Deputy Eugene Murphy has 20 minutes and I understand he is sharing time with Deputies Aylward, Rabbitte and Troy. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Flood Prevention Measures: Motion [Private Members]
Is the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy John Halligan, taking the motion?
Yes, I will table an amendment.
“That Dáil Éireann:
— the unprecedented scale and intensity of flooding in 2015;
— the fact that some 500 homes and 400 businesses were flooded over the winter months, with an estimated €100 million in damages over a series of storms;
— the escalating extreme weather events globally and in Ireland, with data from reinsurance group Munich RE showing a near nine-fold rise since 1980 in losses to the insurance industry arising from weather-related catastrophes, after adjusting for inflation;
— the Met Éireann projections for the Irish climate that winters are expected to become wetter, with increases of up to 14 per cent in precipitation under the high emission scenarios by mid-century; and
— that these trends and projections point towards a heightened likelihood of major flood events into the future;
— the ongoing implementation of the Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management programme;
— the planned €430 million six year programme of capital investment on flood defence measures as part of the Government’s overall Capital Investment Plan 2016 – 2021; and
— the series of specific actions outlined by the Government on 5 and 26 January 2016, to address and alleviate flooding concerns, namely:
— the establishment of a Shannon Flood Risk State Agency Co-ordination Working Group;
— the once off temporary scheme, in December 2015, administered by the Irish Red Cross for businesses which was extended to include community, voluntary and sporting organisations and remained open for people to apply for assistance until 21 February 2016;
— targeted support for farmers affected by the flooding;
— the Office of Public Works (OPW) overseeing two pilot ‘individual home protection schemes’;
— the meeting between the Taoiseach and relevant Ministers with insurance industry representatives on 12 January 2016; and
— the establishment of a National Flood Forecasting and Warning Service;
— ongoing underspend in flood defence schemes as part of capital expenditure plans;
— failure to fully implement the flood alleviation announcements of January 2016;
— continued delays and denials of insurance for home owners and businesses across the country; and
— administrative and structural issues hindering the effective management of water levels along the River Shannon; and calls on the Government to:
— ensure there are no statutory impediments to regulating the water levels on the River Shannon and the implementation of dredging where required;
— establish a single River Shannon agency on a statutory basis;
— ensure households and businesses are given adequate flood insurance, in particular those in areas where the OPW has invested in standard 1 in 100 year flood defence structures; and
— address capital underspend in the roll out of investment in flood defences.”
We are all here because this time last year and throughout much of 2016 in many parts of the country, particularly in the midlands and west, people suffered in a way I have never seen before. We all know flooding has affected thousands of people across the country, and last winter’s storms have left some communities absolutely devastated. Lessons must be learned from these catastrophic flooding events, which may increase in frequency and strength as our climate continues to change. Unless we start implementing a co-ordinated flood prevention and insurance strategy, homes and businesses in Cork, Kerry, Dublin and across the country, not just along the Shannon, will be forced to suffer for years.
Despite numerous announcements from the Government, action on flooding has been less forthcoming. Some €480 million has been earmarked for flood defence schemes between now and 2021. That is good news but this money must be fully used and all planning obstacles and delays must be addressed without delay. The Government has not fully implemented its specific pledges, made in January 2016 in such areas as pilot home protection projects and a national flood forecasting and warning service, following serious flooding across the country. The Minister told me that it will take five years to put the national flood forecasting and warning service in place.
My colleagues and I have put forward a suite of measures to alleviate flooding over the past year and this is the only way to proceed. It includes an electricity supply (amendment) Bill, an insurance Bill which has been brought forward already by Deputy McGrath, and the Shannon River Agency Bill which will come forward shortly. These measures must be taken to ensure this matter is dealt with without delay. This is a completely different situation and the goalposts have changed, even from 15, 20 or 25 years ago when we did not have such flooding, the flash flooding we have seen or the deprivation caused throughout the region.
I welcome the announcement by the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Seán Canney, that a new dredging scheme will be implemented but this must be backed up with action, and fast. I acknowledge that the Minister is sincere and is doing his best in this issue but saying it is being implemented and doing it are two different things. The River Shannon has been neglected for too long and needs extensive work to ensure the free flow of water. This is not rocket science and if the river is not cleaned and the channels not maintained the water will just expand. More and more farmers and others will lose their land to water and more flooding will occur before the promised flood defences are completed.
We have the CFRAM report but floods and rain do not wait for anybody. The report expects people to wait and there will be a list of who gets priority. However, nobody can wait for this to be dealt with. We must put people first and the people who have endured so much trauma and devastation over the past year must never again go through what they have had to go through. We need the cleaning of rivers and drains and a drainage system for farmers. We need to be proactive and many farmers would be very good at cleaning major drains on their land. The drains are all blocked but there is no system or grant aid for them at all.
The electricity supply Bill 2016, which we will move shortly, will allow the control of the levels in Lough Derg, Lough Allen and Lough Ree, which is crucial. We are dealing with an amendment Act of 1934 which gave total power to the ESB to support the level of water on those loughs. Time and time again pleas were made to the ESB to let the water downstream. That has to be monitored and done in a certain way but we must take power away from the agency and the Bill will do that.
I have witnessed the most heartbreaking cases of families left virtually homeless because of flooding. The stories come from people I know in Longford, Galway and Clare. One of my constituents left her home with her child on 18 December 2015 as the water continued to rise around her. She did not get back into her home until May of this year. The trauma of having to leave all behind you, including presents under the Christmas tree, was bad enough but along with paying a mortgage on her home that she had to get a boat out of, she did not get one penny from the Government to help with the cost of renting a house for six months. That is disgraceful and must never happen again. Like so many others she will be left paying for the flooding for many years to come. Nothing has been done to date to help with the turloughs that have flooded main roads for months on end in Galway, Roscommon, parts of Longford and in Clare. Putting in place plans for a survey that will last years will not bring any relief to people in the short term. The farmers that I have walked lands with, and in some cases across whose lands I have sailed in a boat, have also been left out in the cold when it comes to being able to draw down their grants. In one case a farmer was penalised by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for the fact that his stone walls had not been maintained and he is losing some of his payments. However, his stone walls were under water for six months and were flattened when the waters receded.
There are a lot of simple things that can be done to alleviate the financial burden on the farmers and families that are still affected by flooding one year on from storm Desmond. I do not doubt the sincerity of the Minister and know that he has engaged with lots of people but we must put legislation in place to deal with this. We must never allow any of our people to be dictated to by any agency. We have to work together but we must never again allow people to suffer in the way they have suffered.
This motion serves as a stark reminder of the utter devastation many Deputies of this House witnessed this time last year. Nationwide, we saw 500 homes and 400 businesses flooded over the winter months with an estimated €100 million in damages from a series of storms. Locally, the communities of Thomastown and Inistioge on the River Nore, Graiguenamanagh on the River Barrow and Piltown on the River Suir were some of the worst affected areas in my constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny. These three rivers, the Three Sisters as they are known, flow through my constituency like the primary arteries of a circulatory system. As with the arteries of a circulatory system it is extremely important that they flow well and without blockage. In this vein of thinking, the continuous dredging and maintenance of our waterways can be very effective in the process of flood prevention. However, we always seem to have issues as the EU directives and environmentalists will butt heads with those who call for more dredging as a practical solution. I am calling on the Minister to ensure that the lines of communication between the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, the Office of Public Works and Brussels facilitate clear and constructive communication.
I also ask him to consider establishing a formal task force consisting of representatives from each of these offices to ensure positive engagement to maximise the effectiveness of our dredging and maintenance systems nationwide. I would appreciate his thoughts on this matter.
I also ask the Minister of State to ensure we do not see tillage farmers who harvest winter crops such as winter barley discriminated against in the future. Crop losses were not eligible under the emergency flood damage relief measure introduced by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, last year. While it might not be under the Minister of State's direct remit, I ask that he raise this matter with his colleague, the Minister, Deputy Creed.
I am delighted that the Fianna Fáil Flood Insurance Bill 2016 is due to undergo pre-legislative scrutiny in the new year after initial reluctance from the Government side. I ask that this process be conducted promptly and efficiently.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, for being here and I thank Deputy Eugene Murphy for introducing this motion. It is greatly appreciated. Fianna Fáil has introduced the motion to highlight the pressing need for further work across a wide range of areas related to flooding. We cannot allow the memories of last year simply to fade away without learning from them and implementing the lessons. From flood insurance and operational management of the River Shannon to ensuring full investment in capital flood defences, the Government must step up to the mark. The full commitment of €430 million through a six-year programme of capital investment in flood defence measures announced as part of the Government's overall capital investment plan for 2016 to 2021 should be realised.
This week last year, Storm Desmond arrived in this country and brought with it a toll of destruction. We are still talking about it and picking up the cost of it. It impacted home owners, business owners, farmers and commuters. As Deputy Eugene Murphy said, home owners had to leave their homes and business owners did not have commuters coming through their towns. I refer in this regard to Portumna, where I live, on the N65. In Carrigahorig, in north Tipperary, the road was closed from 9 December until the middle of January. We lost all the Christmas trade because, with the diversions in place and attempts to find a suitable road, people had the chance to go to Birr instead of Portumna. When I talk about commuters, I refer to the N18 at Ardrahan and Laban, the road by which people had to travel from Galway to Limerick. On 28 December, the road closed and it did not open again until the middle of February. People were discommoded, were financially at a loss and suffered. They still live in fear.
