Recent Severe Storm Damage: Statements

During the period from 13 December 2013 to 6 January 2014, Ireland was subjected to a series of severe storms that affected the country approximately every three days. In addition to the strong winds, there were periods of extremely heavy rain and a great deal of thunderstorm activity. These storms coincided with high spring tides and created severe and damaging conditions in a number of coastal areas.

Last Tuesday, I brought to the Cabinet an interim report on the storms that was compiled by my Department in its capacity as lead Department for the response to severe weather. All areas of the country were affected by the storms, with damage to buildings, fallen trees and outages of the electricity and communications networks. In the week from 30 December to 6 January, high tides coincided with the storms and, consequently, the west coast was severely impacted, especially counties Clare, Galway, Mayo and Kerry, with coastal damage and damage to the roads infrastructure.

Met Éireann issued level red severe weather warnings for four days during the 24-day period from 13 December 2013 to 6 January 2014, warning of severe winds and high seas. A further 11 days during that period were covered by orange level warnings. As well as featuring in broadcasts to the public, Met Éireann issued these warnings to all local authorities, transport agencies and other relevant Departments and Government agencies. Met Éireann, which is under the aegis of my Department, provides strong support for the utilities and emergency response community. Its new colour-coded severe weather alert-warning system for the public proved appropriate and effective in raising awareness of the weather conditions for the duration of these weather events.

Responses to emergencies, including severe weather events such as storms, are managed at local level by the principal response agencies, namely, the local authorities, An Garda Síochána and the HSE, and co-ordinated in the case of severe weather by the local authorities. These arrangements operate in accordance with the framework for major emergency management, which was adopted by the Government in 2006 and are well embedded in the relevant organisations. The Government appreciates the co-ordinated response of local authority, utility and emergency services personnel who worked, frequently in difficult circumstances, to maintain the safety of those threatened and to restore services to those affected by the severe forces of nature during the holiday period.

During the storms, disruption was experienced across the full range of transport services, including road, rail, ferries and air transport. The safety of road users was of primary concern and the Road Safety Authority, RSA, was active in issuing advice and warnings to the public through the media. While normal traffic patterns were disrupted, with major routes affected by fallen trees, debris and flooding at different times, the impacts were not as severe as were felt with previous severe weather events.

Rail services were disrupted due to a number of incidents, including the collapse of the roof at Kent Station in Cork. At other times, services were delayed due to fallen trees and debris blown onto the lines. In every case, Irish Rail put alternative travel arrangements in place to minimise the disruption.

In air transport, flights needed to be cancelled or diverted or were delayed across all three State airports due to the strength, direction and gusting of the wind. Ferry services were severely curtailed, particularly the Swift ferry services. All disruptions over the period were managed effectively by the relevant transport authorities. The Coast Guard was active in engaging in the safety information campaigns to both the maritime industry and the general public about the risks associated with the storms. As a result of increased awareness, incident levels within the recreational sector remained approximately normal compared with other years, notwithstanding the severe weather conditions.

Damage was caused to public infrastructure, including roads, bridges, culverts, piers and harbours, coastal tourism infrastructure and coastal protection facilities. Initial estimates of the cost of the clean-up and the repair and restoration of public infrastructure were provided to the Government in the interim report and are of the order of €65 million. The cost of repairing roads infrastructure is estimated at some €20 million, €35 million is estimated under the general heading of coastal works and €10 million is estimated for a range of other costs, such as tourism infrastructure at beaches. Some €41 million, almost two thirds of the total estimate of €65 million, arises from two counties, those being, Clare and Galway, reflecting the severe impact of the storms along the west coast.

Local co-ordination and delivery of clean-up and restoration works will be led by the local authorities.

Clean-up works and immediately necessary repairs are under way in many areas. At the request of the Government, my Department is contacting local authorities to seek more detailed reports by 14 February on the envisaged repair works, including related costs. This will enable the Government, through the specific areas of responsibility of relevant Departments and agencies, to support the local authorities on recovery measures.

In the meantime, the Government is exploring all possible sources of funding to meet the costs which have arisen from the storm damage, including contact with the EU about a possible application under the solidarity funds programme. The EU Solidarity Fund was established by the European Union to respond to major natural disasters and to express European solidarity with disaster-stricken regions within Europe. The fund was created as a reaction to the severe floods in central Europe in the summer of 2002. A major disaster is defined as damage estimated at more than €3 billion or 0.6% of GNI. In Ireland's case, this would amount to €770 million. The fund provides aid for public emergency operations such as the immediate restoration of infrastructure and plant, the provision of temporary accommodation, the funding of rescue services, the immediate securing of preventative infrastructure and the immediate clean-up of disaster-stricken areas.

In exceptional circumstances, however, when the damage is below this threshold, an application may be made, but only where a region has suffered an extraordinary natural disaster affecting the major part of its population and with serious and lasting repercussions on the living conditions and the economic viability of the region. Assistance in such exceptional cases is at the rate of 2.5%. Moreover, while two thirds of applications are made on the basis of exceptional circumstances, most fail. An additional factor is that, for the budgetary period 2014 to 2020, the annual budget for the fund has been halved from €1 billion to €500 million and the European Commission has indicated that future grants are likely to be 50% lower than previously. In 2009, Ireland made an application to the fund. On that occasion, however, total damage was estimated at around €520 million. This resulted in a grant of €13 million from the fund. Any Government decision on an application to the fund will be made once the full cost of damage has been assessed.

Private property was affected by these storms also. We await information from the insurance industry on the scale of damage to homes and businesses affected. Department of Social Protection officials, through their exceptional and urgent needs payments systems, provide immediate support to households affected by emergencies. These payments cover immediate needs such as clothing, food, bedding and emergency accommodation. The Department of Social Protection also has a humanitarian assistance scheme to assist people whose homes are damaged by flooding. This is means tested and is intended to assist those who are not in a position to meet costs for essential needs, household items and, in some instances, structural repair as a result of the flooding damage.

Once again, these storms illustrate the power of nature and the impact it can have on society. Our co-ordinated response arrangements have developed significantly in recent years and worked well again on this occasion. As we are now in the recovery phase, we await more detailed information which will underpin the plans for the funding, co-ordination and delivery of the necessary work programmes with a view to the timely and effective delivery of a programme to assist the communities worst affected by the storms.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for facilitating an opportunity for all Members to discuss this important issue.

The Minister has outlined the background to the storms and freak weather events that took place in recent days. He identified the impact they have had on many communities, particularly on the western seaboard, and he correctly pointed out that counties Clare and Galway were among the worst affected. I compliment the efforts of Clare County Council, its officials and engineers for the work they have done in rehabilitating the areas that were worst affected. As the Minister knows, the staff of Clare County Council have been doing immense work to clean up the damage that was done in so many areas. The damage extends from New Quay to Loop Head and the west coast.

I had an opportunity during the week to meet Commissioner Hahn, who has responsibility for that disaster fund. He has indicated that he will be in a position to look favourably on any application that might be put forward by the Government. The Minister said that the scale or impact of an event on a country must be above a certain threshold, and the Commissioner believes Ireland would be best suited to considering it on a regional basis. I met the Commissioner along with a number of MEPs, including Pat the Cope Gallagher MEP and Brian Crowley MEP. The understanding with the Commissioner and his staff is that all the MEPs are prepared to work with him and his officials to act as a liaison with the Minister and his Department to ensure an appropriate application is put to the Commission, which will meet the criteria set down. Certainly, from the contacts I have had, I believe favourable consideration will be given.

That is the first source of funding that can be secured. This country has a history in this regard. In 2009 there was a similar event which impacted more on inland areas, with towns such as Ennis suffering serious inundation of water. We saw the capacity of our colleagues in Europe to support us at that time, when approximately €13 million was provided to assist us.

However, the most important issue now is that the Minister, his Department and the Government get a clear understanding of all the damage that has been done, identify all the costs and seek to work with the local authorities in the first instance to repair the damage. The county with which I am most familiar has approximately 37 areas that were impacted negatively. In New Quay, the damage is estimated at €1.8 million, and in Bishopsquarter, it is estimated at €2,000. There is damage to Ballyvaughan pier, the damage in Doolin is estimated at €500,000 and repair work in Clahane and Liscannor is estimated to cost €777,000. An immense amount of work is required on the approach roads to Liscannor and also between Lahinch and Liscannor. Lahinch has suffered damage to the tune of approximately €6 million, which obviously must be repaired. The estimate for damage at Bártra is €6,000 while the White Strand, Miltown Malbay, Spanish Point and Seafield piers have been damaged.

I have visited all these areas but particularly the Cloghaninchy and Quilty area, where immense damage has been done. The sea has broken into an area and has put a number of houses at very severe risk. There is a very sad situation in one house, where the family cannot return as the house has been flooded. The back garden has effectively been taken over by the sea and the family suffered real trauma when the children's pets were drowned. We must build flood defences to assist these people to get back into their homes and to give them the safety and security to get on with their lives.

