River Shannon Management Agency Bill 2020: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I note the Government's proposed amendment, and I will address it in greater detail in my closing statement. It is welcome, however, that the Government agrees with the merit of this Bill. People living along the River Shannon, from Cavan to Clare, are sick and tired. They are sick of being hit with recurring floods and they are tired of politicians in wellies turning up, wringing their hands, paying lip service to flood defences and mumbling about multi-agency approaches before heading back to their own nice dry homes. It was expected that we would experience a 1% chance of severe flooding every year. That prediction has now changed. There has been an increase in the prevalence of flooding and categorical evidence that the floods are getting bigger. These flood events threaten homes, farming lands and businesses and erode the quality of rural Ireland, jeopardising its very existence.

This year alone, there have been two flooding events in my constituency of Longford-Westmeath. There was one in February and another in July. Some areas are now under water and more are under threat. There is a real danger of complacency creeping in. Every winter we watch people isolated by rising waters and battling with pumps and sandbags to keep their homes, belongings and animals safe and dry. Despite the best efforts of volunteers, emergency responders, local authority staff and members of the Defence Forces, the water still finds its way through.

We have no comprehension of how it feels to look at weather reports with genuine fear and trepidation, like those affected by the flooding of River Shannon do, and only too well. Since 2016, 40 families have applied for humanitarian assistance to relocate because there is simply no alternative. Let us think about that for a moment. Let us think about the heartbreak behind those decisions to leave the only home many of those people have known, often for generations, because of the risk of flooding. It is time we all said enough is enough. Enough with this ad hoc approach to the River Shannon, enough with disappointing the people most affected by the failure of legislators to get to grips with this issue. It is well past time that a single agency was tasked with management of the River Shannon.

There are genuine fears that without a single agency having responsibility, the necessary changes and works will not happen in a reasonable and necessary timeline, or even in the lifetimes of those most affected today. Twenty State agencies, from the ESB and Waterways Ireland to the local authorities, are involved in management along the River Shannon. Each of those agencies has responsibility for protecting its own prospects. While their open, informal, if-and-when relationship is to be welcomed and is effective in most scenarios, in this specific case it is not working, is not effective and is not producing the results needed. The previous Government established the Shannon flood risk management State agency co-ordination working group to support existing plans and enhance co-operation. While this was a good first step, a working group that meets twice a year is clearly insufficient, as evidenced by the flooding that has occurred this year alone.

This Bill seeks to establish a River Shannon management agency on a statutory footing and provides for statutory powers for the agency to manage and co-ordinate necessary works along the length of the River Shannon. The Bill also requires the agency to produce a strategic plan for management of the River Shannon within three months of its establishment. No works can be carried out on any river without potentially having an effect further downstream, including fast currents, erosion of banks and bridges being put under pressure, and that outcome requires appropriate strategic planning.

The concept of a single agency has been endorsed by stakeholders, such as the Save our Shannon group, and Fianna Fáil supported the proposal when in opposition. As recently as September, the Fianna Fáil Deputy from Offaly said just that in this Chamber. The River Shannon is a complex system and includes elements of built infrastructure, areas of conservation, ecology, biodiversity, agriculture, electricity generation and tourism. Equally complex will be the solutions that must be put in place to ensure coherent and effective management of the river. It is time to advance the River Shannon Management Agency Bill 2020 and remind people living along this magnificent river that this House does not only think about flooding when they are reaching for the sandbags.

This Bill aims to come up with a solution that will work for communities along the length and breadth of the River Shannon. I live in County Leitrim, and if we were there tonight, it would be possible to see that Lough Allen is full to the brim with water because it has rained for the past couple of weeks. A dam there can be raised and lowered, and that regularly happens. There is always pressure on the Office of Public Works, OPW, to do that, and the OPW and other bodies are engaged in doing that. The reality is that if that dam had been lowered six to eight weeks ago when navigation stopped on the Shannon - there are no boats on the river at this time of the year - and the lake was now practically empty, Carrick-on-Shannon would not be facing a threat of flooding. That is the problem.

Every time we see a situation such as this coming into the winter months, the River Shannon must be lowered to the lowest possible level. Up and down the length of the Shannon each year, however, community groups, including the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, and other farm organisations, contact the ESB and the OPW to request them to lower the level of the river before the water comes, so that it can then take more water from the flood. The flooding does not last forever. Most times there are two to three weeks of rain, and then it subsides again. If the level of water is not low to start with in the River Shannon, however, there will be a problem because it will not be able to take the extra flood water. I am just referring to the management of the river now.

There is a separate aspect to this matter concerning the prevention of flooding. Some of that involves putting up walls and barriers in towns to prevent urban areas from being flooded, but much of what needs to happen involves drainage measures. I refer to removing pinch points and doing appropriate works at different places along the length of the Shannon and ensuring they are done in co-ordinated fashion.

There is a problem, and the Minister of State knows this, as does everybody involved, including the other Deputies here who live in the area and understand it and talk to the people on the ground. If one talks to elderly people who have lived all of their lives in that region they will tell one that they know what is going to happen. They know that when the river is at a certain height and there is a certain amount of rainfall, they are in trouble. Every one of them will say to do the right thing because a pinch in time saves nine, but that continually fails to happen and has continued to fail to happen time after time through the years. It still is the case.

I was contacted last week by a woman in Leitrim village whose house was practically flooded last February when they had to put sandbags around it. They are very fearful at the moment that the same thing is going to happen. It is the same everywhere we go along the length of the Shannon. A big problem is that the agencies do not work together. They tell us that they do and they tell us that they meet, but all of them come to it with their own separate individual agendas. We need the power to be taken away from them and put into one agency which has overall power over the river, and which can actually make sure everything is done to relieve the entire situation along the full length of the river. That needs to happen as a matter of urgency.

I welcome that the Minister of State's confirmation that he supports the merit of the Bill from that point of view, and his proposal that the Bill will be read a Second Time in nine months. That is somewhat positive but the problem is that people in houses that will be flooded in the coming weeks will see this as the Government pushing this further out from them again. I do not think that is a wise thing to do. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, should embrace every opportunity to do everything possible to put every agency to work to resolve the situation. They are not doing that and they have never done that because they all work to their own separate individual agendas. That has been the problem here.

The issue we must bring to bear is around the power that currently rests with the ESB in particular. I pick the ESB out because the ESB is the main problem here. The ESB continually blocks and does everything to act as an obstacle to getting a result for the people who live in these regions. The power needs to be taken from the ESB so that it can no longer decide who it floods and who it does not, which is what it actually does. That is the power it has got. This power has to be taken away from the ESB and it needs to happen now, not in nine months, two years or three years. That power needs to be taken away and put into an agency that will have responsibility and will be accountable to this House and to the Minister to make sure the work is done properly. It has not been done and there has been no accountability. That is the problem we have had down the years and we have all been whistling in the dark. As my colleague, Deputy Clarke, has said, when the pumps are on and the sandbags come out, everyone runs around in wellingtons looking at it. That does not solve the problem. It is today and over the summer months, in the dry spells and the dry times of year that we need to come up with solutions.

I implore the Minister of State to try to look at this again, not to push it out for nine months as he has proposed in his amendment, and to actually embrace this right now to do something that will be proactive to resolve the situation.

I am delighted to co-sponsor this Bill with my colleagues here this evening. I acknowledge former Deputy Gerry Adams and Deputy Brian Stanley who introduced a similar Bill back in 2016. At that time, the then Taoiseach warned that the establishment of a single authority was not possible and I welcome that Fine Gael has moved away from that position. Indeed, 20 years ago it was Fine Gael arguing for a single authority and promising to deliver on it when next in government. Fine Gael has gone from promising a single authority, to it not being possible, to today needing another nine months to consider the matter, never mind whose homes, businesses and farmlands will be destroyed in the meantime as we come into the winter months. It is absolute rubbish to suggest that another nine months is needed to look at this matter.

There is not a party in government that has not called for a single authority to co-ordinate flood risk and management along the River Shannon. In 2016, Fianna Fáil brought forward legislation to establish a single authority and on introducing that Bill criticised the slow response of Government to deal with the flooding then. Now they are putting forward a proposal that will lead to a nine-month delay. This Government consistently references the Shannon flood risk State agency co-ordination working group, established in 2016. It is mentioned in the Minister of State's amendment but it has done little or nothing to address flooding along the River Shannon.

Of the so-called significant decisions made by the group since it was established, as stated by the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, in the Dáil last month, three of the five decisions involve carrying out studies, reports and assessments when we are gone far beyond more reports and more studies. One decision includes:

A study to examine the removal of constrictions resulting in lower summer water levels through the Shannon Callows, to help address the summer flooding in this area while maintaining the appropriate navigation requirements.

The Shannon Callows, however, are under water tonight. Some 200 farms have been affected by the now annual flooding of the Shannon Callows. Most of these farms have been under water since July.

I remind the House that it has been said that we need "a single agency to be introduced to bring the separate conflicting interests of the various stakeholders together". These are not my words of concern for the Shannon Callows but those of the Minister of State's colleague, Deputy Barry Cowen, who said this in the local media just six weeks ago. It is disgraceful that after all of the debates, reports and working groups, and all of the talk from Government Deputies over the decades when they have said one thing locally and come to Dublin to do the opposite, we are still arguing for something so practical and sensible. This is now the fifth Bill introduced in this House seeking action on a single authority to manage and maintain the River Shannon. I doubt there is a Government Deputy in this House who has not been out to flooding in his or her constituency to show concern, to say how awful it is and to get his or her photograph taken. Yet after all of that, the Minister of State's message to all the people in the Government Deputies' own communities who are devastated by flooding is to let us wait nine months until next August, and see then. There is no excuse for this delay.

