Recent Flooding: Statements

As the Minister responsible for the co-ordination of the emergency response to the severe weather, I welcome the opportunity to make this opening statement. As we all know, we have experienced an unusually long sequence of severe weather and flooding events since mid-December 2013, through the early weeks of the new year and up to the present. Here, in the second week of February 2014, we are being hit by storms, and due to the unstable weather patterns which we are encountering, Met Éireann has forecast more stormy conditions to come, including a level orange storm alert for Dublin and surrounding counties this evening.

Our response systems have worked very well and I recognise and thank all involved, including the local authorities, the Garda Síochána, the Civil Defence, the Irish Coast Guard and all our emergency services. I also acknowledge the Trojan work done by volunteers and others who have assisted their communities.

The severe weather we are experiencing is unusually prolonged. Given the strong winds and high seas today, Met Éireann has issued a red level warning for Cork and Kerry, and an orange level warning for the other coastal counties in the west, south west and south east. Red means people should take action to protect themselves and-or their property, and obey all safety instructions which may issue from the local and other public authorities. Orange means to be prepared for the conditions, exercise caution and monitor safety announcements. On foot of the conditions today, my Department convened a meeting of the National Co-ordination Group on Severe Weather at noon. This group will ensure that a whole-of-Government approach is in place to support and assist the principal response agencies at local level and speedily bring to bear any national resources which are needed. As always, our principal objective is to keep people safe.

The Government recognises the enormous impact of these events on people's lives, on infrastructure and on the coast. The storms that have rolled across Ireland have occurred over two time periods and have had distinctive features. We first had the damage caused by the Atlantic storms that occurred in the period 13 December 2013 to 6 January 2014, and then the storms in the period from 27 January to 5 February 2014, which coincided with high tides.

High winds and heavy rainfall in the lead-up to Christmas were followed in the first week of January by a series of deep Atlantic weather systems, which, in combination with seasonal high tides, caused significant damage, particularly along the western seaboard counties of Mayo, Galway, Clare, Kerry and Cork, which received strong tidal surges powered by the strong winds and low pressure. Major damage was caused to existing coastal protection and flood defences, roads, local amenities, tourism and community infrastructure. Counties Mayo, Galway, Clare, Kerry and Cork were the worst affected and coastal communities were hit hard. All of these counties suffered severe damage to their roads, harbours, piers, beaches, coastal protection works and tourism and community infrastructure. We all recall the images on television and in the newspapers in regard to the damage to roads, piers and beaches in particular.

From 27 January to 5 February 2014 we experienced a combination of astronomical high tides, high winds, heavy rainfall and low pressure, which created very strong tidal surges. This resulted in serious flooding in the south west, south and south east and, in particular, parts of the cities of Cork and Limerick were badly affected. In Limerick, the River Shannon burst its banks, causing extensive damage to houses in St. Mary's Park, where some 40 families have had to leave their homes. While many people from these households are being accommodated by their extended families, Limerick City Council has an emergency housing team in place and emergency accommodation has been sourced for any households who want it. The city centre business district in Cork city was flooded by two high tides. Cork City Council had taken the precaution of distributing 1,800 gel bags and over 650 sandbags but, despite these efforts and the efforts made by businesses, several premises were flooded. A number of other towns and villages along the south east coast were also affected. On Saturday last, 8 February, I had the opportunity to see at first hand some of the difficulties faced by communities in New Ross, Passage East, Dunmore East and Portlaw. However, in all of those areas, in the face of the many difficulties being encountered, I saw communities who were focused on positive and proactive solutions. I also witnessed first class interaction between the local and public authorities and local residents.

While the threat of tidal flooding has abated since last weekend, the risk of flooding in our long slow-moving rivers moved to the fore. Traditional settlement patterns have seen the growth of urban centres around our rivers, which leaves our towns and cities at risk of flooding. Farmlands, many of which are already inundated with water, are equally vulnerable. The rivers Shannon, Nore, Suir, Slaney, Barrow, Boyne and Blackwater, already swollen from previous high rainfall volumes, are in danger of breaking their banks if there is a continuation of the current unsettled weather patterns. All river levels are and will continue to be monitored closely.

The Government wants to help people and communities get back on their feet as quickly as possible. We want to assist in all practical ways, including financially. At its meeting yesterday, the Government considered a report on the severe weather. We decided that a sum of up to €70 million will be made available for a programme of repair and remediation works. This will enable local authorities in the areas worst affected by the storms, including the most recent flooding, to help affected communities by restoring roads, coastal protection and other infrastructure and amenities. The €70 million figure derives from estimates provided by local authorities and other agencies and is broadly broken down as follows: €16 million for roads; €20 million for restoring coastal protection infrastructure; €26 million for local authority infrastructure, tourism, amenity and community infrastructure, and piers and harbours; and €8 million for other transport and OPW infrastructure. This is in addition to the €25 million which the Government has already announced for the Department of Social Protection's humanitarian assistance schemes, €1 million of which will now be channelled through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Irish Red Cross.

The Government will ensure that this money will be put to use immediately. My Department will convene a meeting of the other Departments and agencies involved with the local authorities concerned to set out the working arrangements in consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Local authorities have identified what needs to be done and they will be asked to bring forward timetables for repair and restoration programmes which prioritise works as necessary. This will be done as speedily as possible to enable local authorities to get on with what needs to be done.

The Government also noted an initial estimate that up to 500 domestic properties and more than 250 commercial properties have been damaged by the most recent flooding. Estimates of the damage to private property are not yet available from Insurance Ireland. The Department of Finance has been mandated to continue to liaise with the insurance sector and to report back on a range of issues which arise in regard to insurance and severe weather and flooding.

As regards possible EU solidarity funds, following discussions with the European Commission, the Government has noted that the impact of the storms does not meet the threshold conditions for EU Solidarity Fund assistance. The thresholds for regional and exceptional applications are also very high, and the EU budget has been reduced from €1 billion to €534 million per annum. The Commission has signalled this will mean grants for successful applications being cut from 2.5% to about 1.33% and, accordingly, we have decided not to make an application at this time.

The most important objective for Government is to ensure that the communities and people who were badly affected can recover and get back on their feet as soon as possible. Events like these are a severe test of resilience but I believe we are a resilient people. Government will support communities in the recovery from this severe weather. Resources will be allocated to keeping people safe during our severe weather and practical and substantial resources will go to helping communities recover in their aftermath. The National Co-ordination Group on Severe Weather will continue to monitor the situation and ensure that all necessary resources are deployed.

I wish to share time with Deputy Timmy Dooley.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The storms of recent weeks have, as the Minister rightly said, inflicted massive damage on homes, commercial property, farmland and infrastructure. The Government's support and response must be adequate. I am glad to hear the Minister raise the issue of transferring information between the Government, the OPW and the insurance industry in regard to outstanding insurance claims in order to assist property owners to access insurance, based on the claims they are making on foot of their current policies. We will later on get to the other issue of those who do not have insurance.

The Government reaction in addressing the short-term situation has been mentioned. The Government has made €70 million available to deal with roads, infrastructure and the amenities throughout the local authority infrastructure in the country, which is welcome. Will the Minister make available to the House the submissions made by the relevant local authorities? The Minister said €25 million is available to the Department of Social Protection, and this is being dealt with by community welfare officers and so forth. From talking to many people, including Deputy O'Dea in Limerick, Deputy Dooley in Clare and Deputy Browne in Wexford, I know these welfare officers are dealing adequately with the claims that are made for the essentials to live day to day, such as in regard to fridges, beds and the like. However, the one gap that exists and about which people are frustrated is the question of where stands the State in regard to the massive damage done to their residential property, where no insurance was available to them when the storm or the flood hit. What progress, if any, has been made in that regard? What efforts are being made? What have the co-ordinating committee, the Minister's Department and other Departments put together with a view to addressing that issue, because it is the broader issue that has yet to be detailed?

For anyone who was not aware of it, "Prime Time" last night showed that, since 2009, when funds were put into Clonmel, the situation there has improved immeasurably. The Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, has said on numerous occasions that he cannot prevent flooding. However, he can make a good stab at limiting its effects into the future. We need funding to be made available and not only from the Exchequer.

I am surprised the Minister has not gone down the avenue of EU assistance or explored the possibility of funds coming from the National Pensions Reserve Fund whereby a list of flood defence mechanisms in various cities and coasts around the country over the next number of years could be agreed and prioritised. Figures are being bandied about by the Minister of State in respect of how much it will cost to rectify the situation in Cork, Limerick, etc. However, we do not know this exactly until the experts put it down on paper and the Minister looks at the cost-benefit analysis of any such work. In respect of submitting that to the EU for assistance, this funding is available. My colleague, Deputy Dooley, clarified that with the relevant Commissioner. A figure was mentioned last night and it was stated that if it is not in excess of €800 million, it cannot be accessed. Cork alone is to cost €150 million. Issues need to be addressed not only at the coasts, but inland, as the Minister said in respect of rivers like the Nore, Barrow and Shannon. People have seen overhead footage on television of the damage caused by the Shannon burst. I meet that every year. It is nothing new to me; it only happens to be worse this year. However, it has become a summer phenomenon as well. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and others are well aware of the representations we have been making on an ongoing basis for that to be addressed. On foot of the relevant committee producing a report in conjunction with relevant stakeholders, we asked for it to be debated in the House 12 months ago. It is still not here.

There have been lapses in concentration, the eye has been taken off the ball and commitments have been made throughout the country. I have seen Ministers visiting various disaster areas over the past number of weeks, be it the Minister for Finance in Limerick and others in Clare, Wexford, Waterford and Cork. This is welcome and must be done in order to assess the damage and have first-hand knowledge of the effects on the ground in real terms so that one can come back to Government and the expert group and access the expertise one has at one's disposal with a view to putting a plan in place to address these issues not only in the short term, but in the medium and long term. I ask the Minister to consider what we are proposing by virtue of pooling the resources of the Exchequer, the EU and the National Pensions Reserve Fund. A good programme can be put in place that would have the support of the House in order to prioritise in the first instance and address those issues thereafter, having established by virtue of cost-benefit analysis the success that can be achieved, as was proven to be the case in Clonmel.

I do not want the Minister to lose sight of the inland situation. I will not repeat myself but the Minister knows where they are. He knows they are in Offaly, east Galway, Roscommon, Westmeath and even down in the Minister's own area in respect of the other freshwater rivers. Those two issues have to be addressed. There is an immediacy about coastal areas in respect of the amenities that lend themselves to the tourist industry and it is paramount that procedures and funds are put in place for that to be done as soon as possible so that those coastal villages and towns that depend greatly on that sector can look forward to that issue being resolved.

We all have a duty to address the availability of insurance after these sort of episodes considering that we have been reminded of it on numerous occasions over the past ten years. We in Fianna Fáil will not be found wanting in that regard and will bring forward a Bill in the House to address this issue based on the English model that has been successful in similar circumstances. I hope we would have support from the Government if it has not already brought forward legislation to deal with the issues before then.

People's property has been damaged greatly to the tune of €40,000 or €50,000 in some cases, be it in Limerick, Waterford or Wexford. We hope that the €25 million given to the Department of Social Protection will deal with the necessities to allow people to get by for the moment. However, the bigger picture is that those people have no insurance and have been offered no assistance, solace or comfort as to what road they need to travel for that to be addressed. I hope the Minister would make providing some comfort in that area a priority in the days and weeks ahead. I reiterate that the Minister should pool our resources and those of the EU and the National Pensions Reserve Fund with a view to putting a plan in place to meet the bland commitments and promises that are being made rather than rehashing them when we meet the same issue this time next year or even before then, as is the norm. The Minister knows from communications we have had at the committee that there is an obligation to move ahead with the relevant legislation to give effect to the heads of the climate action and low carbon development Bill 2013 which were introduced last year.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate but it is somewhat disappointing that it is necessary. We had an opportunity to discuss these issues two weeks ago. It is not that we need a debate every time there is another storm. The principles remain the same. There is a storm blowing across Munster and heading towards Dublin today, but we do not need to have a debate in the House to discuss whether it is a code orange or code red event. Very significant damage is being caused throughout County Clare, with which I am most familiar, and particularly Ennis where roofs and shop-fronts are being blown off as we speak. These are really difficult circumstances. What we need to address here, however, is a co-ordinated approach to responding to such a crisis.

This has been ongoing since around Christmas in the constituency I represent in County Clare. Ministers have visited the area and, in fairness, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine visited recently in respect of the aspects relating to his Department such as ports. He also met with farmers. The Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works was there as well and assured Clare County Council that it would be given funds to deal with the crisis and told it to go ahead and spend the money. Clare County Council has proceeded, done an excellent job with the limited resources it has and carried out an extensive clean up. Sadly, much of that clean-up work was for naught because a fortnight later, another significant storm took place and pretty much the same havoc was wreaked on many of the coastal villages and tourist locations. The fact is that as of now, Clare County Council is still not clear about how much money it will get to repair the significant damage, be it to roads, piers or a range of other areas such as flood defence systems that were already there. The council is not in a position to know what it can spend the money on.

A situation has arisen in Kilbaha, which the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works has visited. He knows full well that the road was washed away in the second storm. On Monday, the locals took it into their own hands to re-open the road. Council engineers came along and closed it again because they did not feel it was safe. In doing so, they explained to the locals that it would be June before the road would be opened. That is forcing locals to do an exceptional detour of about ten or 12 miles to collect kids from school. Even the road that is acting as the relief road is not strong enough to take milk trucks or feed trucks through to the farmers behind Keating's Bar & Restaurant and towards the lighthouse. It is not acceptable for a group of families to be told that it will be next June before the road is opened. The only reason Clare County Council is doing that is because it does not know what funds it will get. The Minister of State told it to spend the wages that it would have in place for next June, April or May and that the Government would put it back in funds. However, Deputy McNamara let the cat out of the bag when he said that Clare County Council needed €35 million to deal with this. It will not be getting €35 million. It will get some amount of money and it will be up to it to prioritise it. We have had this kind of soft approach where the council is told to spend the money and get the work done. Clare County Council was probably right not to proceed with some of this work because, quite frankly, the Department was not fessing up, not manning up and not saying what moneys it had put in place.

I appeal to the Minister to be upfront with the councils through whatever central co-ordination committee he is part of or in charge of. He should give councils the money they need. It is fine to tell them to repair or restore existing flood defences but the storms and their impact on the coastline have necessitated new requirements relating to flood defences that were not required heretofore because the topography of the land was such that the water did not inundate farmland. However, the formation of the shoreline has changed to such a significant extent that even without the normal inundation of a storm, low tides will breach the coastline and flood land.

The Minister need only visit the area to see what the impact will be. Rocks and water will be brushed onto the land.

I also appeal to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, to develop a workaround for farmers whose land is required for the single farm payment or the agri-environment options scheme, AEOS. He knows his Department's methodology for checking whether land is arable, for example, if certain vegetation grows there or certain pools of water make it unusable. Where land has become unusable as a result of the storm, the Minister should allow farmers to continue drawing the same level of single farm payment. In the case of the AEOS, farmers should not be penalised because of an act of God. It is not their fault. They have lost that land, in that they will not be able to graze it because it has been inundated by water and, in some cases, rocks. In other cases, it has actually been washed away. I appeal to the Minister not to penalise those farmers further. He should find a method to give them a break.

The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, indicated that his Department did not intend to proceed with an application to the European fund. I met Commissioner Johannes Hahn. In 2009, I also met the then Commissioner. Although the threshold is high, Commissioner Hahn explained to our delegation, which was organised by Mr. Pat The Cope Gallagher, MEP, that an application made on a regional basis might not be subject to the same threshold. He was careful in his language and stated that he would work with various Departments.

I remember a similar situation in 2009 when the then Minister for Finance, the late Brian Lenihan, hesitated because the advice from Government officials at the time was that we would not be successful. In the latter hours, an application was submitted and we received €13 million. That amount would be helpful in the current climate, as the Minister well knows. We would like more, of course.

The Minister referred to having €70 million available, but the difficulty is that Clare needs €35 million. Based on the loaves and fishes work that the Minister would need to do, it is highly unlikely we will get that amount. This is the impression I am getting. The Minister is pushing it onto the shoulders of county councillors and engineers to perform a loaves and fishes miracle. He will have irate communities along the western seaboard.

There are 40 sites. Many of them are essential through routes for people going about their daily lives. Some are essential parts of the local economy, which is dependent on tourism. However, the Minister is suggesting that the communities will not get the €35 million and must find it from their own resources or leave the situation to continue. That is not acceptable. We should not have another debate the next time there is a shower of rain in some part of the country.

We are having a debate because it was sought.

We should put in place a comprehensive fund and appropriate criteria under which-----

Does the Deputy not want this debate?

-----the Government will respond appropriately when critical infrastructure gets obliterated.

Does the Deputy not want this debate?

If this was happening in Kilkenny or Dublin, it would be addressed, but it is the western seaboard, so forget about it.

The poor west of Ireland.

That is not an approach I am prepared to stand over.

What about Offaly?

I welcome the additional €70 million to address the problems caused by the recent storms. We have received reports from the south west today of considerable damage being caused. While any additional funding is welcome, we may need to examine the figures again. I understand that significant damage has been caused along the Kerry coastline and other parts of the south east.

A case for EU funding must be made at Government level. The previous Government received €13 million in respect of the 2009 flooding. At the levels being mentioned by the current Government, we would only get €1.33 million for our €100 million worth of damage. There is a strong case to be made. Two Ministers are present. If the Government has not already done so, will it make an argument for funding from Brussels? Is Ireland's European Commissioner, who came from the Fianna Fáil side of the House, taking the case to Europe for extra funding? Our State is small compared with the rest of Europe. We are out in the Atlantic and exposed to that ocean's storms. We are witnessing more extreme weather events than central Europe.

Given the level of damage caused to date, I appeal to senior Ministers, the Taoiseach, the Commissioner and our embassies to start lobbying as a special case for increased aid and for the criteria to be changed, given our coastal areas' exposure to Atlantic storms. The possibility of making regional cases should be explored. All parties are concerned by what is happening to communities along the coasts and in the midlands.

Local authorities have lost approximately 20% of their staff. Unfortunately, many of those were front-line staff, for example, engineers and others who carried out vital preventative and maintenance works. The reduction in staffing and funding levels in recent years has meant that routine maintenance work on roads, bridges, coastal defences and culverts has not been carried out. I want the two Ministers to take this matter seriously. There was flooding recently in the Knockmay area of Portlaoise because a culvert on Harper's Lane was not kept clear. It was a simple issue. There is a culvert across from where I live on the Clonrooske link road. I assure the House that a good eye is being kept on it, but if it was not kept clear, entire estates and hundreds of houses in Portlaoise would be flooded.

Regarding the embargo on local-----

The Deputy should get on to his county manager.

Hold on one second. The Government is supposedly reforming local government this year.

We are. We are devolving functions.

I appeal to the Minister to examine the question of staff. Engineers are telling me-----

The Deputy never-----

Never mind that. On the ground, area engineers are telling me that they cannot mobilise teams because they do not have overseers or crews. The Minister knows that, given the new health and safety regulations, a certain number of people must be mobilised at the same time. One person cannot be sent out to work on his or her own. When reforming local authorities, the Minister should pare away a bit at the top but try to provide staff at local level in what will be called municipal districts.

Drainage boards were mentioned in terms of rising levels along slow-moving rivers. The Barrow is a case in point. That river and its tributary, the Owenass, which flows through Mountmellick, will cause significant problems. In recent weeks, locals in Mountmellick and Portarlington have watched water levels rise. There is considerable concern. Mountmellick is a low-lying town. If the Owenass breaches its banks, there will be major flooding. The county council makes an allocation to the Barrow Drainage Board each year, but-----

(Interruptions).

I hope that the Ministers are taking my point on board. This is a serious matter for both of them. Agricultural land is also being flooded. However, homes must be the first priority. Will the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government examine the allocations to drainage boards - the Barrow Drainage Board has done great work in recent years - to determine whether they need extra funding to prevent flooding in towns such as Mountmellick and Portarlington?