Talk is not a solution. Building up roads and giving permission to the county councils to deal with the matter are not solutions. We need real solutions. Thanks to the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, the OPW has moved from a seven-year work schedule to a five-year schedule. However, people need to know very clearly the plans for the future. They need to know through proper consultation where they are going with their plans. The people who live in Carrigahorig are still waiting to hear what will happen in north Tipperary. The people in Portumna are still waiting to hear when we will get approval for our floodgate. The people in Laban and Ardrahan are wondering what will happen to the swallow holes. We have had the success of the Dunkellan flood relief works, which have been ongoing for a significant number of years, but we should not have to wait another 40 years for the problems of south Galway to be sorted.
It was regrettable this time last year when the rain fell on us that we did not call it a state of emergency. If a state emergency had been called then, many of the works might have been completed. We could have worked as the waters receded and marked the water levels going back. While the diggers were in Cahermore, maybe they could have followed the river all the way to Coole and we could have eventually got the water to the sea, which is what was required. Yet these people must live wondering when it will happen again.
We have been lucky so far. We have got to 13 December and we have passed the magic date of 9 December. However, it is only a matter of time before the rain comes again, and the floods will rise more quickly this time than ever. Unfortunately, although some of the works were carried out, we built roads and dams but we did not deliver solutions. This is not what the people deserve. This is not how taxpayers' money should be spent. We should deliver solutions. As Deputy Eugene Murphy said, the Minister of State is from my constituency. He understands the issue all too well. He was very involved in flood relief last year. We need to see delivery of solutions out of the €32 million spent on CFRAM. There is no point in having money and reports unless we are prepared to put them into action. Taking the Athlone flood defence plan out of the CFRAM process and leaving the other areas in is not good enough for the other people living along the banks of the Shannon. I ask the Minister of State to review this.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important topic. We do so in a spirit of being constructive in ensuring this important topic is kept on the floor of the Dáil. We can thank the man above that we are where we are and that October and November have been unprecedented historically dry months. If a fraction of the rain that fell last year had fallen during these months this year, Deputy Rabbitte might not be looking over at her constituency colleague here because I have no doubt but that he would be in Athlone with his waders. We are where we are because of the good grace of the man above.
Unfortunately, in spite of many announcements, there has been very little physical work on the ground. A public meeting was called recently in Athlone by the local authority, and there was a sense of frustration among the people leaving the meeting. I will be the first to acknowledge that there have been positive announcements regarding flood relief. I am aware of the role my colleague has played in ensuring there have been positive announcements. I have no doubt but that when he decided to support the Government, one of his top priorities was to ensure that money would be forthcoming in this area. However, there is a sense of frustration over the lack of physical work on the ground. We must acknowledge this. I compliment groups such as the Mid Shannon Flood Relief Group, which has been so proactive in working together as a community and bringing forward proposals as to what can be done to alleviate people's fears.
Last week, the Minister of State announced that dredging would be considered a possibility for the River Shannon. Deputy Barry Cowen was part of a cross-party delegation that went to Europe earlier this summer. At that stage they were informed that the European Commission was not prohibiting the dredging of the River Shannon. I went with two colleagues from Banagher to Shannon and back up to Meelick in a boat. In certain areas along the River Shannon its width and depth have been halved because of overgrowth. There was a radar at the bottom of the boat, and one could see in some areas how low the river was and in other areas how high it was. I am slightly worried by the words used in the Minister of State's press release. I hope he will be able to alleviate these concerns when he rises to address the Chamber. He stated he will explore the possibility of dredging the River Shannon and, if needs be, go to the EU courts to seek permission to do so. I would have expected that one of the first things he would have done on assuming office was to explore this possibility. I would have expected, given that he has been in office since May, that he would be able to tell us whether it is possible. I hope it is. When will the works commence? Will we see a protracted period of negotiation and lobbying with the EU before the works can commence? Perhaps he can alleviate my fears and say that he has negotiated, that he has a start date, that the contract is going out to tender and that he knows when the works will commence, how much will be allocated for them and when he anticipates they will be completed.
My colleague, Deputy Eugene Murphy, will introduce a Bill this week in the Dáil as part of our suite of flood relief proposals. This will ensure that legislative changes will be introduced so that the ESB will no longer be able to use the 1934 Act to argue that it is inhibited from lowering water levels. Perhaps the Minister of State will give an indication as to whether he would be willing to accept this legislation.
I believe it is necessary. I learned a funny thing from my constituency colleague, who was at the meeting. Representatives from the ESB met us in room in LH 2000. One of the questions I asked was whether they would do anything different with the benefit of hindsight. I was flabbergasted and amazed to learn that they would not. They took the view that they acted in the best interests of the people who live along the River Shannon. Anyone who is living, engaging or working with them knows that is simply inaccurate. The Bill my colleague is bringing forward is critical in terms of fixing this jigsaw.
Two other pledges were made. The first was the pilot home protection provision scheme. When will that be rolled out? When will people who went to the expense of protecting their own homes be able to avail of a grant to compensate them for the work they have done? When will the national flooding, forecasting and warning system be put in place? That is critical to allow the necessary work to be done in order that we will know when flooding is coming down the tracks.
I move amendment No. 2:
(a) To delete all words from “the series of specific actions outlined” up to and including the words “State Agency Co-ordination Working Group” and substitute the following:
“— the progress with the delivery of the series of specific actions outlined by the Government on 5 and 26 January 2016, to address and alleviate flooding concerns, namely:
— the establishment of a Shannon Flood Risk State Agency Co-ordination Working Group that is ensuring the best possible level of co-ordination between all statutory bodies involved in flood management on the Shannon, including initiatives to pilot lowering lake levels, consider strategic maintenance programmes, and consider the benefits of piloting removal of pinch points;”
(b) To delete all words from “the meeting between the Taoiseach and relevant Ministers” up to and including the words “the effective management of water levels along the River Shannon” and substitute the following:
“— the meeting between the Taoiseach and relevant Ministers with insurance industry representatives on 12 January 2016 and the evidence that the current Government’s policy on flood insurance is delivering benefits including an agreement for the OPW to meet with Insurance Ireland on a quarterly basis from now on;
— the establishment of a National Flood Forecasting and Warning Service; and
— the implementation of a €2 million targeted voluntary home relocation scheme and further examination of a targeted farmyard relocation scheme;” and
(c) To delete the following after the words “dredging where required”:
“— establish a single River Shannon agency on a statutory basis”
I thank all who have contributed to this timely debate thus far. I welcome the opportunity to debate the issue of flooding and flood risk management. I look forward to a constructive discussion and debate.
Many parts of the country experienced severe flooding last winter. Rainfall over the period was 189% of normal, making it the wettest winter ever recorded. The Government is keenly aware of the devastating impact of flooding on those who suffered from the storms and floods of the last winter. In particular, the Government is mindful of those families whose homes have been flooded, marooned or evacuated as well as those whose livelihoods have been threatened. The Government's response last winter involved almost every arm of the State. The response included the outstanding work and dedication of the staff of the local authorities, Met Éireann, the Office of Public Works, the Defence Forces, the Civil Defence, the Coast Guard and the Red Cross. These bodies worked endlessly and tirelessly throughout Christmas in the most difficult circumstances. Humanitarian and financial assistance was provided to householders, farmers and small businesses.
The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, has completed a thorough review of the major emergency management framework response to flooding events from 4 December 2015 to 13 January 2016. The lessons from this review have informed the preparations for a rapid and co-ordinated response for any future flooding event.
Ireland's national policy on flood risk includes a planned and strategic approach to how we manage flood risk to reduce the impact of flooding in future and how we ensure our priorities and resources are of most benefit.
Since last winter, Dutch experts have benchmarked our approach to flood risk management and concluded that it is in line with international best practice and is well on-track. Ireland is more prepared than ever to tackle flood risk. Since 1995, a total of 37 major flood defence schemes have been completed. As we witnessed last winter this infrastructure successfully provided protection to all 7,000 properties covered by the schemes. In total, 12 schemes are currently under construction, a threefold increase on a year ago. A further 5,000 properties are being protected from localised flooding through 400 projects completed by local authorities, with funding provided under the OPW minor works scheme. A further 200 projects have been approved for funding. In addition, 650,000 acres of agricultural land are protected through the programmed maintenance of 11,500 km of river channels by the OPW under the Arterial Drainage Acts.
Since 2009, planning guidelines relating to flood risk have prevented building on flood zones. Under the OPW catchment flood risk assessment and management programme, feasible flood relief structural measures have now been identified to provide protection to 95% of at-risk properties, and 300 risk areas have been assessed under the programme. The details are set out in the draft flood risk management plans that will be finalised in spring next year following consideration of the submissions from the statutory public consultation.
The Government commitment to continue support of flood relief is underlined in the provision of €430 million in flood risk management in the capital investment plan 2016 to 2021. This substantial allocation will build on the total investment of over €460 million in flood risk management undertaken since 1995. This is significant spending by any measure. The nature of capital works can impact capital spending in any particular year, for example, due to the timing of large payments at year end. This can give rise to variability in spending from year to year. Spending on the flood defence capital works programme has averaged €45 million per annum. The Government commitment represents more than a doubling in the capital allocation to €100 million by 2021.
