That Dáil Éireann:
— that the Programme for Government contains a commitment to maintain a multiannual investment programme in flood relief measures to protect flood risk communities;
— that the objective of the European Union (EU) Floods Directive (2007/60/EU) is to establish a framework for the assessment and management of flood risks to reduce the negative consequences of flooding on human health, economic activities, the environment and cultural heritage in the EU;
— that the EU Floods Directive (2007/60/EU) crucially requires all member states to fully assess whether all water courses and coast lines are at risk from flooding, to quantify the overall risks and map the associated flood extent, assets and humans at risk in these areas and to take adequate and coordinated measures to reduce such flood risks;
— that flooding has far reaching negative and devastating impacts, such as emotional stress, the loss of individual homes, farms and businesses, severe associated health related issues and dramatic declines in economic competitiveness of impacted communities and regions;
— that while there has been significant social, infrastructural and economic damage caused by recent and repeated flooding across all regions, rural Ireland has been disproportionately impacted;
— that the essential and basic maintenance of Ireland’s rivers and streams is not occurring;
— that it is increasingly clear in Ireland that the current approach to flood insurance is not fit for purpose, and as such, the Government must provide proper consultation for homeowners and businesses who through no fault of their own have been flooded, as little or nothing has been done so far to address this issue and ensure urgent improvements to the current and future availability and affordability of flood insurance;
— the issue of flooding in Ireland is expected to increase in the coming years, this is evident by the current major flooding and the reoccurring flooding over the last 15 years;
— that there is a significant misunderstanding displayed by certain agencies about the ‘once in 100 years’ flood, as it means a one per cent chance of severe flooding every year;
— that the issue of flooding along the Shannon catchment is likely to worsen, both through frequency from year-to-year, and the volume of water that is spilling over banks, gathering on people’s land and threatening or destroying their homes;
— that the number of staff available to the Office of Public Works (OPW) has reduced significantly in the past few years and this is one of the primary reasons ongoing flooding is occurring in specific areas;
— that the Irish Government has failed to drawdown any available funding from the European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF), created as a relief fund to support regions impacted by severe floods across the EU, since 2009 where €13 million was allocated to Ireland from total allocations of some €5.5 billion, meaning Ireland is now the third lowest recipient of support under the scheme despite many severe flooding events here in recent years;
— that the existing flood alleviation measures in rural Ireland have proved grossly inadequate and ineffective in safeguarding communities from flood damage and heavy rains;
— the response of the OPW and local authorities’ Crisis Management and Severe Weather Assessment teams; and
— that addressing the damage caused by persistent and repeated flood damage will place substantial and unsustainable financial burdens on local authorities, farms, microenterprises, small to medium-sized enterprises and households; and
calls on the Government to:
— provide immediate and ongoing financial assistance to local authorities nationwide, to enable the timely delivery of local flood relief projects and schemes, to clear rivers, streams and drains aimed at preventing damage to businesses and private homes in towns and villages of impacted areas;
— ensure that local authorities have sufficient autonomy to facilitate the removal of silt or other obstructions, including but not limited to, over-hanging trees and branches along rivers, due to their destructive impact on flooding and consequentially on homes and businesses;
— increase the threshold of the Minor Flood Mitigation Works and Coastal Protection funding scheme, available to local authorities, from €750,000 (maximum currently) to €1 million for each project and to fast-track the processing of applications in order to alleviate the current delays associated with progressing valid submissions under the programme's economic, social and environmental criteria;
— urgently fast-track and deliver the development of the planned 150 flood relief schemes that form part of the Government’s €1 billion investment in flood relief over the lifetime of the National Development Plan to 2027, provide an annual review or update to Dáil Éireann on the implementation of the investment programme, in order to secure accountability, assess implementation and keep all impacted local citizens and communities fully up to date;
— immediately introduce a ‘ring-fenced’ current and capital funding scheme for each local authority to increase roadside operatives (employees) and contractors, with the requisite capital allocations to clear, sustain and maintain drains, gulleys, dykes and water courses;
— immediately introduce a ‘ring-fenced’ budget to each local authority to allow for cutting back road-side verges, hedges, and fences in rural communities, in the interests of flood risk prevention and road user public safety;
— immediately introduce a proper compensation package for businesses and homeowners negatively impacted with property damage or destroyed by flooding, as the current humanitarian-aid scheme omits private homes and businesses with insurance, despite some businesses having to cover their own excess of up to €10,000 per annum;