There was also damage at Carrowmore and areas around Doonbeg. Kilkee suffered significant damage, as did Ross Bay. A community in Kilbaha was cut off for a number of days due to the impact of the storm on the approach road to Kilbaha. It cut off all of the Loop Head area. Obviously it impacted on tourism as well as on the lives of people who live there. Unless a very strong flood defence is put in place, the road will be unable to support the heavy traffic associated with farming and the milk trucks travelling back and forth to collect milk at the height of the farming season. Many other areas on the western seaboard were affected. The Kilcredaun Irish College and the road approach to it suffered significant damage, as did Carrigaholt, Mayasta, Cappagh, Kilrush and Labasheeda, as well as the road around Moneypoint and Knock. Significant damage has been done.

There is also damage to an area inland. In O'Callaghans Mills a community of five people was cut off over the Christmas period. Clare County Council has identified that approximately €190,000 worth of works are needed for the damage to some inland areas. I appeal to the Minister, in the context of the work Clare County Council has done and finding the appropriate funding, to ensure the necessary works can be done to allow people to live their lives in the same way they did prior to this event. The concern that has been expressed to me by members of the council and council officials is that the Department might decide to give some funding, but not enough to complete the works. That will not be acceptable.

As the Minister well knows, local authorities in recent years have been trying to do a lot more with less funding. They do not have access to the cash reserves they might have had in the past to do some of the work themselves. I will not get into political point scoring about promises concerning the property tax and the expectation that some of that money would have found its way back to councils. The Minister and I know that has not happened.

I thought the Deputy was going to blame it on the weather.

I appeal to the Minister to put appropriate funding in place to ensure councils can carry out the necessary work. There are two aspects to it. The clean-up repair work is under way, by and large. Councils are getting that done and their attitude is that they will pay for it later when, it is hoped, the Minister can provide funding. There is a much more serious issue, however, which is how we can plan to cope in future with changing weather patterns that are emerging. It is expected there will be more severe weather events along our coasts, including severe storms and higher tides.

We must examine appropriate flood defence mechanisms. Coastal erosion is a major issue that has been largely ignored by successive Governments. This event has highlighted the necessity to deal with it once and for all. On a number of occasions, Clare County Council has applied to the Department to put in place certain preventative measures to shore up basic infrastructure. Existing flood defences must be repaired, whether they concern the roads at Liscannor or Kilbaha. I am not blaming the Minister but such work was not done by this Government or previous Administrations. As a result of the recent storm, much more work has to be done because the entire defence mechanism has been compromised and needs to be fully repaired. I appeal to the Minister to examine an investment plan for the coming years that will roll out a defensive infrastructure. We have done well to improve our road network over the past ten years. That was done in a planned, co-ordinated and strategic manner.

The Minister should set aside an appropriate level of annual State funding for flood defences in coastal regions to protect against future unexpected weather events. If the Minister can do that, it will be money well spent. While such expenditure may not be as politically useful as spending on schools, roads or other public infrastructure, such preventative measures are badly needed. The recent weather events have highlighted that fact well.

I recognise the good work of the Minister's departmental officials, including those involved in the national emergency response. All that is left is to ensure an appropriate level of funding is put in place. The Minister's speech was voluminous in setting out the background to what has happened and why. However, it was relatively light on the details of how the Minister intends to deal with the matter. I accept the Minister is working through the local authorities to assess the level of damage while trying to identify the full scale of what has occurred. Notwithstanding that, however, I appeal to him to invest this money, which is badly needed. Such funding must be put in place to protect those who have been worst affected. I am thinking particularly of families who have lost their homes. Such a loss has had a major effect on them, and it is not just in County Clare but in other counties as well. The Minister should give such people confidence to carry out repair work. Unfortunately, the State will not be able to provide funds for such work, but it is to be hoped their insurance companies will. In that way, people will be able to reoccupy their homes.

I ascertained an interesting point from Commissioner Hahn that funding can be sought for damage caused by uninsurable risks. I refer to some of the tourism attractions in Clare, particularly Doonbeg golf course which is a private, for-profit entity. None the less, it has suffered and sustained serious damage. The Minister should examine that matter, as well as Shannon Airport's flood defences, to see if such losses can be included in any application he might make for EU funding. It could be done on the basis that the risk involved was not insurable. That might help to replace those two vital pieces of infrastructure. The airport obviously requires State support, while Doonbeg golf course forms an important part of the tourism sector in County Clare and the mid-west in general.

At the earliest possible opportunity, the Minister should provide Clare County Council with close on €24 million to allow it to get on with the work. Notwithstanding its reduced staff numbers, at the height of the storm the council showed its capacity to be effective in dealing with a crisis, including the initial clean-up and assessing the extent of the damage.

In addition to providing €24 million, the Minister should put in place a plan to build the necessary infrastructure along the western seaboard to deal with coastal erosion once and for all. Notwithstanding the debates we had earlier and the efforts of certain individuals to scapegoat the Minister-----

The Deputy was also trying to scapegoat me.

-----he would be doing considerably good work on behalf of people on the west coast if he started that plan. Perhaps when he moves on to greater things at some point in the future, perhaps as European Commissioner for disaster relief, he will have left behind a legacy that put in train the first response to coastal erosion and the protection of coastal communities.

I call Deputy Stanley who is sharing time with Deputy McLellan.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important subject. I represent two counties, Laois and Offaly, that were not too badly affected in comparison with the west coast. I support what the previous speaker said about County Clare. In Galway, the Connemara coast was badly ravaged by storms which did huge damage to roads, houses and other property. I urge the Government to seek whatever funding it can obtain and provide the necessary assistance.

All councils will be submitting claims for funding, which is to be welcomed. In many instances, however, we find that the stable door is being closed after the horse has bolted. I am referring to the fact that local authorities could have carried out a lot of preventative maintenance measures, but due to the shortage of outdoor staff, they were unable to do so. I have highlighted this to the Minister before. Flooding in Portlaoise town was caused by the lack of ten minutes work by a local authority outdoor staff member. I know the Minister finds it funny, but it is not funny for people living in the Harpur's Lane area.

The Deputy would be good with a spade.

People living in that lane will not find it funny. A previous Minister, Noel Dempsey, provided money to put in a new bridge there. However, there is a culvert underneath and some preventative maintenance would have alleviated the flooding. The Government needs to re-examine cutbacks, or what is called natural wastage, because outdoor staff numbers are dwindling. The Minister and I have talked about this privately as well as in the Chamber, but I am asking him again to re-examine the matter.

Outdoor staff are necessary to assist engineers in carrying out preventative maintenance, thus saving money in the long term. This is what we need to be doing. Many of our culverts and draining systems need only minor maintenance on a fortnightly or monthly basis. The amount of money needed in respect of maintenance would be minuscule in comparison with the amount required to repair damages when areas are flooded.

As evidenced by some of the reports in the aftermath of the damage caused during the past month or so planning and other measures are not adequate to deal with this issue and additional contingency measures are required. There are many areas off the west coast where local people had identified potential danger from the sea when tides became high, particularly where coastal erosion had brought the sea close to some houses. Deputy Dooley referred earlier to one situation in which the sea flooded the back garden of a house. In some instances, people were prevented from building walls or other defences that would have lessened the impact of the storms. In light of all of these factors, the planning authorities need to update their assessment procedures.

Another issue is that many of the houses built here over the past 15 years were built on flood plains. I accept that many Irish towns, because they are built on rivers, are built on flood plains. However, it is important we ensure that houses or housing estates are not built on flood plains which could leave them vulnerable to future flooding during extreme weather events, which are becoming more frequent. It can be argued that developers could not have foreseen that the weather would disimprove but that does not exonerate them or the planning authorities, who should have carried out a more detailed examination of some of the sites, thereby preventing some of the flooding that occurred. Also, many of the people living in such estates are being denied insurance. Stricter guidelines need to be enforced to ensure that developments in areas prone to future flooding are not given the go ahead. They are issues relating to planning.

In terms of prevention, the severe-extreme weather conditions of the past decade undermine those who dismiss the notion that the planet is experiencing climate change and that measures need to be taken to ameliorate that change. While this country has been relatively fortunate in escaping some of the more severe consequences of climate change, as witnessed over the past week or so, the United States experienced historically low temperatures and temperatures in southern Australia are currently extremely high. All of this impacts on the globe and places an urgency on the Government and Members of this House to proceed with the much promised Climate Change Bill. That Bill must be progressed in the New Year. While Ireland is only a small country, it must play its part and reduce its emissions. It must also lead by example. To date, all we have seen are the heads of the Bill and no commitment to proceed to drafting the Bill for debate and legislation. I would like once again to use this opportunity to ask when it is proposed to proceed with this legislation as promised in the programme for Government. I suspect that the main reason for failing to bring forward legislation is that the Government is reluctant to commit itself to attaining set targets.

The Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, has in relation to the proposal to export electricity from wind farms in the midlands assured us that the State will still attain its target of 40% generation of electricity from renewable energies by 2020. However, current levels of electricity generated from renewables are behind what it should be, which begs the question as to how the target will be reached while electricity generated by wind continues to be exported on such a vast scale, particularly the electricity supposed to be generated in the midlands. Surely the target ought to be to ensure that this country is self-sufficient in electricity generated from renewables before we set about meeting massive export targets, let alone EU targets. The irony of all that is that while we will be assisting Britain to reach its targets, we will continue to be massively dependent on imported fossil fuels to generate the bulk of our domestic electricity demand. It is clear that this Government is reluctant to commit itself to targets in the Climate Change Bill that would help address some of the factors which contribute to extreme weather conditions.