I will conclude by commending the Save our Shannon organisation and all those the length and breadth of the River Shannon who have battled against flooding in their own communities and their own homes, farmlands and businesses for generations. They will not be fooled by the Minister of State's delaying tactic here tonight.

I am pleased to co-sponsor such an important and relevant Bill with my colleagues today. Flooding is not an uncommon phenomenon. Instead, due to a lack of action and joined-up thinking it has become a common experience for many. The issue at hand is how we deal with our waterways and how we work to prevent the flooding of our towns, villages, farmlands and businesses. As we continue to fight the issue of climate change, all the while hearing about the effects of rising sea levels and how flooding will only become a bigger issue, it must be met with nothing short of action, and timely action, rather than more kicking the can further down the road.

In my home county of Clare, as recently as February we have seen many households and farmlands destroyed or severely impacted due to flooding. One man in Clonlara was quoted as saying "I am living in hell". For him it has become a very common life event. While many people have commented on the ways we can tackle flooding along the River Shannon, I believe that one of the most glaringly obvious issues facing us is the lack of a river management agency for the river. Each time we hear of flooding we hear how blame should be apportioned across Waterways Ireland, the OPW, the local authorities and the ESB - the list goes on and on. That is where the problem lies. No one is truly accountable or responsible. If this does not show clearly that we have a problem, I do not know what will.

The River Shannon is Ireland's longest river. It passes through 11 counties, which means 11 different local authorities have responsibilities. There are 20 agencies in total, some of which I mentioned already, with responsibilities with regard to the river. Does this make sense? All of them are trying to work towards a common goal but are working independently of each other. All the agencies request funding but not all are quite sure what the end goal is. We need a River Shannon management agency within the Office of Public Works. We need to ensure we have a collective of the right people from across the relevant State bodies to properly implement a strategy for the River Shannon.

During my discussions with those people who are affected by flooding, they have made it quite clear that the lack of proper engagement with communities is striking and has not gone unnoticed. One lady made it quite clear to me that people find the lack of public representation on the Shannon flood risk State agency co-ordination working group as being glaring. She spoke about the fact that this body meets just twice per year, and only once so far in 2020, discussing issues but not engaging with the local people who are directly affected and who have the most knowledge of the area and the impact flooding has on them.

Has the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, met with this co-ordination group since taking up his new role? Does the group have a winter plan for 2020? We are just coming into the most at-risk time of year and we are not sure if we have a plan.

While it is welcome that the group is in place, it shows why we need a strong State agency with a statutory footing to take control of the river and effectively plan to ensure we battle this flooding now. These people are living in fear. They are not sure when a heavy rainfall will lead to the next flood, whether they will be able to get to work the following morning if the roads are flooded, or whether their SNAs can approach their houses to continue with their work. They cannot insure their homes as they are considered at risk. Can the Minister of State imagine being in that situation and not being able to get home insurance because of something that is completely outside his control? These people are facing the winter knowing there is a great chance that they and their families will spend weeks on end separated into different hotel rooms, stripped of any autonomy to even make a meal for themselves or their children. These families are traumatised by the experience of flooding and the ordeal and the stress they have had to endure. It would take some time to relay all that information to the Minister of State because it is quite extensive.

We need to ensure the work undertaken to mitigate flooding is done on a collective basis and that any work undertaken upstream does not adversely affect areas further down the river basin. I strongly encourage the Government to support this Bill, not to put a nine-month delay on it, and to see that a River Shannon management agency is set up without delay. We need a commitment to ensure this flooding does not happen again and we must offer the people affected some decent standard of living. They should not be constantly living in fear of flooding or having their livelihoods literally washed away. These people have spoken extensively to me and have informed me of the damage their properties have endured, for which they get no support. People in this particular area have not been approved for the home relief scheme. They are left on their own and it is an absolutely horrible situation for them.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:

"Dáil Éireann:

— acknowledges the legislative landscape and regulatory environment that the Shannon Flood Risk State Agency Working Group operates is very complex;

— notes that it is in the public interest to manage the flood risk in the Shannon catchment; and

— resolves that the River Shannon Management Agency Bill 2020 be deemed to be read a second time this day nine months, to allow for an examination on the legislative landscape including a review of the current regulatory environment."

At the outset, I acknowledge the content of the River Shannon Management Agency Bill 2020. Over the coming months I will examine the complexities and legal issues arising from it in the context of the creation of a single agency. I am well aware of the devastation that can be caused by flooding for individual homeowners, businesses, landowners and communities. Since being appointed Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW and flood relief, I have visited a number of areas, including Kilmallock, Kenmare, Clifden, Bantry, Bandon, Dunmanway and Cork city, which have been affected by recent storms and flooding, witnessed at first hand the damage caused and met and spoken with the people and business owners directly affected.

The River Shannon is a valuable natural resource that is important to Ireland’s economy, society, culture and environment. It serves an important purpose for electricity generation, navigation for tourism, fishing and creates employment to support these activities. Given its importance, the Government has completed an assessment of the flood risk along the Shannon, published the flood maps and is implementing the plan to manage the flood risk along the Shannon river. One of the six catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, study areas included a dedicated study of the flood risk of the Shannon river basin district. This Shannon study has a catchment area of 17,800 sq. km and a population of some 670,000 people living in 17 local authority areas. It assessed, mapped and provided the flood risk management plans for the Shannon including for 67 communities. To date, 11 of these towns have a flood relief scheme providing protection against a one in 100-year flood event and in May 2018 the Government announced 34 new flood relief schemes for Shannon river communities. These form part of the plans announced by the Government’s €1 billion investment in flood relief measures over the lifetime of the National Development Plan 2018-2027. Work on 25 schemes is currently under way.

Outside of the major flood relief schemes, local flooding issues are being addressed by local authorities with the support of the OPW under the minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme. This scheme provides funding for minor flood mitigation works or studies, costing less than €750,000 each, to address localised flooding and coastal protection problems. To date, the OPW has approved funding of €34 million to over 600 projects for the Shannon river basin district. Two thirds of these projects are outside of the areas covered by the CFRAM.

The OPW is also responsible for the 11,500 km of river channels, including approximately 800 km of embankments, which form part of the arterial drainage schemes completed since 1945. These are kept under proper repair and in an effective condition through the OPW's annual maintenance programme. In this year alone, maintenance work has been undertaken on approximately 595 km of channels and embankments on the Boyle, Inny, Brosna, Killimor-Cappagh, Carrigahorig, Nenagh-Clareen, Mulkear, Groody, Maigue, Deel and Feale catchment schemes and the Shannon embankments north and south.

The Government established the Shannon flood risk State agency co-ordination working group in 2016 to enhance the ongoing co-operation of all State agencies involved with the River Shannon and to support the work planned by the flood risk management plans. Deputies will recall that the group was established at that time following severe flooding arising from a series of storms and a period of sustained rainfall between December 2015 and January 2016. On its establishment, a priority for the group was to develop a work programme within its first two months. This programme highlighted the existing and extensive range of activities and co-ordination by all State agencies in 2016 to jointly and proactively address flood risk along the Shannon. These works are categorised across maintenance, flood relief works, water management, regulation and policy areas. Every year since then, the group has produced an annual work programme that highlights the ongoing diverse and broad scale of activity and the proactive co-ordination between the State agencies to manage the flood risk along the River Shannon.

Having met the group in the last fortnight, it is my intention to refocus it to look at short, medium and long-term measures that need to be taken. The group has representation from the CEOs of all State agencies with a role on the Shannon, including the ESB and Waterways Ireland. It is chaired by the OPW chairman and has met on 13 occasions. It has established a work programme subgroup, which has identified some additional measures that can help further mitigate and manage the flood risk along the Shannon. This subgroup has addressed all of the necessary environmental, technical and other considerations that arise in bringing forward both short-term and long-term proposals which I am anxious to see progressed and have identified as the greatest issues to be advanced.

The public have also been consulted during this process to develop the flood risk management plans for the Shannon. This involved 144 public consultation days where members of the public had opportunities to engage with the process and discuss at first hand the accuracy of the maps. Some 156 submissions were received by the OPW from stakeholders comprising members of the public, elected representatives, local authorities and various organisations. Observations were considered and the plans were amended accordingly. In addition, the Shannon working group has held public consultation days on its work programme and has met with representative groups, including the IFA. It is my intention to meet the farming organisations shortly and I have starting meeting all members of the Shannon flood co-ordination group on a bilateral basis.

The Shannon working group has completed targeted maintenance activities along the river at Meelick Weir, the new cut at Muckinish, Shannon Grove at Kilnaborris and the new cut at Illaunacalliagh. Works at these locations involved tree cutting and the removal of silt and emergent vegetation which helped to improve the conveyancing of the river at these locations. These works required consents which had to be obtained from the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, which none of the previous speakers addressed.

Lowering the water levels on Lough Allen has been trialled for the past three years. While this issue is weather related, reaching the lower targeted levels agreed with the ESB will provide additional storage capacity during flood events to help to alleviate any significant flooding that may occur. The group has agreed to continue with this trial on a temporary basis pending the completion of a flood relief scheme for Carrick-on-Shannon.