Regarding flood mapping, something must be done for people who cannot get insurance. They are caught between a rock and a hard place. Measures must be put in place while they wait for flood defences to be prepared. The Government should meet the insurance industry to determine what can be done. Some areas have been mapped as being at risk of flooding, but they are not. They only contain specific zones that are at risk.

I ask the Minister and his officials to meet representatives of the insurance industry on that.

A significant amount of money has been brought in by the property tax and the motor tax this year. The Government has hived off €600 million of that to pay off debts, as well as €490 million for Uisce Éireann. We went through that in detail yesterday. The promise made to the public was that such money would be available for local projects, and that has never been more important than now, in order to cope with flooding damage in our towns. What has happened has made a nonsense of the local property tax. The raiding of that fund, along with the reduction in outdoor staff in the local authorities has left them ill equipped to cope with the problems they are facing. This policy has been shortsighted, and I know that when an area is flooded, repairing the damage will cost a lot more than a bit of prevention. The fact the OPW has spent €350 million in capital works in recent years is to be welcomed. Some good work has been done and many counties, in which nothing had been done for years, have had some of their problems solved by those works.

In light of what has happened this year, it is important that an up-to-date risk assessment be conducted. I know the Minister is seeking information from the local authorities, but it is important that a comprehensive risk assessment is carried out following recent storms and floods in areas that have not been flooded before. These are new problems. We cannot delude ourselves that this is just a once-off consequence of severe weather. This is happening more frequently. Severe weather events in recent years have highlighted the consequences of climate change, and the need to address this at global, national and local levels. Extreme weather events are taking place every few months. While we have been relatively fortunate in this country, we have seen massive devastation across the globe. We cannot be confident that the weather patterns of the last ten years will not continue.

Mr. Gabriel D'Arcy of Bord na Móna announced today that the company's data have shown that in each of the past six years, we have experienced weather patterns that would normally occur only once every 50 years. That is very worrying when we consider what is likely to come. People have had direct experience of the impact of the severe weather, and it has been proven that these are not freak one-off events. Climate change is happening. We in this State need to make the case due to our position in the Atlantic. The Gulf Stream is being pushed further south by warm air from the Arctic due to global warming. While we in this State have signed up to EU commitments on CO2 emissions, where is the climate change Bill? The Minister might tell us that today. I have not seen it. Last year, the environment committee did a lot of work trying to put a report together on the issue. The Government produced an outline draft heads of a Bill. Professor John Sweeney, a leading expert in this area, put in substantial time and effort to produce a report. The Minister has that report for over seven months.

He only gave it to me in November.

Well the Minister has seen the draft heads of the Bill before that. We want to see the actual Bill. While we were waiting for the Minister's Bill, we in Sinn Féin brought forward our own climate change Bill last year, without the resources available to the Minister. This would legislate for a 20% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020, and an 85% reduction by 2050. These are ambitious targets, and would require radical changes in the energy sector. The change involves a move away from the current dependence on imported fuel, but it would bring huge economic benefits because we would be saving on that. We believe that this should be done. We also believe that each local authority should have its own climate change action plan. We hope that will happen on the back of the Government's Bill. If we are to have reform of the local authorities, each local authority should play its part in combatting climate change locally.

Massive wind farms are being built in the midlands. We are going to export the electricity to them and we will help Scotland, Wales and particularly England to meet their renewable energy targets, while here in this State, including in the midlands, we will be importing very expensive coal and oil. A huge number of households in the midlands and in other rural areas in Ireland are dependent on such imported fossil fuels, which are very expensive. The Government has signed a memorandum of understanding with the British to export the energy before we meet our own energy needs. I do not have a problem with exporting energy to England, provided that our own needs are met first in respect of renewable energy. Why is that happening? It is absolutely ridiculous that it is happening, leaving us massively dependent on this imported fuel. Around 90% of all our energy needs is being met with expensive imported fossil fuel.

There are economic advantages and environmental advantages if we become a leader in developing alternative energy. A number of research centres around the country are at the cutting edge of developing alternative energy options, and not just wind, with which the current Government seems completely fixated. The Government needs to examine tidal energy, solar energy, hydropower and geothermal energy. There should be plenty of hydropower, given the amount of water that is in the country. The Minister should have a chat with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, because he seems to be completely fixated on wind. We will have wind turbines everywhere, but I would like the Government to look at other alternative energy sources. I would like the Minister to take that seriously, and it is also relevant for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

I welcome the extra €70 million. The Minister will need to look at it again after today's storm. The reports I am hearing is that it has wreaked havoc in three or four hours. I appeal to the Minister to examine the issue of the EU disaster fund. He must make the case.

We have looked at it.

The Minister, the Taoiseach and the other senior Ministers need to be making a case at the highest level in Europe to change the criteria. We are very exposed to these storms. There have been disproportionate impacts on us and on the south of England. I appeal to the Minister to make a stronger case to Europe.

I welcome the opportunity to talk about this. It is great to hear that a load of money will be spent, but there has to be a little bit of accountability as to how this money is spent. The Minister can throw figures out there, but if the money is wasted at the end of the day, that is not much use to anyone.

I know of a situation in Athleague, County Roscommon, whereby a successful application was made by the council for €270,000 in funding, but it did not spend the money on what it was meant to spend it on, and there seemed to be no problem with that. The council was meant to spend the funding on doing something with flooding in the Athleague area, and from the estimates I received from various contractors, it could have done it for about €25,000. Trying to find out what happened to the rest of it seems to be impossible.

Will someone learn a lesson from this experience? The next time the Department throws money at the flooding issue, it should ensure it is spent on the purpose for which it is intended.

We may have had a tough time when the British were running the country but they knew how to keep the water flowing. As regards the €270,000 that was meant to be spent in Athleague, if those who are wondering why the water does not flow had stepped down from the bridge, they would have seen that four of the channels had been closed by experts on Roscommon County Council. When one places one's hand over the nozzle of a hosepipe, the water does not come out quickly when one turns it on. Instead, pressure is created which results in damage when the water eventually bursts out. Why would one address this problem if one can continue to waste money without being held accountable for doing so?

Deputy Stanley stated that €350 million has been spent on flood prevention over the years. I wonder how much of this was spent properly. Fine Gael is purportedly a right-wing party. Flawed and all as the right-wing philosophy is, one element of it is that one should not waste money. The Government should concentrate on that part of its philosophy.

The bigger issue arising on the River Shannon is governance. Who really runs the country and who is the boss of the National Parks and Wildlife Service? It appears the NPWS is its own boss and it decides what happens. Does it come as a surprise that the problem of flooding has worsened when the National Parks and Wildlife Service is engaged in a wilderness project? Bord na Móna's briquette-making activities have produced a large amount of silt deposits in the River Shannon, which are beginning to form islands that slow the flow of the water. When the National Parks and Wildlife Service or Office of Public Works are asked to remove these deposits, the former responds that these islands are very important habitats. As more of these habitats form, the human animal living in the area will eventually be forced to move away. That is the direction in which we are heading.

My argument is not that the River Shannon should be drained but that we must use the resources available to us, including the many bored unemployed people who would love something to do, to remove these deposits. While this will not completely solve the problem as flooding is inevitable on a slow-moving river, the deposits are exacerbating the problem. In certain cases where silt has been removed, a hit squad from the National Parks and Wildlife Service subsequently arrived with microscopes and teaspoons and minutely examined the silt to ascertain what exactly was in it. This is ridiculous.

I thought the Deputy counted the National Parks and Wildlife Service among his friends. Its staff are environmentalists like him.

Environmentalism is a broad church. One does not need to be a fundamentalist to be an environmentalist. One must also listen to people. Supporting environmentalism does not mean keeping people cold in their homes. People need to be encouraged, whereas the Government is discouraging them. If a farmer's land is flooded in the middle of the summer as a result of action by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and inaction by the Office of Public Works, how can the Government expect him or her to have respect for the environment? Farmers, who are being criticised for damaging the environment, are the very same people who worked with environmentalists to save the corncrake, hen harrier and many other birds. As a result of the activity of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, these birds can no longer nest in certain areas in the summer. The NPWS is damaging wildlife, while the farmers who co-operated with efforts to save certain bird species are throwing their arms in the air and asking why the service is killing the very thing it claimed it was trying to save. This does not help.

I thank Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan for giving me an opportunity to speak.

While I hold the Government responsible for many things, I do not blame it for the weather, although I have been blamed for the weather in the past. Given that the weather and the damage it has caused have been so bad, the Government clearly does not have the capacity to solve all the problems. For the past century, the State has failed to give much thought to fighting coastal erosion. It would be interesting, therefore, if the Government would consider this issue.

It is disappointing to note the European Union is not prepared to provide us with substantial funding to address coastal erosion. The amount available to Ireland is less than 2% of the total available for this purpose. The European Union benefited from our status as an island community. In 2009, Chancellor Merkel stated that Ireland had benefited to the tune of €56 billion in European Union funds since 1973. EUROSTAT figures for the period from 1975 and 2010 show that the commercial value of Irish fisheries over that period was €201 billion, of which Ireland took a mere 11.8% or €17 billion. It would be nice if the EU were to consider returning some of the money it robbed from us through our fisheries. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, will be familiar with this issue, although to be fair to him he is doing his best to secure a better deal for us in fisheries.

We are not being treated fairly by Europe. The principle underpinning the European Community was that nations would look after each other and the central authorities would look after the smaller nations. Ireland is being shafted by being forced to bail out its banks to the tune of approximately €70 billion, while the European Union is prepared to provide only a pittance to address coastal erosion.

I submitted a question to the Minister on the dismantling of Courtown Pier. It was interesting to note comments addressed last week to the British Minister for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Mr. Owen Patterson, who was told that "skimping on flood defences is deeply false economy even in austere times: ministers admit each scheme saves £8 in damage for every £1 spent. The costs are now being counted". The Government should take this view on board and start to act on rather than react to coastal erosion problems. Taking action on Courtown Pier, for example, would be a good investment as it would save money in the long run.

In reply to a parliamentary question about inshore fishermen in Wexford who lost 80% of their pots, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine pointed out that a range of grant aid schemes administered by Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, are already available to inshore fishermen. When I contacted the fishermen who had raised the matter with me I was informed that the only grant they had ever received from Bord Iascaigh Mhara was for safety equipment. That is fair enough but its importance should not be exaggerated. The Minister's answer continued:

There have been some reports in the media about the loss, by some inshore fishermen, of their pots. It is not unusual for inshore fishermen to experience some pot losses through the winter. It is too early to fully determine the scale of the losses and if these were widespread. I am working with BIM to endeavour to assess the scale of losses that may have occurred.

He also noted that the "EU requires that any financial assistance provided by Government to the seafood sector must always be considered in terms of what is permissible under EU State Aid rules." This is a major problem and one of the reasons Irish people no longer find many EU rules attractive. The Government boasts that we can borrow money on the markets at an interest rate of 3.5%, which is good. Despite this, we are not allowed to borrow money to build a bypass in New Ross, although we are allowed to build the bypass under a public private partnership, which would cost the State 20% more. The reason is that the costs would not immediately appear on the books, in other words, the European Union will allow us to invest in infrastructure provided we put the money in the pockets of investors and bondholders. This is unfair.

When Cathal Mac Coille asked the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, this morning if we could expect to see more millionaires from the United States buying properties here on the cheap, the Minister's response was that a number of people have invested in properties of Ireland, including a Chinese business family which bought Fota Island and a Russian lady who invested in the Morrison Hotel, and that what we needed was more of these types of investments.

What has that to do with flooding?

The Minister added that what was important was that such properties when purchased were invested in and promoted because while it may be the case that they are being bought at a major discount in terms of what they were worth a couple of years ago, the previous owners had not done a very good job. To say that the previous owners had not done a good job is rubbish and totally unfair.

I must ask the Deputy to conclude.

I wonder if these investors would consider buying some of our coastline and investing in the prevention of coastal erosion instead of cherry-picking like vultures.

While it is always a pleasure to have the Minister, Deputy Hogan, in the House, it is unfortunate that the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, is not here for this debate.

He is in the Seanad.

Fair enough. We have been subjected to listening to this individual on the airwaves for some time.

I am sure it is reciprocal.

That is why the Deputy is offering no defence.

The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, has repeatedly said on the airwaves that we can never be prepared for every contingency or eventuality, which is true. However, that is to miss the essential point in this debate that contingency plans, flood relief mapping and preparation can prevent a problem from becoming a crisis. In essence, what we are experiencing is a crisis and a national emergency. In my opinion, the response has been in many ways too little, too late. That what we are experiencing is a crisis must be recognised. Many people have literally lost everything. Every major city has been affected by flooding.

It is fair to say that these events are not unparalleled or unexpected. They may be worse than other weather problems we have experienced but the signs that these problems were going to arise were there for all to see. We had flooding crises in 2002, 2009 and 2011, which means the gap is narrowing. Extreme weather events are now occurring with greater frequency and intensity than at any time during the past century and a half and the commencement of global climate recording. It should not be forgotten that it was as a result of flooding a number of years ago that a nurse died in a basement and an off-duty garda was killed in Wicklow. The question that must be posed is what we have we learned and what new steps have been taken.

The flood relief section of the OPW has not recruited any permanent engineers as a result of the recruitment embargo in the public sector. This must be taken into account. Perhaps the Minister of State will tell us how many skilled expert staff have left the OPW and not been replaced. I am aware that every year the OPW takes on a number of graduates, who it trains over a three year period. At the end of their training, however, they then go on to assist in the development of another economy. Why can they not remain in Ireland? I note that according to the clock my time has expired. However, I do not believe I have been speaking for five minutes.

We have no objection to the Deputy being given a few more minutes speaking time.

There is a loss of expertise and knowledge from the OPW which is not being replaced. The people who are paying for this are the families who have lost everything in this current crisis. It is necessary that the Minister of State rectifies this if there is to be any change in this situation. We are spending an enormous amount of money on outsourcing flood relief planning work to third parties because the expertise is no longer available in the OPW. Much of this work, rather than being carried out by Irish engineers, is being outsourced to foreign companies, which is a travesty given the thousands of young Irish engineers who are being forced to leave this country every year. The reality is that in terms of tendering, prices have never been as low. We could have in place a programme of works to repair much of the damage caused by the flooding. The amount being provided by Government in this regard is minuscule in terms of what is necessary. It was reported the other day that the Government has approved €70 million in funding for repair damage caused by the recent storms in the west and south. While that funding is to be welcomed, the repair bill from County Clare alone will absorb most of that money. We are spending €9 billion on interest repayments on debts that were never ours in the first place and only €70 million for essential repair work, which puts into scale just how little funding is being provided.

It is ironic that a great deal of money is being spent on outsourcing flood relief work and that there is an embargo on the recruitment of people who could plan for such crises. This means we are spending money after the horse has bolted. The impact of climate change on extreme weather is having a serious effect on tens of thousands of Irish families who cannot insure their properties. We have all heard about the damage caused in the agriculture sector. This issue is not going to go away. Forward planning does count. The Department has depleted itself of its resources in terms of-----

Let us hear the statistics. How many of the engineers who have left have been replaced and how much money has been spent on outsourced reports? If the Minister has not done that, then it begs the question why he was not better prepared.

The Deputy says we have them so it must be true.

The Deputy is against outsourcing, taxes and so on.

The Minister is in favour of privatisation.

I propose to focus in my contribution on coastal damage, in particular on piers and harbours and the inshore fishing sector to which Deputy Wallace referred. The Irish coastline has since December last been subject to a series of extreme storm events which has caused significant damage to the infrastructure of many of our harbours, piers and slips. At this point, we are aware of damage to more than 100 piers, harbours and slipways and other coastal infrastructure linked to fisheries and aquaculture. We are also acutely aware that there is a likelihood that these storms, the latest of which first hit the west coast early this morning, may continue over the next week or so causing further damage. The situation, therefore, continues to evolve. Given what happened this morning in the midlands and south east, in particular Cork and Kerry, I suspect we will be debating this issue again in the not too distant future.

While my Department has a key role to play in regard to the Government's response on damage to fishery and aquaculture-related piers, harbours and slipways around the coast, the Office of Public Works retains overall responsibility for the Government response in relation to coastal erosion, coastal defence and flood defence projects generally. As Members will be aware most of the harbours and piers around the coast that have been adversely affected by recent storms are owned by the relevant local authority and responsibility for their maintenance and repair rests with those authorities. That being said, I am acutely aware of the dependence of a large proportion of the Irish fishing fleet, in particular our 1,900 strong inshore fleet, on the network of local authority and Department owned piers and harbours around our coast.

My Department maintains the harbours in its direct ownership and has run a limited programme in recent years co-funding the repair and upgrade of local authority harbours linked to the fisheries and aquaculture sectors. I am delighted to say that as part of its overall co-ordinated response to the impact of the recent unprecedented weather conditions, the Government yesterday decided to allocate an additional €8.8 million for the repair of the publicly owned pier, harbour and slipway network linked to fisheries and aquaculture. This is a significant amount of money given current economic circumstances and is a clear indication of this Government's commitment to rural coastal communities and the wider fishing sector that are dependent on this infrastructure. While it is difficult to be definitive at this stage, as I stated, following extensive consultation with local authorities, my engineers estimate that there are more than 100 projects involving significant damage across nine counties.

In light of the additional funds now available it is my intention to broaden the remit of my Department's 2014 capital programme immediately to encompass to the greatest extent possible repair works on publicly-owned fishery and aquaculture-related piers, slipways and infrastructure in harbours damaged by the storms. With that in mind in the coming days I will be inviting local authorities to follow up on their estimates of damage by applying for funding under the programme and to indicate their prioritised list of eligible projects on a county-by-county basis for consideration for funding for repair of the damage caused by the recent storms. The funding will be focussed on infrastructural repairs to fisheries and aquaculture-related harbours, piers and slipways, with one exception to which I will refer in a moment. A number of other general criteria similar to those attached to the previous scheme will continue to apply. However, in the current circumstances I am removing the upper limit of €150,000 grant aid per project which had previously applied.

In addition to the funding to be provided to local authorities, my Department will be moving to repair storm damage to piers, harbours and coastal infrastructure in its direct ownership. This will include moving as quickly as possible to repair the significant storm damage to North Harbour in Cape Clear, west Cork; Dunmore East Fishery Harbour Centre, County Waterford; the Gun Rock beacon, Inisboffin, County Mayo; the West Cove navigational beacon, County Kerry; and Roonagh Pier, County Mayo. An evaluation committee will consider the eligibility of all applications submitted by local authorities and advise on the eligibility and priority of the projects submitted on the basis of overall priorities and the total budget available. I will then consider the overall submissions and decide which projects are approved. I assure Deputies, including Deputy 'Ming' Flanagan, in particular, that we will be insisting on value for money and will be following up on that with our engineers supervising these projects. There is a particular problem relating to a graveyard near Rossaveel, County Galway, which has been literally washed into the sea as a result of recent storms. We will instruct the county manager in Galway to immediately fix that problem and give the authority the resources to do that. I hope this quick response from Government will address the storm damage to this vital public infrastructure and limit the damage to the local economy.

In addition to the damage caused to piers, harbours and coastal infrastructure Bord lascaigh Mhara has advised me that there have been consistent reports from around the coast to local officers of loss or destruction of lobster and shrimp pots during the extreme weather storm damage. While I am aware that some loss of pots is normal at this time of year, the scale of losses this year is exceptional. I understand that pots deployed in shallower waters have been most affected. Anyway, what makes this year exceptional is the loss of pots stored on quay sides which would normally be considered secure from winter storm damage. Reports indicate that many pots were washed off piers by the ferocity of waves and the high tides we have seen.

The pot fishermen affected by these losses are small-scale coastal fishermen but there are many of them. The vast majority of vessels are under 10 m in length and many are open or half-deck vessels. In many cases they are crewed by one owner, perhaps with one other crew member. Primarily, these fishermen fish lobster, crab and other shellfish. With the loss of pots, their means of making a living is severely threatened and we are keen to respond to protect their living within reason.