I hope that assistance is made available as quickly as possible to address the damage caused by the recent storms and that local funding is restored to ensure there is a greater level of preparation for any future events caused by extreme weather conditions, which unfortunately are happening more often. During my lifetime I have seen huge changes in the weather patterns. I hope Members will play their part in addressing this issue. We must start by addressing the property and infrastructural damage caused by the recent storms. People vulnerable to the ravages of the sea are worried and frightened.

Often, solutions are expensive and complicated. However, they are also often relatively simple and involve smallscale works. I am sure the Minister will be bringing forth a local government Bill later this term, which I look forward to. It is important that in the context of that Bill we ensure local authorities are well staffed into the future, in particular with front-line staff. There has been huge shrinkage in the number of outdoor staff in our local authorities.

That is not true.

It is true in the case of County Laois.

I do not know what they are doing there.

I have been told by the engineers that it is hard even to mobilise a crew, which is a bad situation to be in. The situation is so bad that if an overseer is absent on sick leave there is no overseer within the municipal district. This issue must be addressed. We must ensure that local authorities such as those in Laois and Offaly have sufficient staff to assist engineers and elected members in getting work done, including preventative maintenance, thereby saving money in the long term.

Many areas of our country were badly affected by the recent storm weather. My home town of Youghal, County Cork was no different. Anyone who has visited the town will undoubtedly remember the boardwalk at Claycastle Beach, which ran the length of the beach and linked the car parks at Youghal front strand and Claycastle. This boardwalk has proven popular with local residents and tourists and could be used to gain access to the beach through summer and winter. It allowed people to admire the spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean and views of Capel Island. The boardwalk was unique for many reasons. It was disability and buggy friendly and thus allowed people of all abilities and ages to appreciate this resource. It was also cycle-friendly for small children whose parents might enjoy a walk along the boardwalk.

While the boardwalk survived two previous storms in August and December 2012, unfortunately it was destroyed in the recent storms that battered our coastline between last December and early January and now requires to be rebuilt. This is a serious blow, particularly for a town like Youghal where tourism plays such an important role in its economy. The boardwalk was the centre piece of Youghal's tourism industry. I am glad to say that the people of Youghal town are not taking this lying down. There is a strong commitment literally to picking up the pieces and rebuilding the boardwalk. At a special council meeting, it was agreed unanimously that the boardwalk be rebuilt as a matter of priority. We hope, with the help of the OPW, that it will be open and fully functioning by the summer. It had been planned to extend the boardwalk by a further 2,000 metres, connecting Youghal to Redbarn. This will eventually form part of the national coastal walking route. I welcome the commitment of the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, to make funds available under the minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme. This will prove to be a lifeline for many communities, including my own in Youghal.

Funds must be red-tape free and should be released as soon as possible to the councils which need the funding so badly.

Local authorities, which have been trying to rebuild their coastal towns, have been starved of funding by consecutive Governments. The funds are simply not available to repair the terrible damage left behind by the recent storms. It is estimated, according to the engineer's report, that the cost to reinstate the boardwalk will be in the region of €90,000. I realise the Minister State, Deputy Brian Hayes, has written to city and county managers calling for applications. The applications, in particular that of Youghal Town Council, should have a speedy turnaround. This will ensure that works can commence and be completed on time and that our boardwalk will be open for the tourism season.

I can confirm that Cork County Council sent in its application today to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government for all the areas affected. I imagine I speak for all Deputies from Cork when I say that I hope it will receive a positive and speedy reply.

The storms can be attributed to global warming and climate change. We have seen in recent times major changes in weather patterns, for example, short intense bursts of heat, rainfall, storms and cold weather, as well as rainfall, storms and flooding focused in small areas. This is all related to climate change. What we want to avoid is a continuing spiral of repairing damage caused by storms and flooding. We have no wish to be revisiting these debates at more regular intervals. The root cause is climate change. Climate change is caused by human activity and only by changing that behaviour can we impact positively on our environment. I appeal to the Government to act quickly and introduce the long-awaited climate change Bill.

After almost three years in office, the Government has failed to produce a Bill to tackle climate change. The Government has published, circulated and debated the heads of the Bill, but it is high time it published the legislation and let the real debate begin. I offer one word of caution. Any Bill which genuinely attempts to deal with climate change must contain legally-binding science-based targets for 2050, legally binding five-year carbon budgets and an independent expert authority.

I am pleased funding has been made available, but let us get that money to where it is needed as quickly as possible.

The next speaking slot has been allocated to Deputy Clare Daly, who is sharing her time with Deputies Maureen O'Sullivan, Tom Fleming, and Mick Wallace.

It is appropriate that the Dáil has given time to discuss this issue this week. Undoubtedly, the damage caused by the recent severe weather has acted as a body-blow to communities throughout the country. People have lost their livelihoods and some people have effectively lost their homes as a result of the damage. It is important that we utilise the time well. It is not good enough to offer these people sympathetic words, as much as they would appreciate it. What people need to know from this discussion is what will happen next in terms of providing the backup to assist in the urgent remedial works that are necessary. More important - the point was touched on by other Deputies - is the question of the systems that will be in place to minimise the chances of the same level of damage arising in the event of recurrences. That is critical.

I offer briefly the example of the devastation caused in my area in the coastal community of Portrane. A letter from one resident summed up the situation well. He said he was born there in 1952 and that he has lived there all his life. He said that he has seen the coast eroding over the years but that he had never before seen the devastation of the past two weeks. He said the community was now at the point of no return and that the next storm would surely breach the dunes. He pointed out that if the winds had not been favourable this time, the dunes would have been totally destroyed. The warnings have been made. The local community has fought a determined battle in recent years to try to get the establishment in Fingal County Council and at Government level to take action to deal with coastal erosion. Since that action was not taken, the community is now paying the price. The lessons must be learned. The community fought long and hard to get a report and a survey to determine what steps needed to be taken to deal with the damage that was being done. A report was issued last August but it has simply lain there since then. If some of those findings had been implemented, who is to know whether the terrible situation that the residents are now in would have arisen? We must take that on board. We now have a scenario whereby properties which were not in the firing line are now in the firing line, although they were never subject to erosion before. Erosion at the south end of the beach is only yards from the roadside and chunks of ground have been washed away. Trees that were there some weeks ago are now gone. The boardwalk and steps down to the beach have been completely washed away. Homes are in grave danger as is a mobile home park there.

The community has responded with heroic efforts, coming out to try to stem the tide, but we need support in that venture. While Fingal County Council has said it will come up with some moneys, I want the Minister to deal with the point. If he is not too busy talking to his friend there, he might actually listen to the question. Seemingly, funds are available under the minor repair works programme. The report from the Department states that the funds are available for repairs to built flood defences and coastal protection structures. The reality is that this community has been exposed because there are no defences. The defences there were natural, dunes which have been eroded over the years. The measures have not been put in place to deal with that. Since there is no built defence in place, what the community wants to know is whether they can get access to these funds to redevelop the area. This is desperately needed. Otherwise, we will have major costs in the future. Homes will have disappeared into the sea next time around if the Minister does not listen.

For once Dublin Central was spared but we have certainly had our fair share of repeated and excessive flooding and we know what it is like. Everyone's sympathy goes to those communities which have been devastated recently. I was looking at the pictures; the coverage was extensive. It was fine to be looking at it from the comfort of my own home but the pictures were staggering and frightening. They reminded me of the force of nature and our vulnerability in the face of that force.

Ba mhaith liom labhairt anois faoi áit áirithe, áit ar a bhfuil an-aithne agam, cé go bhfuil sí i bhfad ó Bhaile Átha Cliath. Táim ag dul go hOileán Chléire le fada an lá anois. Although I live in Dublin Central I have a long association and friendship with one of our island communities, that is, the community in Cape Clear in west Cork. I wish to highlight the effects that the recent storms have had on it. There are different aspects to the problem for an island community when it comes to storm damage and I hope this factor is taken into account when the funding is released for the people who need it.

I will outline some of the damage done. Cape Clear is a small island, 3.5 miles wide by 2 miles long, with a population of somewhat over 100 people. We are trying to hold onto our islands and ensure they are feasible for the populations who stay there. If damage is done to the pier, the people there have no way in and out, either for themselves or for the food and goods they need. For example, there was severe damage to the infrastructure in north harbour. The breakwater recess sides that keep the surge protection boons in place are damaged and require immediate remedial works because the boons are the only protection in the event of an adverse weather occurrence. The steps for access have been removed and need to be repaired. The stone wall at one end of the pier is in danger of collapse and could sink further. A section of the pier surface north of the wall has also sunk significantly. There is a crack across the main pier which is opening visibly. The sea protection wall between some of the buildings in the harbour is also completely broken or significantly compromised. Some of the roads leading down to the harbour are in a remarkably bad state of repair.

Some amenities on the island are important for boosting the small tourist industry and they have also been damaged, for example, a small maritime museum that was in the harbour. The portakabin in which it was based was lifted from its position and pushed further up into a field. That is one small amenity which attracts visitors during the summer. The concrete protection walls have also been damaged. A stony beach has been significantly undermined and a proper safety assessment is needed there. The community had received funding for a new harbour but that is now compromised and needs to be re-examined in order that the work done to date can continue in a safe way. At the other harbour, the south harbour, sections of the sea protection wall have completely broken away. The island had a helipad which is vital for emergencies but the community maintains the extent of the erosion there is incredible.