In December 2019, the Government noted the studies by the Shannon working group that support a programme of strategic maintenance to mitigate flooding along the Shannon and the removal of the pinch points in the Shannon Callows that will address the summer flooding in the area and benefit navigation. The Government has agreed that the OPW will provide €7 million for these works, which will progress following environmental assessment and planning permission. Waterways Ireland is the implementing body for these works and it has advised the OPW that it is advancing the various interventions, such as tree cutting and silt removal, to commence strategic maintenance measures at 12 locations commencing in 2021.

The group has recently completed a study of the cause, rate and degree of restrictions over time downstream of Parteen Weir in the lower Shannon that can now inform the options to help to manage the flood risk in this part of the Shannon. All of these measures and activities have been or will be carried out within the existing powers and responsibilities of State agencies. Where necessary, agreements and protocols have been established and agreed for delivering new initiatives.

The Shannon State agency co-ordination working group is working well but it is my intention to sharpen its focus by working collectively with its members. It has identified and delivered activities that are already providing flood relief in the area and it is focused on providing additional flood relief measures to protect properties in the area. These activities are being delivered within the current statutory roles and functions co-ordinated by the State agencies. I recognise that progress is slow. The current regulatory framework is such that progress in advancing its programme of activities is significantly impacted by a broad range of regulatory requirements which must be addressed and complied with. Like all individuals, agencies and companies, we have to comply with the requirements of environmental and planning legislation.

The Office of Public Works and I are actively engaged with the key Departments to ensure that required flood measures are delivered to communities in the shortest possible timeframe. To that end, it is my intention to bring to Government a memorandum detailing the progress of the roll-out of flood relief schemes and the policy areas where we believe further interdepartmental work is needed. There will be a particular emphasis on the areas of planning and environmental compliance.

The Shannon working group is carrying out functions envisaged in the Bill, albeit on a non-statutory basis. As I understand this may not be enough for Deputies and people outside the House, I request the co-operation of the House to take this Bill, together with my own reflections, and the memorandum that I intend to take to Government, and to come back to the Dail at a later date. With the co-operation of the Opposition, I would like to chart a way forward that keeps open all avenues including either amending or new legislation. I give that commitment as Minister of State. I ask the Opposition to work with me, co-operate with me and engage with me on the advancement of this aim.

I propose not to oppose the Bill and that the Bill be read in approximately nine months, allowing the time to introduce legislation, if appropriate, on the matter. I want to work with Deputies on protecting properties from flooding. I have personal family experience of what it does to properties and I am open to reforms that Members wish to bring forward, particularly in the area of planning and environmental compliance that might make delivery to people and communities faster. However, we must be honest. People who are affected by flooding need to be told the truth and the establishment of an agency tonight would not prevent a single litre of water from entering their property. By working together I hope that we can make a positive change for communities across the country that continue to be ravaged by floods. If Members have suggestions on amending existing legislation that they believe will help, I certainly will work with them.

I wish to conclude by assuring Members that I and the Government are working extremely hard to ensure that the greatest possible progress is being made to deliver on a very ambitious programme of investment in flood defence along the Shannon and nationally. The commitment of €1 billion in the national development plan is a clear sign of how high a priority this is for the Government. However, being able to spend this money will depend on the processes we and those contracting authorities, such as the city and county councils, have to work with. Our climate is changing, which we have witnessed with the increased storm frequency and weather events, and we must adapt accordingly.

In the Minister of State's contribution, he said that a single authority would not stop one extra litre from going into a house. The Minister of State is from the same county as me. He remembers the flood last year which destroyed a few houses in Coonagh and Na Piarsaigh GAA club. If we had one statutory authority, that would not have happened. In December 2015, there was a flood in Richmond Park, Corbally, in which 14 houses were destroyed. If we had one statutory authority, that would not have happened either. Both of those floods were man-made and were caused by errors due to not having one statutory authority, as the Minister of State knows. We need to set up one statutory agency with the authority, power and accountability to tackle the flooding on the River Shannon. As Deputy Kerrane mentioned, in 2016, Gerry Adams introduced the River Shannon Management Agency Bill 2016. Unfortunately, it was not progressed.

I represent a city that has suffered cruelly from flooding over the last 20 years. Some of this flooding is due to localised rainfall, burst sewerage and water pipes and failures to clean drains, and has flooded homes in my locality. Other floods unfortunately happen due to mismanagement. I referred to Richmond Park, Corbally, and to Coonagh and to Na Piarsaigh GAA Club. Most of the floods have been caused by rising water levels on the River Shannon itself. The village of Castleconnell is highly vulnerable to high tides. The River Shannon itself is a resource that we must protect. However, it is a resource that we must manage properly. The river is the spine of Limerick city. It runs through the city and is a key geographic divide in the city. Some of the most scenic spots in the city are adjacent to the river. Unfortunately, more often than not, these are the areas most impacted by the nearly annual flooding events.

The Minister of State and Members from Limerick will remember the flooding in King's Island in February 2014. I was a local councillor at the time. Shortly after that, we started to plan for work which has not started yet. I spoke to the council today and it hopes to be on the ground in July 2021. That will be six and a half years after the floods started. They are talking about the possibility of it taking longer than that. It could be eight or nine years after the flood, when the then Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW came to Limerick City and County Council and told us that money would be no problem and that flood defences would be put in. Here we are, eight or nine years later, and the people of King's Island do not have a flood defence. It is an elderly community where people will have a note on their fridges about the time the tide will come in. They are well aware of the tides. People should not have to live like this. I am not saying the Minister of State does not know this, because he does. I have seen him do a good job in some situations in calling for help for people whose homes have been flooded. Seeing people's faces when it happens is depressing. The worst thing is that one frequently sees people who know it will happen again next year and the year after that.

I genuinely believe that we need one statutory authority to manage the River Shannon and to make sure that everyone works together. The crazy stuff that I referred to happening in Limerick would not have happened if there was a single authority. It has been spoken about for a number of years. The Minister of State's party supported it years ago. The Minister of State's amendment of nine months is something that the Government does with everything we have ever brought forward. If the Government thinks it is a good idea, it delays for nine months and unfortunately it does not happen.

I thank my colleagues, Deputies Clarke, Martin Kenny, Kerrane and Wynne for tabling this important legislation. Nearly every year, we see images of flooding and we look on with shock and horror at the damage it has caused to homes, businesses, land and livestock. It is especially acute along the Shannon, as well as in Cork, Galway and along the River Barrow. If one speaks to the victims of flooding, they will speak of their initial shock but following from that are long-lasting and lingering impacts to one's home and business. It is never the same after one's home has been flooded. The damage lingers for a long time. The damp and the smell take a long time to leave.

The flooding along the Shannon often elicits a strong feeling from people in my constituency. These areas have strong solidarity with those affected along the Shannon, because people in Donabate and Portrane are affected, not by flooding but by coastal erosion. I gave them a commitment that I would use the opportunity this evening to raise their concerns. These communities see their families, friends, neighbours, homes and gardens all fall into the sea. Across Portrane and Donabate, the sea is eating into the coastline. It is dragging homes into the sea. The reason this is so infuriating to those affected communities is because, just like those who are victims of flooding along the Shannon, this is entirely preventable. We have engaged and battled with Fingal County Council to get a resolution to this. We have engaged with Ministers. Every time, it is batted back. The Government needs to take some action on this. It needs to instruct Fingal County Council to protect these homes. One family described to me the protection available to them. It is like the fire brigade turning up when one's house is on fire and telling that person that they will not put it out.

The people along the Shannon deserve to have their homes and businesses protected, and the people along the coast in Portrane and Donabate deserve no less. I implore the Government to start taking flooding and coastal erosion more seriously. We cannot escape the fact that much of the damage caused is a result of the climate crisis. Let us start protecting people, their homes and businesses, as well as tackling the climate crisis.

I welcome this Bill and thank my colleagues for tabling it. Year after year, families and farmers across west Offaly have had to deal with the devastating effects of flooding along the Shannon. This is having a significant impact on residents in west Offaly and those trying to farm on the Shannon Callows. People from Clonmacnoise to Lusmagh have raised this issue with me. In 2020 alone, there have been floods in February and July, and as we speak, areas have flooded and are under threat of flooding along the Shannon. We see that this will continue, especially due to climate change, and that will be a pattern. This is a serious issue. I have made repeated representations to the relevant bodies and to the Minister of State. He recently sent me a reply in this regard. I am frustrated by the lack of progress and disappointed that we do not have a single authority. In September 2020, I received a reply from the Minister of State and OPW, following representations that I made on behalf of farmers and residents in that area. I was informed about the ongoing work of the co-ordination group and the budget of €7 million for the area from Athlone to Lusmagh.

I welcome that, if that is happening. It is some progress. Unfortunately, however, it is not enough because it is not a single body with authority. This group has only met twice in some years. There is a total of 20 agencies, including local authorities, involved in the management and maintenance of the river. There are clear conflicts and divisions there in respect of the various interests. The one thing I have learned in life is that if too many people and bodies are responsible, nobody is responsible. Every public representative knows this. If one is dealing with an issue and the buck can be passed from one body to another, it is hard to nail the issue down. It is like trying to nail jelly to the wall.

There must be a single body. The absence of a single body with authority, power and finance has held back progress, not just under this Government but since the foundation of the State. This has been an issue for decades. The Bill has been brought forward by Deputy Clarke and Sinn Féin to resolve this. Bringing forward legislation to establish a single river management agency on a statutory footing will provide it with powers to manage, carry out drainage works and to construct flood defences and other mitigation works on the River Shannon.