— immediately apply (as applications must be received by the Commission within 12 weeks of the date of the first damage caused by the event) for emergency funding under the multi-billion-euro EUSF to support Irish regions impacted by recent flooding across the country;
— intensify efforts to collate data on Ireland’s flooding crisis, as continuing to blame it on climate change alone is much too simplistic and idle a policy, given that across Europe, rivers are drying up in some areas, and also getting stronger, with more forceful currents in others;
— immediately increase the number of staff available to the OPW and other relevant bodies tasked with ensuring adequate levels of drainage, flood management and prevention;
— ensure the OPW carries out programmed maintenance on rivers and streams to prevent the build-up from trees, rubbish and other such debris;
— immediately critically review and publish the effectiveness of the strategies adopted by the Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management (CFRAM) Programme, the Flood Risk Management Plans (FRMPs) and the Shannon Flood Risk State Agency Co-ordination Working Group for the reduction of flood risk, publish the findings and determine whether a new single authority is needed to address issues on the Shannon (currently the OPW and the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) manages dams such as Parteen weir, while the North-South body, known as Waterways Ireland have responsibility for the rivers);
— implement significant reforms of regulations governing hedge and vegetation cutting,specifically where these materially impact the capacity of local authorities, landowners or farmers to manage and reduce flooding risks;
— put in place preventative measures for when tides are dangerously high and adopt a revised Coastal Zone Management Policy that is more integrated and more forward looking than is currently the case;
— undertake a programme to cut trees and roadside hedges along power lines, to prevent them falling onto power lines during storms, which has been shown to cause major power outages for prolonged periods;
— explore, and where possible, encourage the use of river dredging as part of a suite of measures to reduce the risk of flooding, due to the bed of silt, or clay, lying at the bottom of some rivers that has a significant impact on the water levels;
— end the short-term, stop-gap approach, to flood insurance immediately, and move to a more sustainable flood insurance approach by:
— significantly increasing efforts to address the underlying risks now and in the future, as this will help to ensure the affordability and availability of insurance; and
— increase transparency and provide clarity to citizens and stakeholders so that insurance companies cannot hide behind inaccurate, market-fixing or unsubstantiated data by implementing sanctions on such providers;
— prioritise the availability of insurance for homes and businesses adversely affected by flooding or heavy rains;
— allow farmers and landowners take the build-up of gravel and silt out of rivers as previously carried out by farmers over many generations;
— allow farmers and landowners to remove branches or trees from rivers or streams, at any time of year, without the threat of any prosecution for doing so;
— urgently proceed with clearing the remainder of the Flesk and Laune rivers, to protect the safety of residents and businesses in Killarney and Killorglin, together with similar works to be carried out on the Maine and Gweestin rivers in mid-Kerry and Castleisland areas; and
— expediate significant capital allocations to at risk towns across the country, such as Kenmare and Bantry, for flood remediation measures, while also ensuring short-term alleviation measures, such as clearing out under all bridges, occurs.
I thank Mairéad McGrath and Brian Ó Domhnaill for their help in putting together this motion and my Independent colleagues for allowing it to be put forward. Flooding is hitting every area but in recent months west Cork has been savaged by severe floods that have cost tens of thousands of euro of damage to property. My Independent colleagues agreed to this motion, but I can assure the House that in places like Kerry, Tipperary, Limerick and Offaly, flooding is equally relevant.
I take this opportunity to also thank the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, for visiting west Cork on numerous occasions, once taking time out from a family holiday to do so. The floods struck at a time of the year when nobody expected them and the Minister of State took time away from his family break to visit west Cork. That was greatly appreciated and I welcomed the opportunity to accompany him at that time as there were issues of concern in west Cork, other than the serious flooding issue, that needed to be discussed. I also thank the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, for visiting west Cork to see private and businesses properties that had been destroyed and to engage with the community. I am, however, somewhat disappointed - given his responsibility for public expenditure and reform - that no proper funding was put in place following that visit because he did see first hand the devastation to businesses, be it in Rosscarbery, Skibbereen, Rathbarry, Connonagh, Leap, Bantry or Bandon. The humanitarian aid was the best package available. I will comment further on that later. All of the ministerial visits to west Cork were important for us, as public representatives, and for members of the public, who welcomed the opportunity to air their serious concerns.