The debris that was washed up on Cape Clear Island, one of the most beautiful islands off our coast, will cause significant problems, both from a health and safety perspective and aesthetically. Islands are different and some of their requests for funding may not fall into the categories that apply to other locations. They are deserving of particular attention. The points I have raised in regard to Cape Clear Island probably also apply to the other islands that were badly affected by the stormy conditions. The best way to tackle these difficulties is by listening to the people who have lived there all their lives and taking their views on board

The infrastructural damage and devastation to our coastal defences, both natural and man-made, as a consequence of the recent severe weather are impossible to quantify. The true figure for remedial protective work is probably well over €1 billion, compared with a figure of some €65 million submitted by local authorities for emergency works. We must also take into account damage to private property along the coast. It is estimated that this damage runs to €300 million, with many of the property owners in question uninsured for some years now due to the flood-prone locations of their homes. Those who did have insurance will probably find it impossible to secure a renewal in respect of flood damage into the future.

Our coastline is one of our most valuable economic resources and the people who live in these areas are largely dependent on tourism and small farming businesses. As such, the losses will severely impact on these communities for many generations to come. I urge the Government to prepare a comprehensive assessment of both the short-term emergency remedial work that is required and the cost of addressing the social and economic detrimental impact, which, as I said, will far exceed the €1 billion mark. Such an assessment will strengthen our case for classification as a major natural disaster area and qualification for EU solidarity funding and other relief supports.

County Kerry has the longest coastline in the country, stretching at its southern end to the Beara Peninsula and north into Ballybunion, Tarbert and the Ballylongford region. It was battered and bruised in recent weeks and has experienced unprecedented damage. Typical of this is the damage done to the prime tourism beach and facilities at Rossbeigh, which is in the centre of the county. In the aftermath of the adverse weather, it looks like a site that was bombed. A 1 km stretch of road by the beach was obliterated, with rocks strewn all over what was once a roadway. The playground was destroyed. Some 20 acres of sand dunes, amounting to more than 1 million tonnes in weight, have been wiped from the blue flag beach. The adjoining low-lying areas at Keelnabrack, Dooks, Cromane and lower Killorglin are impacted, with the main harbour in Ardcanaght severely breached. Health and safety issues are now the prime concern for residents, who are at serious risk from Atlantic surges as the natural sand barriers continue to deplete.

The development of the Wild Atlantic Way offers huge tourism potential for County Kerry and other counties, but a recurrence of this type of environmental damage will devalue and aesthetically harm this great resource. Unfortunately, in the context of global warming and the eventual rise of the seas due to polar melting, we will have to live with these conditions into the future. I urge the Government to sanction local authorities to proceed immediately with emergency work. In the long term, however, a more comprehensive strategy is required. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, has indicated that a report from the Office of Public Works is imminent. I understand the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, attended a Coastwatch Europe conference yesterday. We will have to take that type of expertise on board, in addition to that of Government advisers. Massive funding will be required, from the State and the EU, to protect our coastline for the future.

I acknowledge that it is very challenging for the State to have to deal with so many problems coming from so many directions as a consequence of the recent adverse weather. Most Deputies have spoken about problems in their area and I am obliged to report that Wexford was not spared. Coastal erosion is an issue that requires greater investment by the State. On Bannow Island, which is very close to my own home, the bank has given way and the sea has made significant progress onto the road. That problem will have to be fixed and the longer it is left the more it will cost. I realise that fixing all the problems throughout the State at once is impossible, but the sooner we get to grips with them the better.

An issue I have not heard mentioned in the course of the debate is the problems being experienced by lobster and crab fishermen. These are small operators who do inshore work and cannot afford to go out past the 5-mile mark. Many of their pots have been damaged beyond repair. In fact, some of them have lost up to 80% of their pots. It is impossible for these fishermen to obtain insurance against this type of damage because no company is interested in providing it. Lobsters are generally caught in the summer, while the crab season goes from August to November. Most years the fishermen take in the pots when there is potential for storm damage in the off season. This year, however, many of the fishermen, in the Kilmore area in particular, have been out searching for the body of a missing colleague, Paddy Barry, and did not get around to bringing in the pots. They are now in a very unfortunate position. When I asked some of those who contacted me how the State might be able to determine which pots were damaged, they replied that the only way to get around that is for them to retain the damaged pots to show what was done.

Last Tuesday's edition of The Guardian included an article on inland flooding by George Monbiot. He describes the nub of the problem, which applies in Ireland as much as in Britain, as follows:

[T]here is an unbreakable rule laid down by the common agricultural policy. If you want to receive your single farm payment – by far the biggest component of farm subsidies – that land has to be free from what it calls "unwanted vegetation". Land covered by trees is not eligible. The subsidy rules have enforced the mass clearance of vegetation from the hills. Just as the tree-planting grants have stopped, the land-clearing grants have risen.

One of the reasons we are seeing so much flooding is that we do not have enough trees. This is because land that is under trees is ten times better than cleared land at taking and holding water. That is a major issue.

I propose to share time with Deputies Pat Breen, John O'Mahony and Noel Harrington.

The year 2014 arrived with extremely high tides combined with gale force winds and torrential rain, which caused ferocious damage to homes, villages, businesses and communities on the north and west coasts of County Clare. Significant urgent works are now required to rebuild flood defences and incorporate new flood protections, including the construction of sea walls to protect homes which are now left open to the elements in areas such as Cloughaninchy, Quilty and Liscannor. Vast stretches of costal roads have been broken up, damaged, undermined and, in some cases, swept away. Damaged piers, footpaths, walls, bridges, railings, lighting and promenades all require repair and investment.

This work is required in places such as New Quay, Doolin, Liscannor, Lahinch, Quilty, Doonbeg, Carrigaholt, Kilbaha and Ross Bay and into the Shannon Estuary at Kildysart, Ballynacally and Clarecastle, along with the inland community at Dooras in O'Callaghan's Mills.

I compliment Clare County Council, the emergency services and local volunteers for their work both during and after the storm period. The initial storm damage report presented by Clare County Council documents the scale of the devastation and puts a total costing of €23.7 million on the repair works that will be required. The Government has sought more detailed costings from local authorities. However, I ask that immediate emergency funding be made available to Clare County Council. This essential funding would enable the council to proceed with emergency works. At the very least, councils should be given approval to carry out what are deemed to be emergency works and the costs relating to these should be fully covered.

Of primary concern to me are people who have been displaced from their homes, such as those who live in Cloughaninchy in Quilty, whose houses have been exposed to sea water for the first time in living memory, such as those who live in Liscannor, and who were cut off from their communities, such as those who live in Dooras, O'Callaghan's Mills and in Kilbaha. The communities in these areas are living in fear of the next high tide which is due at the end of January. The people to whom I refer are justifiably worried about their children and their homes, in which they have invested so much of their time and money.

County Clare is very much dependent on tourism and it is important that work should begin to repair the devastating damage to the promenade at Lahinch, the Flaggy Shore at New Quay, the village of Liscannor and the Loop Head peninsula in time for the forthcoming summer season. The farming community has also suffered greatly, with hundreds of acres of land in Ballynacally, Kildysart, Carrigaholt and Doonbeg flooded and in need of relief. There is a need to apply to Europe for additional funding in order that we might address this issue.

I welcome the opportunity to raise the concerns of the people of County Clare who have been so badly affected in the aftermath of Storm Christine. I have never witnessed the scale of the damage that has been done. As I drove across the county on Friday last to survey the damage and meet with the affected communities, some of the images I saw brought to mind Armageddon. Large sections of our coastal infrastructure have been ripped apart. Sea walls have been washed way, roads undermined, seaside promenades have disintegrated, family homes and businesses have been flooded and hundreds of acres of land have been submerged under water. The initial storm on St. Stephen's night left four families stranded in Dooras in O'Callaghan's Mills but the events of Friday, 3 January, and Monday, 6 January, were particularly devastating for communities in the coastal areas of west and north Clare. Last year, the area surrounding Loop Head lighthouse was voted the best place in Ireland in which to holiday by The Irish Times. However, when the storm was at its height two weeks ago, most of Loop Head Peninsula was under water. An island was created at Kilcredaun and Carrigaholt was cut off, the supporting sea wall in Kilbaha was washed away at 9 a.m. as local people looked on, the coast road to the Bridges of Ross was destroyed, roads in Doonbeg were decimated and sand disappeared from various beaches in the area. It was heartbreaking to visit the community in Quilty on Friday morning last and listen to the stories of families which had to be evacuated from their homes by the Irish Coast Guard at 6 a.m. and who were only allowed to bring essential belongings with them. It was pitiful to hear about the plight of two children whose two pet dogs drowned in the floods. A massive four tonne boulder was tossed 30 feet by the angry sea and landed close to the pier in Doolin. The promenade in Lahinch disintegrated, in Liscannor a five meter pier wall section was washed out to sea and over 3,150 m of the acclaimed Flaggy Shore, mentioned in the works of the poets John O'Donoghue and Seamus Heaney, has been badly damaged. Substantial areas of farmland in the locality in which I live remain underwater and breaches to the Fergus Embankments at Ballynacally and Kildysart forced farmers to use boats in order to get feed to animals stranded across their properties.