There was a suggestion in the past regarding flooding on the Shannon and trying to reduce water levels. The issue of cutaway bogs is something the Minister of State and his officials might look at again. That suggestion has been made, and I refer to it in a constructive way. There might be opportunities to use some cutaway bogs for flood mitigation during periods of heavy rainfall. We know that in some cases the water cannot get away quickly enough, regardless of what one does, and it could reduce the water levels during periods of high rainfall. Bord na Móna has substantial land banks close to the river and in some cases along the river bank. It might be an option. I believe it is a real possibility that some of the cutaway bogs could mitigate some of this.

It is time we dealt with the devastating impact flooding of the River Shannon is having on farmlands and villages, particularly in places such as Shannon Harbour and other communities in west Offaly. It is causing severe hardship for residents and farmers. It is a serious issue that requires a substantial effort. The Government said it will not knock down this legislation completely. I urge it not to kick the can down the road for another nine months. We must do this now, particularly for the people of west Offaly and other communities affected by this.

I support the Bill. It is not the first time we have seen a Bill of this nature. I was doing research earlier and discovered that my former colleague, Willie Penrose, brought forward a similar Bill in 2000. The issue has been ongoing for a long time. With due respect to our colleagues in Sinn Féin, they are not the first to the party on this matter. There were attempts as late as 2016 by Fianna Fáil and Deputy Troy, who is now a Minister of State, to publish a Bill on this. Up until last March, Deputy Troy gave a commitment to his constituents that he supported the establishment of a single Shannon authority with statutory powers. March is not very long ago. In fact, a former Taoiseach, John Bruton, gave a commitment on the issue as well, fadó fadó. This is not new and every party and none has supported the principle of the establishment of a single authority.

I did not receive a copy of the Minister of State's speech, but I listened carefully to what he said. My understanding of the Government amendment is that the Bill is deemed to be read "a second time this day nine months, to allow for an examination on the legislative landscape including a review of the current regulatory environment". One could take that at face value, but I believe the Minister of State qualified his words later in the debate when he said "if appropriate", so Members should forgive me if I am a little jaundiced in my view of whether we will ever see the establishment of a single Shannon authority with statutory powers. What the Minister of State is telling us in a coded way, if I am interpreting him correctly, is that there are too many regulatory issues and requirements in each of the statutory bodies that are involved in the Shannon flood risk State agency co-ordination working group, which is an awful mouthful, to bring them together to form one agency. The amount of legislation that would be required to do that would probably have the House dealing with it until kingdom come.

However, we should try, because the problems continue. I have evidence of the work of the OPW in my constituency of Cork East. Towns such as Mallow and Fermoy were always top of the news headlines whenever there was a flooding incident. These towns have benefited from excellent work carried out by the OPW on flood alleviation. However, there is still the perennial problem of the Shannon. I represent a Cork constituency, but I recognise the fact that the good people who live in the hinterland of the River Shannon are still encountering problems. Notwithstanding the facts that there are flood risk management plans, annual work programmes and the Minister of State has set up a short- and medium-term working group, and I accept the bona fides of the Minister of State in this regard, there are still issues in respect of having a view of where we want to go and what the policy is from a high-level perspective with regard to statutory powers, so money can start to flow into each of the problems that affect the people who live on or near the River Shannon. The best way to do this is through a statutory agency.

I will repeat the point that was made earlier in respect of the Shannon flood risk State agency co-ordination working group. It has not met regularly. It does not have statutory powers as a co-ordination group. I know from past experience - I have been where the Minister of State is now - that there will always be competing agencies in which egos are large, there are turf wars taking place and there is a non-acceptance of responsibility. The evidence of that is on the River Blackwater at present. There is a weir that is in such a woeful state of repair that when all the State agencies appeared before the petitions committee of this House last year, each one of them disavowed any responsibility for the repair of said weir. People's experience has been, and it is hard not to be cynical about this, that they have been led up the hill on too many occasions in the past and promised much, but very little has been delivered.

I accept the bona fides of the Minister of State, but I do not accept the response from the Government to this issue. There is a significant majority view on this. Certainly in Fianna Fáil it was evidenced by its Bill and statements as late as last March, while there is a history in Fine Gael of supporting the principle of setting up a State agency. Sinn Féin is now proposing it and we are supporting it. We brought forward legislation previously on this issue. I do not believe we should be cowed by the challenge it entails. One should be honest with people about what one is trying to do and tell them that it could take a number of years to establish.

If the Minister is honest and forthright with people about the fact that it will take time to put in place alleviation measures, I think they will accept that. What they do not accept is being promised something in March and then, in November, for one of the three parties in power to come in to stand over a Government amendment which says that on this day in nine months' time Second Stage will be read. That is not the way to do business here. We saw it with the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill and the sick pay scheme. I appreciate the fact that when there is a tripartite Government, everybody has to be kept on board and happy. However, that does not answer the questions posed by people who live within the Shannon region and who, as it were, are served by the Shannon.

I ask that the Government accept the Second Reading of the Bill tonight and that we would, through the various line committees of the Oireachtas, grapple with what is a serious and laudable aim of every party in this House, namely, to have one agency responsible for dealing this issue. If there are challenges from a regulatory point of view in terms of aligning and legislating for that, then let us just do it and manage the expectations around what it is that is trying to be achieved. It is not an insurmountable challenge. Ireland is a small country. People know each other. By and large, relationships are informal. If a couple of heads have to be knocked together to make it happen in the State agencies, let it be so, but let us try to be progressive about dealing with this issue. Let us get on with the business. It has been going on for donkey's years at this stage.

I commend Sinn Féin on bringing forward this well-considered and timely Bill. I am delighted to note as well that it is many of my fellow rural, female Deputies who are taking the lead on it.

Flooding continues to cause irreparable damage to communities and businesses across Ireland regularly. We desperately need a proactive, whole-of-government and sustainable response to this issue. Ministers of State in previous Governments made progress in this area and the programme for Government outlines aspirations in respect of it. Deputy Sherlock went into the history of the matter in sufficient detail. It is essential that our response to flooding be more comprehensive. To properly deal with flooding, we have to consider the broader landscape. We need to see the end of bad planning and piecemeal interventions. Flood relief needs to come with afforestation and a watershed approach to flood management. We also need to play our part to address climate change by reducing our national emissions and fulfilling all of our other climate commitments.

The Bill represents the type of holistic approach that is needed by creating a single competent authority to co-ordinate flood risk and management along the River Shannon. A single body clearly responsible for flood management would enable a watershed approach. This would consider the whole river system as one unit and take an integrated perspective.

Changes in land use upstream leads to more sedimentation down river. Building on floodplains increases the risk of flooding and results in more run-off water. Developments of wetlands reduce their capacity to hold water. Flooding has so many different interlinked causes and to deal with it we must consider each and every one of the causes together and see how they can be addressed.

Watershed programmes provide integrated flood management and protections. We must address the planting of forestry along watercourses. We must also engage in wetland and habitat restoration activities, fish passage and water quality improvements. There is also a need for greater co-ordination of planning and developments along rivers.

We should be working with the landscape, using and enhancing natural defences. We are familiar with the phrase "flattening the curve" in the context of the pandemic, but it also applies to river flooding. Measures to strengthen storage upstream, better agricultural land management and sustainable urban drainage systems, are proven methods of addressing flooding with less of an impact on landscapes and towns. Instead of economically and environmentally costly projects focused on towns, we need to solve the problem by looking at the whole river system. The single authority this Bill proposes could facilitate this approach. The current practice of flood management in Ireland prioritises expensive hard engineering works, such as massive, permanent walls and embankments which significantly impact on the natural and cultural landscape. I hope the proposed agency would take a more nuanced look at understanding the issues involved and propose more proportionate responses.

A related issue is the level of public involvement in flood management planning and implementation. Morally and legally, under the Aarhus Convention and related agreements, members of the public have a right to participate in a range of decisions where there may be an environmental impact. Local knowledge is so important. Too often, the communities most affected by flooding feel overlooked because their voices are largely disregarded or frustrated by bureaucratic and technical systems. The creation of a new agency would be an opportunity to avoid such past mistakes and to outline a new partnership model with families, farmers, and businesses along the river. We should have proactive processes to draw up certain plans and programmes relating to the environment.

We cannot talk about flooding and not refer to climate change. The latter is a driving force behind the increased scale and occurrence of flood events in recent years and if we do not take it seriously ,even the OPW's walls will not save us. Ireland’s 2020 target is to achieve a 20% reduction of emissions on 2005 levels, but projections indicate it will be in the range of 5% to 6%. The Government's annual transition statement was released during the summer and its catalogue of our current policy inadequacies should have been a wake-up call. Action is required immediately. The past five years, since the signing of the Paris Agreement, have been squandered on shallow gestures and a focus on efficiencies over achievements. We need action, not only because of the inevitable fines, but because of the moral obligation we have to the next generation.

The proposed Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill is most welcome. However, its deficiencies are already being highlighted. It is severely lacking in terms of climate governance, accountability, and target ambition. We need real climate action, backed up by robust legislation if we are to address flooding.

I welcome this Bill, and I thank Deputies for highlighting flooding and for speaking up for their communities. I look forward to contributing more to the Bill on Committee Stage. I hope that there is scope for amendments that increase public participation mechanisms and seek sustainable flooding solutions.

I wish to share time with Deputy Canney.

