that there will be an awareness nationally of the problems we have endured along the west coast.

There is no national plan for the protection of our coastline. The present Minister made available to Mayo County Council last year something in the region of £202,000, which was matched by the council. This was used to take protective measures in view of damage caused by a previous storm. Much useful work was done with that money but because we have not a national plan we have not the finances necessary to take protective measures against the recurrence of such gales in the future. According to scientific predictions, there is no doubt there will be a recurrence, with ever rising high tides. For that reason I ask that a national plan be put into operation as a matter of urgency.

The damage can be divided into three categories. There is the damage caused to public services, piers, harbours, slipways, access roads, coastal roads and protection walls where county councils will have to take remedial action straightaway within their own resources. There are also people who lost boats and gear. In other cases houses were damaged. I call on the Minister to examine the possibility of providing sufficient funds for remedial work and I urge him to put in place a national plan whereby we could draw down money from the European Community.

I thank Deputy O'Toole for raising this matter in the interests of his county.

With effect from 1 January 1990 State funding for coast protection was transferred to my Department from the Office of Public Works. While only a very limited amount — £150,000 — was allocated, I was successful in securing an additional £950,000 to provide 50 per cent grant aid to Wicklow County Council to undertake an emergency protection scheme at Arklow North Beach.

In addition, the Government approved an £8 million special storm damage package, of which £3 million was allocated to the Department of Marine to assist local authorities with repairs to harbours, piers and other marine damage arising from the abnormally severe storms in the winter of 1989-1990.

It is important to distinguish between coast erosion and storm damage. By no means does all storm damage arise from coastal erosion, although it is fair to say that areas subject to progressive erosion by the sea are prone to damage arising from storms.

I have already outlined to this House my policy in relation to coast protection. Briefly, my Department's role is to facilitate the implementation of permanent protection schemes where warranted, to prevent progressive erosion by the sea. I do not propose to change the long-standing procedure whereby local authorities are primarily responsible for coast protection. This includes identifying coastlines subject to erosion, dealing with day-to-day maintenance of the coastline and responding to the aftermath of occasional storms.

I have already adverted to the now successfully complete major protection scheme at North Beach, Arklow. I was glad to be able to assist Wicklow County Council with funding from my Department and the result represents a good example of the policy of facilitating the implementation of permanent coast protection schemes. Of course, praise is due to the local authority, who showed initiative in addressing the chronic erosion problem at Arklow, by putting up 50 per cent of the cost and engaging consultants to plan and undertake the project.

For 1991, I hope to make further progress with advancing capital schemes required at Bray, County Wicklow and Rosslare Strand, County Wexford, where erosion is a long-standing problem. It is important to realise that worthwhile schemes, designed to give long term relief, are generally expensive — £2 million for Arklow, an estimated £4 million for Bray and £6 million for Rosslare Strand. Furthermore, appropriate solutions require careful study, often over a considerable period of time.

As to the question of storm damage, I have to be straightforward and say that for 1991 no special storm damage package equivalent to that of 1990 has been made available yet. Accordingly, my Department have no funds with which they can assist local authorities with any repairs that may be necessary following storms in early January.

Storms are a recurring problem and in 1990 the position was so severe that the Government used the relatively favourable budgetary position to allocate additional funds to coastal local authorities. I have to say that the Government are not in a position to provide such a package every time a storm hits the country. I fully recognise that storms may create greater difficulties for some counties than others and my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, will reflect that fact in his allocation to the various councils.

In summary, I think I can say that the Department have made a lively response to the problem of coast erosion since 1 January 1990. One major scheme has been completed, a number of others are in planning and necessary maintenance of existing schemes was undertaken. On the question of storm damage, I was able to announce what was, to the best of my knowledge, the first ever special marine damage package amounting to £3 million.