In the limited time available it is difficult to highlight the impact that the storm has had on the community in Clare. Suffice to say that the damage has been extensive. We will have the opportunity to show the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, Deputy Brian Hayes, the situation on the ground when he visits County Clare on Friday of next week at the request of Oireachtas Members. Clare County Council estimates put the bill for repair and reconstruction at €24 billion and is currently putting together an actual assessment of the cost. I ask the Minister of State to provide 10% of the costs submitted by Clare County Council in the form of emergency funding in order to assist it in engaging in immediate reconstruction before the spring tides arrive next month. That would be a gesture of goodwill on the part of the Government. I appeal for the amount to which I refer to be given to all communities affected. Coastal defences are crucial to such communities and the people who live in affected areas deserve to have the necessary works carried out.

There is one hour remaining but the number of Members offering means that some 70 minutes of speaking time have been requested. If people can reduce the amount of time necessary for their contributions, they should please do so. I feel I am playing the role of timekeeper rather than that of cathaoirleach. I ask Members to bear with me.

I do not know whether one can cut down any further on two and a half minutes of speaking time. In any event, I welcome the opportunity to make a number of points.

The local authority in Mayo, voluntary and State agencies and volunteers did tremendous work to mitigate the effects of the problems to which the recent storms have given rise. It must be recognised, however, that such problems exist. Untold damage has been done to the Mayo coastline, which runs from Killary Harbour to Ballina to Belmullet past Achill Island through Louisburgh and Westport and onwards. I am aware, from speaking to the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, that a co-ordinated, interdepartmental approach is being taken in respect of this matter. Sometimes, however, such approaches do not have the desired impact on the ground because one may find local authority staff cleaning up beaches that are adjacent to lands where flood alleviation is required. If one inquires about the matter, one is informed that the necessary alleviation is someone else's responsibility. We must emphasise the need for flexibility and a one-stop-shop approach must be adopted at local level. If the latter does not happen, all kinds of difficulties will arise.

Reference was made to farming. I was at a meeting on Monday night at which over 150 farmers were present. Huge damage has been done to their land. Fences have been destroyed and boulders and other debris have been deposited on their farms. Local improvement scheme, LIS, roads, to the repair of which farmers contributed, have been wiped off the map and they cannot gain access to parts of their properties. I have raised this matter with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, particularly in the context of the implications for farm inspections. I know of one farmer in a coastal area whose property was inspected in the past week. I am of the view that the carrying out of inspections in the areas to which I refer should cease. I accept that there is goodwill in respect of this matter but it must be made manifest in order to ease the impact of the trauma experienced by the people who live in coastal areas.

There is a need for funding to be provided. As other speakers indicated, fishermen must be compensated for the loss of nets, lobster pots and other gear. We should leverage whatever funding is available at European level in order to address this matter. I accept that a great deal of work is going on behind the scenes but there is a need to get the message across to those who live in coastal areas that help will be forthcoming.

The Deputy's adherence to the time limit was excellent.

The brunt of the recent storm was experienced first on the south-west and west coasts. West Cork was probably one of the first areas to feel the impact of the tempest and it did not get away lightly in the context of the damage that was done. The damage resulted from a powerful combination of strong winds and particularly high tides and tidal surges. These coincided with what might be termed as almost a "perfect storm". The main damage assessed to date by Cork County Council is that done to piers, sea walls and coastal roads. Some 56 separate incidents occurred along the coast of the county, with the majority experienced in west Cork. The untold damage to private property has not yet been assessed. I estimate, however, that the cost of repairing this will amount to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of euro.

The aquaculture sector has been severely impacted upon. Assets such as lobster and shrimp pots and mussel lines were lost and people's livelihoods were swept away with them. Serious damage was done to many of our coastal roads, with some 60 separate incidents throughout the county. The vast majority of these occurred in coastal areas. Repairs will have to be carried out immediately as some sections of road are no longer in existence. I remind the Minister of State of the good work done by local authorities in repairing many of these roads in the aftermath of the severe winters we experienced a few years ago.

Eircom is currently grappling with a problem relating to telephone lines in the Glengarriff and Kealkill areas of west Cork, where thousands of subscribers are without service. This is a particular problem for those who have panic alarms fitted in their homes because the latter do not work without phone lines. I ask that Eircom prioritise the repairing of the lines to the homes of elderly people who have panic alarms fitted.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan outlined, in very eloquent terms, the damage done to Cape Clear Island.

Bere Island, Long Island, Hare Island, Dursey and, to a lesser extent, Whiddy Island off the coast of west Cork have equally suffered some extraordinary damage which will need to be prioritised.

The council has also compiled a provisional list of damage to harbours, beaches, sea defences, roads, lifebuoys and aids to navigation. I hope the Minister of State will be in a position to quickly access and release funds for these essential repair works. The priorities will need to be discussed and it will require a multi-agency effort to reinstate some of the infrastructure. It is easy to see now why the line from Donegal to west Cork is called the wild Atlantic way because the ocean hits hard.

Deputy Dara Calleary is sharing his time with Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív.

I join all Members in complimenting the staff of the various local authorities and the emergency response agencies for their response to the situation. I ask the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to suspend all inspections for the time being. A property that was extensively damaged was inspected for fencing. It is beyond me how any inspector could drive into an area to look for fences when he could see the damage that had been done by the storm. There needs to be a suspension of inspections for a time to allow landowners to restore their property.

Fishermen have been seriously affected, in particular small-time fishermen along the Mayo coast from Louisburgh up to Belderrig. They have no other income and their pots and nets have been destroyed. Some form of funding needs to be available to help them to replace their equipment.

I remind the Minister of State that there is concern about the impending spring tide. The projections are that this year's spring tide will be one of the highest in decades. Much work will be required in the next weeks to protect coastal defences ahead of that spring tide in order that further damage can be avoided.

Houses on the west coast have been destroyed by the storm and the owners may not be aware of the existence of hardship funds. It would be beneficial if the Department or the Irish Red Cross were to provide information about the hardship funds available to help in the restoration of houses.

It is not good enough that, as of this morning, Eircom has 1,000 customers in County Mayo who remain without service. It is the State telecom company, although it has been privatised and it dances to a different tune now. It has the customer base on the basis of having been the State monopoly and it needs to up its game, so to speak. We all noted the work done by the ESB workers to restore service throughout the Christmas period in horrific weather. Eircom needs to be given a message from the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources that it should get its act together and up its game. The telephone landline is the only means of communication for many people.

Those of us who live on the west coast have found it extraordinary to witness at first hand the power of nature and the damage it has done in a relatively short period. As a country and as an island nation we must take coastal defence seriously and put it top of the agenda. I acknowledge that previous Governments also did not give it priority but it must be a priority for the Minister of State.

I dtosach báire, ba mhaith liom a rá go bhfuil scrios déanta ar chósta na Gaillimhe ó chathar na Gaillimhe chomh fada leis an gCaoláire Rua. Tá an chuid is mó den chósta sin ag breathnú siar ó dheas. Tá scrios déanta ar an gcósta, ar an mórthír agus ar na hoileáin. It was literally the perfect storm consisting of high seas building up over a period of time combined with a spring tide. This was accompanied by a high wind that came right at the time of the incoming high tide. If the wind had come six hours earlier or later, the damage would not have been the same. It amazed me to see some of the damage in places that would have been regarded as relatively sheltered by islands, for example. One indicator of the unusual nature of the storm is that at one end of Roundstone village, some houses were flooded which had been built 100 years ago and which had never been flooded previously.

We need to be practical when dealing with the situation. When we have looked at the pictures and mentioned all the places that have been destroyed, we will need to have a plan to deal with the issue. The response has been tardy in making money available for local authorities. Infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed. Some roads are the responsibility of the local authority while others are not. Sea walls and piers may be in council charge while others are not. Slipways, walkways, blue flag beaches and graveyards are part of the public infrastructure. Private property has been damaged which will have been insured in some cases but not in others. Houses with a history of flooding - as the Minister of State will know - find it almost impossible to get insurance. There has been significant destruction of farmland. I compliment Deputy Andrew Doyle for agreeing to debate the farming issues with the relevant Departments. As other speakers have observed, land which no longer exists is shown on satellite maps. It will present a significant challenge for farmers to have accurate maps for next year. Fences and stone walls have been destroyed in my area. Stones were thrown over the strand, the dúirling and the areas of green grass at a distance of 50 yards. Fences, boats and fishing gear have been destroyed or disappeared. Avenues and roadways to houses - little bóithríns leading to farms - have disappeared in the tide. In my view, before talking about the hundreds of millions of euro, each county council should be given an immediate allocation of money for urgent works. I cannot understand why that did not happen the week of the storm. The county councils should have been provided with €10 million or €15 million to attend to urgent works. An assessment of the damage must be undertaken as well as a comprehensive plan to repair all the damage to public property. Roads and piers not in council charge are public property. There needs to be a plan to repair all these whether in council charge or otherwise.

We need to consider the issue of sea defences. I accept that nature will beat us at times because we cannot protect against all eventualities. However, we must consider where sea defences have worked and where there is a likelihood of a reoccurrence. A financial package will be required for longer-term work. It is imperative that an application is made to the European Union and that we once again underline that because of its climate, Ireland is more likely to suffer a series of non-catastrophic natural disasters which may not amount to 0.6% of GNP or the unrealistic figure required by the EU which in Ireland's case is damage amounting to €750 million. A case should be made because the EU paid out on a previous occasion.