I welcome and fully support the objective behind the Bill. Having worked with the then Ministers of State, Deputy Canney and Kevin Boxer Moran, regarding the Shannon flood risk State agency co-ordination working group, as some of the State agencies in the group came under my responsibility when I was Minister, I know at first hand the challenges that exist and exactly what the Minister has elaborated and pointed out in his contribution. When I was Minister, we tried to amalgamate Bord na Móna and Coillte and that had to be abandoned because of the legal complexities involved in bringing two relatively young State agencies together. If a new agency is to be established, it will take at least five years to produce legislation and this will then be challenged the whole way to Europe. I can safely say that it will be a decade from now at the earliest before it becomes operational. We need to be honest with people in that regard.

The reality is that we do not have ten years. We need to see action now to address summer flooding and the scale of winter flooding, which families in my community are experiencing as we speak. I accept the core argument for the Bill, that is, that we do need a single, accountable authority that has the legal authority, first, to manage the water levels on the lakes and at weirs; second, to remove the pinch points south of Athlone, which will ultimately lead within the next five years to the removal of Meelick Weir; third, to remove the pinch points north of Lough Ree and; fourth, to carry out an ongoing maintenance programme on the Shannon and its tributaries.

I believe that legal responsibility should be given to the OPW to achieve those four objectives, as well as a legal responsibility to address flooding in general. This should be put in place now. I agree with the core argument behind this Bill that there is a lack of co-ordination.

In a reply to a parliamentary question on 13 October, the Minister of State stated:

The ESB is responsible for managing the water levels on Lough Allen, Lough Ree and Lough Derg. The levels in between the lakes are managed by Waterways Ireland for navigation purposes. Both organisations are members of the [co-ordination] group and communicate on a daily basis to ensure a co-ordinated approach to managing water levels.

On 3 July last, Waterways Ireland had half of its 30 sluice gates at Meelick weir open. The protocol stipulated that on that day it should open all of the gates as the water levels were continuing to rise. Between 3 July and 7 July, just five of the 15 gates were opened. On 3 July, however, as Waterways Ireland opened the gates at Meelick to reduce the rising waters - at far too slow a rate I must add - the ESB decided to open two additional sluice gates in Athlone, bringing it to six gates opened in Athlone. All six gates were left open for the next five days until the lands of farmers north of Meelick were flooded. For five days, there was no co-ordination between the ESB in Athlone and Waterways Ireland in Meelick. In between, the people within the Shannon Callows were flooded. That was the fundamental problem that led to the flooding that took place last July and during summer. It was because of a lack of co-ordination.

I have been consistently told here from meetings that I had with the ESB down through the years that we could not address the water levels on Lough Ree, Lough Allen and Lough Derg. These all need to be reduced to provide additional capacity. When Brian Hayes was in the Minister of State's position, however, the operational level of Lough Ree was reduced by a full metre on a pilot basis. When Kevin Boxer Moran was Minister of State, Lough Allen's level was reduced by 0.7 m. It can and has been done despite what the ESB has said in the past. It is clear that there is a lack of co-ordination.

In a reply to a parliamentary question on 1 October, the Minister of State indicated that a decision was taken last year to allocate €7 million to carry out a programme of maintenance between Athlone and Meelick in order to remove the pinch points. That money was secured by the OPW, which handed over €500,000 to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to allow Waterways Ireland to carry out the various implementation programmes that need to be done in advance of works starting. That has not happened, however. Again, a decision was taken 12 months ago and funding was provided to Waterways Ireland by the OPW but we will not see action until sometime next year. That is why I believe we need a short Bill to give the OPW legal responsibility for this, hold it accountable for it and let it drive the change that clearly is not happening as I have identified.

I have raised the problems relating to turloughs in Roscommon and Galway privately with the Minister of State and with the chair of the OPW. There are problems with Lough Funshinagh and Correal turlough outside of Roscommon town. There are also problems with Castleplunket, Bushfield and Lisserdrea turloughs. For the first three of those, we have a practical solution. What we need to see, however, is action.

We also need to see the cost-benefit analysis. A commitment was given that the cost-benefit analysis would clearly reflect the impact that flooding of turloughs has where water remains for a considerable time, unlike the flash flooding that would take place in other parts of the country. That cost-benefit analysis has yet to be introduced. Will the Minister of State introduce a specific cost-benefit analysis of turloughs in order that we have a fair assessment of projects that can be carried out to alleviate problems within their catchment areas?

At Lough Funshinagh, in the past five years some 300 acres of land that historically never flooded have been permanently underwater. As a result of that, farmers recently received threatening letters from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I raised this issue directly with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and informed him that what is happening was unacceptable. These letters contain threats to penalise farmers because, through no fault of their own, 300 acres of land that would historically have been available for farming are not now available. We need to see a flexible approach being taken by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with the basic payment scheme and with areas of natural constraints payments. Practical short-term solutions must be brought in to protect homes and farms within the catchment areas of these turloughs with long-term solutions brought forward as a matter of urgency.

I was over there in the Minister of State's position in 2016. The arguments being made now were being made then. In the Galway East constituency, we started the Dunkellin flood relief scheme in 2016. The Official Report will show it was discussed in the House in the 1940s between Members from the constituency who knew how to do it. However, it did not get done until 2016. Sometimes things move a lot slower than we would like.

I am delighted to speak on this Bill. It brings into focus an issue on which I worked when I was in the OPW, namely, trying to get this co-ordination group focused. There is a great team involved. However, sometimes it gets distracted by other matters. Accordingly, there has to be strong leadership if we are going to get the results we need.

When I was Minister of State, I met many people who suffered as a result of the Shannon flooding. What is forgotten is that there are legacy issues with the Shannon. A huge amount of silt has been put into the river over decades which was never removed. This was in the bygone days of Bord na Móna. Its productivity is now coming to an end, which means that the problem has not been there for the past several years. The ESB has responsibilities but has not cleared channels or kept the water flowing. The Dutch philosophy is that we need to make way for the river. If we do not make way for the water to flow, it will flood out onto the land regardless. How do we prevent that? Basic engineering principles state one starts by getting the outlet right and working one's way back. Many artificial blockages have been created which prevent the water from flowing or cannot get out.

We must also face up to the fact that a large volume of rain has fallen recently, with water levels increasing. I heard Deputy Rabbitte speak recently about a one-in-100-year event that happened five years ago. We have had four of them since.

We need to recognise that work is being done. The work on the pinch points, which I believe will be the basis of everything, must be sorted out.

If the Minister of State focuses on that for the next nine or 12 months we will achieve something that will help people. We will help the people in the Shannon Callows and the people whose houses are flooding. We will also reduce the levels by creating capacity. Deputy Stanley spoke about using cutaway bogs as places to dump floodwater. I have checked all of those options out. I come from an engineering background. The volume of water that could be stored there would be such a small percentage of the flood as to make no difference. Every approach has been tested over time. The OPW has done a huge amount of work. The National Parks and Wildlife Service has also been very involved and has led by example. In December 2016, for the first time in many years, we saw machines going out onto the Shannon to clear channels as a result of joint efforts between the Office of Public Works and Waterways Ireland. That work has continued. Works programmes have been prepared. The one thing the Minister of State is missing, though it is not his fault, is legislation allowing him to direct those bodies to get work done more quickly.

During the Estimates process last year I reviewed the work of the Office of Public Works. That agency had intended to start six flood relief schemes last year. It started two. That had nothing to do with the Shannon Group or legislation. Whether we like it or not, the consents that are required and the environmental issues that are raised constitute a huge barrier. I launched that scheme in Cork in 2016. Cork flooded three weeks ago. The scheme has not moved on because people object and want to do something else. The scheme has been delayed for the last five years. Why are business people in Cork suffering again this year? We have to be honest when we talk about bringing in legislation. I have said to people on the ground that we should concentrate our efforts on getting work done rather than on legislation. I looked at introducing a single authority when I was the Minister of State. I did not do so because I could have been mired in a legal swamp for five years while trying to get something done. Everybody would have taken their eyes off the ball and forgotten why we are here. We want to reduce the level of flooding, reduce the pinch points, do the clearing work and get on with it.

I am passionate about this. People tell me that everything would be solved if we had a single authority. I can guarantee that if we start tonight, a legal authority will not be in place in ten years and whoever is Minister then will still be introducing legislation to try to cover the Government's tracks. Whoever is Minister in ten years will be tied up in all of that instead of getting the work done.

This is all about co-ordination. We have so many agencies, but the process can be boiled down. The Minister of State is the chair of a committee that brings all the relevant agencies together. He will be driving these people and they will be trying to get the work done. In the next six to eight months we will see work done to remove some pinch points. That is how slow progress will be. Deputy Naughten mentioned the money that was given to Waterways Ireland. It has been carrying out work, but one does not see the effects on the ground. People are frustrated because land and houses are being flooded in the meantime. This is compounded by the summer floods in the Shannon Callows. I have met people there on several occasions. They are so demoralised because they have not seen any progress. The only thing I can say to them is that we can help the Minister to install the works they want. They are not looking for legislation. They want the work to be done.

Personally I feel we have too many laws. We are creating barriers for ourselves. I would not like to see us waste our time on legislation when we need to get work done. I do not say that to detract from the sentiment of this Bill. I will ask the Minister for one thing. A lot of Deputies here are passionate about this. They have experienced the flooding in their counties. Their families and friends are farmers. Perhaps the Minister of State would consider setting up a forum or webinar through which all Deputies with an interest in this can advise the Minister of State and provide him with our knowledge and ideas on how to resolve this. That would help. People propose postponing this for nine months. I would hope that the Minister of State will look at the existing structure and give the OPW the legal basis to drive this forward for the next ten years.

