Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Bill 2017: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to reduce restrictions on the power of the Electricity Supply Board to carry out works concerning the levels on the Shannon Lakes (Lough Derg, Lough Ree and Lough Allen), to amend the Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1934 and to provide for related matters.

The Bill is part of a broad suite of measures to address the increased risk of flooding. As the junior Fianna Fáil spokesperson on the OPW and flood relief, I am moving the Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Bill 2017 which aims to help address flooding issues along the River Shannon that affect many parts of the country. I acknowledge the help and support of Deputies Barry Cowen, Robert Troy and Anne Rabbitte, the parliamentary party and the party leader.

We wish to revise the legislation in order to remove outdated water level restrictions on ESB-regulated lakes along the Shannon, which is governed by the Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Act 1934, which gave total control to the ESB to regulate water levels on the River Shannon. The River Shannon is an immense natural resource for the country. However, as the frequency and intensity of flooding has risen in recent years, it is clear we need a wide range of measures to help protect vulnerable communities along the banks of the river. We have all seen what people have gone through in recent years - farmers and small business people. Children have not been able to go to school, which is outrageous. That is why we feel this matter should be addressed by legislation.

The Bill addresses concerns outlined by various community groups and aims to update existing legislation. It will ensure the ESB will not have its hands tied in terms of setting water levels on Lough Allen, Lough Derg and Lough Ree. That will help ensure that decisions on water levels are made in conjunction with relevant bodies without any legal constraint and will help to maintain an adequate, safe water level. Essentially, the Bill removes specific water levels from the legislation and allows the ESB to continue to use its expertise to set the levels in conjunction with other relevant bodies such as Waterways Ireland, Inland Fisheries and, importantly, local authorities. The Bill offers real and practical solutions to major ongoing flooding problems and includes proposals such as dredging new channels, deepening existing channels, the reconstruction of weirs and the altering, removal or reconstruction of quays, harbours, boat houses and bridges.

The Bill is not a silver bullet and it will not solve every single flooding problem. However, it must form part of an overall package of measures designed to address the difficulties communities along the Shannon face.

None of us in this House can sit around any longer and allow the suffering endured in recent years by very good people who have contributed to this country down the years and who are seeing their livelihoods destroyed to continue. This Bill will be followed by a separate one that aims to create a single agency for the River Shannon. Many communities, towns and villages in my constituency of Roscommon-Galway and throughout Longford, Offaly, Clare and Limerick have suffered unbelievably and countless other communities have been under siege. This is the only phrase we can use. We must be brave, do the right thing for our communities and take decisions. We need to act on this now. I hope that all Members of this House, including the Government, will be able to support the progress of this Bill because it is essential to rally behind the people and take many of them out of the difficulty they have suffered.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.