Is the Minister of State sharing with Deputy Daly?
Given the breadth of functions served by the Shannon, including tourism, electricity generation and fisheries, the key recommendation from expert reports on how to manage the flood risk on the Shannon is to take a river basin approach and ensure plans and development are closely co-ordinated. Last winter, the Government took decisive action to establish the Shannon flood risk State agency co-ordination working group. Its extensive work programme, published on the OPW website, highlights the current proactive and co-ordinated approach by all State agencies to flood risk management on the Shannon catchment. The working group is building on the existing work and commitment of all the State agencies. The group is solutions-focused and designed to deliver the highest level of efficiencies to add value to the catchment flood risk assessment and management programme. The group has taken decisions to introduce initiatives to pilot lowering lake levels on Lough Allen and consider a strategic maintenance programme as well as the benefits of piloting removal of pinch points for the River Shannon.
Under a memorandum of understanding between the OPW and Insurance Ireland, information is provided to the insurance industry on the flood relief schemes completed to the once-in-100-year standard. This is the standard of protection required by the insurance industry. All OPW schemes are now designed to this standard and make allowance for climate change. There is now clear evidence that this strategy is working, as demonstrated by an incremental increase in the provision of flood insurance in areas protected by flood defences now having up to 90% flood insurance cover. The industry is now working with the OPW to re-evaluate its risk assessment of demountable defences and to explore other means of sharing data to inform flood insurance cover better. I will conclude because I want to allow in my colleague.
As a representative of the Cork South-West constituency, I am well aware of the flooding issue. I know what it is like to get a call from my wife at 2 a.m. to tell me that the fire brigade has contacted her to advise her to prepare to evacuate the house because of the threat of a flood. Indeed, my office in Bandon was flooded last year. I have to take issue with a number of points in this motion as a means of explaining why I do not support it. I had not planned to speak during this evening's debate, but I would like to say a few words now that I have an opportunity to do so. I have to remind my friends in Fianna Fáil that west Cork suffered flooding for 50 years. To the shame of Fianna Fáil and those who were in government for 14 years, absolutely nothing - I mean zero - was done to make progress with flooding schemes in west Cork over the period.
This is codology.
I have to take issue with being lectured by Fianna Fáil now on what we should be doing. I do not want to be overly political on this issue because we should be trying to achieve consensus on it. I invite my friends opposite who have told us that actions speak louder than words to come to west Cork to see how €50 million is being spent on three significant flood schemes in that area. The schemes in the towns of Skibbereen and Bandon are in progress and the scheme in my home town of Clonakilty will start in January. All Deputies are welcome to come to west Cork to see the progress that is being made. While I would be the first to acknowledge that the last Government did not get everything right, I think it should be given credit where it is due in this instance. It did a great deal on the issue of flooding to help the people of west Cork at a time when money was very scarce.
I have to take issue with the approach of previous Fianna Fáil Administrations with regard to underspends in capital expenditure, which was "if we have got it, spend it". It is crazy to think that money should be spent just because it is there. I have railed against the system in many Departments that means money is lost if it is not used. Money has to be spent prudently and in a planned manner. What particular elements of these schemes should be cut out? Do we cut out the consultation with the public or the environmental impact assessment? I accept that it can be painful when these schemes take so much time. I know all about it. I have helped with the progress of three schemes in the last five years. Thankfully, they have come to fruition. While I understand the frustration that has been expressed with regard to delays, I caution against the urge to spend money for the sake of it.
I would like to share time with Deputies Maurice Quinlivan, Martin Kenny and Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the Fianna Fáil motion that has been tabled on the important issue of flooding. I am pleased that we have been given an opportunity to discuss this issue. I have some sympathy with Deputy Jim Daly's comments about Fianna Fáil's participation in government. When representatives of a party that has been in government for the best part of the past 50 years come to this Chamber to talk about a lack of short-term, medium-term and long-term strategies to deal with flooding, they should accept some responsibility for what their party did when it was in government. I am not suggesting that no work was done on flood relief over that time - of course some works were done - but I emphasise that serious problems exist in many parts of the country. It is okay to come in and talk about rivers like the Shannon, the Suir, the Barrow and the Nore and places like Thomastown, Banagher and Meelick, as Deputies have already done in this debate, but the time for putting our money where our mouths are is at budget time, when the capital funding is provided to make all of this happen. I remind the House that Fianna Fáil did not propose an alternative budget this year. As we know, the money that has been allocated this year is woefully inadequate. The money that was announced in January 2016 has not been fully spent. That is also to be condemned.
In its alternative budget earlier this year, my party proposed significant investment in flooding and road infrastructure. As the Minister of State will be aware, many secondary roads in villages and rural areas were washed away or subsided during the many floods of recent years and as a result are still not passable. Damage to businesses and homes is another consequence of flooding. We know that the levels of compensation and State support for victims of flooding are not what they should be. We had an opportunity in the recent budget to make a serious investment in capital infrastructure by taking advantage of one of the few flexibilities we have under the fiscal rules. I refer to the rules that allow us to smooth out capital expenditure over four years. For every €1 million that is spent on capital, just €250,000 has to be provided in the first year. The rest of the cost can be spread over the following years. This system gave the Government an opportunity to deal with issues like flooding and roads, but it did not take it.
We have heard examples of flood relief schemes that have been put in place and are working. We have to give credit where credit is due. We need to look at best practice. I invite the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, to come to Waterford city. The Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, will know about the investments that were made along the River Suir. The heavy investment in a flood relief programme along The Quay in Waterford city has worked. We also have flood relief and flood walls along the St. John's River. While we still have flooding in parts of the city - there has been some flooding in all towns and cities over recent years because of the heavy rainfall - we have been spared the type of flooding that was seen in previous years along The Quay in Waterford. Such flooding had a huge impact on many businesses over many years. Such examples of good practice show what can be done. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, to visit Waterford city to see for himself the flood relief measures that have been put in place.
Sinn Féin has not been alone in talking about the need to invest in capital infrastructure. The same call has been made by IBEC, the Economic and Social Research Institute, the Nevin Economic Research Institute, the Think-tank for Action on Social Change, the EU Commission, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council and Social Justice Ireland. There are difficulties with the Government's approach to this issue. The Minister of State, Deputy Canney, will be aware that I am a member of the Committee of Public Accounts. He will recall that representatives of the Office of Public Works recently appeared before the committee to discuss the State's approach to flooding. I was amazed to learn that the interdepartmental co-ordination working group and the steering group have not met very often and that there has been a lack of clarity and urgency regarding the level of action that should be taken. The committee also heard about mapping issues, the effectiveness of the memorandum of understanding with insurance companies and the question of whether we are seeing any real reductions in insurance costs. Many issues need to be dealt with.
I will conclude by saying it is really not good enough for Deputies to come into the Dáil, table a motion and go home feeling good about themselves and thinking they have done their jobs. The time to deal with these issues is when the funding is being provided to make that happen. The funding has not been provided by Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. They have failed to invest in flood relief systems to the extent necessary to protect towns, villages and cities throughout the State. That is the reality. We should welcome the success stories, but there are far too many places where success has not been achieved because the necessary investment has not been made. We will not have success unless we invest the necessary moneys at the appropriate time, which is budget time.
I thank Deputy Eugene Murphy for proposing this motion. I represent the city of Limerick, which has experienced a number of floods in recent years. As we discuss this issue this evening, families across the country are struggling to recover from the devastation caused by flooding. Many households and businesses remain unable to access flood insurance and others have not yet received any compensation. I believe the Government's response to flooding has been chaotic. Its plans for flood defences are woefully inadequate. Its dithering on the question of securing insurance has left homes and businesses vulnerable to further devastation this winter. The bottom line is that if insurance companies are not prepared to provide cover, the Government has a responsibility to fill the gap and support families and businesses.
I would like to speak about the structural and administrative issues relating to the effective management of water levels along the River Shannon. I agree with the call for the removal of statutory impediments to allow for the proper regulation of water levels. There are too many public bodies and authorities in charge of the river. This has resulted in a chaotic situation, particularly at times of emergency. A massive flood devastated the King's Island area of Limerick in February 2014, and Castleconnell barely escaped massive flooding in 2015, but no flood defences exist in those areas at present. Today marks the first anniversary of the flood in the Richmond Park area of Corbally. Memories of the uncertainty regarding who was responsible for that flood are still fresh. In that instance, a gate needed to be opened but nobody seemed to know who was in charge. Bizarrely, no one knew who had the key to open the canal lock. One could not make this stuff up. It is clear that the 1934 legislation giving the ESB the right to set river levels is outdated and no longer fit for purpose. Just 2% of this country's power is now generated by the Ardnacrusha Dam. At the same time, mass urbanisation of the countryside has become the norm. After 92 years, it is long past time to introduce legislation that is fit for purpose in modern Ireland. Our aim must be to protect the river as an important natural resource while utilising its power and energy in a way that protects the environment, its hinterland and the homes and the livelihoods of the people living in its proximity.