The only practical way to attack the repair of coastal walls would be for the Minister for Social Protection to approve further participants in the rural social scheme and to provide extra money for materials in order that the coastal walls and walkways which are between the sea and the first field could be replaced and rebuilt. Many farmers will not be in a position, because of age and otherwise, to rebuild these walls.

It is important the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine makes an ex gratia fund available to assist farmers, fishermen and others who face exceptional losses as a result of storms which could not be insured against. We need a derogation from the compliance rules from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine given damage caused by the storms and this must include the map issues.

There is a humanitarian aid scheme, which is on the website of the Department of Social Protection. However, it seems the Department did not highlight the fact the scheme exists for people who face personal losses - for example, damage to a house which could not be insured. It is very important the Government and the Department of Social Protection make it clear to people that there is such a scheme, that there are applications forms for it and that assistance is available.

I am very disappointed that we are having a rushed debate. I would say there is an attitude of get it over with and get on with it. This needs detailed working out. Would the Minister be willing to agree to a committee of the Oireachtas, or a sub-committee representing different committees, being given the job of teasing this out with each Department so that we could come up with a comprehensive plan into which all of us can buy and which deals with the damage both sides of the House agree is very severe?

I welcome the opportunity to say a few words. The area about which I am concerned is along the Shannon Estuary in west Limerick - from Limerick City to the mouth of the Shannon, in particular the area around Foynes in County Limerick where on the night in question 2.5 ft. of water poured out on to the main street causing damage to businesses and homes and the evacuation of people. The Minister will be very familiar with one particular evacuation. I compliment the fire and the emergency services and the local volunteers in the community in Foynes and further afield. While the village and the area have flooded before, the engineers in Limerick County Council say this was the worst they had ever seen.

I am glad the Minister of State has agreed to a request I made to his office yesterday to visit the community of Foynes next Friday during his tour of the mid-west because he needs to see first-hand what has happened and the potential solutions with the Shannon Foynes Port Company, Limerick County Council and Irish Rail which, along with the local community, are the interested parties.

Another high spring tide is due in the coming weeks, to which previous speakers have alluded, and while we may not be in a position to do remedial works in that period of time, we need a plan. The people of Foynes and further afield along the Shannon Estuary on the Limerick side need some sort of a plan to ensure the State will do whatever it can.

I pay tribute to the work of the ESB, the local volunteers and the Eircom crews who were out in atrocious weather trying to reconnect people. What I will try to impress upon the Minister of State on Friday week is the need for this community, which experienced severe flooding before, to be prioritised by the Department because what it experienced on the night in question during Storm Christine was nothing like what it experienced before. While the community lives along the Shannon Estuary, and we might be tempted to forget about Limerick in the context of the damage done on the west coast, the people in Foynes are in dire need of attention from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, other Departments and the local authority. I hope support will be forthcoming.

Like other speakers, I take this opportunity to thank county council, ESB and Eircom staff and local communities who cleared seaweed and cleared rock debris from many of our local roads during the height of the storm. Galway County Council has estimated €8 million worth of damage was done while the city council has estimated €750,000 was done. Clearly, the funding and repair of infrastructure locally is beyond the scope of our local authorities and State funding is needed. We also need to apply for the solidarity funding from the European Union.

The Minister of State indicated he is contacting the local authorities seeking more detailed reports by 14 February on the envisaged works, including costings. While I acknowledge that must be done, I agree with those who stated there should be an immediate payment of some of the millions of euro in the case of Galway County Council to allow it to carry out the most urgent repairs. Some projects are larger and will have to go out to tender but for those smaller projects, an immediate source of funding is needed.

Damage was done in different areas in the city and county, including in Salthill and the Claddagh. In Spiddal, where there was rock armour along the coast, the prom was not affected but where there was no rock armour, the prom was torn up. That is clearly a solution at which we need to look in that we need to ensure rock armour is put in place. We also need to look at the lovely walkway in Spiddal which does not have rock armour.

As part of a study, we need to look at the existing infrastructure. For example, a sea wall in Aillbrack, Ballyconneely, which was built in 1942 and repaired in 1952, collapsed and caused flooding and hardship for the locals. It would not have required a lot of investment over the years to protect it but, unfortunately, that was not done. Now the overall cost will be added to. That is something at which we need to look.

Damage was done on our islands, including the Aran Islands and Inisbofin, in terms of coastal erosion and coastal defence walls. Piers and graveyards have been affected, roads have been washed up and bridges have possibly been undermined, including Lettermore Bridge. There are a number of problems and we need funding. I urge the Minister to do all he can to advance funding to Galway County Council and Galway City Council.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I wish to deal with the area in County Limerick along the Shannon Estuary - although there was also flooding at the basin of the Maigue and Deel rivers - namely, Foynes and Ballysteen-Askeaton where there were breaches. There is great concern that further high tides on 1 February will cause further damage if remedial repairs are not done quickly. The flood defence wall built only nine years ago was unable to protect homes in Foynes. Many felt the old earthen bank, which was there, would have done so. Nobody, including the chairman of Shannon Foynes Port Company, CIE or the Office of Public Works, wants to take responsibility for what has happened. It is important these organisations get together to ensure the situation is urgently responded to.

On the night in question, water came gushing through a breach in Foynes shortly before 7.30 p.m. flooding almost 40 bars, shops and homes, turning the main street into a temporary river and flooding the community centre and car park. The affected buildings were clustered in the centre of the town. Serious damage was done and there was a serious risk to the lives of some elderly people. I pay tribute to the Garda, the fire service, the HSE and the staff of Limerick County Council who responded on the night in question.

In regard to Ballysteen, the River Shannon breached its banks in two places and a sizable area of agricultural land was seriously flooded and is under water. If not repaired in a short period of time it will result in two breaches becoming one large breach with the final outcome being the whole area becoming a permanent flood plain. It is important some remedial work is done to prevent further damage in the Ballysteen-Askeaton area.

I commend the Minister of State on the leadership he showed on behalf of the Government during this crisis. It was very reassuring for people to be aware of the Government's interest and concern and that funding would be made available to deal with the situation as it arose. That was much appreciated.

The area I represent in west Cork relies very heavily on tourism. Unfortunately, some of our finest natural assets were destroyed during the recent storm. It is imperative that the Government supports the local authority in fixing and making good the damage done to the natural infrastructure which attracts thousands of people to west Cork each year.

Another area on which I would like to focus is the damage done to roads by this storm. While the majority of the damage was done to beach walls close to the coast, much damage was done by the flooding of roads, which is very corrosive. When allocating funding, the Minister should consider placing a prerequisite on it that maintenance is central to it to ensure future events, such as this, are catered for.

For too long, the local authorities have been guilty of fixing roads by filling patches of them with tar without taking the water off the roadway. If that work is not done, we will be having the same debate here again soon. The weather does not look like it will get any better in the short to medium term. We have to be more proactive and to take a bigger view of this. We should penalise local authorities that do not undertake the necessary maintenance works, or do not provide for drainage to take water off the roads as part of remedial works. I support the comments of Deputies Maureen O'Sullivan and Noel Harrington about Cape Clear, which took a particular battering. I ask the Minister to take a special interest in ensuring the necessary moneys are made available there. I would like to conclude by commending the emergency services, the local authorities, the Garda and everyone who was involved in dealing with these issues at a very difficult time for families. They were willing to give up their time for the greater good.

I could probably speak about the damage that has been done in County Kerry for two hours, but I will try to say as much as I can in two minutes, which is a very short allocation. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, and the staff in his office on their assistance and work over the past two weeks. I thank the OPW staff who have done a great deal of work on the ground. They were already in place at the main arterial drainage system in County Kerry. There was a serious breach of the bank at Ardcanaght. I understand that the banks at Laghtacallow and Keel and also across the water at Garraun and Reen will also be fixed shortly. I thank the staff of the OPW for that. I commend Kerry County Council as well on their work on this. Significant damage has also been done at Cromane Lower and at Kells. The devastation at Rossbeigh has been widely publicised. Almost €400,000 will be required to fix the promenade in Waterville and stop the tide from coming in on the N70, which is the main Ring of Kerry road. The deposition levels on the floor of the River Laune in Killorglin are causing businesses and residences near the bridge in the town to flood.

An overall approach to how we will deal with flooding in the future is needed. Kerry County Council recently invested a number of million euro in coastal protection works at Inch to prevent the main R561 road to Dingle from falling into the sea. It is seriously out of pocket because it has not been compensated for this by central government. Proactive councils need to be rewarded rather than punished for carrying out such works. There has to be a bit of thinking outside the box as well. Certain houses that have been flooded recently were built very close to the sea in the last few years. We need to think ahead and look to the future. Funding has to be put in place. Emergency works have to be done immediately. A sufficient fund should be made available in the long term to fix the problems that will arise again in the future at places all over County Kerry, such as Rossbeigh and Cromane.

Two minutes is tight. Out of interest, it equates roughly to the winning time in an under-14 competitive swimming 200 m freestyle race.

Is that under water?

One can pack many ideas into that time.

That is why we should keep going rather than wasting time.