In considering assistance to these pot fishermen for their losses I am mindful that it is not possible to obtain insurance to cover the loss of pots. Therefore, I am pleased to announce today a temporary one-off scheme of assistance to these pot fishermen for the replacement of lobster and shrimp pots lost or destroyed in the recent extreme storms. The scheme is focused on smaller inshore fishermen, it will be limited to vessels under 15 m and it will be administered by BIM, ensuring value for money. It will provide a set amount of €24 per lobster pot lost or €12 per shrimp pot lost. These amounts represent approximately 40% of the cost of replacing such gear. While I am conscious that some pot fishermen have reported losses of several hundred pots I believe these are exceptional cases and therefore I am capping the number of replacement pots at 50 for under 12 m vessels and 100 for under 15 m vessels. A fisherman who has lost 100 pots at the replacement cost of approximately €6,000 will receive assistance of a little under €2,500. A fisherman availing of these schemes will be required to provide certain evidence to BIM to show that he was actively pot fishing in the months before the storms and evidence of purchase of pots that were lost. In addition, he will be required to make a sworn declaration concerning his losses. I am setting aside a maximum budget within my Department of €1.5 million for this scheme to be borne by the existing Vote within my Department. No additional funding will be made available. Therefore, I emphasise that should applications exceed this budget the rate of assistance will be reduced, either in terms of the amount of payment per pot or the maximum number of pots, in order to remain within a managed budget.

Again today, coastal communities are getting hammered by an extraordinary weather pattern. It is as if there is a storm factory in the middle of the Atlantic sending in one storm after another. We have had eight storms at this stage. It is an extraordinary weather pattern and it looks as if it will continue for a further ten days or so. This is a movable feast but the Government is responding today, as it did last week from a humanitarian point of view when €25 million was announced. Today, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, is announcing a further €70 million for structural damage in need of repair. This amounts to a combined commitment of almost €100 million from Government. The problem is still being assessed given the storm that is raging as we speak. We are doing all that is reasonably possible to respond to extraordinary weather conditions prevailing over a prolonged period. Given my responsibility as the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, my focus is on agriculture and we are focused on that sector, but today I wish to focus specifically on fisheries, harbours, piers, slipways and so on because of the two specific schemes being launched today in this area.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the House about the flooding and storm damage that has occurred throughout the country in the past month or so. I believe there has been a certain degree of complacency and a lack of urgency on the Government side in respect of the preparation and prevention mechanisms that could have been put in place. Irrespective of the arguments for and against climate change, it appears there has been a significant pattern of climate change given the significant flooding events in various counties. Certainly this year there have been significant events in Galway, Limerick, Cork and elsewhere as well as throughout the country today. I say as much without endeavouring to make a political point. However, it seems to me that there is a basic lack of any sense of urgency to deal with the issue. The catchment flood risk assessment and management studies are dragging on too long. They have been going on for years at this stage examining proper preventative measures that should be put in place for tidal situations or flooding. I do not believe we are seized enough of the gravity of the situation and the potential for even more damage in future.

I pay warm tribute to all the public sector workers, including those working within the ESB, local councils throughout the country and voluntary rescue teams, who have been helping people who have got into difficulty, some in fatal circumstances. We welcome the work they are doing at the front line and they deserve great credit. Today, they are working in extremely hazardous and difficult conditions. I understand up to 100,000 homes are now without electricity in what is a ferocious storm throughout the south west. From what we hear, it is moving up the country at this stage.

We know that where preventative measures are put in place it can have an appreciable impact. "Prime Time" broadcast a programme on Clonmel. An investment of up to €150 million was made and it has had an impact in terms of the defences and barriers that can be put up, along with proper flood warning and diverting measures, preventing the flooding of the commercial and residential centre of the town. Recently, I was in Mallow. In the midst of bad weather the flood scheme in the town was effective in protecting the centre and this was also the case in Fermoy.

That illustrates what can be done but more urgency is needed to get on with coastal protection and protection of cities and towns from tides and rivers bursting their banks. More has to be done than just praying for better weather. Last week, the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brian Hayes, said the Government did not have the money. That is what I mean about a complacent mindset. Three months ago the same man said we could look forward to tax cuts. This is what happens. The people are told things are getting better and the Government parties have decided to promise tax cuts because local elections are coming and there will be a general election by 2016 saying, "No matter how bad things are we will have a few tax cuts for you by 2016". However, when the storm damage erupted, the Minister of State said it will add 10% to people's tax bills to sort everything out. That is incoherent.

He did not say that.

He did. He threw his hands in the air and said this would cost billions of euro and we cannot afford it. He said if we were to do all that had to be done, it would add 10% to our tax bills. It is hyperbole; it is exaggeration. He was trying to move the debate. It is clever politics, spin and PR.

I do not recall the Minister of State saying that.

I read that in the Irish Examiner and the Minister would not question the veracity of that paper. Deputy Hayes said we needed a debate in society.

Why the hell did we not have it before now? The climate change Bill is going through for the past two and a half years.

Fianna Fáil was 14 years dealing with it.

That is the old argument, which has no relevance.

It is the truth.

The Government parties have been in office for three years. The Minister of State decided after the event that we should have a debate. We should have had a debate prior to it. He should have come into the House three months ago when he said we had plenty of room to reduce taxes and the Government would give people whatever lollipop they wanted before the next election. The Labour Party did the same before the previous election. Its members said they would give people anything they wanted and they put that on triangular notices.

That is hyperbole.

I do not recall any "Anything You Want" posters.

It is not hyperbole. I recall Councillor Jenny McHugh telling me that there were posters up all over County Meath saying the Labour Party would protect child benefit and third level fees.

Is that not what one does during elections?

People are suffering out there.

There is a tendency as the storms break to make announcements that €70 million or €25 million will be provided but the drawdown is much less and the money does not get to the householders or business owners who are flooded in an adequate time. The Minister for Social Protection was able to announce last week: "By the way I have €7 million left over." No one knew where that money was but it was in a pot that had not been spent during a previous storm or flood.

It is a reserve fund.

Clearly, the Minister does not realise what his colleagues are saying. This is the incoherence at the heart of government. It took me a week to get the Taoiseach to say the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government was in charge.

It is money that was left over.

For this purpose.

It is money that was not spent during the last storm. I made representations on behalf of people to try and get basic provisions for them and there was too much red tape, regulation, barriers and obstacles for them to access the money. Of the sum of €25 million announced recently, only €225,000 has been given out.

We just announced how we will spend €9 million to put piers back together.

This Minister should not be so defensive; this is the reality.

The Deputy has three minutes remaining.

Times flies when one is being interrupted.

While the conversation is interesting, I remind the House that we are taking statements.

In November 2011, the Government allocated up to €10 million for flood damage. By May 2012, only €760,000 had been spent. That is a disgrace, particularly in the context of businesses that cannot take out flood insurance. The Government parties can make all the announcements they like but the money does not get to the people.

The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, needs to be sure about the funding announcements he makes. He said he would allocate €50 million to Cork city. The council says it will cost €100 million to implement flood prevention measures. People are ruling out flood barriers but nothing should be ruled out. The studies should be completed as quickly as possible. Once good flood prevention mechanisms are put in place, they can last a lifetime and save billions of euro. That is the mindset with which we should approach this issue. We should do what is right. The €100 million estimate for Cork city does not cover Douglas, Blackpool and Blackrock. The city council believes €100 million is required to protect the city centre alone and that would cover the quay walls and so on.

However, the problem is the Government has starved councils of funding in the very year they need it. Approximately 80% of the property tax yield or €450 million was taken from them. Why is the Minister nodding his head?

Of course the Minister will in his normal way.

In plain English.

The reality is the Government promised 80% of property tax yield to councils but, by last November, it had taken the money from them and given it to Irish Water. That is why local authorities are strapped for money. They cannot even repair footpaths. That is why officials look askance when someone comes along and says he will give them €50 million. They would like money now to plug the gap and address issues.

Tracts of farmland are under water.

It is called transfer of functions. The Deputy is playing politics.

He knows well. People are suffering.

The Minister, Deputy Coveney, is wrong. It is not a transfer of functions. The Government promised the people that councils would get 80% of the property tax yield.

They were supposed to get it this year. The Government is continually misleading the people.

The Deputy should deal with the floods; people are suffering.

That €450 million would help councils to deal with the floods, coastal protection, rivers and barriers immediately. Deputy Cowen will introduce a Bill to deal with insurance for businesses and householders who cannot get insurance because of the way insurance companies are dealing with flooding similar to the legislation that has been adopted in the UK. Will such a Bill be introduced by the Government? We would like answers to these questions.

I welcome the provision of minor grants to fishermen but comprehensive plans are needed to protect our coastline. They are not in place. I have been in Galway and all over. These events are occurring year after year and no comprehensive plan is in operation for the long term.

One would swear the Deputy was not in government for 14 years.

And awash with money.

The Ministers have been in office for three years.

A comprehensive approach and significant investment are needed in places such as Athlone and County Offaly.

The Government should consider using the National Pensions Reserve Fund, NPRF. The fund was used to finance Irish Water. This issue deserves to be the number one priority in the country because it will cost millions and millions of euro. We do not have a proper estimate of the cost. The Government has put forward a stopgap, sticking plaster approach.

I am aware of the tolerance the Acting Chairman often seeks from the Chair when he contributes and I will not over indulge in this regard.

The use of the NPRF should be an option in the context of the scale of funding that will be required to deal with the impact on farming, fishing, business and householders. Something big is needed and it is not happening. The sum of €250,000 allocated by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in the Estimates for the next three years is pitiful. He is in charge of public expenditure and he sets the limits on what can be spent. That amount is negligible and it will be ineffective.

I wish to share time with the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I am conscious that inclement weather is visiting the country again as we speak. We have been experiencing it for weeks on end and ten minutes ago, Met Éireann extended its red alert from Munster to Connacht and Leinster. I understand 100,000 homes are without electricity, Shannon Airport is closed and bus and rail services are severely affected throughout the country. I was in touch with my constituency office before I came to the House and severe damage has been done across my home county. The roof of the new swimming pool in New Ross, for example, has been damaged among other infrastructural damage. I am conscious that we are not talking in historic terms about damage done or sticking plasters, to use Deputy Martin's phrase. There is an ongoing crisis affecting people as we speak.

I pay tribute to the staff of all our utility companies for the work they continue to do in order to ensure that services, particularly electricity, will be restored to people as soon as possible. The point has been made before, but it bears repeating, that the staff of the ESB and local authorities, the members of An Garda Síochána and the Civil Defence and all the community groups that have been involved in addressing the unprecedented storms we have been experiencing in recent weeks must be commended.

Like other Deputies who represent coastal constituencies, I witnessed at first hand the damage that has been done when I visited the flooded areas around New Ross last weekend. Members will be aware that no amount of TV coverage, regardless of how effectively it is presented, can impart the personal hurt and sense of loss and devastation endured by individuals and families when their homes or businesses are devastated by floodwaters. Their hurt and fear is compounded by the knowledge that future weather events might bring further harm to them. Unfortunately, we do not know when the current storm cycle will end. When I was in New Ross, I witnessed the impact of many voluntary community responses to the floods. Indeed people in every part of the country have been rallying in support of their neighbours in so far as is possible. I also saw how small-scale works can offer real protection. The centre of New Ross is protected by flood walls - these will have to be extended - and the works involved were not particularly expensive to complete. Despite the recent floods, there have been instances where flooding was avoided as a result of the fact that defences were put in place. Weather events of the kind we have been experiencing in recent weeks are going to become more common and it is clear that we must engage in a debate on this manner in calmer times.

The response of the Government to the disaster has been threefold. First, as the other Ministers who contributed have already indicated, we have allocated up to €25 million for humanitarian assistance. That is an indicative sum. The moneys involved are to be drawn down on the basis of need and we made a decision yesterday to the effect that some of them are to be channelled through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Irish Red Cross, particularly in respect of those who have difficulty in accessing these moneys through the social welfare system. Social welfare offices have extended their opening hours and social welfare officers are providing assistance to people on a door-to-door basis. I commend the staff of the Department of Social Protection on their efforts in this regard. The second part of the Government's response involves the €70 million that has been allocated, to which the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, referred, in order to address the damage done to key infrastructure.

The third element of our response - I accept what Deputy Martin stated in this regard - relates to a challenge with which we must deal in the medium term. I thank my colleague, the Minister of State at my Department, Deputy Brian Hayes, for the tireless work he has done not only in recent weeks but also during the past three years. He has been forthright in offering his opinion in respect of what needs to be done and he has commenced the national debate on the impact of climate change. There is no doubt that climate change will pose real and substantial challenges to an island nation such as Ireland. Six more flood relief schemes are expected to commence this year in Templemore, Claregalway, Bandon, Skibbereen, Bray and Dublin. In the coming years, progress will be made towards enhancing flood defences throughout the country. I met senior officials from the OPW this morning in order that I might pledge whatever resources are required to put in place immediate relief measures that can have an impact in the medium term and protect our coasts.

It will not be easy to deal with what lies ahead. Let us not pretend that instant schemes can be put in place. The schemes to which Deputy Martin referred, such as that in Clonmel, were planned over many years. We are involved in a major planning process in this regard and we must engage in a debate on how a significant level of resources will have to be deployed in order to ensure that this country and its people will be prepared to deal with the change that is happening to climate worldwide. These issues must remain at the core of our focus long after the current storms pass.

I am conscious that we are speaking about a situation which continues to evolve. At present, people are experiencing the ravages of the storms which continue to hit our country. There has been a whole-of-government response to this matter from the outset. The very first person to come to Limerick in order to see what was happening there was Mr. Sean Hogan, who is present in the Chamber and who is chairman of the national emergency co-ordination unit. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, his Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, and the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, also visited Limerick. The people of the city took heart from this timely response and from the visit from the President in recent days. The courage and solidarity shown by individuals and communities cannot be overemphasised. I witnessed a real coming together of people and all involved are to be hugely commended.

I take this opportunity to comment on the co-ordinated response of the emergency services, the local authority, HSE staff, community welfare officers from the Department of Social Protection, the Irish Red Cross and others to the current crisis. Many different individuals have come together in order to respond to what is happening. I saw one community welfare officer and a social worker from the local council walking around together and knocking on people's doors. I met a public health nurse who literally arrived on scene, introduced herself and asked what she could do to help. Local health services, should they be required, have been put at the disposal of the local community welfare office. The co-ordinated response is ongoing.

I wish to emphasise that immediate assistance is available. Deputy Martin stated that it is taking a long time for help to be forthcoming but community welfare officers are responding immediately and they have already paid out money. In addition, supplies that are urgently required have already been provided. Steps will be taken to ensure that people can replace floor coverings etc., which have been destroyed. Contrary to what some have stated, there is assistance available for those who do not have insurance and who are working. An average family comprising one or two parents and two children can earn up to €70,000 a year and still qualify for support from community welfare officers. We must get the message out that there is help available. In the community in which I live, an information office has been opened at the offices of Limerick Regeneration in the King's Island community centre. In addition, those who are not in receipt of social welfare payments or dependent on the State will have access to the Red Cross fund. One of the most important things we can do at this point is to provide people with information on what is available.

As the Minister of State with particular responsibility for housing and planning, I wish to state that I have ongoing contact with the relevant individuals in respect of regeneration in the Limerick area in particular. In that context, my officials will be meeting representatives from Limerick Regeneration tomorrow. The threat of flooding in the King's Island area of the city was a key factor when the regeneration implementation plan was being designed. Contact with the relevant people is ongoing in terms of whether we need to address the current difficulties in the context of the planning of regeneration. Some significant changes have come about in the area of planning. For example, flood plains are now mapped and development in such areas is forbidden. In addition, local authorities are taking a much more sustainable approach to planning. This is supported at national level by means of a range of policy directives. In circumstances where local plans diverge from the best planning advice available, I have clearly stated my intention to exercise my powers to intervene. In the past two years I have used those powers on four occasions. In the previous decade they were only invoked eight times.

We have major challenges to overcome as a result of the decades of under-investment in flood prevention. The Minister of State with responsibility in the area, Deputy Brian Hayes, has been doing a huge amount of work in that regard. We have also changed planning practices in order to ensure that additional threats will not be created in the future. We have a major job to do in the context of protecting those communities that are vulnerable to flooding. This is an ongoing problem which the Government is addressing.

There is no doubt that what is happening today and what has occurred in recent weeks and months must be classed as a national emergency. The homes of people in Limerick, where the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, lives, Cork and elsewhere have been flooded in recent weeks.

Water can do significant damage in a house; it destroys carpets, floorboards and everything else and nothing can undo the emotional and psychological damage it can cause. Even people who have escaped from having their homes flooded have been confined to their homes for fear of going out. This was more than evident in the past two weeks.

I have been receiving calls all day today from people in my constituency and from those in my own area of Ardfert. They are telling me that they are cowering in their houses. The slates are flying all around them, trees are falling and power is gone. My ten grandchildren, my daughter, sons and wife are all sheltering in one house, my family home, as are their neighbours. They cannot come out because the weather is so bad. We live in Ardfert which is five miles from Tralee where the roof of the Brandon Hotel is gone, as is a roof in the institute of technology in Tralee. Part of the roof of Tralee golf club is gone. I telephoned two people I know very well who have been fishermen all their lives, one of whom is older than me and the other man is my age. They have never seen anything like it.

During the week the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, was down in Fenit and in Ballylongford and Castleisland on his way to Cork. I thank him for making the effort to come down, which is appreciated. I refer to the devastation that has been done in the past number of weeks, in particular, the damage to breakwaters which protect part of our coastal communities. Gaps have been made in the sand bar between Fenit island and Fenit. It is inevitable this sand bar will be destroyed unless something is done to try to protect it. If it does go, between 25 and 30 houses will be in danger along the Tawlaght area back into Chapeltown and over onto the Barrow side. The Minister of State was in Ballylongford. What happened in Ballylongford is not the Minister of State's fault. In 2002 the people were flooded out of their homes and they were made election promises. The previous Government did nothing and now the same thing has happened but only worse. Ballybunion was hit very badly. Rossbeigh has a big sand bar going across the bay from Inch which serves as a protection. It is reckoned that in excess of 1 million tonnes of sand has gone. Anyone who has walked Banna beach will know the lifebuoy posts are positioned against the sand dunes. Now a forty foot articulated truck could be driven between the posts and the sand dunes because the dunes are gone.

There is a significant job of work to be done and I pay credit to the people of Fenit who had a meeting last week. If they can be provided with the material support they are prepared to make the effort to save that sand barrier which connects Fenit island and Fenit. It will take community effort and support as well as government funding. Together we can do something that would benefit all communities and help to save communities which are in a terrible state.

I do not like to attack the Minister, Deputy Hogan, or try to point-score but his announcement of €70 million in aid is in contrast to the €80 million spent on consultants by Irish Water. That puts it in perspective. Individuals prepare a report and they are paid €80 million while an extra €70 million is to be spent in trying to protect our communities. One of the people who telephoned me today said, "We were calling this hurricane Hogan. The Minister is like a hurricane; he destroys everything and he fixes nothing". I hope he proves me wrong and that the other Ministers will live up to our expectations.

This is a national emergency. I have never seen anything as bad in my lifetime. Coastal communities all around the coast have been affected. I was in Kilmore Quay last week because the Sinn Féin Ard-Fheis was held in Wexford. I went out to Kilmore Quay on Thursday and I saw the huge damage there and in Duncannon. There has been damage all along the east coast but the west coast has taken the brunt of it because it is so exposed. Capital funding is necessary to restore and protect the piers and slipways and scenic coastal walkways. Clare County Council estimates that it will cost €45 million or €46 million to restore Lahinch. I do not know what will be the estimate for County Kerry but it will be astronomical if everything is to be restored as it was. It will take very great effort and financing to save the sand dunes that have been badly damaged in the past week.

I wish to put on the record of the House the tremendous efforts by the ESB workers, council workers, community activists and ordinary councillors who have been helping people in their respective communities. They have been a shining example and we are greatly indebted to all of them, in particular, the county council, the ESB and others, who have made such a huge effort.