I thank Deputy Murphy for tabling the motion. On the issue of flooding, I am most concerned about the River Shannon catchment and I have huge problems with the CFRAM proposal. Officials have gone around the country and consulted all the stakeholders but then have come back with a suggestion to build walls. Anyone looking at this objectively would have to acknowledge that while there may be a case to build walls in some areas, it is absurd to offer that as the main solution. Somebody wrote a letter to the Leitrim Observer a few months ago in which he said the proposal was the same as filling a bath and saying the only way to stop it overflowing is to build walls around it rather than pull the plug. Every other country in Europe has river maintenance boats which travel up and down rivers and when they come to a logjam, the eyes of a bridge, or the narrow parts of a river where vegetation is growing and interfering with the flow of water, they clean them and cut back the vegetation. That is what needs to happen. The entire River Shannon does not need to be dredged but parts of it need to be dealt with adequately and the only way to do that is to put the funding in place not just for a once-off large scheme but for a continuous programme of maintenance. This should be done not only for the Shannon but for all our rivers. If that is done, flood risks will be removed.
The motion is primarily about insurance. Insurance companies have a perfect excuse for charging exorbitant prices or for offering no insurance if rivers are not cleaned. While some people will say this, that or the other cannot be done from an environmental point of view, rivers will recover quickly if they are properly cleaned. Bottlenecks and logjams need to be removed and I urge the Minister of State to put the funding in place to get that work done first before he starts building walls. The building of the walls will be grand for the builders and the large contractors who will make a fortune but that will not solve the problem. The problem will only be solved when bottlenecks are removed and the channel from the source of the river to the sea is as free flowing as possible. There has to be adequate management to ensure, particularly coming into the winter, that locks are at their lowest level to keep the water level as low as possible. This can be done but it will require investment. People who say it will cost a fortune are way off the mark. A long-term plan is needed to maintain all our rivers, including the Shannon and the Erne. If that is implemented properly, this problem can be resolved.
Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta Eugene Murphy as ucht an rúin seo, a bhaineann le tuilte agus an gá atá ann déileáil le comhlachtaí árachais ionas go gcuirfidh siad clúdach árachais ar fáil, a chur os ár gcomhair.
The Minister of State visited Cork last Monday. I was struck by the first slide of the presentation in City Hall. It contained two pictures of Patrick Street taken from an almost identical angle. There was also almost an identical level of surface water in them but the Ford Cortinas had been replaced by Ford Mondeos. They were taken approximately 50 years apart, which is an illustration of how little has been done in Cork and of the neglect of flood defences throughout Ireland. It is something we have become familiar with in Cork over the past 15 to 20 years. The city centre is significantly affected by both tidal and alluvial flooding as are suburban areas. The 2009 flood was a significant event causing €100 million worth of damage to many businesses. There was a great deal of discussion at the time about the implications the flooding had for businesses on Oliver Plunkett Street, the South Mall and so on but it is sometimes forgotten that the flooding also affected some of the oldest residential communities in the city, including the Marsh, South Parish and Middle Parish. It caused a great deal of distress and concern.
The project that has been announced is welcome and I am glad the Government is prioritising it but the motion deals with insurance and it is vitally important that in advance of any project being delivered, the Government deals with the problems the insurance industry is presenting. We have previously debated the issues relating to motor insurance but there are also issues insuring domestic dwellings and businesses, even in terms of classification of areas. Douglas on the south side of Cork city was affected by a significant flooding event in 2009 but householders in extremely elevated neighbourhoods cannot get insurance because their address is in Douglas, despite the fact that we would all be in major trouble if these neighbourhoods were flooded. The design of the Cork project will be crucial in preserving the central role the River Lee has in the life of the city and consultation with the community is necessary in that regard. Action is also needed on suburban projects because some suburbs have been as badly affected as the city centre. That tale is sometimes forgotten. Flood relief schemes are needed in Blackpool, Douglas, Togher and Curraheen. I wrote to the Minister of State about them recently and I hope he will have an opportunity to respond soon. The schemes were all part of the wider River Lee catchment study. If they are not dealt with in tandem with the larger project, these localities will continue to experience significant flooding problems. There was a major flood in Douglas and Togher again in 2012 causing significant damage. Those schemes are behind schedule. They were due to go to detailed design earlier this year but we are a long way from preferred option at this stage. They need to be prioritised and I look forward to hearing from the Minister of State in that regard.
I will support the motion but Deputy Cullinane is correct. These discussions need to be had at budget time when capital investment is provided. This is an investment for the future of our economy.
I wish to share time with Deputy Moran. I am happy to cede to the great man, Moses himself, who held back the River Shannon this time last year. Thankfully, the weather gods are shining more favourably on him this year because I am not sure he could have held it back a second year in a row. I am happy to cede time to Moses Moran.
I wish to refer specifically to the issue of flood insurance and the memorandum of understanding signed in March 2014 between the chief executive officer of Insurance Ireland and the then Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Mr. Brian Hayes, MEP. I hail from Mallow in north Cork and, to be fair to the OPW, the programme of works commenced some years ago in the towns of Mallow and Fermoy have yielded benefits and success through the intervention of a number of Ministers of State. I do not seek to be overtly partisan on this because good work has been carried out down through the years, which has alleviated the flooding problems. However, it has not alleviated the issue faced by people who live on the flood plain and their ability to obtain flood insurance. The press release issued in 2014 regarding the memorandum of understanding states:
The Memorandum of Understanding outlines the principles of agreement between the OPW and Insurance Ireland on the information being provided and how it will be used by the insurance industry. The Office of Public Works will provide Insurance Ireland with data on all completed OPW flood defence schemes which will show the design, extent and nature of the protections offered by these works. Insurance Ireland members will then take into account all information provided by the OPW when assessing exposure to flood risk within these areas from 1 June 2014.
We are into December 2016 and somewhere along the line an election happened and since the election, that memorandum of understanding seems to carry no weight at all. I see my constituency colleague Deputy O'Keeffe is here and he will bear witness to the fact that there are people within the curtilage of the Munster Blackwater in towns and hamlets along that river who are being refused flood insurance, whether business or domestic. In spite of the fact that there were world-class engineering works signed off, the insurance companies are point-blank refusing to provide the risk cover for businesses and residents along that river. The memorandum of understanding seems to have fallen by the wayside and does not have the weight that was given to it prior to this election or as far back as 2014. I know the Minister of State is committed to this issue and I hope he will revisit that memorandum of understanding and re-engage with Insurance Ireland with a view to ensuring we find solutions. Deputy Rabbitte said it is a question of finding solutions to these problems in an apolitical non-partisan way.
In that press release the chief executive of Insurance Ireland said: "Insurance Ireland is pleased to announce the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Office of Public Works (OPW) which will see the OPW sharing flood defence data with Insurance Ireland so that insurance companies can take this data into account when assessing flood risk." The sector clearly has not taken the two significant projects in Fermoy and Mallow into account when assessing flood risks. The big international insurance companies in places such as Geneva, Bonn or Berlin that speak through Insurance Ireland have decided they do not want to do it. They have made a simple corporate decision. It is for us in this House working together to ensure that memorandum of understanding gets the status it deserves and that we try to work with Insurance Ireland. In the context of the Bill that will come before the finance committee, we should bring Insurance Ireland back into the Oireachtas to find some resolution of this issue.
The press release also states "This MOU is the start of a process which will help our members [this is Insurance Ireland] make flood insurance more widely available in areas benefitting from flood defences built to the desired standard of 1:100 years." It has thrown that out the window and reneged on its own public utterances about providing cover. It is an absolute disgrace and it needs to be taken to task collectively by this House for dereliction of duty. There are genuine brokers and insurance houses which will provide cover in bespoke circumstances but it is unfair of anybody in the industry to expect a few players to cover the entire risk. That is why we have more work to do. I believe the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, will do everything he can on this but this Bill is a prism through which we can work together to provide a resolution.
In the past 20 years there have been three major historic floods in Ireland. Last year was the first time ever that we kept the water out of Athlone through hardship, volunteers, local authorities and the OPW. We proved and pushed a platform to show how we can protect homes around the country with sandbags and polythene. When I came into government in partnership with my good colleague, Deputy Canney, we looked for the job of responsibility for the OPW because we believe if we do not get it right, whoever comes after us will fail. I have heard everything discussed in this House tonight before and I have seen damn all happen to the people of this country.
People talk about the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM. It is a bible in urban areas. The announcement last Friday about the maintenance of the Shannon is for the rural areas. People never mentioned pinch points in this House until I put my foot inside the door. They did not know what I was talking about but now everybody seems to know. If we can remove 16 pinch points on the Shannon, two in particular, we can lower the level, prevent summer flooding and help lower the level of the water in winter flooding.
In respect of this Bill introduced by Deputy Eugene Murphy, I would rather see a collective approach than people playing politics with those who have suffered so greatly. Sinn Féin should get into government and see how hard it is to get decisions and to get people to work with them, instead of shouting and roaring and telling us everything we are doing wrong and everything that they may do right. It is not as easy on this side of the House. A total of €430 million, the biggest budget ever, has been put into flooding and defences this year.