I was reading recently about the Night of the Big Wind - Oíche na Gaoithe Móire - which occurred on 6 January 1839. The storm was so ferocious and the damage so severe that time was measured by reference to it for generations afterwards. People referred to events as having happened before or after the Night of the Big Wind. In more contemporary times, the people of Kerry remember the big wind of St. Stephen's night 1951. I come from a place called Barrow, where two people were drowned on St. Stephen's night 1951. That was the Night of the Big Wind where I come from. I suggest that the start of 2014 will be another landmark in the measurement of time, in so far as it will be referred to as the Night of the Big Wind as well.

County Kerry, like the rest of the western seaboard, took a battering during the recent storms. The damage was particularly severe in the south and south west of the county. Perhaps we should ask whether this should have been declared a national disaster. The weather might not have seen as severe in Dublin, but that does not mean it was not a disaster for people in the west. Kerry County Council has estimated that €20 million will be needed to deal with the damage done to its area during the storms. That is a conservative estimate. The effect of these storms on people living in rural coastal communities is enormous. The livelihoods of farmers and fishing families have been put in jeopardy. Never before in my lifetime did I see Fenit Island flooded. It is like a sea within a sea.

As Deputy Ó Cuív mentioned, many farmers have lost livestock, fodder, fencing and equipment. Acres of land are now covered in water. Many areas are under stones and debris. The reclamation of this land before the stones and debris get embedded in the soil should be a priority. Two actions must be taken immediately. First, farmers must be given financial aid to help put the damage right. Second, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine must issue a statement regarding land that is now covered in sand, stones and debris - and, in some cases, salt water - so that departmental inspectors do not deem it to be ineligible for single farm payments or Pillar 2 funding.

Many homes were flooded. This is becoming a standard phenomenon each winter. We all watch the news and see people sloshing around in their homes and business premises. This happened in counties Kildare and Carlow in the not too distant past. There have been similar incidents in the Shannon basin. Anyone who has suffered flooding can testify that when the television cameras are gone, a long and painful mopping-up operation must be undertaken. Some people have to deal with insurance companies that have not distinguished themselves in their care of their clients. In particular, they have not sanctioned urgent and prompt pay-outs to allow people to put their homes and businesses, which are of great importance at this time, back together after the destruction has happened.

Local authorities have a statutory responsibility to provide adequate housing for people. They must be resourced to help those who have lost or had severe damage done to their homes. An emergency scheme like the former scheme of housing aid for older people and people with disabilities must be made available. Community welfare officers must be given the flexibility to assist people who have lost furniture and household items due to flooding. On the issue of local authority responsibility, it is worth noting the estimate that the infrastructural repairs that are needed immediately in County Kerry will cost approximately €3.5 million. There are serious health and safety issues not just in Kerry, but all along the west coast. There are roads in danger of sliding into the sea or subsiding dangerously. I think every Deputy in County Kerry will have visited places that have been badly damaged in recent weeks.

I call on the Minister of State to reinstate and provide adequate funding under the former local improvement scheme to enable local roads to be repaired. Something like that needs to be done swiftly. Before the recent storms and flooding, hundreds of local roads used to access rural villages and farmlands were in urgent need of repair. These roads must now be made a priority. All the signs suggest that our weather is changing and becoming more severe, in terms of storms. All the predictions indicate that this will continue. In addition to dealing with the recent damage, we have to look forward and make provision for the likelihood of further severe weather, perhaps in the near future. It is vitally important that we prevent such severe damage from recurring. At the end of this month and into the first week of February, we might see the biggest tide ever recorded. Four tides well in excess of 5 m are expected this year. That will create a significant problem if similar storm-force weather is experienced during that period.

Initial estimates put the cost of protecting the coastline in County Kerry at €16 million. If Deputies will excuse the pun, this a drop in the ocean compared to the cost of properly defending a coastline that has very vulnerable spots. No responsible administration would leave such areas unprotected against similar weather. The worst effects of the storm weather were felt around Beal and Ballybunion in north Kerry and near Waterville in south Kerry. I think everybody has seen the television footage of Derrynane, where an entire caravan park was washed away. It is reckoned that over 1 million tonnes of sand have been washed away at Rossbeigh. It is estimated that €8 million worth of damage was done at Lahinch in County Clare, the pictures of which everybody has seen. A great deal of damage was done to the north and to the south of the main car park at Banna beach. Some 20 ft. of sand dunes are gone. The signs that hold up the life belts were directly in front of the sand dunes, but the sand dunes are 20 ft. behind them now. That is another example of the substantial damage caused by this event. Ballyheigue pier, which was built with great community support and in respect of which great work was done by Kerry County Council, with the collective efforts of everybody, took an awful battering,

with some rocks weighing 3 tonnes or 4 tonnes being washed up on the pier and into where the boats are usually tied up.

This kind of event has an effect on a whole community. The communal trauma was palpable down around those areas in the days following the storm. It is a devastating experience to feel so helpless in the face of such power and to watch the very soil of one's native land disappear under the weight of water which pounded the shoreline, not to mention places like Cromane, where houses were also flooded.

We cannot prevent the force of nature, but we can try to protect our coastal and island communities. The extreme winds combined with record high tides and huge swells did damage, some minor and some disastrous, to sea walls, roads, seaside car parks and playgrounds and of course the sand dunes adjacent to beaches used by people, including visitors to the area, during the summer months.

As shown on television news coverage, the sea and cliff rescue boathouse in Ballybunion was badly damaged by the force of waves, which took the shutter doors off the front of the building. Recognising the importance of the facility for the safety of those using the locality, local people have already begun to raise funds to help repair it. Great credit is due to the people of the area as they try to put it back in operation again. Meanwhile, there are parts of the coastline around Ballybunion which are in danger of falling into the sea. The local people and the workers of Kerry County Council deserve huge credit for the work they have done in trying to carry out repairs and to deal with the huge amount of debris they have cleared.

We cannot leave ourselves exposed to the whim of Mother Nature, or the will of God, whatever one's belief on this. As Deputy Stanley has pointed out, something permanent will have to be done as we deal with the prospect of rising seas and more storms ahead. Climate change experts have said for years that Ireland will be subject to this kind of battering again in the future.

What is the Government's long-term strategy to deal with rising seas and severe weather such as heavy snow, torrential rain and high winds? Have we applied for emergency EU funding to deal with this episode and to get help to deal with coastal erosion in the future? Is there a long-term strategy to deal with erosion and put in place erosion-preventing measures? These are relevant questions which need answers.

The people who know the sea, the people who live beside it and watch it every day, the people who go out onto the ocean and know its mood, are saying we need to take heed and we need to listen to them. This week members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine visited Inisheer. We saw at first hand the damage that was done in Salthill and out on the island. It was very interesting to listen to the fishermen describe three waves that came one after the other. Those waves were approximately 30 m high and 1 mile wide. Luckily those waves missed the island, but it just goes to show the power of the sea. Anybody, who has seen what the sea has done as a result of this storm, will be in no doubt as to what it can do.

Many small fishermen - representing 80% of them - are barely surviving. Some of them have lost hundreds of lobster pots because of the storm. They need help and support. I urge the Minister of State to try to relieve pressures on these fishing people.

I call Deputy McNamara, who is sharing time with Deputies Nolan, Spring, Conway, Kevin Humphreys and Ó Ríordáin.

I will use the very limited time available to me to ask a question of the Minister of State. Would a designation of SAC or SPA help to bring private lands under the scope of the EU Solidarity Fund? Many Deputies, MEPs and Senators have been calling for EU funding. While that is very helpful we need to consider the extent to which that could be useful. Article 3 of the directive that established the Solidarity Fund is quite prescriptive in the types of works for which funding can be received from the European Union. Among those areas that can be funded is the immediate securing of preventive infrastructures and measures of immediate protection of the cultural heritage, and immediate cleaning up of disaster stricken areas, including natural zones. Obviously it applies to works carried out by the State.

Does the habitats directive or the birds directive impose a duty on the State to carry out repairs to habitats and areas damaged by the storm because there is a duty on the State to restore them? That might be restoration in the case of damage by individuals and many landowners in the area might not normally be appreciative that their lands are in SPA or SAC-designated areas. In areas such as Clohaninchy near Quilty considerable damage has been done to private lands by a golf course, and also Ballynacally and Killadysart which are all SPA designated. Does that designation require the State to carry our remedial works and how would that be funded?

An issue that caused considerable damage was the neglect of culverts across the west coast of County Clare. There has been a bun fight involving the OPW, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, and Clare County Council that has gone back over decades as to which is responsible. It does not really matter who is responsible; they are in State ownership and need to be repaired soon.

The damage caused to County Galway during the recent very bad storm weather has been described as the worst coastal damage caused to the county in recent memory. It has caused damage to important infrastructure such as roads and piers. It also damaged graveyards, and people's walls and homes. In the city there has been damage to the promenade in Salthill and businesses along the Claddagh. The entire county was affected by the weather. I pay tribute to the staff of Galway City Council, Galway County Council, the emergency services and the ESB.

While nobody in this House is responsible for what happened, it is our responsibility to ensure that funding is made available immediately for urgent critical works through the local authorities and to put in place a medium-term strategy to deal with the greater effects on private and public property. We also need to ensure we have measures in place in advance to deal with the effects of high tides, including such unprecedented high tides.