Is everyone around the Cabinet table taking this situation and the damage seriously? Is it a case of saying that we get this every year? This is the worst I have seen in my lifetime. I come from a coastal community where I live and where I grew up. I have seen circumstances where human life and boats were lost but nothing compares to this. When I left Fenit on Monday evening to come to Dublin, half of Fenit island was flooded and it has been flooded for the past two months. That is only one area. Parts of west County Clare have been greatly damaged. I refer to the material damage to the fishing sector. I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, that he will make funding available to replace lost fishing gear from the 10 m and 15 m inshore fishing vessels. I know people who have lost 500 and 600 pots and that can be multiplied by 60, which is their entire fishing gear gone. They will be given up to €6,000 maximum to replace their gear. That amount would replace 100 pots, one sixth of what they need to fish to make a living. The funding is a help and I will not belittle it but it is a long way short of what they will need if they are to be able to have a viable fishing livelihood.

Sinn Féin has drafted a climate change Bill which would legislate for a 20% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020, and an 85% reduction by 2050. We have been waiting for the Government to publish a climate change Bill to address the problems. The long-term weather forecasters say things will be worse rather than better. We need to protect our coasts and our communities.

I refer to information on work carried out by the OPW which was given in answer to a parliamentary question. Out of a total spend of almost €290 million on flood capital works carried out by the OPW since 2002, only €1 million was spent in County Kerry, which represents 0.3% of the total spend.

It is €1 million of €25 million spent on minor schemes and not the total amount.

I have not seen what happened today but I am told what happened before is minimal compared to it. I do not know whether people's insurance will cover them. People in places in Limerick will not be covered. We need to be there for people politically and all parties in this Chamber must work together to try to get the best possible result for them. Where necessary, we must declare a national emergency and try to get to extra funding from people to whom we have contributed in the past when they had difficulties.

On the day when a major emergency plan has been declared for Kilkenny city and county and the south west and south of our country have been battered by the storms referred to by Deputy Ferris and others, I find it really quite disturbing that the alleged leader of the Opposition would try to make cheap little political points. It is gutter politics at its worst. On the day when this House should be coming together to help our people and speaking with one voice, I find the remarks made by Deputy Martin quite remarkable. Clearly, he had nothing of a positive nature to say and he turned the debate into an attack on the Government. It is gutter politics at its worst. It is a very serious issue for the leadership of that party that this kind of mealy-mouthed observation should have been made in this debate. I have just come from a two hour debate in the other House where every member of Fianna Fáil was constructive and wanted to help, as I suspect every Deputy in Fianna Fáil will. For the leader of the Opposition to do what he did in the context of this debate represents a new low even for him in his attempt to rewrite history.

This is a very serious situation and this House should come together. The Government, in its statement yesterday setting out €70 million of additional moneys to repair the damage from the first set of storms in January of this year, has acted appropriately. As the Minister, Deputy Howlin, said, the first response of Government was to set out the initial humanitarian support needed for our people across the western part of this country as a result of the storms that occurred. I pay tribute to the Department of Social Protection and its staff who, as the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, said, are going from house to house trying to get money to those families who need it most and making sure we get support to those families to help them to rebuild their lives.

An enormous amount of damage was done in the first few days of this year - somewhere close to €60 million to €70 million worth. In my area of responsibility - flood defences - we reckon approximately €19 million is required to fix existing embankments and flood defences. Local authorities will apply for funds to do this work through the minor works scheme. The minor works scheme would normally represent approximately €3.5 million but we expect approximately €18 million to €19 million to be the total sum in that area this year. We are asking the local authorities to send applications into us as soon as they can and we will turn around those applications within a matter of days, and I have already given a commitment to the House to do so. We will prioritise those counties which have been worst affected so that we can get that money quickly to the local authorities. That is the commitment I will give the House in respect of the minor works scheme.

When we have expended that €3.5 million, which I suspect will be by March or April, we will then seek, by way of Supplementary Estimate through the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, additional moneys to replenish the minor works scheme which is the best way to get money quickly to the local authorities. We will give money to the local authorities which, in turn, will contract private sector people to do this work, which we need to get done quickly. I saw examples in Clare, Limerick and Kerry where already the local authorities are patching up work done and are helping to get the embankments solid again. In those cases, we will ensure that the funds are given directly to the local authorities. The Government does not want to see any bickering or any bureaucratic nonsense between local authorities and central government. We want to ensure that money gets to them quickly. That has been the resolve of the Government since this crisis began in the first few days of this year. By virtue of what is happening today and will possibly happen tomorrow, it is inevitable that the bill will grow but we must get that money to the local authorities quickly.

I echo what every Deputy, who spoke in a positive way in this debate, said about what the local authorities and the emergency services have done. They have done a terrific job and are public servants of the highest calibre. I spoke to a group of young people in the Civil Defence in Limerick when I visited there last Monday. They were brilliant young people under 18 years of age who led by example in coming to the rescue of fellow citizens in Limerick and who had not slept for two days. One reads negative commentary about our young people but one should have seen what these young people were doing. It was a marvel. That is the kind of dedication, volunteerism and spirit of our people. It is absolutely the case that the Government, this House and our local authorities must work as one in helping those people in our constituencies who have been so badly affected by the storms and the tidal surges.

What has happened has been an unprecedented weather event. It has not just happened in this country. If one looks at the south of England, France, Portugal and Spain, one will see western Europe has been battered of late. We need a strategic response to this and I make no apologies for my remarks last week that we need a national debate on this issue when the storms end, the cameras stop running and the media is no longer there. The debate I have been trying to have in my Department for the past three years has not engaged the public. We need a debate about how we plan for the future and create sustainable development.

Part of that is the work the OPW has been doing in regard to the river basin catchment areas. We have divided the country into six major catchment areas. All of the areas around those six catchment areas have now been properly dealt with in terms of flood maps. We can now predict what is likely to happen in those river basin catchment areas by way of a series of weather events. Those maps will be signed off on and agreed by this year. By the end of next year, we will have dealt with the 300 areas which are prone to significant flooding events and that will be sent to Brussels with a design plan around each of them and the prioritisation of how we expect to proceed in those particular areas.

This Government and, in fairness, the previous one ramped up expenditure on capital defences. We have €0.25 billion to spend over a five year period. When that envelope comes to an end in 2016, we will set out a new plan. For the first time ever, we will have all of the flood maps in place, which the public can see, and we will have detailed designs around those 300 hotspots and a plan on how we will spend that money. The total cost of those 300 hot spots, as we refer to them in the OPW, is somewhere between €1.6 billion and €2 billion. Given the current rate of expenditure, it could take 35 years before we have dealt with all those issues. Clearly, this will be an issue for Government in terms of capital expenditure and spending on flood relief schemes to ensure we can continue to roll this out. That will require additional expenditure, a prioritisation and a multi-criteria test in terms of cost-benefit analysis. We must spend the money where we can save most. For every €1 we spend, we save €3 in terms of potential loss on the damage side. In Dublin city, for example, €65 million worth of damage was done over three days in 2002. The tidal event that happened in the first two days of this year was greater than the 2002 event but the total damage in Dublin city was less than €100,000. That bill has gone down over the 12 year period because the Tolka river and the Dodder river were dealt with and very important engineering schemes were put in place, which have made a huge difference.

I mention Clonmel, Fermoy, Mallow, Ennis, Waterford and Kilkenny, despite the fact an emergency has been called in the city this afternoon. Where investment has been made, it has made an enormous difference when it has come to dealing with these events. We must agree strategically how we will continue to put investment into these communities. I stand over what I said last week. I was honest in what I had to say. We cannot provide a solution for every acre of land in the country but we need to utilise the resources we have in the most effective way possible.

That requires people to buy into the CFRAMS mapping process and into the plan we will submit under the flood directives by the end of next year.

A national debate about proper planning and development is also needed. We are now paying the price for a generation of bad planning. Houses were built in flood plains and in other areas where they should never have been built. Taxpayers and everyone else in this country are having to pay for that. We need to proceed on the basis of a proper national debate, rather than by making silly party political points during a five-minute contribution that has not been thought out. I hope the House will work on that basis with whatever Government is in office. We need long-term solutions as part of the long-term process of resolving these issues. The most immediate concern we face is to make sure we can help communities to rebuild their lives after these dreadful events. We need to make sure the State is there to support local authorities, which are doing a fantastic job. The necessary planning and funding arrangements must be put in place to help us get through this very difficult position.

I wish to share time with Deputies Catherine Murphy and Tom Fleming.

We are practically in the eye of the storm that has come up from the south. It is hitting Dublin at the moment. I would say we are seeing the tail end of it.

I would like to pick up on the points that were made earlier about the overall climate change picture. We remember the weather events of 2002, 2009 and 2011 and we are having another such event in 2013-14. It is symptomatic of a change in our climate. This change will continue over the coming decades. As glaciers in the North Pole and South Pole melt, there will be more water in our seas which will affect coastal regions in a big way. That is for the longer term.

These difficulties are not confined to Ireland. As the Minister of State said, there have been problems in England and elsewhere in Europe. Significant areas of America, including poor island countries and coastal areas, are regularly damaged by hurricanes. Poorer areas are generally more affected by storms because they are less protected and less investment has gone into them. The Minister of State rightly said that investment is crucial, but investment takes time. We need to reflect as a matter of emergency on how we can hasten investment in flood defences over the next few years.

Some €50 million of damage was done in Cork and Limerick over a period of between 36 and 48 hours. We need to add to that the cost of having to send out workers from the ESB, local councils and the OPW. The cost of the effects of recent events on aspects of farm activity, such as cattle, grain and vegetables, also needs to be considered. It has been forecast that Britain will have problems feeding its people next year because of the effects of the floods there on farmland. The costs associated with the effects of what happened recently can be added to the costs that had to be met after the events of 2002, 2009 and 2011. If we had put in better flood defences many years ago, the recent bad weather would not have had such an impact and would not be costing people so much. I refer not only to the economic cost, but also to the human cost of people having to leave their homes and deal with such disruption.

I will make a final point with regard to insurance companies. I would very much like to have a little more speaking time. We met the Minister of State in 2012 to discuss what happened in Kilmainham during the big floods in Dublin the previous year. He met the relevant people very quickly after we asked him to do so. The issue of insurance was raised on that occasion. There are two aspects to this matter. First, insurance companies use flood maps to say they cannot provide insurance. Second, they refuse to insure people after flood defences are installed. Approximately 100,000 people cannot get flood insurance at present. That number will increase now that so many people have been affected by the recent flooding. We need to seriously consider establishing a national public insurance fund to assist people. I do not accept what the insurance companies are saying because they are trying to get out of it. This matter needs to be seriously examined.

Anyone who has stood in a house that has been flooded will be aware that after the immediate crisis has been dealt with, householders are keen to ensure they do not have to go through such an experience for a second time. A more strategic focus is needed in that regard. I acknowledge that the work done after a flooding event has often been shown to have represented a good investment when further weather events have taken place. That has been the experience in my constituency. Last year, some staff from Kildare County Council who had been involved in very good works in this regard spoke at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht and went through some of their case studies. That meeting was poorly attended, unfortunately. If a similar meeting took place today it would be better attended. We need to learn from where we have done things right. For example, I question whether we can get better value for money by doing something by means of direct labour. The OPW does have some direct labour but it could be greatly expanded. The Minister of State has shown clearly by referring to the Dublin model that a saving can be demonstrated where works have been done. We could be much more proactive, rather than being reactive in some respects.

I am concerned to ensure the money that is allocated on foot of these events is new money. Work on some schemes, including the River Morell scheme in my constituency, is very close to commencing. I would hope the funding of such schemes would not be lost simply because bigger areas have been affected by flooding recently. I wonder whether we need to re-examine the effect the habitats directive is having on the dredging of rivers. There is a conflict in this regard. Rivers sometimes silt up, to the point at which some of the capacity that could be absorbed in the event of a flood is lost. Local knowledge is often good knowledge from that perspective. I will conclude by reiterating the point Deputy Collins made about insurance companies that are using flood maps against people. In some areas, they are almost suggesting that water is flowing uphill in order to deny people insurance. They have to be reined in because this is not good enough.

I think we will all say the same thing about the insurance companies.

The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, witnessed at first hand the devastation and turmoil that have been experienced in coastal and inland parts of County Kerry when he visited the county last week. It is unfortunate that time constraints prevented the Minister of State from visiting all the crisis areas in the county.

It was impossible.

I urge the Minister of State to act immediately on the catchment flood risk assessment and management programme, which is developing a medium to long-term strategy for reducing and managing flood risk. As this study, investigation and plan of action is being compiled under an EU directive that involves identifying areas of existing flooding, it is imperative and crucial for Ireland to seek and secure substantial EU funding to enable us to combat this problem as it exists in those areas which were worst affected and devastated in recent weeks, as well as those areas which will be at significant risk in the future.

As we are speaking, the situation in County Kerry has been exacerbated by today's storm. I have received several communications from people regarding fallen trees and the prospect of serious flooding as river levels get higher. This storm is likely to cause more devastation along the coast, as well as electricity blackouts, etc. I focused on coastal regions when I spoke during the Dáil debate on this issue on 16 January last. The OPW has placed many towns and villages in County Kerry, including Castleisland, Glenflesk, Ballylongford, Kenmare, Killarney, Milltown, Portmagee, Tralee, Dingle, Banna, Abbeydorney and Tarbert, on the priority list of places that need immediate attention. I believe Cromane, Kells, Lower Bridge Street in Killorglin, the Maharees and Waterville should be added to this list. I have heard from people in those areas again today. The new cemetery in Castleisland has been submerged under a serious amount of water for the past three weeks.

The Minister of State has seen it at first hand and this should be resolved immediately with drainage and diversion of the water.

There is also need for immediate remedial measures to stop the ongoing flood damage to houses in Ballylongford where householders and businesses are experiencing repeated flooding to their premises. The residents of Glenflesk and Clonkeen east of Killarney have historically had flood damage to their properties for many years and this project is also a priority.

In view of the adverse effects of global warming and subsequent rising seas, we need to look to the expertise of the Dutch who have centuries of experience in battling water. We can certainly learn from their engineering techniques how better to protect people and property from flooding. The Netherlands experiences ferocious storms that hurtle in from the north west and are funnelled across the North Sea towards Dutch coastal areas. They have developed a keen awareness of the consequences of flooding and the imperative to prevent it in a country where two thirds of the population, including most of the residents of the largest cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, live in flood-prone land, much of which is below sea level. The Dutch have been able to mobilise enormous resources to anticipate and minimise the risk of flooding. The Government should engage and communicate with the Government of the Netherlands. We can learn from the Dutch expertise and we need to develop a relationship immediately.

I call the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Alan Kelly, who is sharing time with Deputies Conway and Kevin Humphreys.

I am obviously conscious that we are engaging in a debate at a time when we can hear the storms blowing outside. I am growing increasingly concerned about the storms that are ravaging Munster at the moment. Having seen what social media can deliver to people's phones straightaway, showing the devastation across the country, the House needs to work collectively on the matter. I am sure we will see further trouble today and tomorrow. I agree with the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, that we all need to work collectively across the House on the issue. This is not about this Government or the previous one; it is about multiple governments having a consistent approach to the matter when it comes to how the climate and tidal conditions have changed in recent decades and will continue into the future.

As one who lives on the banks of the Shannon, and having seen the devastation to my neighbours' property, I have been heartened by the work of utility company employees, volunteers, council workers, the Civil Defence, emergency crews and all those working for the different State agencies involved, who have gone beyond the call of duty to assist their neighbours and everyone who has been in trouble. I also pay tribute to those who work for the Department of Social Protection, who have done fantastic work, going from door to door in many cases to ensure that people are safe.

In places where flood defence mechanisms have been put in place previously, have they delivered on everything? Perhaps not. However, in many cases we can see the effects they have had. For a small to medium investment in some cases, we have seen gradual real proof that defence mechanisms can work. In particular major progress has been made with the work undertaken in Clonmel, County Tipperary in recent years.

Having seen the devastation at first hand, the Government has announced a €70 million relief package. In the area of public transport, the Government has allocated €5 million to Iarnród Éireann to deal with major damage, which arose mainly at three mainline stations - Kent Station in Cork, Pearse Station in Dublin and Plunkett Station in Waterford. Having recently visited both Kent and Plunkett stations, I can confirm the damage was extensive. Irish Rail had to utilise everything it could to maintain services, on which I compliment its workers. Some €2.8 million will go directly to the roof repair in Kent Station with a further €500,000 going towards renewal works in some of the depot buildings within the overall site.

Just under €1 million will be allocated towards Plunkett Station in Waterford. This will see €300,000 being spent to clear up the site where recent rock falls occurred, as the station is very close to cliffs, with a further €600,000 being put in place to protect against further rock falls in future. There will also be some remedial works at Pearse Station to the value of €300,000.

As the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, will outline later in the debate, this funding will not solve every issue there is in the transport system in Ireland. In some cases we will need to look deeper to solve some of the issues. I have looked at the issue of the Limerick to Ennis line which seems to get closed during any floods. I was recently notified that it could be closed for up to six weeks, which is not sustainable and this has been going on for decades. We need to consider what solutions may be used.

We have targeted our limited funds at the areas where roads are worst affected with counties Waterford, Cork, Wexford, Mayo and Clare receiving extensive funding. A further €1.5 million has been made available for repair to embankments to protect Shannon Airport and the industrial estate in the town, which has been badly damaged.

It is too soon to say whether the most recent flooding and storms will cause further damage in the transport sector. We will return to this matter when new assessments are carried out and all the various agencies will need to look at that in the coming weeks. We have been working very closely with all those agencies to ensure we mitigate the effect of storm damage and to maintain a proper service as far as is practicable given the safety requirements.

There is a real need for a wider debate on the issue and I hope the House will adopt a cross-party spirit because we need a long-term strategy to address the matter.

Further to what the Minister of State has said, I welcome the significant amount of money made available to Waterford railway station. That station is vulnerable, as it is by the shore and near the cliffs. As it is an essential part of our infrastructure, that €1 million is, of course, very welcome.

The storm is raging as we speak this evening. I have heard countless reports of debris sprawling across roads. In a very serious incident a roof was blown off a retail unit into a secondary school in Ferrybank. I appeal to people who may be out there that there is no heroism in trying to get the best photograph for Facebook. I am concerned that people going out to get that photograph are putting at risk not only their own safety, but also that of others, including those in the fire brigade and the ambulance service, who are working with might and main to keep people safe. While I know it is not always possible, if people can stay at home, they should do that. I am increasingly alarmed at what is appearing in our social media feeds in terms of what is going on at the moment.

Waterford city was very badly hit. Last week, up to 150 homes were flooded in the Poleberry area. I commend the cross-agency effort of the HSE, the Department of Social Protection and the local authority. Fishing boats in coastal villages such as Dunmore East, Cheekpoint, Passage and Ring have been tied up for six weeks. There are families without income because of the storms that are ravaging. I call on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine to engage with fishing communities throughout the country because these people have been starved of an income, not to mention the damage to the local amenities. I have seen a submission to the OPW showing the cost of damage in one part of County Waterford at €750,000.

The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, mentioned what happened in February 2002 when €65 million worth of damage occurred in the Dublin area. That was 12 years ago and we are still waiting for the insurance companies to react and for people in those areas to get flood insurance. When people get back on their feet, which I believe they will, and the repairs are done, they still have to face the consequences of the lack of insurance in the event of their houses being flooded again.

I want to focus in my contribution on the issue of flood insurance. Tens of thousands of homes cannot get insurance cover. That means people cannot sell their homes or buy new homes. They are trapped in a catchment area. If they bought a two-bedroomed house they cannot move to a three-bedroomed house and if they want to downsize they cannot do so because if they cannot get flood insurance they cannot get a mortgage.

As the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, said on "Prime Time" last Tuesday, we need to discuss whether the State needs to become the insurer of last resort. We as legislators have a responsibility to act. The insurance industry in Ireland has been subject to light touch regulation and that needs to be changed. In that respect, I need only mention PMPA, the Quinn Group or the RSA. As Deputy Catherine Murphy said, entire areas have been blacklisted. That is the position even if one's house is on the top of a hill where it cannot be touched by flood water, as has happened to home owners in Lucan. It is unbelievable.

I ask that on foot of this debate a national survey would be carried out to establish exactly how many homeowners cannot get flood insurance. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, referred to a memorandum of understanding between the OPW and the insurance industry. That will only work for those areas that have had flood protection works carried out by the OPW. I will not hold my breath for bringing in of such a memorandum of understanding.