Last Friday I read in the paper that finally all the bodies who for the past 20, 30 or 40 years told us we could not do something, acknowledged that one of the solutions would be dredging the areas of the Shannon that are blocked up with silt - I will not call them pinch points. There are areas along the Shannon around Jamestown, Termonbarry, Banagher and Limerick that are blocked up, making the water level rise. Those are the low-hanging fruits we need to act on first and the cruisers can still drive along. For the communities on the river the great advantage is that people can drive along at a lower level and see their fields, gardens and houses. While that may seem like a lot to some people it means that there is a recognition that as part of any solution the dredging of, or maintenance work on, a river or part of a river, not just the Shannon, is a solution or part of one. People who went to the conference in Ballinasloe said room had to be made for the river. Unfortunately, over the past 100 years everyone promised everything but nothing was delivered. Money was never put aside to take down the bushes that had fallen into the Shannon or to clear the silt in it. I was in a boat one day where the Little Brosna is nearly blocked with silt. Whatever responsibility Bord na Móna has, in addition to the money that will be laid out, it needs to row in and make sure its stuff is taken out because that will do good for the land around the Callows in all those places.
This time last year, people were going through torture in every town from the top to the bottom of the Shannon. In south Galway, Mayo and indeed in many parts of Ireland, people did not know whether they would be able to stay in their house that night or the next. That is not the way to go on. In fairness to the Minister of State, we must be honest. I come from a background of moving water and, to be frank, we have plenty of bad land. It is like trying to tame a wild duck; we are at it all our lives. It is not done overnight. Let us be honest with people and tell it straight out. We need a ten-year plan for the likes of the Shannon for maintenance on a continuous basis. If people are given hope and see something being done, it is at least a beginning.
The other things that need to be maintained are the tributaries, such as the River Suck, the River Brosna, which I have mentioned already, and the Boyle River. All of those rivers need cleaning. When was it done? It was never done. One might have seen a dragline doing 100 m of a river every five or ten years, but that was the end of it. We have to make sure that is done. On behalf of the people in the likes of Lough Funshinagh, Lough Corry, in the turloughs, in his area in south Galway and by the River Deel, where there is a bypass to be built, the one thing I would say to the Minister of State is that the cost-benefit analysis needs changing. I know there is more information to come about it. Rural parts of the country will suffer if that is not done.
I note that the Minister of State spoke about Europe in his speech on Friday. I was out there and what they maintained to me and the group I was with was that if one has a management plan, one can work ahead. I have plenty of rows with the National Parks and Wildlife Service myself, but in fairness to it I believe it may be on board now. At the end of the day, having seen rivers done all over the country, we have to recognise that the trout will come back and the eel will come back-----
They will not.
------and everything will come back if the river is kept clean. There are ways of solving the pearl mussel problem. We have seen in Mayo the expertise that was brought in, how it was done and how it can be successful. People need to make sure that we find solutions and not keep creating problems.
In the line of insurance, there are serious problems around the country. I know the Minister of State has visited a guy who has put reinforcement in right the way around his house and has put an idea to use. It will be interesting to see whether the insurance company will insure that person. The insurance companies are coming out with their own palaver about what they are insuring and not insuring. I believe we need to go down the road of getting our own figures for the simple reason that I do not trust the insurance companies. They will tell us what they want to tell us because it suits them. It is another task that has to be done. It is another task that we have talked about for 20 years but have not tackled. Now it has to be tackled for once and for all.
I have seen maintenance machinery from America. If we put the likes of that in the Shannon, it is unbelievable the amount of work that could be done. No one is going to say that that one thing will solve everything. We may need to be able to park water in places. I know the people in Carrick-on-Shannon, Mr. John Dunne in particular, have produced their own plan for Lough Allen. In 1976, there was a beach on Lough Allen that had 300 people at it every day. Today, one would never think there was a beach on it because the levels of the water have risen. Anyone who understands any bit of digging work at all knows that we can have the beach, the cruiser and the environment, provided that we make way for it. If there is an area of rocks sticking up, unfortunately for the whole area around it, the navigational level will be affected by it. We have to make sure to take that out.
I know the previous Deputy spoke about how CFRAM is going to be one of the ways forward. When CFRAM representatives came to Athleague, the most important river that flooded the town in Athleague was left out of the CFRAM report. I spoke about this publicly before. I believe it is disgraceful that the Silver Stream was left out of the report on Athleague. That should not be tolerated.
There is a long way to go. Let us not cod people that tonight, in six months or in a year everything will be solved. It will not. We need different measures in different places. There are places that may have no solution but to get a big pump in and pump the water from one area to another. That may have to be done. At the end of the day, if we do not make room for the river, we are going nowhere. Where trees and bushes are growing, they need to be taken out and taken out rapidly.
In my opinion, we need one authority over the rivers. I was alarmed when I saw Irish Water going on about giving €1 million to the ESB when it was discussing bringing water to Dublin. Irish Water now has hardly enough money for itself, not to mind giving €1 million to the ESB. Water is rain that comes down from the sky. I do not see why anyone has the right to say that it is their water. We started like a car that would not start; we were slow to get going. In fairness, things are picking up. I urge the Minister of State to keep the pressure on. If the Minister of State can solve the likes of south Galway, Roscommon, Mayo and Cork, about which there was an announcement yesterday, before this Government's term finishes, then a good day's work will have been done.
I start by commending Fianna Fáil on bringing this Private Members' motion forward. I have seen first hand time and again the trauma caused to businesses and families by flooding. In 2015, there were unprecedented amounts of flooding, with more than 30 towns and villages experiencing major flooding. More than 540 homes and more than 600 businesses around the country were flooded. A total of 155 of these homes were located in Cork and 135 of the businesses affected were in Cork. Bandon, Skibbereen, Clonakilty, Dunmanway, Ballylickey and Bantry were all hit badly, costing tens of thousands of euro of damage to property. Apart from the devastating physical damage which flooding wreaks on homes and businesses, it must be acknowledged that it also causes a threat to people's safety when emergency services fail to get through in the case of a medical emergency. The economic prospects of those towns are also significantly impaired as would-be businesses are reluctant to move to areas which could be affected by annual flooding.
While the OPW has done major work on flood defence schemes across the country, there needs to be an increase in investment in flood defences in order to ensure that every city, town and village in Ireland is free from the threat of flooding. I would also like to add that more county council workers should be employed to clean out drains and help prevent flooding. In severe weather, the capacity of the drainage system can be overwhelmed by the amount of water trying to run off from the road and flooding can occur. In April 2016, debris and household rubbish blocked a storm drain that was designed to protect property. It caused the flooding of 15 premises in Skibbereen town. Extensive damage was caused to these premises. This damage could have been avoided if the drains had been cleaned on a regular basis, particularly during the rainy season.
Where flood works have been completed and in areas where remediation work has taken place, there is evidence that people still cannot get flood insurance or are being quoted prices that are making it too difficult to get cover. It is estimated that more than 50,000 people are still without flood insurance cover. The absence of flood insurance is not only a major worry for homeowners and the owners of businesses, it also acts as a brake on the economic potential of a town and as a deterrent to any investor. Without flood insurance, these towns and communities lack the key infrastructure that is required to reach their full potential. Homeowners can only sell to cash buyers and businesses cannot borrow to reinvest because banks insist on flood insurance. It is not acceptable that property owners, businesses and farmers continue to be left financially vulnerable because they have no access to flood insurance despite flood defence schemes being put in place. The Government needs to put pressure on insurance companies to provide adequate insurance for these people and businesses as a matter of urgency.
At the outset, I mentioned towns and communities destroyed by floods last year in west Cork: Bandon, Skibbereen, Clonakilty, Dunmanway, Ballylickey and Bantry. In Bandon and Skibbereen, major works have taken place. We must acknowledge success and progress being made. These works have been carried out and are being carried out, with works scheduled in Clonakilty, Ballylickey and Bantry to start soon. This has to be welcomed. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, who since taking office has been a Minister of the people and not a Minister for the party. I thank the Minister of State for that.
I acknowledge that good work has started in some areas. However, many of the rivers and waterways for which the OPW claims it is not responsible are not being addressed. There should be one body responsible for ensuring that water can flow as freely as possible in all of the rivers. Every river in the country is blocked by both trees and silt. No farmer or land owner has been able to touch any river for the last 20 years because of cross compliance and the possibility of losing the single farm payment. The Flesk river runs through the Flesk valley and 22 houses and a community hall are constantly being flooded. The N22, the national primary route into Kerry has been flooded several times. The national CFRAM programme carried out studies for five years but has now withdrawn from the Flesk river and will do nothing to help. Kerry County Council says it is not its responsibility. The National Roads Authority is carrying out a study but I cannot see that going anywhere. The college and the community hall in Castleisland have flooded several times. There are similar problems in Kenmare, while the Lake Hotel in Killarney has flooded three times because the Laune river coming out of the lake is blocked up and needs to be cleaned. Perhaps a grant could be given to farmers to assist them in clearing rivers on their own land. That is an option that could be explored. At the moment, farmers are afraid to go near the rivers in case they lose their single farm payment.
In England the authorities have ordered that every river in the country be cleaned as well as any other waterway that is causing trouble. Why can we not do the same here? Inland Fisheries Ireland has held people back. Indeed, it has called gardái and threatened farmers, telling them to get out of the rivers. That is not fair, particularly as rivers that are overshadowed by trees are no use for fishing.
We must have one body in charge. I support the motion and ask that one body be put in place to oversee all of this. Otherwise, many places will be left behind. Every river in Kerry is blocked, including the Gweestin and the rivers coming out of places like Castleisland and Killarney. We are at a standstill. We need money in Kerry. There was an announcement of money for Cork but we need fair play in Kerry too.
Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta Ó Murchú as an tairiscint a chur síos. I thank Deputy Eugene Murphy for tabling this motion which gives us an opportunity to discuss and debate this very important issue. This time last year I was watching television over several nights and I saw Boxer Moran, who is now a Deputy, literally pushing back the water. He explained earlier how he kept the water back. If one wants to get work done, one asks people who know how to do it. We have such people here, in Deputy Moran and in the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, who is a quantity surveyor. He understands how this work is done. The problem is that the agencies that have been dealing with this do not understand it and do not want to know about it. All they want is cushy jobs, imposing fines.
Deputy Danny Healy-Rae referred to farmers being prosecuted. They are being prosecuted for going to the riverbank and taking scrub away. They have to pay on-the-spot fines to the Environmental Protection Agency, literally in their fields, without ever going to court. Is that justice? They are being told to pay up now or the fine will be doubled in court. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark as they say and it is rotten here too.
I hope that the work will continue. I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, for coming to Tipperary to see the areas that were flooded last year. He looked at the eight homes in Clonmel that were flooded, the 50 homes in Carrick-on-Suir, the GAA hall in Kilsheelan and one business in my own village. He saw and then he delivered. He went back to the Department and got the money. However, I want him or a senior official in his Department to pick up the telephone in the morning and ask Mr. Marcus O'Connor, the director of services for roads in Tipperary why he has not spent that money. The money was approved but the council is now pussy footing around and is afraid to invoke the 1993 Roads Act which is in place to direct water off roads. The Department gave them the money, the people are living in peril waiting for the floods to happen again but they will not do the work. They are like the dog in the manger. They want the bone and will not give it to another dog. Let some dog do it. I know the dogs that will and can do it.
Last year there was a massive landslide on the land of a farmer in Deputy Mary Butler's Waterford constituency, Mr. Michael Dunne. I thank Mr. Damien Tiernan from RTE who returned to the farm last week. Not one sod has been lifted. Mr. Dunne's cattle shed was flooded and his animals had to be removed. His house is in danger. I urge the Minister to visit the farm to see it for himself and to get Coillte or some other agency to take responsibility.
Insurance was referred to earlier. I also heard mention of an MOU. All we want is a big machine to remove the silt from the rivers, not a memorandum of understanding behind which the insurance companies can hide. They do not want to provide insurance. A job was done in Clonmel and only eight houses flooded last year but no company will provide insurance for anyone living within five miles of the place. They are codding us. The only memorandum of understanding that is needed is for Deputy Moran and the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, to tell them that they must insure people once work is carried out to defend against a one in one hundred year flood event.
The Deputy and the Minister of State know how the work should be done. They must get the EPA to move aside. It should be sent out to pick weeds or something rather than going out and prosecuting farmers for taking timber out of rivers. The rivers must be cleaned to let the water flow.
The Social Democrats is happy to support this motion. It is a good and comprehensive motion which we welcome in as far as it goes. However, it seems that some people speaking on this motion think the world started in 2011 but of course, like everything else in the country, there is a history to this. Some of those historical reasons have led to the situation where we are reaping the whirlwind of the failure to take proper, long term planning decisions. That must be borne in mind in this debate.
The reasons for much of our flooding difficulties are further up the food chain and are very much associated with global warming and our failure to play our part in that regard. It is quite clear that as a country we are going to miss most of our targets which will result in us having to pay very substantial fines. Again, that is a result of a lack of long term planning and a commitment to the future. Of course we are not alone in that, by any means. Global warming is the overall reason for what is happening. It is why we are seeing flooding much more frequently and experiencing much more precipitation than would be regarded as normal. The point has been made that Met Éireann is predicting a 14% increase in precipitation by the middle of the century which will pose major problems for this country.
Apart from our failure to play our part in terms of tackling climate change, there is a very serious problem in this country with a lack of any long term planning or adequate investment in the future. It is a little rich to hear some of the comments and contributions from the proposers of this motion given that Fianna Fáil was in power over a long number of years when there was no shortage of funding and the coffers were full but it did not make the investment in infrastructure that was required. Money was spent on lots of things. Money was provided for decentralisation and for this, that and the other - much of it wasted - but there was no proper investment in the key infrastructural areas which are so important.
Following the economic crash, there were severe cutbacks in investment in local authority services which is a major contributory factor to the problems of flooding that we are encountering at the moment. The drastic reduction in staff numbers in local authorities means that rivers and ditches are not being cleared and lots of other work that should be going on is not happening to the same extent as it did in the past and that is certainly contributing to the problem.
The other issue in the context of planning is the fact that there was so much building allowed on flood plains. There was much uncontrolled and unregulated building on flood plains against the advice and wishes of the planners.
The two main parties in this House have to take their share of responsibility for allowing to continue circumstances in which their councillors in local authorities throughout the country are quite happy to propose rezoning in areas totally unsuited to house building. They ignored the professional advice available to them and we are now dealing with the downside. It was absolutely predictable at the time in question. The planners gave their views and said what would inevitably happen. This has come to pass in many areas in which we are now seeing serious flooding.
Another point on planning is that we are not strict enough in respect of one-off facilities in urban areas. We are seeing more and more land being covered by cobblelock and other hard surfaces. This means that areas in which there were previously very few problems with flooding are now experiencing it if there is heavy rain. This issue should be dealt with through planning. We should ensure there are soft surfaces and adequate soakage in gardens by way of lawns, flower beds and other such soft surfaces. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. There are entire housing estates in which there is hardly a blade of grass. They have hard surfaces everywhere, including on all paths and in all front gardens. Many of the back gardens also have hard surfaces. Again, we are paying the price for this. Flooding in urban areas is becoming much more common.
There are serious problems in getting insurance cover from any company. I hope this issue will be examined by the Government in a serious way because insurance costs have gone through the roof. They very much add to the cost of living. For people living in areas that have recently been prone to flooding, it is impossible to get insurance cover. This issue needs to be addressed by the Government.
In urban areas there can also be a problem in being insured against flooding. I have seen this in my constituency. There have been problems after heavy rain, with a run-off from hard surfaces in the main. Several dozen houses have been seriously damaged in recent years. In spite of the fact that the city council has taken remedial action in one area and built a very substantial swale which is expected to deal with the problem, the insurance companies are refusing to provide insurance cover. I pursued this issue with some of them. The Minister of State might take up the point that some insurance companies are stating they will not insure against flooding unless there is certification by the OPW that remedial action has been taken. In city areas it is very often the local authority that is responsible for taking ameliorative measures, but insurance companies will not accept certification from it. That issue needs to be addressed at ministerial level. I would appreciate it if the Minister of State gave it his attention.
Deputy Dara Calleary is sharing his time with Deputies Brendan Smith, Mary Butler and Margaret Murphy O'Mahony.
I thank Deputy Eugene Murphy for giving us the chance once again to discuss flooding. I am always reluctant to fight with Deputy Róisín Shortall and do not want to do so, but it is only fair to point out that during our time in government, the CFRAM process was initiated. It now forms the basis of much of the investment being made. Schemes were started and completed in Clonmel, Fermoy and along the River Tolka during our time in government and under various Ministers of State responsible for the OPW. While we did not get what we wanted done, which is a regret, it is wrong to say there was nothing done and that there were other priorities. Considerable progress was made, particularly in the CRFAM programme area.
The Minister of State, Deputy Seán Canney, and the Minister of State elect, Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran, have brought considerable changes to the OPW when it comes to dealing with flooding. It is welcome that it is to start dredging the River Shannon. What about the other rivers the dredging of which the OPW is blocking? There is local agreement from all the other relevant bodies, including Inland Fisheries Ireland and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, but it seems once again that the OPW is the organisation that will not allow this work to be advanced. It is afraid that it will end up in the European court. Let me give an example. There is agreement with all of the agencies on cleaning and dredging the River Deel at Crossmolina where unbelievable damage was done there this time last year. The OPW speaks of one-in-100-year events, but there were two such events in three weeks in Crossmolina in 2015. When one attempts to pursue solutions, they are blocked by the OPW. In fairness to the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Canney, he has been there, as has Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran.
We need a River Shannon agency, given its importance, but there is time for some vehicle allowing all of the agencies to be involved in river management. They spend their time blaming one another for the lack of progress; therefore, they should be brought under one roof when it comes to the management and control of rivers. Until that happens, the work that needs to be done in flood prevention will not happen as there will always be somebody else to blame. There will always be an animal in the river, a fish or a pearl muscle somewhere to block progress and which can be used in the apportioning of blame. While the Government can unveil plans worth millions of euro, money is not the problem; it is a matter of capacity, planning laws and a lack of will to take on these issues. I wish the Minister of State well in this effort.
There is no sense in doing all of this work if people will be left without insurance cover. They cannot get it, through no fault of their own. It is because we are not moving the schemes quickly enough. The insurance companies will not respect the democratic will of this Parliament. It is time that we, as Members of Parliament, stood up for our rights to legislate and defended those whom we represent.