We need to get the money out there quickly so that people in these areas know something will happen to deal with these communities and businesses that have been severely damaged. Fishermen have been severely put out because of damage to their boats, their materials and their facilities, not to mention the damage to the roads in order to get to the piers in the first place. We need to get the money out there to help put these people and their businesses communities back to work and on the right foot as soon as possible.

Time and tide wait for no man. County Kerry's key attraction is tourism. The county has experienced €20 million worth of damage as some of my colleagues have outlined. Enormous damage has been done to places such as Ballybunion, Barrow, Ballyheigue, Kells, Cromane and Rossbeigh. I spoke to the Minister of State earlier about job creation in Kerry. Tourism is where it is at and we need to get that solved. We are talking about the Wild Atlantic Way at the moment. We will not have the attraction for next summer. It is important not only for the purposes of environmental protection, but also for job protection.

The Government needs to give priority to areas where the damage that has been done to the coastline is of significance to the people and not just the environment. I would put Kerry at the forefront in that regard. Kerry is different from places such as Galway and Clare in that we have soft coastline. We have sand dunes that are special areas of conservation and we have been instructed by the European Union to look after them. As a result there is an argument for us to go to Europe and make the point that if we are being asked neutralise and sterilise pieces of land for the betterment of the European Union as prescribed under the habitats directive, it should come forward with money to protect them. Individuals in Kilshannig in Castlegregory were isolated in their homes and could not get back into the mainland. Part of the tombolo was affected.

Counties such as Kerry need to be addressed with immediate effect. I seek a response as to how this will be done.

The state in which it left the road networks in Tramore in County Waterford came to national attention. What was most alarming about the sinkhole that emerged and was shown by the media was how little there is between the road surface and what is beneath it. The Department of Finance needs to consider its allocation for roads and infrastructure. We cannot linger about investing in infrastructure that is so important to tourism and for day-to-day usage. Residents in that area were very distressed to see how little concrete there is between us and what is underneath, and by the sheer force of nature that washed in the water and crumbled the road. If we let this linger and do not get ahead of it we will always be playing catch-up. It is imperative that we invest in our infrastructure to service citizens and visitors to the country.

I too thank the local authority workers, statutory authorities and the Minister of State at the Department of Finance for the work they did. Will the Minister of State at some stage give me a report on the breach in the flood defences at Fitzwilliam Quay in Ringsend, which was only recently built by the Office of Public Works?

When the repairs are done and the defences built the residents who were flooded during this period and who have paid flood insurance for decades will be refused compensation. This will have a significant long-term impact on small and medium sized businesses and on residents who want to move house, whether to downsize, or because they are starting families. For too long the insurance industry has held this country to ransom, especially those unfortunate people affected by this weather. The battle has only begun. When the repairs are done and the defences built the insurance companies will mess around the very people who have gone through this trauma. I ask the Minister of State to take this up with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, in some way, perhaps to consider the licensing of insurance companies. They must take a proportion of the risk, especially when the State invests millions of euro in flood defences. We may need to examine their licences or go through the Competition Authority to see if they are engaging in restrictive practices. Residents whose homes have not been flooded in over 100 years will no longer be able to get flood insurance after the repairs have been done. Buyers will not be able to get mortgages to purchase homes because the insurance companies will refuse them. There are restrictive practices in the insurance industry which must be tackled quickly.

Dublin city may need a tidal barrier against storm surges, similar to the Thames barrier in London. I ask the Minister of State to consider that as a long-term practical solution.

I have been working very closely with Councillor Jane Horgan Jones of Dublin City Council and Councillor Judy Dunne on Fingal County Council and with Brian McDonagh on this issue. I join Deputy Kevin Humphreys in thanking the council workers, as I know the Minister of State will too, who did excellent work on the ground over the Christmas period.

The 2005 Royal Haskoning report which covered the entire northside strip of north County Dublin, going up to Clontarf, has not been fully implemented. I would like a report on its implementation. Not all of its recommendations are necessarily desirable, much of the work must be done in consultation with relevant stakeholders but it needs to be worked upon. If it had been implemented some of the damage caused would not have happened.

The main artery between Baldoyle and Portmarnock has been very badly affected and people have been flooded out of their homes, particularly the O’Rourke family there. The local authority there does not view this as a main artery but there has been huge development there since 2005 and there is a lot more development planned. I would like the Minister of State and his Department to assess that with the local authority if he could.

I echo Deputy Kevin Humphreys’ comments about the insurance companies. We have discussed flood insurance many times and its effect on the householder and the collapse in value of the property. It is of key importance that the Minister of State engage with the Irish Insurance Federation as improvements are made and investment comes on line, to keep it informed of improvements day by day and so that its members reflect them in their dealings with individual householders. This will not go away. It will recur year after year because of climate change. We have to work together to find a long-term solution to it.

I invite the Minister of State to conclude. I ask him to be generous and waive 30% of the ten minutes allocated and keep his remarks to seven minutes.

I thank my colleagues for their contributions. I am sorry that we did not have more time for this debate. We needed more time to discuss it. I am available to come back to the House at any stage to discuss this matter.

Taking up Deputy Ó Ríordáin’s last point this problem is not going away. The reality of climate change must be confronted. Only in recent years have we started to ramp up expenditure on capital flood relief schemes big and small all over the country. Where we have put in that investment in Clonmel, Mallow and Waterford the difference is enormous. The same is true along the Tolka and the Poddle where we have put in place enormous savings for people. That takes a lot of money. A total of €390 million has been spent in the past ten years and that has given much protection to people. This Government is spending €250 million over a five-year term, €45 million a year on an annualised basis. We would need to spend billions of euro every year to resolve all the problems in the country. That is not economically viable. We have to make sure that we have a cost-benefit model, that the funding resolves the problem for the greatest number of people, communities and businesses up and down the country. We also need buy-in from communities. There was a case in Deputy Ó Ríordáin’s constituency two years ago where we had funds ready to go, Dublin City Council had funding to go and 4,000 people objected to the proposal we were making.

Yes, but we all saw the pictures of Clontarf a few weeks ago. That is the reality we face. We need buy-in from the community on this. These are difficult measures that we sometimes have to go through and support. Barriers are often ugly. They can be made look aesthetic and beautiful but a great deal of maturity is needed in this debate because this issue is not going away.

I echo what colleagues said about emergency services, especially the council staff, the Garda and those involved in the emergency services who did a terrific job despite the scale of this storm some weeks ago. My Department has responsibility for flood relief. We have written to every local authority asking for applications. I repeat what I said last week, as those applications come in from those counties worst affected we will make sure that they are prioritised and turned around in a matter of weeks so that we can get money quickly to those local authorities to resolve those issues. The priorities have to be repairing the existing flood relief schemes, where they are under our control, and making sure that we patch up those problems, particularly in light of the fact that at the end of this month we will see more significant waves.

The Government has worked in a co-ordinated way under the leadership of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government in this area because this was a weather event. I attended the emergency planning meeting last week and was most impressed to see all of the players around the table working out a solution and trying to get funding in place to those communities worst affected. There is an initial assessment of approximately €65 million from the western counties which are worst affected. We have asked that each county furnish a more detailed breakdown within a month. As those applications come in to each Department, be it Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Environment, Community and Local Government, Transport, Tourism and Sport or the Office of Public Works, we will make sure we get those moneys out to the communities who need them. We will have to return to the question of whether more funding will be needed as we ensure that repair work continues. I am confident that there is strong support in Government to make sure that we reach out to and help those communities that have been so devastated as a consequence of the storms in the past few weeks.

Lessons need to be learned. This is a natural occurrence and, as colleagues said, this problem is not going away. However, the truth is that some pretty horrendous planning and development decisions have been taken by local authorities up and down this country, which is a reality we have to confront. We also have to weigh up whether we can repair areas of the country even though, within a year or two, the infrastructure might be knocked out again. Is that cost-beneficial?

We have to take a much more holistic view, particularly on the question of coastal erosion. Coastal erosion is a natural occurrence and we have to make sure in our planning and development that we do not make decisions which create difficulties for those families and businesses. Seeing some of the decisions that have been taken, with houses put on the side of cliffs and the like, it is clear one is inviting difficulty and trouble. That is the reality. I hope lessons are learned from this in terms of a much more holistic view being taken when it comes to proper planning and development.

As I have said, we have to ensure we can turn around these applications and show cause to the local authorities, which are the first line of defence in any emergency like this. I know the Cabinet discussed this issue this week and that, in all of the schemes, be it in transport, the environment or otherwise, we will make sure we can turn around these applications and deliver the funds to these communities.

I have visited many parts of the country and have met communities which have been affected by flooding in the past. I know huge psychological damage is done to people as a result of these events. We have to make sure people are given the support they need so their communities can get up on their feet again. Enormous goodwill has been created in many parts of the country as a result of these events. People are working together as communities and showing great spirit in demonstrating to the wider community that they are going to fight this thing, but they need the support of their local and national government in doing that. In anything we in the OPW can do by way of using our resources to help repair the damage that is done to flood defences, be assured we will do it. We have priority for issues like arterial drainage, which comes under our responsibility, and we will be drawing up a list, which I will publish, of the works done in the last two weeks among the 400 OPW staff who work in this area, whom I thank for their support.