We need to examine what is happening elsewhere. In the UK, there is the operation of a statement of principles between the Government and the insurance industry. That allows for insurance companies to continue insuring areas where flood defence work has taken place. That agreement will be replaced by a proposal called Flood Re, the impact of which is that £10.50 put on every policy to cover those areas that are being flooded. The flood forum in Cork has put forward a very good scheme that would have a limited liability.

On foot of this debate we should go to the Central Bank - the Financial Regulator - to make sure that insurance companies play a fair and clear role in this regard. Home owners who have had flood insurance for 30, 40 and 50 years and never made a claim now find they can not longer get insurance. This is not acceptable and action is needed. I heard Deputy Barry Cowen speak about bringing a Private Members' Bill on this issue before the House. I spoke last week, last month and last year on this issue. We need to move on. People need certainty, security and flood insurance. This House needs to act and act now.

The next speaker is Deputy Naughten. He is sharing time with Deputy Terence Flanagan and they will have five minutes each.

I am also sharing my time with Deputy Timmins.

My heart goes out to those who have had their homes flooded. I have been in similar houses down the years. It is devastating for any family to have their house flooded, particularly when there is the potential risk of it happening a second and third time. During the past few days numerous families in my constituency have not been able to sleep at night because of the risk of their home being flooded again for a further time. It is an issue of huge concern around the country and in my constitutency and one on which we need to definitively act.

I acknowledge the role played by the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, in this regard. In fairness to him, he is the first Minister with responsibility for the Office of Public Works who came to the Shannon catchment area in advance of any flooding. He was proactive and met the communities involved and started putting steps in place straightaway. That needs to be acknowledged. One significant step he took was to introduce a pilot project to reduce the water level at the weir wall in Athlone and the water level in Lough Ree. A concern I have about the work is that a trial was done on it in 2013 but it is like the third secret of Fatima, in that, for some bizarre reason the OPW and the ESB are not willing to disclose the results and the impact it has, particularly on summer flooding within the Shannon Callows. The results of that need to be put into the public domain in order that we know exactly what is going on.

The Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, spoke about hotspots and said that it would take 35 years to address those hotspots. Included in those are ones in my new constitutency in Ahascragh and Ballinasloe and in my current constitutency in Ballinamore, Carrick on Shannon, Drumshanbo, Leitrim, Mohill, Athleague, Boyle, Castlerea, Dromod and Roscommon. I note from the list of hotspots that there is no mention of the community in Four Roads in County Roscommon or of the community in Clonown who can, on occasion, be marooned in their homes because of flooding. I hope the Minister of State will amend that list to include those particular communities.

Many speakers have spoken about the issue of insurance. In fairness to the OPW, it has spent a good deal of money in addressing flooding problems. One particular community that has benefited is the community in Athleague where some works have been carried out to alleviate the flooding problem, but families and individuals there cannot get flood insurance from the insurance industry to cover their homes and premises even though those works have been carried out and more works are planned. It is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately by the insurance industry.

It is imperative that we ensure that the moneys that are being made available are spent in a practical way. A fund was put in place to provide for a home relocation scheme in my constituency on foot of the 2009 flooding but families are still waiting in 2014 for money to be released under that scheme. It is not right that families have had to wait five years and cope with layers upon layers of bureaucracy to deal with a scheme, the purpose of which was to take them out of a flood plain once and for all to ensure that the issue not arise again. The OPW has said that it will not be physically possible for it to protect those homes.

It is also important that immediate action is taken to address the siltation of the River Shannon. Since the British left this country not one shovel of silt has been taken out of the river. We have addressed the issue in other tributaries but not in the River Shannon. I urge the National Parks and Wildlife Service to take a proactive approach to address this. I ask that it thinks of human beings and not only the flora and fauna and to take a practical approach to address this.

The next speaker is Deputy Terence Flanagan who will have four minutes and Deputy Timmins will have a minute and a half.

Like Deputy Naughten, I very much sympathise with the residents who have been badly affected and will be affected in the coming days with the current bad weather we are experiencing. I acknowledge, as did Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, the presence of the staff of the county councils and all their hard work and the work that has been done by the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes in particular. Addressing the issue of flooding will always requires more funding, and more funding is necessary, as was mentioned by previous speakers.

My constitutency of Dublin Bay North has been affected by the flooding as have all constituencies. I met residents in Sutton recently who raised the issue of flooding on the Strand Road, particularly during periods of bad weather and high tides, and their homes are close to the coast. A sea wall is badly needed to protect the local area. Strand Road is part of the main road into Sutton and provides an access to the local graveyard. It is also an access point for the local national schools. The residents want Fingal County Council to provide the necessary funding. It is an issue that has been ongoing for 15 years and, sadly, they have been refused funding on an ongoing basis because the project required is of a larger scale than that which would be covered by a minor works scheme. A larger project is required but it would not qualify for the lower limit of funds that would be available under the minor works scheme. A sea defence wall is very much needed in this area.

It is a matter I hope the Minister will consider because it happens every year, if not more frequently, depending on the weather conditions at the time.

Clontarf is another coastal area that is affected from time to time. There was controversy there in recent years regarding the council unilaterally going ahead with the building of a sea wall without full consultation with local residents and the business community. I am glad progress has been made and that a joint working group has been set up in the area, with the Clontarf Business Association, the residents association and Dublin City Council holding regular meetings to discuss the construction of a second, much lower wall, which may be necessary to allay residents' fears. Donnycarney is another area that faces flooding issues, particularly during periods of heavy rain, when properties are affected.

As other Deputies have said, there are concerns about insurance companies not being willing to insure those homes that are prone to flooding. It is to be hoped the Minister will look towards an insurance levy, which is one way for moneys to be ring-fenced to help those home owners who are badly affected and who should not be left to pick up the tab.

I thank Deputy Flanagan for sharing time. In the first instance, I send my sympathies to the families, relatives and friends of those who have lost their lives during this tragedy. I think particularly of the tourists in the Sheep's Head area. I hope people can remain safe for the duration of these storms. I acknowledge the work of the emergency services, the ESB and other essential services.

With respect to the issue of flooding, we are faced with three choices: first, we leave things as they are; second, we put in the necessary funding to deal with the issue; or, third, we decide to abandon particular areas that may be subject to flooding. It is important that the Government does not adopt a carte blanche approach, that it looks at each area individually and then decides what is best for the individual and for the common good. I know it is difficult to see some areas completely isolated and cut off, notwithstanding that in some cases planning permission may have been granted for some of these developments that did not necessarily have the support of the technical staff. It is important to judge these issues case by case.

I urge a word of caution, however. The storm we have seen in the south west today, which is working its way up the country as we speak, is probably unique, and we cannot base policy on the damage it may do. A number of flood schemes have been in the pipeline in recent years. With my local hat on, I think of the scheme in Arklow, on which several reports have been drawn up over 20 years. A final report has been completed and it is hoped the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW will grant the funding for it. While the east coast has been relatively unscathed so far during these floods, I would like to think this will not result in funding being moved away from it. In addition, a scheme is under way at Bray that has run into a contractual problem, and I hope that will be completed.

I acknowledge the work of the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, in this area in recent years. I know he has, with his staff, meticulously examined several areas, including my own home town, where €200,000 to €300,000 was provided for flood relief work that has held off the flooding which had occurred regularly in the past ten to 15 years. I welcome his commitment in this regard. However, I would advise the Government to tread cautiously, not to base its decisions on what has happened in recent weeks and to look at the overall scheme of things. We have to decide, as a country, whether we are willing to put the necessary funding in place to make these locations safe because it will take an awful lot more funding than has been granted heretofore.

I join other Members of the House in sympathising with all those who have been adversely affected by the recent weather emergencies and, in particular, the loved ones of those who have lost their lives, including tourists who were visiting the country. I realise only too well the devastation that can be caused to homes, businesses and properties, and the terrible sense of helplessness when flood waters rise above the sandbags and threaten to destroy everything in their path. As a society and as communities, we need to band together at times like this and do as much as we can to protect each other from harm, and to provide help where it is needed. In that spirit, I pay a particular tribute to all those who have gone to great lengths over the past eight or nine weeks to help those who have been in trouble and to deal with the after-effects. These include local authority staff, staff from the Department of Social Protection, Coast Guard volunteers, the emergency services, transport workers in CIE and other operators, the Civil Defence and, of course, the very many good samaritans who responded to the immediate needs of their friends and neighbours.

The flooding events of recent weeks have been exceptional and the Government has decided to make exceptional provision to deal with their consequences. Before I address that, however, I acknowledge that, in the transport sector, weather conditions cause significant damage to our infrastructure every year. For that reason, the financial allocations for roads and other elements of our infrastructure are always intended to cover the costs of repairs and restoration arising from weather related damage almost every year. To take regional and local roads, for example, where most of the damage tends to occur, all Members will be aware that the maintenance and repair of these roads is the statutory function of local authorities. The Exchequer provides grants to supplement the local authorities' own spending and resources, not to cover the full cost.

Last month, I announced regional and local road allocations to local authorities totalling €332 million. Given the severity of our fiscal position, these grants are running well below the level of previous years and, for that reason, the main focus of all available funding is on the maintenance and repair of existing roads rather than on new schemes or improvements. In current circumstances, we have to prioritise the maintenance and restoration of our existing assets over and above the addition of new assets. Therefore, even though there was a 17% cut to the local and regional roads budget, when it came to roads maintenance, repair and restoration, there was actually an increase. This was made possible because so many of the improvement schemes have been suspended.

This year, I have given the local authorities more discretion than they have ever had in deciding how to make best use of the funding I allocate to them. This will enable them to have greater flexibility in addressing priority repair works. I have to recognise, however, that the storm damage to regional and local roads has been so extreme in certain counties that it will not be possible to address them within the normal allocations. Therefore, the Government has agreed that, in transport as in other areas, additional allocations will be made to rectify the problems in the areas that are most badly affected.

The Cabinet yesterday considered a report on the costs arising from the first sequence of severe weather, which ran from 13 December to 6 January. In due course we will get an additional report on the additional costs that have arisen from the more recent episodes of storm damage and flooding which have occurred throughout the month of January and into February. Indeed, the storms today have been very severe. I have been in touch with the various transport operators during the day. As I speak, 260,000 homes are without power, Cork and Shannon airports have had to suspend services for a period of time, and indeed a small aircraft at Shannon was tipped on its wing. Train services from Heuston to the south west have been cancelled and many bus services in the south west have been cancelled as well.

The exceptional costs to local authorities in regard to the restoration of damaged roads have been estimated at just over €16 million. The Government has agreed to provide that amount in a supplementary allocation to the counties concerned. While most counties will require some level of support, certain counties were particularly badly affected and will each require very substantial funding. I will give just two examples. First, in County Waterford, the bill for roads comes to almost €4 million. The promenade wall was breached in Tramore and part of the road was washed away, and a number of other roads were also damaged. Second, County Galway will require support of almost €3 million. Sections as long as 200 m to 300 m were washed away on nine coastal loop roads. Many causeway walls, footpaths and car parks were damaged and access to a number of houses was cut off when a coastal road was washed away. These will, of course, have to be restored as soon as weather conditions permit. Other counties that were particularly badly affected include Mayo, Clare, Kerry, Cork and Wexford.

Other transport infrastructure, in addition to roads, has also been damaged by the extreme weather. The Government has agreed to provide €5 million to larnród Éireann to deal with the major damage which arose mainly at three mainline stations - Kent Station in Cork, Pearse Station in Dublin and Plunkett Station in Waterford. Some €1.5 million will be provided to the OPW and Clare County Council to repair embankments which protect Shannon Airport, as well as the industrial estate and the town of Shannon.

There will also be a small provision of around €50,000 for some Coast Guard station houses, which have been very badly damaged along the west coast. There will also be significant repair costs in a number of port companies but as port companies are entirely commercial entities and receive no State income, they will have to meet the cost of these repairs from their own resources.

It is too soon to say whether the recent storms and floods will cause major damage in the transport sector on a scale that would require a further supplementary provision to be made. The Government will return to this question when fresh assessments have been made. For now, I am pleased to be in a position to be able to provide very significant extra support to deal with the very exceptional damage caused by the storms of late December and early January.

I am pleased the Minister is here while I am speaking because there are issues, some of which relate to his Department, that need to be tackled in a pragmatic and reasonable way. I have heard much reasonable talk about the fact there is no way in which we can foresee every event of nature. We could deal with all of what we think might happen in the future and nature would still beat us because nature is very fickle. However, we must look at this on two levels. The first and much more urgent level involves dealing with the aftermath of the damage done. The second level, which applies to cities and rural areas but is particularly important in cities, relates to the steps one takes to prevent on a cost-benefit analysis preventable floods in future. We saw the effect of the work that had been done in recent years in Claregalway and Clonmel.

There needs to be a whole-of-government approach to this problem. We must make sure Departments do not take a narrow approach and look after their bailiwick and little sectional interests. At the end of the day, if there is a problem that needs to be addressed, it needs to be addressed. Nobody chose for this to happen. The consequences outlined by the Minister, including all these loop roads in my constituency that have been destroyed, took place in places one would not expect to find them. An issue that has arisen about which we need clarification is that some of the roads referred to by the Minister are not in council charge. They are public roads leading down to public infrastructure and were built with public money through either Gaeltacht schemes or local improvement schemes. Many of them serve houses, graveyards, piers etc. They are not for private use and when one drives on them, one does not know they are not council roads. We need clarification about the money being provided as long as these roads were submitted on the county council list. I have checked with the county manager with Galway. It is all public infrastructure but a mixture of council charge infrastructure and non-council charge infrastructure was submitted. I believe that in terms of need, they should be assessed on a needs basis and not on whether the council is in charge. If that is not done, we will face a major headache in terms of basic services to people.

I will provide another example of how we need flexibility. The air trips are the lifeline to the islands. There was a large sandbank on Inis Meáin air strip that protected the air strip from the sea. There was a breach in that bank during the first storm and, again, I understand the county council has submitted a proposal to deal with that issue and put in sea defences. I can imagine the turf war that will take place with people passing the parcel in respect of responsibility for these issues. Many rural people have depended on this type of publicly funded infrastructure that is not taken in charge for maintenance for many years and are waiting for that infrastructure to be put back in.

I am very pleased to hear that roads like Errelough road that were destroyed in the storms were county roads. I presume they are one of the five loops because it was the loop with the greatest number of houses on it that was utterly destroyed that will be put back. We need to do this urgently. It is important that within the next day or two, the county council is given the go ahead for the really urgent work. It has waited quite a long time already to be told it will be getting the money and formal sanction to do the work that needs to be done urgently to give people access to their houses. I understand that there has been a bit of tick tacking but the council needs clarity. We need to get that work done. A lot of figures have been thrown about. An allocation was made yesterday, which I obviously welcome, but the reality is that one will not spend the money this year in respect of some of the work that will need tenders that is not so urgent or will need designs and tenders. Let us be honest about it. It is not that urgent. It is urgent to say "here is the money to go and design it" but one does not have to find the money out of the Exchequer this year. I and the Minister know that so we need to prioritise those issues. I mentioned Errelough road in Roundstone. The road to the oil depot and the recycling depot on Inis Mór has been cut off. I stood in one of the craters created by the sea and it was way over my head. That is how deeply the sea cut into the road. I understand it is far worse since I visited it in early January. We need to give the go head immediately to deal with these. The same thing applies to sea defences, graveyards etc.

The second thing I would like to mention is the need to be creative. I suggested to the Minister for Social Protection twice that we have a huge problem along the coast. Every kind of bric-a-brac has been washed up in the storms. Plastic has come up. Along the coast, particularly in the west of Ireland, many of the fences were not fences but stone walls. In many cases, the entire foundation is gone and what was the beginning of one's field where one built the wall on the grass is now ar dtuirling with all these stones one would find on the seashore. It will not be possible for many of the farmers who own this land to put back these walls. These walls were built over hundreds of years and the stones would be very heavy to lift. What I suggested to the Minister for Social Protection as a cheap, efficient and socially acceptable way of dealing with this problem was that for one year she would allow the rural social scheme to employ 300 extra participants. A participant on the social employment scheme costs about €5,000 over and above what they will get if they are receiving farm assist. In a situation where one would allow another €2,000 for materials, money or the odd machine one might need to do the work, it is my belief that the cheapest and most cost-effective way of reinstating the coastal walls along the seashore would be to employ 300 extra people at a cost of €2 million net to the Department of Social Protection. To be honest, €2 million is margin of error stuff in the Estimate of that Department. In fact, it is much less than margin of error stuff in the Estimate of that Department. I ask the Minister to ask the Minister for Social Protection to look at this as a creative, cost-effective and simple way of solving a problem that will cause difficulty.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine confirmed to me yesterday that farmers must build up these walls and fences again or they will otherwise not be eligible for their farm grants. They are already facing the loss of land. I received a letter immediately after the storm asking me whether I could do anything for them as their land was devastated by coastal storm damage. The letter said that all their walls and large chunks of their land were washed away and that they were suffering great hardship because of it. They asked me to let them know if there was any financial help. People are in desperation in respect of this issue.

My time is fairly short. There are many things I would like to say. I reiterate that fishermen have not been able to put to sea and because of the social welfare arrangements under which they work, they have not been able to claim social welfare for the abnormal duration of their time off sea.

Storm after storm has rolled in off the Atlantic. The Minister for Social Protection needs to consider this issue and devise an arrangement to assist these people.

There is a major problem with urban flooding around the coast. Galway, Limerick, Waterford and Dublin are prone to flooding, some worse than others. I join in supporting those who believe that, just as everyone must have car insurance and anyone who is refused, say, four times should go to the insurance federation, we need a situation in which the insurance industry provides everyone with flood insurance, if necessary through a levy, as long as the householder takes reasonable precautions. Otherwise, the industry will throw the entire burden of flood damage little by little onto the State.

I hope that the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, will be able to have some of the issues that I have raised addressed. Perhaps he could write informing me of what council and non-council infrastructure falls under his remit.

The year 2013 will be fondly remembered in County Clare following the historic All-Ireland success of our hurlers. Last year also brought a summer of brilliant sunshine, with many tourists holidaying on the Banner County's north and west coasts. While 2014 may also prove to be a successful year for our hurlers, it will definitely be remembered for the trail of havoc and destruction caused by Storms Christine and Brigid and the current Storm Darwin. Extremely high tides, combined with gale force winds and torrential rain, have caused mayhem to homes, villages, businesses and communities on the north and west coasts of County Clare. Significant urgent works are required to rebuild flood defences and to incorporate new flood protections, including the construction of sea walls to protect homes that have been left vulnerable, such as at Cloughaninchy in Quilty.

Vast stretches of costal roads have been broken up, damaged, undermined and, in some cases, swept away. A prime example of a most vulnerable road in the wake of the storms is the R478 regional road through Liscannor, which provides access to the Cliffs of Moher where 950,000 people visited last year. Its foundation has been severely undermined by the sea and there is a justifiable fear in Liscannor that it could collapse. Immediate action is required to safeguard the public from the road's dangers. The public road at Kilbaha has been closed in recent days, which is a major inconvenience for residents. It must be re-opened without delay. It forms part of the Wild Atlantic Way and must be brought up to standard at the earliest opportunity.

The damage has to be seen to be believed. A number of weeks ago, the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, visited County Clare to view the devastation at first hand. He spent the entire day getting properly briefed by the Clare senior engineer, Mr. Tom Tiernan, the Kilrush area engineer, Mr. Cyril Feeney, and the north Clare area engineer, Mr. Steve Lahiff. The Minister of State saw damaged piers, footpaths, walls, bridges, railings, lighting and promenades that were all in need of repair and investment. This work is required in areas such as New Quay, Doolin, Liscannor, Lahinch, Quilty, Doonbeg, Carrigaholt, Kilbaha, Ross Bay and into the Shannon Estuary at Kildysart, Ballynacally and Clarecastle along with an inland community at Dooras in O'Callaghan's Mills, east Clare.

I compliment the Clare county manager, Mr. Tom Coughlan, Clare's senior engineer, Mr. Tiernan, local area engineers and the outdoor staff of Clare County Council on their work. The emergency services, including the Coast Guard and fire services, were on hand throughout the storms and in their aftermath and deserve particular credit. Similar credit is due to ordinary concerned people who helped their communities and their neighbours by turning out in great numbers and getting involved in the clean­up operation.

