I acknowledge the benefit of the flood relief scheme on the River Nore to Kilkenny city. However, recent events give cause for concern, most of which have dented public confidence in the scheme.
Houses in John's Quay suffered a slippage at one stage during the implementation of the scheme. While this was being investigated, the remarks of the Office of Public Works in relation to the scheme and the condition of those houses were outrageous. The hotel at John's Bridge became another issue. It is suffering slippage at the waterside. There are concerns regarding the structure of Bridge House, a listed building beside the hotel.
The monitoring committee that was put in place, although it functions, does not give out at regular intervals information that would satisfy the public in respect of the works being carried out. In fact, some of the information being given out is inaccurate. When I tabled a parliamentary questions in the House to obtain more accurate information, I found that the information emerging locally contradicts that emerging at national level.
A problem has arisen in respect of the spillage of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the river, which took place in 1980. Samples were taken from a particular section, where the spoil from the river is being spread. Out of 12 samples, two were found to contain levels of PCBs. The EPA has been called in, as have the health and safety authorities. While only two samples were found with PCBs content, no level is tolerable.
The remark that the sites were secure is not true. They have not been secured. One site, where PCBs were found, can be accessed by children. It has been acknowledged by Dr. Stafford from the EPA that amenity areas are high-risk areas. Access to the soil cannot be permitted. However, access can be gained to the site.
No samples have been taken at the site at Ossory Bridge. A third site exists at Riverside Drive. All these sites are accessed by the public and there is concern that there has been little or no reaction from the Office of Public Works in terms of informing the public. A press release was issued last week, but I have not seen any signage along the river indicating the dangers on the sites in question. I have not seen the other sites, although the Office of Public Works says they are secured, nor have I seen them being secured.
Residents along the riverbank have asked to be consulted by the Office of Public Works in respect of other issues and they were told that the Office of Public Works had not even considered their position because they were not located on the maps that were shown.
The public have deep concerns about health and safety matters because of this scheme. There is a need for the Department to build public confidence and engage immediately in a process that will inform the public. I suggest that the Minister of State visit this area and set up a display of what is happening so people will see what works are being, and have to be, undertaken as the scheme is being rolled out. There is a need for the Office of Public Works to strengthen its communication with the local authorities. We have ongoing meetings of Kilkenny Borough Council in which members have expressed deep concern at the fact that that body is being overlooked and is not receiving the kind of information one would expect given the size of the scheme being undertaken.
All we ask is that the Minister of State views the scene, determines what needs to be done, puts in place a process to inform the public, deals immediately with the health and safety issues, has the sites in question secured properly and has appropriate signage erected.