I refer also to the River Suck, which feeds into the River Shannon. We do not talk about our other rivers. Local authorities do not have the financial wherewithal to clean these channels. Deputy Naughten will know about one funny situation where riverine fishing rights are controlled by the ESB. We have to sort that out as well. It is strange that someone living in Dunnaman must pay for a licence to fish but one does not have to pay for a licence on the Shannon. These small areas, which are trying to promote tourism, are suffering because of this. I visited them last year. The people deserve a little better. We need to clear archaic legislation, rules and regulations out of the pond.

I have no doubt that the Minister of State's heart is in the right place, or that his team and the Office of Public Works will deliver. However, we need to work together. I have always said that flooding should never be a political issue. This issue is very close to my heart because I have seen flooding cause so much devastation in my own constituency and throughout the country. We can do more and better, but we must maintain our focus. I wish the Minister of State well in his role. I am here to support him and to support the OPW. We must bring together everyone who has an interest in this and make sure that at the end of the day we deliver rather than talk.

Tá áthas orm labhairt ar an rún seo anocht. Gabhaim buíochas le Sinn Féin as é a chur os ár gcomhair. Tá sé fíorthábhachtach agus ba mhaith liom fuascailt a fháil ón bhfadhb seo.

I am very happy to speak on this Bill. This issue has generated significant concern in the midlands and throughout rural Ireland. I am one of the frustrated Deputies referred to by Deputy Canney. In July and the summer months we had issues along the Shannon and farmers' lands were flooded. A lot of farmers were affected. Livestock had to be moved. There was huge confusion around the sluice gates at Meelick. I remember contacting the Minister of State's office and the OPW. This is a recurring issue. I remember raising it when I was a county councillor in 2014. It has gone on for too long. I hope that tonight's discussion will not be another meaningless talking shop. We need concrete actions. People are becoming very frustrated and angry over the whole issue. I sincerely hope we can all be constructive and work together to formulate solutions to this ongoing issue which people really want resolved.

As we know, flooding has far-reaching and devastating impacts such as emotional stress, the loss of individual homes and the loss of farmland or businesses. Severe health issues are associated with flooding, as well as dramatic declines in economic competitiveness in impacted communities and regions. I accept that the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, is sincere when he speaks about his desire to address these matters, but as always the real issue is the lack of tangible outcomes.

Time and again, my colleagues have called on the Department and the OPW to immediately escalate their response to ongoing flooding issues affecting farmers and residents, particularly in west Offaly where approximately 200 farmers are affected by flooding caused by the River Shannon. In the village of Riverstown, which straddles the Tipperary-Offaly border, there is an issue with the River Brosna. The Government needs to get to grips with these issues. I am highlighting them again tonight in the hope that solutions can be put in place.

Unfortunately, the response to this issue from the Government side has been lethargic at best. I hope that will change. I am constantly in contact with several farmers from west Offaly who are profoundly alarmed by the apparent lack of action. Many of them have grazing land that can only be used for two months of the year, as a result of which they are at risk of fodder shortages. The stress and hardship they must endure is unbelievable. I am calling for that hardship to end.

I have always maintained that this matter demands a whole-of-government approach because of the nature of the damage to farms and the significant threat to the provision of fodder as a result of flooding. Unfortunately, as I have stated previously, for a significant number of farmers in Offaly and right across the midlands, the rain and flooding are becoming as predictable as the Government's lack of response. I sincerely hope that will change. I will be the first person to welcome any such change.

Members are aware that the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme has been meeting for the best part of a decade to develop strategies for the reduction of risk. I have become very cynical about all of the reports that have been produced without any action being taken. A small number of actions from the reports should be agreed and then carried through. There is a terrible problem here; it just seems to be reports all the time. I remember discussing such reports while I was a member of Offaly County Council. A significant amount of time was wasted talking about them but very little was done. I would like to see an end to reports and a start to more focused actions.

The Bill calls for a single agency to be set up. I believe that is urgently needed. There is significant confusion. I remember being contacted by farmers in July and having to run from the OPW to the ESB and on to the office of the Minister. The current set-up is a disaster. We need to have one management authority to effectively manage the River Shannon. That would be a pragmatic response to a difficult and complex issue. Despite the fact that there has been much highlighting of this issue, a priority question I tabled was ruled inadmissible by the Department of the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan. The Green Party is full of aspiration but it does not seem to care about communities in rural Ireland that are being flooded. The question I submitted specifically dealt with issues related to Waterways Ireland, which falls under the remit of that Department, yet the question was rejected. That is not the kind of engagement that I or any other rural Deputy deserves or wishes to see going forward.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this very important Bill. I thank Sinn Féin for bringing it forward. I commiserate with the people along the Shannon and in its catchment area. Members have seen television reports showing what they have suffered and endured and continue to endure, such as their homes being flooded. There is nothing more horrible than a house that is flooded. The water comes up the toilet from the sewer and all that and the house is ruined and never the same again. It is horrible to see a slatted tank full of water with cattle inside it. There may be small calves in it, paddling around in the water. That is terrible and horrible and people should not have to endure it.

I agree that there have been enough studies. The time for studying is over. Action needs to be taken. There has never been as many excavators or as much technical equipment for taking levels and all that. We did not have that equipment in the past. I have been told that the River Shannon has not been properly dredged since the English did it back in the 1880s, which is very sad. There is no excuse for it. There should be no prohibition on taking silt or blockages out of the river. In County Kerry, for approximately ten years until 2018, the River Flesk flooded regularly. Fourteen homes were being flooded constantly. The N22 was being flooded. Thankfully, the former Minister of State, Kevin Boxer Moran, came down and stood on Curreal Bridge. I thank him for coming down. He gave us €160,000 to clear the branches that were blocking the river. We were flooded out of it in late 2015 and early 2016 but the road and houses have not been flooded since the work was done. It only took three weeks of cutting branches and trees. It is a delight to pass up and down by the river now. There have been serious floods as recently as last week, but only a small bit of work is needed and that work can be done.

Surely it is more important to please and appease the people whose homes, lands and businesses are being flooded than to be worried about environmentalists who do not have to endure flooding. That is the sad fact of the matter. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, who is present, might be afraid of the environmentalists, but what would the story be if the people whose homes, businesses and farms are being flooded took a court case against the State for not doing anything to help them? That is what the Government should be worried about because what is happening is not fair. The ordinary, good-living people who have done nothing wrong must be listened to.

There has been a lot of talk about holding back water. CFRAM is trying to hold back water in various parts of the country, but I do not support that approach. There is a river running through Castleisland. It was cleaned out in the late 1950s and early 1960s and the place was fine for many years. Now there is a proposal to spend €5 million or €6 million to enclose a 12 acre field with a wall to hold back the water. That is rubbish. It is a waste of good money. Transport Infrastructure Ireland is proposing to raise the road in Glenflesk but the road has not flooded since the work was done on the river. All that needs to be done is to maintain the river, ensure it is kept free from blockages and let the water flow. If one has a glass of water and half fills it with sugar, what will happen? The water will come out over the top of the glass. All the Department needs to do is to clean out the pinch points and blockages. That will relieve the people who are affected by flooding and give them a chance to carry on. If a river did not flood in the past, why should it be flooding now?

I am very grateful for the opportunity to contribute on the Bill. I support the people living along the Shannon and in the Shannon catchment area. They need attention. All Members will support them but we are depending on the Minister of State to get working, get machines out there and get levels taken to ensure that places will not continue to be flooded.

I thank the Sinn Féin Party for tabling the Bill which is very much to be welcomed. It is a Bill I will support. I commend the Minister of State on the constructive approach the Government is taking on the Bill. It is an acknowledgement that we need to move forward in a considered way. The way the Minister of State is proposing to allow some time to effectively consider what exactly needs to be done is to be commended.

The one issue I wish to particularly raise is that of the Shannon fishery. The ESB has undoubtedly been one of the success stories of this State. I think I can claim without fear of contradiction that it is the most successful semi-State company in the country. ESB International is successful beyond our shores. Very few people would take issue with the success of the ESB.

However, it is not unfair to point out that the ESB has been considerably less successful with the management of the Shannon fishery, which is one of the largest inland state-owned fisheries in Europe. At the time of independence, pursuant to the Shannon Fisheries Act when it came under the ownership of the ESB because of Ardnacrusha, the fishery was a major resource for landowners adjacent to it. Families were fed by fishing the Shannon and it was a major tourism resource. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons that is no longer the case. Salmon stocks in particular have declined significantly. It is not just because of what the ESB has or has not done; there has been a decline right across the north Atlantic for which we cannot blame the ESB.

We need to take steps to ensure that when the Shannon is managed, it is managed as a navigation resource and is properly drained. Importantly, the ecosystem needs to be protected. Protecting the fishery and ensuring that responsibility for it is taken away from the ESB and it is managed as part of that management structure is key. We need to look at the effect Parteen weir has on fish, in particular fish not being able to pass Ardnacrusha. I appreciate the infrastructure required to address that issue will not be cheap.