The initial storm damage report as presented by Clare County Council documents the scale of the devastation and puts a total cost of €23.7 million on the works. A subsequent report following Storm Brigid has brought that total to €38.6 million. As we speak, considerable storm damage is being inflicted on County Clare, with Shannon Airport closed, reports of a truck having overturned coming off the Ennis bypass, damage to the roof of Coláiste Mhuire in Ennis, fallen trees and telephone poles and widescale ESB outages.

I welcome the provision of the €70 million announced yesterday by the Government to deal with the damage that took place in the first set of storms. It is clear following the February storm, Storm Brigid, and the current Storm Darwin that additional funding is required. Clare County Council has sought an extra €13 million for essential works. I ask that further funding be made available in response to the damage caused by subsequent storms.

My first concern in this debate is for people who have been displaced from their homes in, for example, Cloughaninchy in Quilty, for homes that have been exposed to sea water for the first time in living memory, for example, in Liscannor and Doonbeg, and for people who have been cut off from their communities, for example, in Kilbaha, Carrigaholt and Dooras. These communities are living in fear of the next high tide and the next storm. As anyone can understand, people are justifiably worried for their children and for the homes in which they have invested so much.

County Clare is dependent on tourism and it is important that work on repairing the unprecedented damage to Lahinch, New Quay, Liscannor and the Loop Head Peninsula can begin in time for the forthcoming summer season. The farming community has also suffered greatly, with hundreds of acres of land flooded in Ballynacally, Kildysart, Kilbaha, Carrigaholt and Doonbeg. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, visited County Clare last Friday to see the damage. It is important that special dispensation from inspections for single farm payments and agri-environment options scheme, AEOS, payments be given to farmers in affected areas. Large tracts of land are now under water along the Fergus Estuary at Ballynacally and Kildysart, where banks have been breached and breached again following temporary works completed by the farming community. There is a requirement to protect these lands, as they support the livelihoods of those who farm them.

The second phase of the flood relief scheme in Ennis is nearing completion and, to date, has withstood rising waters, proving that investment in flood defence works. I want to raise the need to progress to construction this year the St. Flannan's and Ballybeg flood relief scheme in Ennis. It is at an advanced stage of planning, having received planning permission from An Board Pleanála and with a cost-benefit analysis recently submitted by Clare County Council to the OPW. As we speak, temporary pumps are keeping water away from homes in the Ballybeg and Kildysart Road areas of Ennis and Clarecastle. This is unsustainable. It is important that this scheme be given final approval and that it move to construction in the coming months.

In addition to Exchequer funding and given the sheer scale of the devastation along the western seaboard, it is clear that an application will have to be made for aid from the EU through the scheme for extraordinary regional disasters. While the threshold for access to the main EU solidarity fund may be high with prospects of little return, it is important that we draft a regional application for the western seaboard. Discussions should commence immediately with the EU with a view to drawing up such an application.

Significant costs are associated with delivering a comprehensive schedule of works to deal with the damage caused by these natural disasters, to rebuild flood defences and to incorporate new ones in order to protect homes, businesses and land, together with rebuilding roads and public infrastructure. It is important that this work commence at the earliest opportunity so that people can get on with their lives and County Clare can bounce back from these devastating storms.

A day has not passed in the past six weeks without us seeing the devastating effects of flooding on our television screens. Communities live with the threat of homes and businesses being washed away. Households struggle to rebuild their lives only to have the next flood warning and downpour set them back again. Terms like "Code Orange" and "Code Red" are becoming everyday phrases.

There is not a Member in this House who has not heard heartbreaking stories about families suffering as a result of flood damage.

Local communities and local authorities are not in a position to respond to the daily devastation, and urgently require Government support. That support has not been forthcoming. It is not acceptable that it has taken six weeks for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to come to the Dáil to make a seven minute speech. My home town of Youghal, like so many other coastal towns, has suffered more than its share. In fact, it has now been flooded three times in recent weeks. Anyone who has visited our town will undoubtedly remember the boardwalk at Claycastle Beach. This boardwalk goes right along the length of the beach and links two main car parks at Youghal Front Strand and Claycastle. That boardwalk has been seriously damaged and must now be rebuilt at a cost of €90,000 as it is very important to the tourism industry in Youghal.

In order to protect Youghal, we require the sea walls at Nealon's Quay, Buttimer's Dock and Market Dock to be expanded and strengthened, while the flood barrier at Nealon's Quay and Mall Dock needs to be built as a matter of urgency. These flood barriers can be constructed at a cost of €200,000 and they will save hundreds of thousands of euro in the long term.

Youghal also requires new groynes at the front strand to be installed. The current groynes are totally ineffective, having been there since the 1970s. In fact, new groynes were part of the recommendation from the coastal management report, which was published in 2000. If this work is not done, we will be revisiting the tears and frustration we recently experienced for many more years.

Last Friday, I was happy to welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, to Youghal to view for himself the damage caused by the most recent storm and flooding. However, I warned the Government last week that the public wanted action, not words of sympathy and photo opportunities. The Minister of State came and went and no commitment was given by the Government to assist our town in rebuilding itself. The Government must take immediate action. It must happen on three levels.

We have all witnessed the awful scenes from Limerick where people are forced to burn their belongings in case of contamination. First, the immediate needs of people must be met. Homeowners, businesses and service providers need urgent practical and financial aid from the Government, outside the terms of their private insurance, if they have any, to alleviate the impact on people for things like cooking, washing, utilities and bedding, which also needs to be replaced. Second, the Government must put in measures to minimise flooding and flood damage. This will require capital funding to expand and strengthen flood walls and defences. This must be done in consultation with local authorities.

The unfortunate reality is that this weather looks like it is continuing for the near future. Money spent on these capital projects will save money in the long term. Local authorities trying to rebuild their coastal towns have been starved of funding by consecutive governments. The funds simply are not available to repair the terrible damage left behind by the recent storms. Money must be speedily released. It is vital that this Government seeks assistance from the EU. The House needs to know if the Government has been in direct contact with the European Commission and the directorate general for regional policy through its permanent representative in Brussels, Mr. Declan Kelleher, or any other means, to request financial aid through the EU solidarity fund. We know this solidarity fund can be mobilised in the event of an extraordinary regional disaster, as we have experienced here across the State in recent weeks.

A major outstanding issue that needs the Government's attention is that of home insurance. Only today I raised the need for the forthcoming insurance Bill to take into account current problems for those residing in flood plains who cannot get insured. Sadly, the Taoiseach was less than reassuring. While confirming the issue was discussed at this week's Cabinet meeting, there was no commitment to address the issue. This will be cold comfort to the many families living in fear of the next storm. These households must be able to look forward to being included in the forthcoming insurance Bill.

In the meantime, longer term solutions must be found. It is nothing short of a disgrace that after three years in power, the Government has still not published a climate change Bill. The programme for Government states that "a climate change Bill...will provide certainty surrounding government policy and provide a clear pathway for emissions reduction, in line with negotiated EU 2020 reductions". The Government published the heads of a Bill last June. After pressure from Sinn Féin, it agreed to open the process up to the public. Groups, experts and the general public made submissions. The Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht held several public sessions and invited in experts. A report was prepared and sent to the Minister, Deputy Hogan, but since that day last summer, we have heard nothing.

It is a total abdication of responsibility not to take action on climate change. Sinn Féin has continued to raise the issue. Our spokesperson on the environment, Deputy Stanley, published a climate change Bill in the hope it would spur this Government into action, but no action has been taken to date. This is unacceptable. The debate on climate change and global warming is long over. The time for action is now. If we do not legislate on climate change, we will be having these debates for years to come and people, their businesses and their communities will continue to suffer because of harsh weather conditions. This current crisis can be a wake-up call to this Government. Not all will be wasted if it takes the appropriate action. It must publish a climate change Bill as a matter of urgency. The Bill must have, as its cornerstones, an independent expert authority advising the Government; science-based targets for the reduction in carbon emissions of between 20% and 30% by 2020, and 80% by 2050 based on 1990 levels; and annual carbon budgets presented before the Dáil.

In conclusion, the current state of emergency requires the Government to take action. That action must be part of a long-term plan. It must entail short, mid- and long-term goals. To do nothing is simply not an option.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important debate on the recent flooding and severe weather conditions. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, to the House.

When severe weather conditions hit, it is essential that the State bodies act on the principle that fore-warned is fore-armed, be well prepared and in a position to react efficiently and promptly. The management of severe weather conditions, such as those that occurred in November 2009 and January 2010, last month and again today, require a combined effort between the individual State bodies, businesses, farmers, charitable organisations and so on, which must lead by example with positive, effective action.

A worrying thread running through the response in 2009 and 2010 and again in the last few weeks by the various bodies that have a vested interest in the Shannon - over 40 such bodies in total - is the tendency of these State bodies and Departments to define their responsibilities in terms of what they do not include, rather than what they should do collectively. The State has a responsibility to prevent the hardships and devastation caused to families and individuals in areas like west Longford and south Westmeath, where roads have been washed away. I was out last Saturday and the Saturday before and I took several photographs of the devastation caused to families and individuals, which I will show later to the Minister and the Minister of State. Business owners and home owners who have enough to worry about as it is, must also fight to guard their properties from flooding, from rivers bursting their banks, from high tides. This is totally unacceptable and must not be repeated. That is why I strongly believe we need a River Shannon authority.

In that regard, I thank the Ceann Comhairle for affording me an opportunity to raise this issue in the Topical Issue debate last week. A Shannon authority would have overall responsibility for river management and development in the Shannon catchment area, from the source of the river to the Shannon Estuary at Limerick. It would also be charged with establishing a flood alert system as part of a national system to increase awareness of potential river flooding. The authority could alleviate flooding in the Shannon basin in urban and rural areas by co-ordinating water levels on the entire river throughout the year.

The River Shannon is the lifeblood of the midlands but unless it is properly managed and placed under the control of one single authority, the river could become a liability and the devastation caused by the flooding that has destroyed housing, lands and other properties could recur. This devastation has resulted in a loss of income for already hard-hit farmers, businesses and householders, as is clear from the photographs I took last week.

In 2010, the then Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, following consultation with the various agencies, prepared and presented a report on severe weather events to a number of Departments, the Office of Public Works and local authorities. The majority of members believed that the report's recommendations, if implemented, would allow us, at least partially, to manage future severe weather events. Over the years, most flooding events on the River Shannon have been followed by various reports but little or no action. It should be noted, however, that the current Minister is taking more of a hands-on approach than his predecessors did. I had reservations about the report published by the previous Government because it again sidelined the issue of establishing a River Shannon authority. Having made such a proposal a number of times over the years in both the Seanad and Dáil, I was disgusted by the stock answer I received from the then Minister who spoke of co-ordinating flood risk management, with the Office of Public Works as lead agency, and embarking on the development of a catchment flood risk assessment and management plan for the River Shannon. We had heard all of this before.

Deputy Ó Cuív's grandfather once spoke of draining the River Shannon but this never came to pass and one no longer expects that it will be done. What is required is a management structure to manage the Shannon water course. A number of local authorities have emergency plans in place to deal specifically with flooding and severe weather emergencies. These plans are not being integrated with the relevant bodies and State agencies. Such integration is essential if the response to major emergencies is to be comprehensive. Effective leadership must be provided by one authority. As someone who lives in the Shannon catchment area, I have held this view for a long time.

A River Shannon authority should oversee and sponsor an independent review of the technical and engineering role of the ESB's hydroelectric schemes in view of the conflicting requirements of electricity generation, flood management and the provision of water supplies by the controversial new company, Irish Water. Such an authority would assess the effectiveness with which rivers and inland waterways are managed, controlled and regulated, thereby eliminating the multi-agency approach that is not getting us anywhere, as has been demonstrated by developments over the past 90 years. The River Shannon catchment area has been experiencing the same problems since de Valera was in power. We should learn lessons from the Netherlands, much of which is below sea level, and its approach to addressing the issue of flooding.

It is important that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government improve funding to local authorities by reimbursing emergency response costs. It must also ensure that urban wastewater and drainage schemes are planned and flood risk management fully assessed. The onus is on the Government to implement real and substantive plans to manage the River Shannon and prevent serious flooding in the Shannon region and other flood prone regions. Appropriate early warning systems must be introduced and flood mapping work must be updated to reflect localised risks. It is essential that the future management of severe weather conditions is as effective in practice as it is in theory. While much has been written about flooding, there is little evidence of action being taken. Flood defences, for example, should have been constructed long ago. I visited families in Athlone in 2009, 2010 and again last week and have witnessed the horrific effects flooding has on morale and livelihoods.

It is a matter of concern that insurers are refusing to offer flood cover for properties in flood risk areas. This leaves many people having to foot the bill for flood damage. Standard home insurance policies offer flood protection as a routine benefit. Renewing an insurance policy will become considerably more difficult for those who have been affected by flooding. It is standard practice for insurance companies to ask people applying for insurance cover if their property is located in an area with a history of flooding. A survey of eight insurers conducted by the National Consumer Agency last August found that not one of them would offer a quotation for a property if the householder had previously made a claim due to flooding.

The Office of Public Works spends approximately €40 million per annum on flood protection and the Government is set to invest a further €250 million on flood defences over the next five years. While this is welcome, real action is required because people are fed up. Public meetings are called every time a crisis occurs but very little action takes place. This must change.

As we speak, the country is experiencing one of the severest of the current series of storms. Our thoughts are with all the emergency response workers who are dealing with the damage and all the communities that are affected by it. According to the RTE website, the managing director of ESB Networks has described the situation as as bad, if not worse, than anything that has occurred in the past decade. It would be remiss of us not to acknowledge the major response being provided by the staff of the utility companies, local authority workers, members of the Civil Defence and others since the start of the year.

Having visited west County Sligo last weekend, the Minister of State, Deputy John Perry, will have seen the extent of the damage caused by recent storms. The damage must be seen to be believed. Large rocks have been washed up on farms and piers and major destruction has been caused to piers and roads along the entire coast. I make no apology for focusing on the damage that has been caused in County Mayo. Mayo County Council has prepared a three page document which sets out the level of destruction caused in the county. It refers to damaged walls, a car park being washed away, the complete breach of a wall, pontoons being swept away, flood defences damaged and the rear of properties being destroyed. It also notes the repairs required to piers and the need to build walls along the River Moy. The cost of the damage is estimated to be in the region of €13 million.

The total cost of this work is €13.5 million, of which €524,000 is required immediately for clean-up works.

It is essential this money is released without delay. While I welcome that €70 million has been allocated I am deeply frustrated by the Government's refusal to apply to Europe for funding. The Minister, Deputy Hogan, who apparently is in charge of the Government's response, told us today that the Government does not propose to apply for funding because we do not qualify for it. This same advice was given to the late Brian Lenihan in 2010 but he ignored that advice and, working with Pat the Cope Gallagher, MEP, applied for funding on a regional basis and secured some €13 million. The Minister needs to go back to the drawing board and to prepare an application under the regional emergency fund before the deadline of 21 February. If he needs help in doing so, Pat the Cope Gallagher, MEP, is more than willing to assist him. The Government's defeatist attitude in terms of coming in here and saying that it will not apply for the funding because it will not get it is wrong. In regard to the €70 million announced yesterday, given the response needed in Clare, as mentioned earlier by Deputy Carey, that €70 million will be swallowed up very quickly. The Government should be seeking funding from everywhere it can. The attitude that we are not going to get it when compared with what happened in this regard in 2010 is completely unacceptable.

A number of specific actions are needed, with which I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, will identify. On the agricultural side, a number of farms have been severely damaged by the flooding. Land that was mapped has been severely damaged by sand, seaweed and boulders thrown onto it. Land around the coast at Achill, Belmullet and Easky, which the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, visited at the weekend, has been swept into the sea. There is a need for a common sense approach by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in terms of investigations and inspections. We experienced storms prior to the ones which affected Limerick and Wexford, although it took those two storms to get funding moving. On the first Monday of January when an inspector arrived to a farm on the coast of Mayo to inspect fencing work that had been carried out there in November, the farmer having, unfortunately, passed away in the meantime, there was no talking to him in terms of the huge damage that had been done to the fencing, with much of if having been swept into the sea because of storm damage the previous weekend.

This type of bureaucracy gone mad has to cease in this case. Maps in place up until last year need to suffice until such time as farmers can reclaim their farms or repair damage done to them. Hardship money such as is being provided by the Department of Social Protection must also be provided by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for farmers, who must also be given advice on what to do because currently they are being given conflicting advice in regard to what they can do in terms of repairing damage. The National Parks and Wildlife Service is loitering around, although the national park officers in Mayo have been most helpful. Farmers need to know whether if they do repairs they will be penalised. In other words, if they move sand, sea stones, etc., off their land, will they be penalised? Nobody appears to be able to give a definitive answer in that regard.

Similarly, small scale fishermen around the coast have been destroyed by the recent flooding. Thousands of lobster pots, which cost approximately €50 each, have been destroyed or washed away. One fisherman in Achill lost 600 lobster pots in the first weekend in January. They were his livelihood. He has no other way of making money to feed his family. He needs those pots replaced quickly. Similarly, nets and boats have been washed away. Small traditional rowing boats, such as currach and punt boats, which are essential for getting people to and from the mainland, have been swept away. Money must be provided for the replacement of these boats which provide essential transport. The island communities do not have DART and so on. Much of their transport is by boat. As such, there is need for urgent provision to replace the boats swept away.

On the first weekend of January there was major flooding in Ballina. Anybody with any kind of sense of tide tables knew there would be similar flooding in the first weekend of February, and there was. Flooding occurred in the same area of the town for the second time in four weeks. There was huge damage caused to houses, which put the households concerned under enormous stress. When one attempts to engage with a local authority in terms of providing a comprehensive response before a second event and that does not happen, it is frustrating. People are justifiably angry. There are high tides promised for the first weekend in March. We are told these tides will be similar to those which occurred during the first weekend in February. We are currently experiencing low pressure, which will exacerbate flooding damage. There is a need for a comprehensive response country-wide in the next few weeks ahead of the March tides. The attitude that has prevailed up to now, such that everything will be all right on the night, is not good enough. Everything was not all right on the night for many households in Ballina on the first weekend of February, resulting in their homes being damaged again.

There is a need for significant investment in flood defences along coastal areas. We have never before witnessed the types of tides and winds we are currently experiencing. There must be serious investment in rock defences. Also key bridges around the country need to be investigated in the coming weeks as a matter of priority. The level of water in our rivers is significantly higher than it has ever been. Bridges along the Moy, Shannon and other major rivers, which are traffic arteries, must be investigated as soon as water levels decrease to ensure no incidences with bridges over the course of the next few weeks.

As we speak, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, is chairing a COBRA meeting in response to the flooding and storm conditions in Britain. Last week, the Taoiseach confirmed that the Minister, Deputy Hogan, is in chair of the national response here. The only person who appears to be pulling up his sleeves and doing any work is Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes. He is travelling the country and engaging with communities. The response thus far has not been good enough. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, reverted to candidate Hayes about two hours ago and attacked the Fianna Fáil Party leader, Deputy Martin, for criticising the Government response. I accept that conditions are very difficult but this does not prevent us calling the Government out for a poor response. The first round of storms and flooding occurred in the first weekend in January. The response was slow, to say the very least. Yesterday, when travelling here amid snow and gales I heard the chairman of the national co-ordinating committee say on radio that the committee did not intend meeting because everybody was happy with events. It is an interview worth listening to. The weather forecast is the main news item in terms of what is happening. We need a far more urgent response. It is not fair for a line Minister to be giving that response. This should be led from the top by the Taoiseach. If the Prime Minister of Britain has the time to lead a response surely the Taoiseach can do so.

The long-term response to this matter is a far bigger debate. The Ceann Comhairle in the past chaired the committee on climate change and energy security for many years. What we need now is to put in place whatever is necessary to avoid any damage in the next few weeks. There must also be a humanitarian response for people who are suffering and a response from local authorities with funding provided in the main by the Government but also from Europe. The notion of giving up on funding from Europe is unacceptable when history and the track record shows it is possible to get it.

