I thank Deputy Buckley for submitting this Topical Issue matter. I acknowledge its importance. In recent weeks I have had conversations with all his colleagues in the constituency. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and Deputies Kevin O'Keeffe and Sean Sherlock have brought it to my attention. I thank the Deputy for raising the important issue in the Dáil and giving the opportunity to put it on record.
Cork County Council is the owner of the weir in Fermoy, as the Deputy pointed out, and is the authority responsible for carrying out any works to the weir. Local authorities are under the remit of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. My Department and its State agency, Inland Fisheries Ireland, are responsible for the protection, management and conservation of Ireland's inland fisheries and sea angling resources. The council has advised that both a project to ensure a permanent solution to fish passage and a project to ensure temporary repairs while the permanent solution is awaited are required. There has been ongoing liaison between my Department, Inland Fisheries Ireland and Cork County Council to advise how any proposed works can be consistent with fisheries and environmental obligations, particularly the EU Habitats Directive. Compliance with the directive is the key issue.
The engineering advisers of the council and Department have agreed the essential details of the permanent proposals. A number of options were considered by the engineering advisers and the primary consideration in agreeing the proposals was that they meet the requirements of the EU Habitats Directive. This is especially important for the free passage of wild salmon, a species included in the directive. The IFI regional director and senior officials of the Department met the council on Wednesday, 29 November 2017. The council advised that it is engaged in land acquisition to facilitate the permanent works. This is a matter for the council and, in the meantime, the Department has agreed to the council's temporary repair proposals for the weir. At the November meeting, Department officials requested an indicative timeline on the council's proposals for the permanent and temporary works. An update on this is awaited, following which the senior officials will again meet the council.
Funding of the works is entirely a matter for the council as the owners of the weir infrastructure. The Department and IFI have undertaken, however, to support any bid the council makes for central funding in the context of fisheries and habitat issues. The local authority is the owner. That is not to say that we would not support whatever call it would make to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for funding. As indicated in my response, the council has not responded to the request by officials from November of last year.
I have no problem in visiting Fermoy, making it my business or meeting the four Deputies or a group at some stage. I ask that the Minister of State and Deputies in the council go back to Cork County Council and ask it what it has done since November to progress this. Has it acquired land? Has it a design? Is it engaging consultants with regard to planning permission? Is it moving forward with a plan and costing that we can go to Government with? That is important. There is a valid case. Everyone accepts that work needs to be done but Cork County Council, as the owner, has to make the progress and present a case, together with the Deputies or such, and meet the relevant Ministers about it.
There is a bit of history in this with regard to proposals that the Office of Public Works, OPW, had to assist in this, going back to 2008 and 2010. There were a number of objections. There were plans to include it in the OPW contract for the Fermoy north flood relief summer scheme works in 2008. As a result, there were protests, and the then Minister of State, Conor Lenihan, agreed to a deferral of the planned works for a period to allow the council to carry out repair works to the fish pass and weir and some repair works on the weir. I understand there were extra plans in 2010. The OPW agreed to include weir works in the tender documents of the Fermoy south flood relief scheme, which was the remaining element of the overall flood relief scheme. No agreement was ever reached by the council on the rock ramp, however, and the works were not carried out. Opportunities were presented to Cork County Council at the time. There may have been funding issues etc. in that period.
I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. It is important. I ask that he go back to Cork County Council and let it update our officials about where it is with its plans to bring it along in design and planning.