I compliment my party colleague, Deputy Eugene Murphy, on moving the motion which is of great importance, particularly to those in rural areas that have experienced constant flooding in recent years. I wish to mention areas in Cavan. Although the River Shannon rises in County Cavan, it does not cause us flooding problems, but the River Erne does. Its source is in County Cavan, but it travels north to County Donegal. There are considerable flooding problems caused by the River Erne in areas quite close to Cavan town, as well as Blenacup, Crossdoney, Drumullen, Farnham, Bruskey, Loughduff and Killykeen. It is a considerable and constant problem.
The Minister of State will recall that I have constantly been asking parliamentary questions about the need for the Department and relevant authorities to collaborate constantly with the Northern Ireland authorities. It is only by working with the Northern river agencies that we will be able to address the issues and the core problem causing flooding from the River Erne in areas such as County Cavan. I have been highlighting, in particular, the need to ensure the Department's officials and the agencies that work on its behalf work constantly in unison with the authorities in Northern Ireland to ensure the appropriate drainage and remedial works are carried out to alleviate the serious flooding problems caused, in part, by the restrictions to water flow through the River Erne at the channel between Upper Lough Erne and Lower Lough Erne and the channel between the lower lough and the cliff dam near Belleek. That is an issue that needs to be addressed. It will not be addressed tomorrow or the next day, but it is one that has to be put on the agenda.
I need to see more remedial work being done. Small, minor schemes carried out in County Cavan would help to alleviate the problem, but they do not represent the full answer we need. The dredging and opening of the channel between Upper Lough Erne and Lower Lough Erne is essential. I hope that, at sectoral level at the North-South Ministerial Council, this issue can be put clearly on the agenda. My neighbours in County Fermanagh suffer seriously from flooding also. An application will be submitted to the Minister of State's Department to have specific works carried out in the Drumullen area near Cavan town. The council is working with the local residents who are very anxious that the application be processed, finalised and approved early in the new year. I appeal to the Minister of State to support that project as it is essential.
As the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, will be well aware, flooding has affected thousands of people across the country and last winter's storms have left some communities absolutely devastated. Lessons must be learned from these catastrophic flooding events, which may increase in frequency and strength as our climate continues to change. Unless we start implementing a co-ordinated flood prevention and insurance strategy, houses and businesses along the Shannon, in Cork and in Waterford will be forced to endure years of uncertainty and anxiety as the flood threat escalates.
As the House will be aware, €480 million has been earmarked for flood defence schemes between now and 2021. While it is welcome, this money must be fully used and all planning obstacles and delays must be addressed immediately.
I contacted the Minister of State's office in July in regard to an elderly couple who live in a home that has been flooded three times in the past 16 years. The Minister of State's office replied and forwarded the details to the OPW. It is now December and while I stress the Minister of State's office has been more than helpful and has liaised with the OPW, I am still waiting for a substantive answer from it. I reiterate that the Minister of State's office has been more than helpful and any time it gets on to the OPW, the OPW comes back to me, but that has happened three times. The Minister of State has said to me that in accordance with best practice, one would hope to respond in six to eight weeks.
With the winter fast approaching, the worry is there again. Constant waking during the night when rivers are in flood or there is a high tide, turning on the portable pumps and putting up the flood doors wear one down. One's home is eventually flooded and then the water recedes but that is only the beginning. The clean-up begins, the insurance forms are filled out and claims are made but one's home is never the same. The worry goes on and on. Will it happen again? Will one be able to get insurance?
Before I conclude, I would like to make an appeal to the Minister of State on behalf of those living in one-off houses, or stand-alone houses, who do not have a community to fight for them. They do not have a voice because they are worn out by the horrible cycle of events. Will the Minister of State place an emphasis on these stand-alone houses that flood because these people need a voice as well?
I will start by taking issue with comments made earlier by my constituency colleague, Deputy Jim Daly. I am disappointed the Deputy reduced this matter to political point scoring. I would point out that it was a Fianna Fáil Minister of State, Mr. Martin Mansergh, who ring-fenced the €9.6 million for the flood relief works in Bandon. I fully support this motion and I thank my colleague, Deputy Eugene Murphy, for bringing it before the House. Cork South-West is an area badly affected by flooding and in 2009, we were badly hit. At the time, we were told that it was a one in 100 year event. Unfortunately, this very month last year, west Cork was hit, not once but twice, by serious flooding. I commend the Minister of State on his proactive stance in regard to flood relief works being carried out at present across west Cork, and I thank him for that. I stress the importance of these works being completed as quickly as possible. Where works have not been started, we would be grateful if they could commence.
The issue of flood insurance remains a significant one in west Cork. I commend my colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, for bringing that issue before the House and I hope it can be sorted. Climate change has changed the issue of flooding. In essence, there needs to be legislative change to go along with that and I urge the Minister of State to do this.
I thank Members for their contributions to this debate. I also endorse amendment No. 2 proposed by the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, earlier in this constructive debate. The Government cannot solve all the flooding problems overnight, which we and the people would like to do, but more importantly, we cannot do it alone. Dutch experts have benchmarked our approach to flood risk management and concluded that it is in line with international best practice and is well on track.
It is important to place on the record the Government's investment, the actions taken and the measures implemented to date, together with plans and preparations to tackle future flooding. Since 1995, €370 million spent is yielding significant benefit in terms of protecting 12,000 properties in this country. The economic benefit to the State in terms of damage and losses avoided is estimated at €1.2 billion. Some 37 major flood defence schemes have been completed and, as witnessed last winter, successfully provided protection to 7,000 properties. A further 5,000 properties have been protected from localised flooding through 400 projects completed under the OPW's minor works scheme. A further 200 projects are approved for funding. Some 650,000 acres of agricultural land are protected through the programmed maintenance of 11,500 km of river channels by the OPW under the Arterial Drainage Acts. The OPW has an agreement with GSI and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, where GSI is undertaking modelling of the turlough flooding in Roscommon, Galway and Longford. This work is ongoing since August last and will inform the design of flood relief projects for these areas.
Since last winter, the OPW has accelerated its resources to complete major flood defence. This year, there are a record 12 major schemes under construction and a further 23 at design development stage. Those under construction include schemes in Bandon, Skibbereen, Claregalway and Dunkellin and schemes are planned for Crossmolina, which was spoken about earlier, Clonakilty, Templemore, Enniscorthy, south Galway and Athlone.
Yesterday, I announced a major investment in flood relief works for Cork city bringing protection to 2,100 properties at the official launch of the public exhibition stage for the lower Lee, Cork city, flood relief scheme. This scheme is the largest flood relief scheme ever to be undertaken in Ireland at an estimated cost of €140 million at current prices.
CFRAM was mentioned earlier. The catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme is the largest flood risk management planning programme ever undertaken by the State, and Members from all sides of the Houses are taking credit for it. It has now identified feasible flood relief measures to provide protection to 95% of at-risk properties in the 300 CFRAM at-risk areas. The details are set out in 29 draft flood risk management plans which I have published since July this year for public consultation.
The OPW is continuing to work with communities to ensure their views and concerns are taken into account. Nearly 500 public consultation days have been held on the CFRAM programme. At these events, the CFRAM teams have presented the maps, issues, options and proposed measures for discussion with people, face-to-face in their own communities. People's views have been listened to and have helped form what is now proposed in the draft flood risk management plans, and will inform the final plans that I expect to bring to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform for his approval in spring 2017.
These plans are a major step forward to help Government make informed investment decisions. The Government's commitment to continue support of flood relief is underlined in the provision of €430 million to flood risk management in the Capital Investment Plan 2016-2021. Annually, the allocation for flood defence works will more than double from €45 million to €100 million per annum. This year, we are on target to spend, for the first time, €52 million on flood risk schemes.
The structural measures in the plans have been taken to outline design and will reduce the time needed to implement these projects in the future. In some cases, we may reduce the timeframe from inception to construction by up to two years.
I am working with ministerial colleagues to accelerate the timeline for delivery of flood-related works across the areas of planning, procurement and construction. As a result, the recently published general scheme of the housing (miscellaneous provisions) Bill 2016 provides for new screening arrangements for environmental impact assessments, EIA, for flood related works and is aimed at streamlining the process of determining planning consent for the undertaking of such works. In tandem with the new EIA screening provisions in the general scheme, it is proposed to review the mandatory EIA thresholds for flood-related works.
I am hoping that these measures will result in a further significant reduction in the time taken to bring the schemes to construction stage.
Since the introduction of the minor works scheme in 2009, funding of almost €38 million has been approved by the OPW for almost 600 minor works projects to enable local authorities to address localised flooding. Approximately 82 applications have been approved for funding so far this year with a combined value of €4.3 million. While the minor works scheme has been very successful to date, the OPW is currently reviewing its operation to see what changes may be appropriate to ensure that the scheme remains relevant to, and can continue to support, local authorities in their work to address smaller scale flooding problems in their areas.
In 2017, the OPW will be commencing work on the second cycle of the EU floods directive to report on and commence further assessment and planning to address further areas at potential risk from flooding. This next cycle will include a focus on further feasible measures to manage the flood risk in rural areas. This is something that has been discussed throughout this debate and it will be dealt with there. The flood risk management plans emphasise the importance of non-structural measures and support the whole-of-government approach adopted to tackle flood risk management. I have been chairing the interdepartmental group and the group's progress was reported to the Government on 8 November. The Government noted progress on the broad range of policies and measures being considered, including those announced by the Government in 2016, such as progress with the Government’s pilots to inform Government measures to support individual property protection, another issue raised tonight, and the implementation plan for the establishment of the national flood forecasting service within Met Éireann over the coming five years, which has been agreed. Work to commence that service has begun.