I call Deputy Brendan Ryan who is sharing time with Deputies Anne Ferris, Michael Conaghan and Michael McNamara. Deputy Ryan has three minutes, Deputies Ferris and Conaghan have two and a half minutes each and Deputy McNamara has two minutes.

Today we awoke to news of a status red wind warning for counties Cork and Kerry, with weather systems bashing the coasts throughout the morning and into this afternoon. The past two months have been incessant for so many communities around the country. In my own constituency we have seen severe flooding in Portmarnock, Malahide and Swords as well as spot flooding in almost every other town. One major issue which has reached a critical level is the threat to the Burrow residents in Portrane, the natural coastal defences of which are being eroded by high tides and strong winds, threatening severe flooding of many homes and businesses in the area. Without the protection of the dunes, any flooding which takes place could be irrevocable.

As a native of Portrane, I share the residents' daily concern as they watch their natural coastal defences disappear and high tides and wind-driven waves threaten their homes and businesses. The outlook is stark for entire communities, such as the Burrow in Portrane, unless we invest in long-term protection measures. The threat to the Burrow, Portrane, reached critical level in October 2012 after a particularly bad storm swept metres of dunes into the sea. Fingal County Council officials argue that erosion in Portrane is cyclical and part of an ongoing erosion and secretion pattern along the north County Dublin coast.

The residents who live in the borough of Portrane and know the sea, the tides and the patterns have never witnessed so much destruction and such a threat to their homes. In their view this is not cyclical but rather permanent damage and it must be tackled now. These residents have had to take matters into their own hands. They built their own temporary flood defences using two-tonne canvas bags filled with sand from their beach. They have been maintaining this defence for over a year but they are concerned that this is only a finger-in-the-dam measure. When the next vicious storm and high tide hit the peninsula they will be at the mercy of the sea again.

We need solutions and we all understand that solutions cost money. However, we are not talking about wasted money but investing in the protection of entire communities, homes, businesses and real people. Different solutions will be required for different areas throughout the country but, where possible, I believe it is vital that communities are consulted on proposed solutions. Communities such as the borough of Portrane have a deep knowledge of their areas and how nature affects their homes and environment. Their insights will be invaluable to local authorities and Government agencies. I imagine Members could attest to the knowledge of similar communities in their areas. Can a commitment be made that any solution proposed is not foisted upon any community without prior consultation? I welcome the fact that Fingal County Council is due to submit a proposal for funding for a solution for Portrane and I urge the Minister of State to support and approve it.

We need to publish the climate action and low-carbon development Bill which is currently on the C list and due for publication at some stage this year. We need to recommit to a national climate change strategy and we should do so immediately. We need to plan for changing weather patterns and climate change before it is too late.

Every part of the country has been mentioned today during the flooding debate. I wish to speak on behalf of the people of Bray. As the Minister of State is aware, the long-awaited flood protection scheme in Bray was halted last year when the contractor, SIAC, went into examinership. There had already been significant delays to the project before then and although the scheme was supposed to be completed last autumn, it is only 35% complete now. In recent weeks householders and business operators in the low-lying parts of Bray could do nothing but hold their breath, wait, hope and pray to the eight patron saints of flooding that the River Dargle would not burst its banks and flood half the town. Like many other Deputies I have been receiving telephone calls from constituents all afternoon who are concerned about the strong winds and rain in County Wicklow.

The River Dargle has a major flood cycle of approximately 25 to 30 years and according to the laws of hydro-science we are now overdue a major flood in Bray. Few among those of us who were flooded out of our homes in 1986 during Hurricane Charley want to relive that experience.

I received a handwritten note from the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, during a previous debate on this issue. He promised in the note that he had ring-fenced in his budget the money needed to complete the €28 million Bray flood prevention scheme. I thank the Minister of State for his commitment to the people of Bray. Needless to say, this handwritten note is now one of my treasured possessions. It appears now that the scheme will not be completed until late 2015. In many cases insurers have refused cover to Bray residents and business owners during this period of delay.

Late last year I wrote to the Minister of State asking him to consider carrying out a hydraulic assessment of the flood relief works carried out to date on the River Dargle. The purpose of such a study would be to inform insurance companies of the scientific basis to the claims by Bray Town Council that the 35% of the project completed to date had indeed reduced the flood risk. The Minister of State replied on 4 February stating that such a study would involve detailed hydraulic modelling at a cost of between €35,000 and €40,000 and that the results would be obsolete as soon as further works were carried out. I appreciate that the budgets of the Minister of State are constrained by the plight of thousands of people throughout Ireland affected by the disastrous flooding this winter and I sincerely sympathise with those people. However, I believe the expenditure of a relatively small sum to secure flood insurance for a large number of people would indeed be value for money if a serious flood was to occur in Bray any time between now and 2015. Bearing in mind that the budgets are tight, I call on the Minister of State to consider this proposal. I understand that the design engineers for the flood relief works, Halcrow Barry, have already prepared a comprehensive model of the river and the future effects of the designed improvements. This model could be used - it has already been paid for out of the contract - to predict the effects of elements of the flood protection works already carried out. It could then be given to insurers to help reduce the flood risk in Bray for insurance purposes. I call on the Minister of State to strongly consider this proposal.

I thank the local authority staff in County Wicklow for all their efforts in protecting the people who have been affected by the adverse weather.

I will refer to the flooding associated with the Liffey Camac basin in the west of the city in 2011, specifically in the Inchicore and Kilmainham districts, since parts of these districts suffered greatly in the torrential rain at that time. In this vicinity the River Camac burst its banks. River walls collapsed, houses nearby were flooded and considerable damage was done to houses, furnishings and bed linen. Some people had to escape through roof windows. It was a difficult period for the residents there.

I am pleased to report that situation has been resolved. The Minister of State, the OPW and the city council combined to rectify the situation and the peaceful living to which the residents had been accustomed has been restored. However, I wish to draw the attention of the Minister of State to the situation of a portion of Tyrconnell Street along the river in the Inchicore district. The River Camac burst its banks in 2011. The rears of houses were badly affected, extensions were demolished, gardens were destroyed and walls, furnishings etc. were damaged. Extensive damage was inflicted on the residents in that portion up to Tyrconnell Street. One of the key contributing factors was a culvert that the city council gave permission for some years ago. It blocked the debris and the trees and this pushed the water back into people's homes, gardens and outhouse extensions along a short stretch of the watercourse causing considerable destruction and damage to several properties.

Three years have passed and nothing has been done, despite letters to the city council and the OPW, motions in the city council and meetings on-site. There is no explanation of why nothing has been done. Residents have been left with considerable expense and damage to their properties. I appeal to the Minister of State to revisit the plight of these residents. Even at this late stage I call on the Minister of State to bring forward some measures, in conjunction with the city council and the OPW, to address this long-neglected issue for the small number of residents in the Tyrconnell Street, Inchicore area. They would be most grateful if someone in authority took pity on their plight.

I have been surprised and disappointed by some, but not all, of the Opposition contributions to the debate. Clearly to some politics is simply a game. Talk of letting the cat out of the bag at a time of such unprecedented damage to large parts of Clare is, frankly, depressing. I say as much as someone who lives in and cares about Clare as well as being an elected representative. Politics is not simply a meaningless game; it is about choices, sometimes difficult choices, which affect people's lives. I regret that some Opposition politicians have chosen to try to obtain political advantage from the loss and destruction suffered since Christmas.

I welcome the fact that the Government chose to make €70 million available for the repair of storm damage throughout the country on top of the €25 million already made available for humanitarian relief. People in Kilbaha and throughout Clare are glad that those moneys have been made available. Some moneys have been specifically earmarked for repairs and essential works may start next week. Will Clare County Council receive the €35 million sought of the €70 million pledged? Clearly not. Choices will have to be made by democratically elected local representatives, but that is what they were elected to do.

People should be aware that choices were made from 1992 onwards. I am referring to choices to ignore the risk posed by coastal erosion. It was not as if that risk was not known about. That risk was identified in the Coastal Zone Management - A Case for Action report, published by Eolas on behalf of the County and City Engineers Association. The report has a list of areas depressingly similar to the list in respect of which works will have to be carried out which was submitted by Clare County Council. It includes exactly the same areas. The report refers to Bishop's Quarter, and the need to protect sand dunes there; Clohahinchy, and the need to build a sea wall and put in rock armour; Flaggy Shore and Kilbaha, where sea walls are required; and Kilcredan, where repair to the sea wall is necessary.

All these works were listed but they were ignored at a time of unprecedented wealth in the State. Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this is that the sum of all the emergency works required in County Clare was IR£14,000, or €17,500.

I thank Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and the Technical Group for sharing time.

In light of what the previous speaker said, I will not blame the Government for the weather. However, I would like to raise a number of specific issues. Prior to being disbanded, the Land Commission was in charge of, for example, embankments and protection works to save property and land from the ravages of the sea. When it was abolished, no authority was set up to take its place. The OPW is saying it cannot do these works because it is the responsibility of the local authority. People can make applications to the OPW through their local authority for funds and then the works can be carried out.

The Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, visited Cork last week and I was disappointed at first when it was suggested he would not visit Kerry but I was glad that he changed his mind and made a brief detour to Kerry. We are welcoming when Ministers come to Kerry and we are glad to see them because there are so many concentrated around Dublin and we could do with a few more down our side of the country. Unfortunately, the Minister of State gave false hope to people

I refer to the case of Patie O'Sullivan, his partner Noreen and their young family. They built a new beautiful home, which was destroyed after Christmas by the storms. They had to leave the house and they are living with relatives now. They cannot claim on the house insurance because if they do so and repair the house, they fear they will be flooded again. It will cost approximately €100,000 to keep the tide out of their home. Where will that money come from?

Does the Government have proposals to set up a body to do the work the Land Commission did to protect and maintain embankments, sluice gates, drains, pipes and strands? Nobody is responsible for this work now and that is wrong. It is not okay for me to say the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW is wrong. Previous Governments should have set up a body to take charge of these pieces of infrastructure that used to be looked after by the Land Commission. This is similar to the case of water gushing over roads because the section men who used to clean the water off the sides of the roads are gone. That was another policy that went haywire and has resulted in all our roads becoming drains.

What is the young family I mentioned supposed to do? They cannot return to their home. I am speaking on behalf of my county because every other Member will speak on behalf of theirs. The coastal areas of the county I adore, Kerry, have been ravaged from Ballylongford to Cromane, Rossbeigh, Caherdaniel and Castlecove and this will continue. Where will the money come from? I asked the Taoiseach to access the EU Solidarity Fund. Nobody has given me a sensible explanation as to why we are not entitled to access that fund. It is there to deal with disasters. If the Minister of State has a chance, he should look at the news at 9 p.m. to see what happened in County Kerry earlier. Hotels had their roofs ripped off. The county is like a war zone because of what happened. I spoke to elderly people who live along the coast and they said they have never seen anything like this in their lives. I do not blame the Government parties for the weather. Will they access the EU Solidarity Fund? Will they ensure a body takes over the functions of the old Land Commission? Will they ensure that people such as Patie O'Sullivan and his partner, Noreen, will be able to return to their homes? I am citing them as an example. There are many other cases of people who have been driven out of their homes.

The Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, gave them false hope last week because he told them under the minor grants scheme, local authorities would get money from the OPW. However, when the OPW gets the money, it will be spent on large capital projects.

All the recent storm damage is reminding us of our own helplessness and vulnerability when it comes to the force of nature. Perhaps nature is trying to remind us about how much we have disregarded all the warnings about climate change. We are experiencing what has been experienced by countries in the developing world for many years. In many cases, warnings on climate change were not heeded. Another factor in what we are witnessing is bad planning and not giving enough consideration to the long-term effects of planning decisions. Going back several thousand years, there were various reasons town and villages were located where they are, including access to water, transport and security. However, urbanisation has taken place and our infrastructure cannot cope with the increasing demands on it.

In the past when flooding occurred, there was an immediate outcry and response and then it went off the agenda until the next storm happened. However, what we are experiencing now is unprecedented. As previous speakers said, nobody has witnessed this in their lifetime. It is very much time for action.

Dublin Central has experienced severe flooding in recent times. Fortunately, it has not happened this week and I am afraid I may be tempting fate given the weather outside. I live in East Wall and the last time the area was flooded, it was like living on a lake. People passed my house in canoes and small boats. We know what people in other parts of the country are experiencing at the moment.

The media coverage will mention the destruction in houses and people always talk about the smell that lingers. This has resulted in houses almost being rebuilt, which brings me to the issue of insurance. I have been in contact with various insurance companies, Insurance Ireland and the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, about this. In October 2012 I tabled a parliamentary question to him about his engagement with Insurance Ireland because no insurance was being provided for homes in which extensive flood repair work had been carried out or for homes that were not flooded but were located in areas that were flooded. His reply stated, "In areas where flood defence and alleviation works have been carried out, I cannot accept that any property protected by significant public capital investment would not be able to receive a quotation for insurance at a reasonable cost". That was positive and he also acknowledged that he had been involved in constructive engagement with the insurance industry about the scope and scale of works being carried out by the OPW or by local authorities with OPW funding. Much work was done on that.

I engaged in further correspondence with the Minister of State about insurance coverage last October and his reply was different. He said insurance companies make commercial decisions on the provision of insurance cover based on their assessment of the risks and they use their own flood risk survey and mapping information. He also said the OPW has no role or function in the oversight or regulation of the insurance industry or of insurance matters generally. I then received correspondence about what British insurance brokers were doing and about suggestions they had made to a parliamentary committee in England. I was in touch with the Minister for Finance and he replied: "The issue of provision of new flood cover or the renewal of existing flood cover is a commercial matter for insurance companies, which is based on a proper assessment of the risks that they are accepting".

Last Friday, the Dublin city manager met Deputies and Senators from the city. A series of works on rivers, boardwalks and canals was outlined, yet it does not seem to be getting through to insurance companies that these works have been done and they are not reacting at all. An incident room has also been set up in Dublin.

I hope insurance companies will take the information to which I refer into account. They state that they are awaiting data but they already have it. The Minister for Finance also referred to discussions with Insurance Ireland on the exchange of information regarding OPW and local authority flood relief schemes and the fact that this can be taken into account in assessing flood risk cover for householders in areas where works have been completed.

I am being contacted by people, particularly the elderly, when heavy rain occurs. This is because they are terrified of what is going to happen. That should not be the case. I accept that money has been allocated but I am of the view that a great deal more is going to be required.

As we speak, over 280,000 homes throughout the country are without electricity. Many thousands of people are living in fear. I compliment the members of the emergency services and local authority, ESB and the staff of other organisations who are working to assist people. I particularly wish to compliment the voluntary bodies which have provided assistance in recent weeks. I commend those in the Civil Defence - for which I, as Minister of State at the Department of Defence, have responsibility - on the work they have done.

I live in a county, Wexford, that has been severely affected by the bad weather experienced in recent weeks. The county's coastline measures over 200 km, some 110 km of which is in the form of beaches, and it has been completely battered during the past six to eight weeks. I am glad that some of the Members opposite decided not to blame the Government for the bad weather and placed that fact on the record of the House. We tend to get the blame for everything else. The Government is going to be obliged to provide funding in order to ensure that flood defences will be put in place along our coastline. I am conscious of the fact that Wexford is only one county and when one considers what has happened in other places such as Cork, Kerry, Clare and Galway, one realises that the people in one's constituency could be much worse off.

On the Monday before last when they were opening up for the day, business owners in New Ross suddenly found their premises inundated by up to 1 m of water in the space of 30 minutes to an hour. I refer here to businesses such as Sidney Car Sales, Sid's Diner and Hennessy's garage, which are located along the quay side out towards Marshmeadows. I was informed by those who witnessed what happened that it was similar to the impact of a tsunami. Millions of euro worth of damage was done in under an hour. I was delighted when the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, visited New Ross on Saturday morning last in order to see the damage that had been done.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan referred to the fact that businesses cannot obtain flood insurance. What has happened in recent months is going to have a severe impact on a huge number of businesses, particularly as they will not be able to obtain such insurance. Even though I sit at the Cabinet table, I appeal to the Government and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, to give consideration to this extremely serious issue. I request that the Minister raise it with the insurance industry because this is not simply a commercial matter for businesses. We should consider what happens in the UK, the US and elsewhere if businesses are unable to obtain flood insurance. I am sure Ireland is not the only country in the world where businesses are unable to take out this type of insurance. I am of the view that businesses must be catered for in this regard. A large number of businesses in New Ross have been informed by their insurance companies that they will be unable to avail of flood insurance going forward.

Deputy Browne, who is sitting opposite, lives in Enniscorthy, which was very lucky on this occasion that it did not experience the type of severe flooding which occurred elsewhere. I hope the money that has been ring-fenced by the OPW for the flood relief programme in Enniscorthy will be used to ensure that the relevant plans, which are at a very advanced stage, will be proceeded with and that construction work will commence at some point. Millions of euro are due to be invested in the flood relief scheme for the town. I spoke to many people who own businesses along the banks of the River Slaney - such as the Riverside Park Hotel - and in Enniscorthy town and they informed me that they are depending on the proposed flood relief scheme proceeding. I would like the scheme to be given the go-ahead.

As already stated, I live in a coastal county. There are many fishing villages there - including Kilmore and Kilmore Quay - and the fishermen who live in them have almost been put out of business because the bad weather is preventing them from doing what they do best. I refer in particular to those who own small vessels and to fishing families. These people have had not had any income coming in since early December. A huge number of those to whom I refer are lobster fishermen. In conjunction with Deputy Harrington, who lives in west Cork, I raised this issue with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, and he looked favourably upon the request we made of him. Thousands of euro worth of damage has been done to lobster pots in Wexford and west Cork. The fishing families to which I refer cannot invest in their businesses because of a lack of income in the past two to three months. I hope the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine will put in place some form of a scheme of compensation for lobster fishermen.

On Monday last, Wexford County Council gave permission for the reconstruction of an embankment in New Ross close to some of the business premises to which I referred earlier that were flooded. This was a major job because the embankment runs almost all the way into New Ross town. Those who were carrying out the work were visited by representatives from either the National Parks and Wildlife Service or some environmental organisation who tried to prevent them from proceeding. This is a very serious matter and either we try to prevent business premises from being flooded or we try to protect the birds and the bees. There is a need for people to get real, particularly in the aftermath of what has happened in recent weeks. Millions of euro worth of damage was done along a mile or two of land in New Ross and local people tried to rebuild the embankment by the river. As stated, representatives from some organisation tried to stop them from completing their work. People must understand that work of this nature must be done and that there will be further investment in the area of New Ross to which I refer. Environmental organisations must get real and allow those engaged in the construction of temporary flood defences to do their work.

I understand that we have not seen the end of the bad weather and that more is expected. I visited Tacumshin Lake near Kilmore on Monday last.

Thousands of euro were expended on building a sluice gate to drain parts of the lake. This is to prevent other land adjoining the lake from flooding. The sluice has been completely blocked up by a sand bank which was washed in. Officials from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht visited the site on Tuesday morning. It will not cost significant money but it will cost in time for diggers to move the sand. Over 800 acres of land can be drained once the sluice is unblocked and allowed to do its work.

I hope the OPW and the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, will be in a position to compensate the real victims in Cork, Kerry and Galway. My heart goes out to these families whose homes have been destroyed. Climate change is a huge issue which has to be taken seriously.

I join with the Minister in expressing solidarity with the nearly 300,000 people who are without electricity tonight and also with the emergency services who are desperately trying to reach them and to restore power. The thoughts of all Irish citizens go out to the embattled households who have struggled against flooding over the past month in particular and especially in Cork city and in the Cork coastal districts, in Limerick and the Shannon basin, in the coastal areas of Connemara, Mayo, Clare and the Minister's area in south-east Leinster. The flooding of recent weeks highlights the need for major national funding for flood protection and prevention works over the medium and long term. We should be thinking in terms of the period 2030 to 2050 with regard to coastal protection and the management of flood river basins.