Notwithstanding its profits and success over the years, the ESB has not put the necessary infrastructure in place, nor has it dredged rivers. All the tributaries of the Shannon also form part of the Shannon fishery. The ESB has had to be brought to the steps of the High Court on many occasions by small fishing clubs to get it to manage those rivers. Managing and dredging them to improve the trout and salmon hatcheries means they also drain better for the landowners adjacent to them in the winter. I do not want to take any more of the limited time. I commend both Sinn Féin and the Government on the approach they have taken. I urge that the Shannon fishery be managed by the new body.

I fully support the proposal to establish a River Shannon management agency. Over many years, I have called for a single overarching authority to manage the Shannon. As an MEP, I represented eight of the 11 counties through which the Shannon flows, namely, Cavan, Leitrim, Longford, Roscommon, Westmeath, Offaly, Clare and Galway. I have attended meetings in all those counties, dealing for the most part with flooding. For the past 20 years, at every meeting without exception, I have heard landowners, homeowners, business owners, community groups and environmental groups all call for a single body to co-ordinate the work of the agencies that manage the Shannon.

The Shannon is a massive piece of infrastructure that has been neglected since the foundation of the State. It has been used as a dumping ground for fallen trees and thousands of tonnes of silt that come from our commercial bogs. Thousands of people in many of the counties I mentioned cannot get flood insurance. They live in constant fear of heavy rain. Our main problem with flooding is that we react to floods and do not prepare for them. The creation of an overarching authority for the Shannon is crucial and will mean we do not deal with problems in a piecemeal fashion.

I support the Government amendment, provided that the nine-month period is used to draw up a comprehensive plan to fully co-ordinate the work and responses of the agencies. Earlier, I listened to Deputy Canney, whose commitment to alleviating flooding is unquestioned. He warns against getting tied up in red tape and the need to continue with different schemes in parallel with any legislation establishing the agency.

It is crucial that we involve local people in decision-making. Some time ago, I met a group in Carrick-on-Shannon which has professional expertise as well as local knowledge, often acquired over generations, on everything from water flow and pinch points to soil types and managing water levels. All of this needs to feed into a fuller understanding of how to manage this great river.

Even though I spoke to him before, I officially wish the Minister of State the best of luck in his new job. I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. The Government has moved an amendment to the Bill. However, we should not play politics with the Shannon, which covers 11 different counties. There are people tortured in all those counties. I ask everybody to come together. This is about the future. We will not drain the river tomorrow or next week. We will not solve its issues in a few days. We need to come together. This is above politics; it is about people.

I stood above in Lough Allen when the level was at 46.2 m. I will remember it for the rest of my life. If it was dropped to that level, it would give Carrick-on-Shannon 14 days. People up there have done the analysis. At Jamestown weir there is a problem with the gate. We stood with the former Minister of State, Kevin Boxer Moran, in Termonbarry a year ago. There was €8 million worth of gear. I ask the Minister of State to indicate whether this has been bought or is in water. Where is it this gear? It was going to clear where there is water at a particular height at one level at Termonbarry and it is about 5 ft. lower at the other level.

Rivers such as the Suck, the Rinn and the Brosna feed into the River Shannon. If water is coming in - no more than if there are five taps feeding in - there must be an exit. I have driven diggers. I went to Athleague when they were raving about it flooding for years. By simply jumping up on a digger, the problem was solved. The regulations down through the years have been made very clear. We went to Europe when Deputy Harkin was an MEP. If there is an emergency, people should go in and address it. Forget about environmentalists, laws and everything else; just drive in and get it sorted.

The first thing that needs to be done is down in Limerick. Generally, it is appropriate to start at the head of a river to get it sorted. Below where there was what I would call the spillover, it is blocked by trees. Unless they are ripped out, regardless of who is giving out, blocking or whatever, unless the trees are ripped out from one end to the other, an overflow for the Shannon is needed.

I question whether we need Ardnacrusha. This year, farmers have not cut meadow in most of the Callows. I have talked to them in Bornacoola in Leitrim, Roscommon and Longford and they have been snookered all year.

I believe the Minister of State should get the nine months' delay, but we will hold him accountable at the end. We should work together. As Deputy Martin Kenny said, the Deputies who are interested in this should get together, forget about the politics and get it sorted. One Sunday evening about a month ago, the Shannon disappeared automatically. What we mean by "disappear" is a drop of a couple of feet where the Callows are. Why did that happen? Who let the water go? Those are the questions. The Minister of State needs to be given the powers to crack the whip and ensure people are not left with their tongues out trying to save their houses and farms.

I also ask the Minister of State to ensure the levels are dropped. At the moment we are running at dangerous levels. Yesterday evening, the roads in Cloonown were flooded. If we keep allowing that, people will get frustrated. People are sick of hearing about nothing being done about the Shannon. I ask the Minister of State to concentrate on it. We will work with him on it. The Bill is a help but we all need to work together on this issue.

I invite the Minister of State to come to counties Roscommon and Galway. I looked at Lough Funshinagh a few years ago. Every type of guru has come to it and said what they would do measuring levels. Water is water; it comes down and we need to get it out. The OPW needs to go in and do the job. Local authorities have to give 10% of the cost but they do not have it and will not do it. There is no point in us codding ourselves. We have Correal and Glenamaddy turlough and I ask the Minister of State to come down and look at those. These problems are solvable and would let people live a normal life.

I thank the proposers of tonight's Bill, which I welcome. I agree with many of those who have proposed it that it complements what we had sought in opposition. It also complements remarks I made six weeks ago, as a previous speaker noted, when I sought an intervention similar to that proposed to deal with the issues around the Shannon flood risk management agency. The response from the Government this evening and discussions I have had with officials with relevant expertise in the Department and the Minister illustrate that there is a political commitment and a recognition that the agency in its current form does not have the capacity to address this issue in the manner necessary. How could it be otherwise given that, as previous speakers noted, winter flooding is getting worse and summer flooding is now becoming the norm? In my constituency, some 200 farms in the Shannon Callows in west and south-west Offaly were under water in July. This is happening regularly and is no longer a once-off occurrence. Recently we have seen, through the best will and commitment in the world, efforts such as the CFRAM programme, an EU protocol, pilot pinch programmes and works, and selective flooding through the opening of gates at time.

Some of those proposing the Bill spoke of how the agency had potential in its infancy. That potential cannot be realised unless the agency has sufficient statutory powers. We must pass the legislation necessary to give it those powers and provide for accountability. I compliment and note the constructive contributions of other Members, including Deputy Canney who has much expertise in this area having been a Minister of State in the Department. They recognised the potential in the Government's response to the Bill. In acknowledging the contributions of Deputies, I encourage everyone with responsibilities in this area, not only Deputies but also the relevant stakeholders, including the existing agency, to collaborate and meet the commitment set out in the Minister of State's statement. That would give this Dáil an opportunity to resolve this issue in an amicable way which meets all our approval. I hope that giving the authority the necessary powers will have the desired impact.

My party spent nine years in opposition. We are now in government and in a position where we might leave office having achieved a goal set by my party in the motions referred to earlier and recording a success in this area. As Deputy Fitzmaurice said, it is not as if we are going to drain the Shannon in the next nine months. There is potential for an all-party commitment and ownership among the parties and those with responsibility at ministerial and Government level. We are in a position to achieve progress on Committee Stage. We can all be associated with that progress and sell it to our constituents who for too long have been left with no prospect of unity of purpose among all those who have responsibility for achieving success.

I welcome the opportunity to address the House on the River Shannon Management Agency Bill 2020. Its purpose is to establish a River Shannon management agency on a statutory basis within the OPW with overall responsibility for the assessment and management of flood risk and flood defences along the River Shannon. I can sense the sincere passion in the voices of those who have spoken on this very important matter.

The River Shannon is a valuable natural resource that is important to Ireland’s economy, society, culture and environment. It serves an important purpose for electricity generation, navigation, tourism and fishing. It creates employment and supports these activities. It rises in County Cavan and flows for 260 km before entering the Shannon Estuary at Limerick city. An unusual feature of the River Shannon is that it is remarkably flat, with the majority of the fall in height taking place on the 24 km stretch between Killaloe and Limerick. This is the natural drainage basin of the Shannon which drains an extensive area of central Ireland. However, these features can combine, resulting in flooding.

The Government has a plan in place to deal with flooding on the Shannon through the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme. This programme was the largest study of flood risk ever undertaken by the State. The output of the CFRAM programme was the 29 flood risk management plans to address the assessed flood risk nationally, which were approved by the Government in 2018. It examined 80% of the properties at risk from future flooding which involved a study of 300 communities nationally. One of the six CFRAM study areas included a dedicated study of the flood risk of the Shannon river basin district.

The flood risk management plans, FRMPs, derived from the CFRAM programme include 34 new flood relief schemes to protect towns in the Shannon river basin district. These new schemes, together with 11 additional schemes already completed, will protect 95% of properties at significant risk from flooding in the future. Of the 34 new schemes to be delivered, work has commenced on 25 and they are at various stages of development.

The Shannon State agency co-ordination working group set up in 2016 is co-ordinating the overall response to flood risk management on the Shannon informed by assessment of flood risk carried out under the CFRAM. The working group is performing well. It has identified and delivered activities that are providing flood relief in the area and is focused on providing additional flood relief measures to protect communities, businesses, landowners and property along the Shannon. However, the current regulatory framework in which it operates is such that progress in advancing its programme of activities can be impacted by the range of regulatory requirements which must be addressed and complied with. This can lead to delays in implementing its programme of activities.