We hear about floods being an act of God. Some people say that they are related to global warming. In many cases, flooding occurs due to pure and utter neglect. We often also hear that flooding occurs once in every 100 years. As many areas in west Cork were flooded on two occasions in the space of a month or two, all of those reasons go out the window. Global warming gets the blame for many issues and it gets governments throughout the world off the hook. I have met many of the groups involved in this area. I met them with the Minister and I also met individuals in places like Rosscarbery and so on. Rivers need to be cleared out and laws need to be changed to allow the local authorities to do that work, particularly in the Rosscarbery area. In regard to Skibbereen, the Minister of State saw at first hand the business and private residences beside the Eldon Hotel and Cahalane's Bar that were destroyed. While that project had been allocated a great deal of funding it was not finished. At the end of the day, the issue was that a culvert had not been opened because it could not be opened. There were red alerts issued and council staff were not allowed out to work. This was about rainwater, not roofs falling down onto the street. Unfortunately, businesses like the Eldon Hotel were destroyed. To date, those businesses have not received any funding. The same applies in respect of other businesses along the route in question.
Businesses are being hit by the Covid pandemic and by flooding. West Cork has been truly hit in recent times. I recently visited Rathbarry and I met many local people who told me that they believed the area was being flooded because there were no workers clearing roadside drains, culverts and so on. Drains and culverts fill up with muck and dirt that needs to be cleared out. The local people believe that the cause of this is the savage ripping up of roads. The same situation applies on the Glandore Road. In Connonagh and Leap, the people told me the issue is silt in the river. Some people refer to it as muck but it is properly known as silt.
It is simply that the rivers were not cleaned out. The houses were flooded on two or three occasions. The flooding went up to 4 ft, 5 ft or 6 ft in people's homes. That is nothing short of neglect.
Bantry has been struck twice in recent times, most recently a week and half ago. When I was in the back of the car as a child, my father regularly had to move the car to stop the flood water from coming in when we were around Bantry because it would destroy the car. We are now in 2020 and it is the same story. The Office of Public Works, OPW, is saying that a major amount of work needs to be done. At the end of the day, the works are not being carried out. If the works are not being carried out, the flooding continues. We will go down and there will be another flood and another announcement. It does not make any difference. The bottom line is that people’s businesses and homes are being destroyed because works that need to be carried out are not being done. Some of this work is quite simple but more of it may need a big investment. Areas like Bantry and Skibbereen deserve investment. I respect that there is investment going into Bandon. I know there was an issue with flooding there again this year because some of the works have not been completed. Money has gone into Skibbereen. There is no point announcing moneys for an area if it ends up being flooded again. We have proven that in Skibbereen. As I have said, the culvert was the biggest issue there and it destroyed many properties. There was little or no compensation.
This has been going on for many years. In my time in the council in west Cork, I tried to get the river in Ballylickey cleared out. It completely destroyed the homes there. The people living along that line are terrified. That was in 2014. We are now in 2020. I have been listening to promises since 2014 that the river in Ballylickey will be cleaned out. Apparently, it is on the verge of getting some funding. As things stand, when major bad weather forecasts are coming, I get phone calls from the residents down there. I took the former Minister of State, Kevin Boxer Moran, and Shep the dog down to see the houses there. Nothing happened. It was not good enough. They sat him inside in their kitchens and showed him pictures of how far up the walls of their houses the flooding had come, but nothing happened.
The bottom line in most cases is that rivers need cleaning. It is a simple thing. In this situation we desperately need more roadside workers. It is the only way we are going to get our water tables cleared. Do we have to go back in time if we want to go ahead in this country? When we had plenty of roadside workers, none of these issues were arising. We can go back to global warming but that is the bottom line. The people in Connonagh told me that when they cleaned out the river years ago, there was no problem whatsoever. The same thing happened in Ballylickey in the 1960s. They cleared out the river once. They do not have to go at it every year, but it needs to be done once every ten or 15 years. We decided to put in place laws and everything else to leave things as they are. Unfortunately, people end up losing significant amounts of money and property, and businesses end up being closed down. The OPW needs to have the rivers cleaned of the silt, the gravel, the muck, the branches and the trees. Farmers must be allowed to do this. It might be an opportunity for farmers because they are the landowners who are living with the rivers on the side of their own ground. They should be allowed to clean out those rivers. There should be no time limit or any kind of environmental excuse to stop people from doing this.
I spoke last night with representatives of businesses in Skibbereen who did not get humanitarian aid. Every sort of excuse has been given. If one has insurance, or if one has a private house, one will not get humanitarian aid. I have dealt with people who had no insurance because they could not afford to insure their properties, and they have been refused humanitarian aid. In my view, for every ten humanitarian aid forms that are given out, just one or two applicants get it. There needs to be a stand-alone package for people in the communities of Bantry, Skibbereen, Rathbarry and Rosscarbery whose homes have been destroyed. Such a package would at least enable them to access some funds to repair the damage that has been done to their properties. I ask the Minister of State to look into this because the humanitarian aid scheme is not working.