The Government also recently agreed to introduce a one-off targeted voluntary homeowner relocation scheme for those primary residential properties that flooded during last winter and had flooded in previous years. This scheme will be a targeted humanitarian aid scheme to ensure the worst affected homeowners have a primary residence. Investment will be prioritised and targeted at those homeowners at greatest risk of future flooding and who would gain greatest benefit from State support to relocate. The Government has agreed that while the terms of funding for relocation will be in line with the previous scheme in 2009, I am finalising, in conjunction with local authorities and other State agencies, the administrative arrangements to appraise the Government and to ensure this one-off scheme is reflective of its targeted objective and all relevant circumstances. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is also working with my office towards evaluating, on an individual basis, if any alternative remedial works can be undertaken to protect the farm buildings that flooded last winter in order to inform any scheme for voluntary farm building relocation.
Regarding the River Shannon, last winter the Government took decisive action to support the existing plans in place to address flooding on the Shannon and established the Shannon flood risk State agency co-ordination working group to enhance ongoing co-operation of all State agencies involved with the River Shannon. The group is focused on ensuring the best possible level of co-ordination between all statutory bodies involved in flood risk management on the Shannon. It is solutions focused and through the course of its work the group has decided to trial the lowering of the lake levels in Lough Allen. That is under way. Most recently, on 2 December in Carrick-on-Shannon, the group took a major decision to consider developing a plan for a strategic maintenance programme on the River Shannon. This is an unprecedented decision. It intends to bring together all of the relevant stakeholders to discuss, initiate and manage the development of this programme. I am delighted that the group, which is chaired by the OPW, has taken the decision to develop a plan for strategic maintenance works on the River Shannon. There have been many calls for a maintenance programme to be put in place for the Shannon. A planned maintenance programme for the Shannon would complement the group’s work programme and the specific measures that are identified in the CFRAM plan. In addition, the group has taken a decision to examine practical solutions that may help reduce flood risk on the Shannon, such as at the pinch points.
Before concluding I will recall the winter flooding in 2015-16. While the Office of Public Works has a co-ordination role in flood risk management generally, local authorities are designated as the lead agencies for responding to serious weather events. I take this opportunity to thank everybody involved, especially the local volunteers who gave up their own comfort and families at Christmas to give practical and emotional support to their neighbours and communities, as demonstrated by Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran last winter. In conclusion, we cannot solve all flooding problems overnight and, importantly, we cannot do it alone. The benefits will accelerate in line with the acceleration of construction and investment. We will do that. There are 29 flood risk management plans in place. Having regard to all I have said, I strongly commend the amended Government motion to the House.
Deputy Kevin O'Keeffe is sharing time with Deputy Eugene Murphy to conclude the debate.
I thank Deputy Eugene Murphy for bringing this motion before the House and for sharing time with me. We must acknowledge that the Flood Insurance Bill will go to Committee Stage, as well as the progress that has been made on flooding problems throughout the country. I respect the role of the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, and I acknowledge the demands being made of him. I am delighted that he has made many trips to County Cork and Cork city. Last Monday, he announced a €140 million flood relief scheme for Cork city, which is welcome.
However, there are still problems in Cork East, including in my area and the town of Midleton. Parts of it were flooded almost 12 months ago. I was there yesterday and I called to some houses in the Willowbank and Lauriston estates which were affected by a river that burst its banks. The people there asked me if they could have immediate small, ancillary works carried out. They made the point that the local authority had put a JCB into the river during the summer to carry out some cleaning at a pinch point but the JCB was given strict orders by the fisheries board that if it was not gone in half an hour, the operator would be brought to court. That is what we are dealing with. I hope minor flood works would incorporate some measures to alleviate that problem so rivers can be cleaned with immediate effect. It would give solace to these householders. It might not stop the overall flooding, but it could minimise it. I get telephone calls from people who ask how they can move forward. People who wish to buy houses in these estates inquire about whether they will be able to get insurance, so we should give them that comfort. I refer them to the Flood Insurance Bill coming to the House.
Property owners saw the prices of their properties diminish during the crisis, but now the prices have been further diminished because the properties cannot get insurance cover. That is the reason we must address all of these issues. Deputy Sherlock mentioned the memorandum of understanding between the OPW and Insurance Ireland on co-operation regarding insurance being provided in areas where flood defences have been put in place, but nothing is happening. I am delighted we are moving on this. It is important that we maintain the pressure. We are not attacking the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, but we are anxious that he maintains the pressure. He will be gone in a few months and I hope the incoming Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran, will be as good as Deputy Canney and will continue to visit Cork.
He does not agree with all this praise he is getting.
We might get him back. The Taoiseach gave me assurances recently that progress is being made. I am delighted about that.
I wish to return to a question raised by a spokesperson earlier as to what Fianna Fáil did about it. When Fianna Fáil was in Government the regular flooding problem was in the Mallow and Fermoy areas. The money for that was ring-fenced during the financial crisis. The then Ministers of State, former Deputy Martin Mansergh, and former Deputy Tom Parlon, who was the Minister of State in the preceding Government, ring-fenced the money. As the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, said, there is a process to go through involving studies, structures and other issues. However, the works were completed.
The flooding episodes occurred this time last year. We do not need more rainfall to reignite the argument about this issue because it is still on people's minds from the flooding that occurred 12 months ago. My constituency was a good example at the time of where there was a good and bad side in terms of the flooding. It is like when Rome burned and Emperor Nero danced away. When most of County Cork was being flooded, my constituents in Cork East were able to relax and enjoy the two days of 30 and 31 December 2015.
I welcome this motion. I hope it pre-empts further development of the Flood Insurance Bill being brought into effect. I have premises along the catchment area of the River Blackwater and those businesses cannot get insurance at present, which leads to other difficulties for them.
If one gives Deputy O'Keeffe an inch he takes a mile.
The Deputy is not in the Chair tonight.
The Deputy means well.
I thank all those who contributed to the debate. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, for being here. He is open and frank and he is working hard. However, he must understand that Deputy Moran, who did a good deal of work in his own area last year as was mentioned, seemed to give us a little lecture about bringing forward this motion and making a political football out of this issue. This is our job. Every single week I still have constituents and people from as far away as Deputy Butler's constituency and other places e-mailing, phoning and texting me to ask what is happening, what will happen or whether anything will be done. While I acknowledge the Minister of State is engaging and getting work done and that he is concerned about people, we simply cannot wait. If we are sincere about new politics in this Chamber we cannot sit on this issue. That is why we as a party discuss this issue weekly at our parliamentary party meetings. We are adamant about bringing forward legislation. No agency in this State or no arm of Government can supersede this democratic Parliament and Dáil by not carrying out works - when there is an emergency - to ensure people will not have to go through again what they have gone through. We are in a completely different situation from where we were even 15 years ago. We now have flash flooding and more serious rainfall. The patterns of rainfall have changed. The situation is changing all the time. That is why the goalposts must change. With due respect, we talk about dredging the River Shannon and I know the Minister of State is sincere about that, but when will that be done? There is no timeframe for it. This is an emergency. This work must start as soon as possible. That is why we are adamant on this side of the House that there must be one single agency, one single authority, that takes charge of the running of the River Shannon. That is why the electricity Bill 2016 will be brought forward here in June. We will push for there to be a single agency in charge. These are the matters that are being raised with us by our constituents. We know where the problems are and they are all over the country, not only along the River Shannon. We have different situation climate-wise and we must deal with it.
I do not want to go into arguing about who did what and when they did it. I am not into that and neither is the Minister of State. I just want to correct one matter in regard to Fianna Fáil. In 2004 Fianna Fáil launched the flood risk policy and it set out a new national flood policy. That was the first move in that respect. We all talk about the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme, with which I have some difficulties. I spoke to Jacobs, the engineers, who dealt with this issue. It was launched in 2010 and Fianna Fáil had a major say in it as well. There are good elements in it but there are other aspects of it about which I am concerned. For example, flood defences were put up in certain areas but will they push the water out into other areas and affect other people? The type of concrete flood defences that will be used should not be used now as they are not environmentally friendly. All those issues matter. We must change the laws and the legislation. We are living in a different era. If we do not, we will be in very serious trouble. I could not watch again what I watched and witnessed last year and neither could many other Deputies on all sides of the House. Last May and June people were suffering from the effects of flooding right up to their front doors. The Minister of State witnessed some of that only a few months ago in Rahara in County Roscommon.
The reality is that we must be on the ball. We must move and bring in legislation and insist that agencies co-operate fully. We must work with them but no longer can we have a situation where people will again suffer what they suffered with their homes and businesses being flooded. I know of a farmer and almost his whole farm has been destroyed by water. When the water receded, I could see that all the stone walls on that farm had been flattened. He cannot get any assistance to rebuild those walls and he will have issues in terms of his farm payments.
I will not labour the point further. I thank the Minister of State for his contribution and all the Deputies who contributed. I hope tonight's debate will ensure we focus on this issue, make the bold and brave decisions that are needed and do so quickly.
In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 15 December 2016.