When facing a major challenge such as this it makes sense for us to look to other European countries which have successfully faced down similar challenges. The Dutch are renowned for their skill in flood management. We might think of their dykes that prevent the North Sea from flooding a country that is mostly below sea level but the Dutch are also at risk of being flooded by the rivers that flow in from neighbouring countries. For hundreds of years, they have developed techniques that have protected them from flooding. It makes absolute sense to learn from their expertise. We should collaborate with the Dutch and learn how they manage their high-tech room for the river approach to mitigating flooding. It is not just their technology but also how they manage to get different agencies to work together. The Delta programme, which still operates, is a scheme by which the Dutch get their local and regional authorities and water boards to co-operate in a way that allows a centralised and effective delivery of schemes. I recently met officials from the Dutch embassy to discus other areas of expertise the Dutch have in areas such as sustainable transport and retrofitting. We should reopen that channel and collaborate to see what we can gain from that.

I am fully supportive of an examination of the current regulatory requirements as they pertain to management of the Shannon, as has been outlined by the Minister of State, Deputy O’Donovan, and I look forward to contributing to this examination and to its outcome in due course.

This is a well-rooted Bill. I listened to the response of the Ministers of State. It is good that it will be re-examined in nine months. At this time of year, the end of my back garden transforms from a nice green area to a field with swans and a few ducks. I fully understand the problem. I live only a mile from Clonlara. Deputies McNamara, Wynne and Carey all know how bad things are down there when the Parteen weir spills over and floods the area for six or seven weeks every year. This is still called a 100-year phenomenon but it is an annual event. This agency must be established.

We need to examine the EU habitats directives and all the EU's environmental laws over the years.

We seem to implement them a little differently from how it is done in other countries. The logs and butts of trees that wash down from the midlands end up in the river around Plassey and Clonlara, where there are now protected habitats. They gather up silt and become, in effect, little islands. This is material that gets washed down in a flood and it needs to be taken out because it clogs up the channel of the river. A farmer near me often said, about one of the smaller tributaries locally, that for every metre one dredges down, that becomes a metre one takes off the bottom of the river. It has to be banked 1 m high, which creates a 2 m deficit. It is the only answer. A full dredging of our rivers has not been done since the foundation of the State 100 years ago.

I am sharing time with Deputy Clarke. The flooding we have witnessed on lands adjacent to the River Shannon has been devastating for a large number of households, farms and businesses in my county of Tipperary. The problem has been getting worse and more frequent. We have all seen the pictures and heard the accounts of those affected and we have listened to the plans to address the problem. In Tipperary, the impact is devastating for many. Large areas of farmland are submerged every year, with both long-term impacts and an immediate loss of earnings for farmers as the plans they have made for the year to come are set back. This can come at a significant cost. Businesses in parts of the county see footfall drop off as water levels on Lough Derg rise above a certain point. Others have seen their stock destroyed. The problem is made worse because insurance companies will not cover them. It disheartens me that there are homeowners and business owners in my county who know they will be impacted by rising water levels on the Shannon. They are helpless in the face of the surging current. As I said, many cannot get insurance to help them pick up the pieces afterwards because the problem is so persistent.

Studies have shown that flooding has become more frequent over the past 60 years, with the volume of flooding increasing by 5% per decade. It seems that the impact of climate change will make that problem worse in the years to come. There is a lot of focus on climate change right now, including the increase in carbon tax that was signed off by the Government. However, a co-ordinated strategy to address flooding along the length of the River Shannon is not being given adequate priority. The programme for Government includes a reference to expanding the river basis management plan, but the River Shannon does not feature as a headline issue. We have seen how minor works upriver have had a negative impact on communities downriver. This is an example of how a comprehensive approach to dealing with the challenges posed by flooding on the Shannon is not being taken. This fragmented approach has made matters worse for some while bringing improvements for others. It also causes delays.

When it comes to who is responsible for the proper management of the Shannon, the list runs to 20 bodies, including the ESB, Waterways Ireland, the OPW and the local authorities. This means there is little in the way of leadership or a co-ordinated response, leaving communities with the impression that their needs and the impact on the local environment are not understood. It means that while there are plenty of agencies involved in managing the waterway, any actions that could prevent the type of flooding we are seeing lack a central point of focus. The approach to dealing with the problems is, as I said, fragmented. There are very real concerns that if a single agency is not created and tasked with the co-ordinated management and maintenance of the river and with anti-flood measures, then the works and schemes needed are not going to happen within a reasonable timeframe. As a result, the risk to life and livelihood will continue.

The Irish Farmers Association, IFA, is one of the voices calling for a single agency to deal with the issue of flooding along the River Shannon. Farmers are the custodians of the land. They know the land, how the river interacts with it and the impacts rising water levels have on it. They say that a single agency is needed. Last March, Michael Silke of the Mid-Shannon Flood Relief Group accused the State authorities of not listening to the farmers and communities who are consistently being impacted by the flooding of the River Shannon. He, too, called for a single agency to assume responsibility for the management of the river. Fianna Fáil also advocated a single agency approach when it was in opposition. The party has a chance now to make the change it called for when its members were on this side of the House. The Shannon flood risk State agency co-ordination working group was set up to examine these issues but, as far as I can see, it has met no more than a dozen times since its establishment in 2016. Its impact has been limited and communities in certain areas continue to be subjected to intense flooding.

The interests of the stakeholders up and down the River Shannon must be addressed in a comprehensive manner that is consistent in its approach and includes a plan of action. This is the only way we can successfully tackle the problem. Sinn Féin's Bill seeks to do just that and offers an effective strategy for managing Ireland's largest river. A single agency would bring all these separate interests together and facilitate an agreement with local communities and organisations to maintain and adjust water levels to meet the requirements of all concerned. The agency would co-ordinate the work of the key stakeholders involved in the management and maintenance of the Shannon and co-ordinate flood prevention efforts. It would consult with all stakeholders and provide the Minister with a strategic plan for the river within three months of its establishment. It would also have the ability to reach an agreement with any other bodies that may have an interest in a particular course of action that is being considered. This would make progress faster and draw on the knowledge base of all interested parties.

Constituents of mine who live along the Shannon have had enough of the disjointed approach adopted to date to the ongoing flooding problems. For the sake of the thousands of home owners, businesses and farmers whose future is dependent on the proper management of the river, I appeal to all Deputies to support the Bill.

We have heard from Deputies representing a dozen or so different constituencies throughout the State. The one point that echoes loud and clear in all their contributions is that there is a serious problem with the management of the River Shannon. We must do better in this regard. Added to the complexities and issues we are currently facing is the unknown quantity of the future impact of climate change. While we do not know or agree on what that might be, we should, at the very least, agree on the need to be prepared. We do not have a huge amount of data on our rivers and the data we do have only go back to the 1960s. As Dr. Mary Bourke of Trinity College has noted, we cannot definitively conclude that increasing flood levels are or are not related to climate change. Either may be the case and we must be prepared for all eventualities.

It is unreasonable not to try to make predictions and face up to a future that could be twice as devastating as what the situation is today for the people in the 11 counties along the River Shannon. The data we do have show that, in each decade, the volume of flooding has increased by approximately 5%. That is measured in cubic metres of water released per second. For people living in the areas that are at risk of flooding, these figures will strike fear and anxiety as they try to calculate what exactly a yearly increase of 5% will mean for their home, family farm, livestock, livelihood and their children's future. Earlier this year, a constituent of mine in Longford had to move livestock off his land because of rising water levels. One might say that this is par for the course in the agricultural world but, in his case, it is the first time in the generations his family has farmed the land that livestock had to be moved from that area. Last night, I spoke to a business owner in Athlone who told me he is already monitoring the water levels and ensuring there is space to move stock and fittings at very short notice should the need arise.

The best chance to deal with flooding on the River Shannon is to allow this Bill to progress in its entirety. We cannot allow this ongoing failure to persist. We must not allow the problem to continue to be put on the long finger. This is an urgent issue for the homes and livelihoods of the residents of the 11 counties through which the Shannon flows. We, as their elected representatives, should treat the matter as urgently as they do. I ask the Minister of State to withdraw the Government amendment, support the Bill on Second Stage and allow it go to committee for scrutiny. There is no justification for delaying these proposals and kicking them down the road for nine months. The people of these 11 counties do not have nine months to wait. The amendment is a ridiculous proposal that is reflective of the attitude of Governments for decades. How can the Minister of State realistically be happy to delay a Bill which he clearly recognises has merit?

Multiple Governments have had plenty of time to date to effectively deal with this. How does the Minister of State go back to these communities, look his constituents in the eye and sell this amendment as a good idea that is in their best interests? How does he tell them that they must wait another nine months - nine months of despair, worry and distress - before an agency with responsibility is even considered? People are more well informed than others give them credit for. In nine months' time, it will be August, when the Dáil is traditionally in recess. Every resident in any county through which the Shannon flows, including members of the public and of the Government, knows that a single agency with responsibility for the Shannon makes sense. This Bill should be passed now. It should be allowed to go to Committee Stage, where full scrutiny and full engagement with communities can take place.

This is typical of the approach successive Governments have taken to many issues, an approach almost of gaslighting. It is a continuous insulting of the intelligence of those most affected. It is also disconcerting. The Minister of State's own party and his own Government know that this is true. Any Deputy from these 11 counties, including those of every party and those of none, knows this agency is necessary. The only conclusion one can draw is that the Government is willing to play politics with any and all issues, regardless of the devastating impact doing so may have on lives.

Amendment put.

In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Wednesday, 4 November 2020.