Citizens also deserve full, open and transparent information about flood plains and the hydrology of homes and districts in which they may choose to live. The developer-led construction in the 1990s and 2000s meant that issues about hydrology were the last things on people's minds. My area of Dublin Bay North in the northern fringe saw proposals for huge high density development in an area very close to a very sensitive hydrological area and the high density was unjustified in hydrological terms.

I welcome the reported €95 million total funding to be allocated through the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to repair damage caused by the recent bad weather. However, I am concerned that this may not be enough. The Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, thanked everyone on this side of the House because we were not blaming the Government for the bad weather but we can blame the Government because it has cut the OPW budget flood risk management by 11% between 2012 and 2013 and it has been marginally cut once again last year. This Government knew the situation when it came into office. In 2009, Cork city was nearly drowned and there was flooding in Dublin city in 2010 and 2011, yet that key budget was cut again. While the funding is welcome, the Minister, Deputy Hogan and the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, have serious questions to answer in this regard, knowing that flood defences and flood risk management must be a key issue. I welcome the comments by the OPW to the local authorities about the necessary additional funding for repair of the damage but efforts must be focused on managing future significant flooding, including in my constituency of Dublin Bay North.

Professor John Sweeney of NUI Maynooth has explained cogently the confluence of high winds, rising sea levels, low pressure and heavy rain which are set to become more frequent with a consequent increasing number of significant flooding events of the kind we have experienced in recent weeks. Professor Sweeney has called for efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is astonishing that the climate change Bill has not been enacted even though the Minister has been in power for three years. That important contribution to this issue has not been put on a statutory basis.

Engineers Ireland represents 24,000 engineers. In its recently published report, The State of Ireland 2014: A Review of Infrastructure in Ireland, it listed a series of deficiencies in flood prediction and prevention and downgraded the Government's response to a D grade from a C grade last year. The association issued a list of important recommendations which should be implemented.

In the area of Baldoyle in my constituency of Dublin Bay North, we have seen the impact of good funding on flooding. Much of Baldoyle parish is a polder. In my first years in this House, Baldoyle had annual flooding disasters and on one occasion a young teenager was killed. The Abbey Park and district residents and the Baldoyle Community Association ran a campaign for flood protection and remedial measures. To be fair to the Government, at the time we secured that funding and since then the situation in Baldoyle has been greatly alleviated and the annual flooding of the Moyne river and the Grange stream no longer occurs. It is an example that if a Government is committed and is prepared to spend the money, success can be achieved.

I wish to refer specifically to the River Naniken flood relief project in my newly expanded constituency of Dublin Bay North. Urgent financial support for a hydrological analysis and remedial works is critically necessary. The River Naniken runs from Santry for just over 6 km until it discharges into Dublin bay behind North Bull Island through St. Anne's Park. The river is piped except for a small section which runs through St. Anne's Park, Raheny. The new Dublin City Manager, Owen Keegan, recently provided me with an up-to-date report on the project, including maintenance and construction work that has been completed by Dublin City Council to date. He noted in his report that since 2008, there have been three major flood events in Dublin with a number of smaller incidents and to which a previous speaker referred. Mr. Keegan listed a large area including Ardlea Road; Ardmore Drive; Ardmore Park; Brookwood Avenue; Brookwood Rise; Hazelwood Park; James Larkin Road; Kilmore Road; Maryfield Avenue; and Maryfield Crescent. This area in Artane has suffered greatly from the flooding of the River Naniken. Regular maintenance work is carried out by Dublin City Council but it needs support for a full hydrological survey which will cost €40,000 and many multiples of €40,000 to carry out the necessary works. Mr. Keegan has put that case to the OPW and to the Minister, Deputy Hogan and the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes. I hope that Government Deputies for Dublin Bay North will ensure that this funding comes through for the River Naniken which, if not dealt with, could cause serious flooding of a large part of Dublin Bay North.

A related and critically needed project is taking place in Clontarf. Since February 2013, a joint working group of Dublin City Council, the Clontarf Business Association and the Clontarf Residents' Association, has met on nine occasions to agree on a strategy for the development of Clontarf promenade, including flood alleviation measures and to ensure that the major flood that happened three years ago will not recur and affect the historic and beautiful Clontarf district. At this point, according to a recent update provided to Dublin City Council, the joint working group has agreed that some form of flood defence is required at Clontarf but that the visual impact on the promenade of another such defence should be minimised. It has been suggested that a dual defence comprising the existing sea wall and a secondary defence as close as possible to Clontarf Road should be advanced as this would minimise the potential visual impact of introducing further flood defences. The recent report provided to councillors also cautioned that other options to protect certain higher risk areas of the promenade from flooding require a full flood scheme to be developed and agreed and a funding stream secured. This is another project in Dublin Bay North for which it is hoped this Government, through the Minister and Minister of State - who may not be much longer in their Departments if they secure some of their ambitions - will provide the funding.

I commend the Clontarf Residents' Association, the Clontarf Business Association and Dublin City Council for engaging with the joint working group and advancing the project. I noted this morning and on other days that waves are being swept over the wall at the Clontarf linear park walkway. Dublin City Council and local residents must be commended on the large sandbag defence measures in place since Christmas. Agreed key works necessary to ensure safe flood defences at Clontarf must go ahead as soon as possible.

In Dublin Bay North, there is also an ongoing flood alleviation scheme on the Wad River, the Clanmoyle scheme, near Clontarf Golf Club. I understand from a recent report that a number of meetings have been held with relevant stakeholders and that various legal and financial obstacles are still being overcome but a sufficient number of these have been resolved to continue the site works. This is a third project in my constituency which will need strong support from Government.

The thoughts of all citizens this evening are with fellow citizens in the areas which are stricken by this incredible weather. I notice the leader in the neighbouring jurisdiction said that whatever funding is required will be provided to remediate and repair the damage caused by flooding in the UK. Perhaps that is the kind of template we need in this country that whatever funding is required will be provided for these households and that we will have a vision and a system of financial support for the 2020s, 2030s and beyond to alleviate this horrendous problem for so many households.

I am very pleased to be able to speak on this very serious issue. There is no better day than today to speak about flooding and the threat of flooding. I welcome the funds allocated this week to alleviate much of the damage done before the new year and since then. Much of that money was requested and all of it has been granted to local authorities and other agencies to deal with the issues.

It is very important to realise that it is a disaster for communities which experience flooding regularly and for those who are directly affected. It is also a disaster for homeowners and business owners and, at its most serious, it is potentially fatal in that people lose their lives during flooding events. Thankfully, that has not happened this time but it is something which needs to be avoided and dealt with when we prioritise flooding schemes and measures.

When a community or a town experiences a flooding event, it sucks the life, confidence, hope and prospects out of it. The hit to potential investment is huge. The confidence of people is shattered and a sense of despair sets in. Unfortunately, we have seen that far too often in towns in my constituency, including Skibbereen, Bandon, Clonakilty and Bantry, and in some villages.

It is in that context that I am grateful the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, took time to reaffirm that schemes to deal with Skibbereen and Clonakilty will go ahead and that Bandon will be dealt with next year by the OPW. I pay a particular compliment to the staff of the OPW whose expertise is invaluable. They have built up huge knowledge over the past number of years which we have seen in the flood mapping that has been issued to local authorities. I suppose many people would have looked at those maps with some cynicism but many local authorities have been presented with them so that they can be considered as part of their development plan process. Local authorities can be in no doubt as to the value of considering those flood risk maps when developing their land use policies in the future. This does not mean there is a blanket ban on development within those areas; it means that if one is considering developing or doing anything where there is a risk of flooding, one must take appropriate measures to deal with it. That is a welcome step which we should acknowledge.

I pay tribute to emergency personnel who are out this evening. They have played a huge role in helping to save lives. Unfortunately, there has been a very regrettable incident in my constituency. One fatality has been recovered but another man is still missing. Our thoughts are with their families and communities.

Met Éireann is excellent at issuing forecasts. Where I live, we will listen to sea area forecasts intently every day. Met Éireann will issue a small craft warning if there is any risk to the safety of mariners but I would like the mainstream forecasting alert system to include people who take part in other activities, such as hill walking, mountain climbing or activities on or near the coast. Regrettably, the vast majority of fatalities or casualties which occur in a maritime environment happen to those on land because they get lost. Almost fortnightly, we hear of people getting lost, whether rock fishing, hill walking or cliff walking. I would like Met Éireann to issue more mainstream alerts for those kinds of activities and to warn people there are dangers in inclement weather and during flooding events.

It is worth noting that more than 250,000 houses are without power this evening. Personnel from the ESB are out in inclement weather trying to restore power to homes. People will rightly be annoyed that they are without power but we must take time to reflect on some of the work the utilities are doing to rectify that situation.

I particularly welcome the announcement by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, to which the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, referred, of a basic but welcome scheme for inshore fishermen who have, in many cases, lost their livelihoods as a result of the recent inclement weather and coastal flooding. Many of them did the right thing by storing their gear, pots etc., on piers and quays around our coastline but they have been lost. It is a small but welcome initiative which, hopefully, will alleviate difficulties for some of these fisherman and incentivise them to get back on their feet and to reinvest and provide a living for their families and communities.

Every flooding event is different. A coastal event is brought on, by and large, by a sequence of south-east winds, typically high tides or spring tides and heavy rainfall but there is also river flooding which is mainly brought on by heavy rainfall. We must start to think about some serious arterial drainage works. Rivers in every county have been neglected for far too long. Drainage or dredging works have not taken place and they have not been cleaned. They need to be reassessed. I urge the bodies which have authority over rivers to look beyond the single mandate they have, address the issue in the public good and consider, in a different way, how minor drainage works could help alleviate the problems for communities and landowners throughout the length and breadth of this country, which is very important.

I refer to one initiative which could be replicated throughout the country. In Skibbereen, a local flood committee, which has been very active, decided it would work with the local authority, town council staff and Civil Defence and establish protocols.

It is involved in examining and looking after some of the storm and flood drains, the watercourses and the pumping equipment. It has access to other equipment that is useful in the event of a flood. It distributes sandbags and helps home owners to access their own flood defences. It has worked extremely well in Skibbereen on many occasions. I pay tribute to the volunteers who have stepped up to the mark, helped to save their own communities and restored the confidence of householders and businesses. They have taken their endeavours a step further by organising flood forum conferences on the national stage. They have shown initiative by accessing national and international expertise and looking at how other communities, towns and areas around Ireland could benefit from it without a substantial financial investment being required. Ultimately, serious capital investment from the State will be needed in all of these areas and towns. A figure between €1.5 billion and €2 billion for the entire country has been suggested in this regard. If such investment is necessary, it should be done over a certain timeframe to give confidence and security to those whose properties are at risk of flooding.

We also need to deal with the insurance issue. I have no problem saying that the insurance companies could be much better at stepping up to the mark. They are denying flood insurance to the owners of properties and lands that have never flooded by virtue of their vicinity to areas that have flooded. This serious problem ties the owners in question into their lands and properties forever. It completely maroons people in one spot. It is a very difficult issue to deal with. I am conscious this evening that my area has been experiencing hurricane-force winds. We are thankful that there has not been greater loss of life or more injuries. As I mentioned earlier, one person is missing and another person's body has been found in west Cork. That loss of life is foremost in our thoughts.

I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on the floods, storms and surging tides that have caused havoc across the country in recent weeks. Massive damage has been done to homes, commercial property and infrastructure. We are all aware of home owners, business people and farmers who are counting the costs of the recent storms and high tides. As a representative of Wexford, which has 90 miles of coastline and has experienced substantial flooding problems over the years, it is only natural that I would say a few words on this issue.

I join the previous speaker in thanking all the gardaí, ESB workers, firemen, Civil Defence members and others who have worked long hours in recent weeks, often through the night, to try to protect people's homes and properties and ensure the damage inflicted was kept to a minimum. I come from Enniscorthy, which has had regular flooding for many years, so I am aware of the damage flooding can inflict and the trauma it can cause for families and households. Three or four years ago, some €40 million was ring-fenced for flood defence works in Enniscorthy. It has not yet been spent because of difficulties with politicians and councillors who did not like the types of walls and flood defences that were proposed by the OPW. I suggest it is time they spent the €40 million and got on with the work. I ask the Minister to confirm that the funds in question are still ring-fenced for the Enniscorthy flood relief scheme. While the town avoided the flowing of water over the edges of the river in recent weeks, it came very close on many occasions. People were living in fear and in dread. It is not right that the money has been provided but not spent. I emphasise that this is not the fault of the Government or the Minister. The reason the money has not been spent to date lies at local level.

The Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, spoke about New Ross with particular reference to the Marshmeadows area of the town. The Minister, Deputy Hogan, breezed into the town last Saturday morning with an entourage of Ministers, councillors and local election candidates. He must have ran out of diesel because he did not travel any further than New Ross. He did not pay a visit to the rest of County Wexford. There have been major problems in Courtown, Cahore, Kilmore Quay and other parts of the county. While I welcome the Minister's visit to New Ross, I suggest that his failure to visit people in other parts of County Wexford who are also suffering as a result of this serious situation was a slight on the rest of the county. Approximately 500 people are employed by the 16 companies that operate in the Marshmeadows area of New Ross, which has flooded on many occasions. I hope some of the moneys that have been announced by the Minister today will be used to protect businesses and jobs in New Ross. It is obvious that a flood protection barrier needs to be installed at the fringes of New Ross beyond the Marshmeadows business area to protect that area in future. It has flooded on a regular basis in recent times. I cannot understand why a ship was allowed up the harbour into New Ross at the height of the flooding problems that were being endured by business people in the Marshmeadows area. I do not know what the harbour master was doing, but the decision to allow the ship to travel up the river caused a tsunami of water to be released into an area that was already flooded. In future, arrangements should be made to ensure ships are held outside the harbour until the floods have subsided. The decision to allow this ship to travel through New Ross certainly added to the problems that were being encountered in the Marshmeadows area of New Ross.

Last week, I raised on Topical Issues the problems being faced by fishermen. The fishermen in Courtown are unable to get in or out of the harbour at present because of silting and the damage to the local pier. The fishermen in Kilmore Quay have not fished for weeks because of the damage to their equipment. Those with smaller boats are particularly affected. I welcome the Minister's announcement today that he intends to make some moneys available to the pot fishermen, as this is an important industry in Kilmore Quay and throughout the south east. These fishermen have told me they have no money at all. While I welcome the 40% allocation for replacement gear that has been announced by the Minister, I am concerned that it is inadequate in the case of fishermen who have not fished since before Christmas and are currently seeking social welfare and other payments to keep going. They are certainly not going to be in a position to come up with the 60% funding that will be required for the replacement of pots. I think the Minister should look at this again. He has come part of the way, but he needs to go further to ensure these people are able to replace the pots that were lost, repair the damage that was done to small boats and replace the other equipment that was lost from their boats during the recent storms. I ask the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to give serious consideration to increasing the allocation that has been made available.

I have seen a Wexford County Council report which estimates that the cost of repairing harbours and piers and doing coastal protection works will be €7 million. That estimate was drawn up before today's storm and a further storm is promised for tomorrow. Given that this figure relates to just one county, it is clear that a great sum will be sought from all local authorities to deal with this issue. I question again the Government's failure to make the case for funding at EU level.

In 2009 the Government was allocated approximately €13 million to address the problems of flooding. Surely now given that the damage is on a larger scale, we should be able to seek funding from the European Union Solidarity Fund as that is why it was set up. As a member of the European Union it is appropriate that we would seek such funding. I recently read that the fund had contributed to 56 disasters covering a range of different events, including storm damage, since it was established in 2002. This is an ideal opportunity for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, who has travelled the country, to go to Brussels and ensure we get funding from Europe to top up the funding the Government is making available.

Coastal protection is an area that seems to have been forgotten in recent years. There always used to be an allocation of money for coastal protection with large rocks installed to protect the beach line. However, this has not happened in recent years. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle had an uncle based for many years in Castletown just south of Arklow. From there right down to Bannow Bay, County Wexford has a coastline of 70 to 90 miles where huge tracts of lands have been washed into the sea in recent weeks. I know EU officials will argue that it is cheaper to let it fall into the sea than to protect it. However, Castletown, Courtown, Morriscastle, Curracloe and Rosslare are all tourism areas with hoteliers and business people who depend on tourism for a living. It is very important that these areas be protected. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, should seek funding from the EU for coastal protection to protect areas of high importance for tourism.

While we welcome the money that the Government has allocated, I do not believe it is enough to meet the needs and the demands of local authorities this week and next week. If we could get money from Europe to top it up, it would then go some way towards meeting the needs.

As we speak, communities across the country are being battered by storm conditions and Met Éireann has put in place a "status red" warning - the highest category of warning for some areas. I implore people to follow Met Éireann's advice and that of the authorities, and follow all the necessary steps to protect themselves and their families. I know the emergency services, local authorities and utility providers are working hard to deal with the ongoing fall-out from the storm and that this work will continue in the coming days.

Department of Social Protection staff around the country remain on alert and are ready to respond to people who require humanitarian assistance. I am well aware of the devastation such severe weather can cause, having visited Limerick last Saturday to meet some of those worst affected by the flooding there. As with other parts of the country, various Department, agency and local authority staff are working in tandem to help people affected by the flooding there.

I was highly impressed by the community spirit in Limerick, particularly in St. Mary's and on the island. Neighbours were helping neighbours in time of need and the local community centre was critical in helping people. I commend the people of Limerick on what they have done in rallying around and coming together. That same community spirit will be vital all around the country in the coming days in dealing with the aftermath of the current storm. The Department will be on hand to assist in whatever way it can. I thank the Department's staff who were out and about talking to people and seeking to assist them from the moment the storm became of emergency status in Limerick.

I wish to outline the Department's role in responding to such severe weather events, and how our supports work. As Deputies are aware, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is the lead Department for severe weather emergencies and the Office of Public Works has responsibility for capital flood-relief activities. However, the Department of Social Protection has a key role to play in assisting households in the immediate aftermath of emergency events such as the recent severe weather conditions under the supplementary welfare allowance, SWA, scheme.

In dealing with events of this nature, the Department generally adopts a three-stage approach as follows. Stage 1 is to provide emergency income support payments for food, clothing, personal items and temporary accommodation in conjunction with local authorities in the immediate aftermath of the event. A relatively small amount of financial assistance is generally provided initially but this will increase as the extent of the problem and what needs to be done become clearer. Up to this week, the response on the ground to the current flooding was primarily at this stage. It is for this reason that only a small proportion of the overall funding available for humanitarian assistance has been required to date.

Stage 2 generally involves the replacement of white goods, basic furniture items and other essential household items. It is very important to note that the full extent of damage to homes does not become known until the floodwater abates and houses dry out. The Department is now starting to receive applications in the Limerick area that would generally be processed under stage 2 to cover items such as white goods - fridges, cookers and so on. These payments are being expedited.

Stage 3 is to identify what longer-term financial support or works are required. It could take several months before this stage of response commences and this involves a cross-departmental and cross-agency response. Work carried out can include plastering, dry-lining, relaying of floors, electrical re-wiring and painting. Again the local authority is very much involved as is the OPW, where there is very severe damage to houses. In previous times it has occasionally been necessary to relocate families to houses outside flood-risk areas and the OPW has the expertise in this regard. It is, therefore, to be expected that the most significant payments will be made in the second and third stages of the process.

In response to flooding in recent years typical payments ranged from less than €100 to €28,000 where very substantial home refurbishment was required. Typically the smaller payments are made at the beginning, for the reasons I outlined.

The Department is making exceptional needs payments to help meet essential, once-off expenditure. Urgent needs payments can be made to persons who would not normally be entitled to supplementary welfare allowance. There is also assistance under the humanitarian assistance scheme.

For example, a family consisting of a couple and two children with a gross household income of €70,000 or less will receive 100% of the amount deemed to be allowable and appropriate. For every €1,000 of household income above €70,000, the couple will be required to make a personal contribution of 1% toward the amount allowable.

In Limerick at this stage we have dealt with more than 300 families.

We also have an individual community welfare officer, who along with a social worker from Limerick council, is going door to door to the homes of elderly people and people who may be infirm or otherwise unable to get out. We have made about 80 home visits so far. We have also made a special allocation of €500,000 to both the Red Cross and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul because people may come to their attention who would not normally be inclined to visit a community welfare office or our offices.