I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this very important issue. A very serious situation has arisen as a result of the continually rising waters of Lough Funshinagh in County Roscommon, with three homes and farmyards under imminent threat of flooding. There is a risk to a total of seven homes and six farmyards due to the elevated levels of this turlough. As of 4 January 2021, levels are 1.75 m higher than on the same date last year, which was itself a record level. The bulk of the winter rainfall has yet to come. In normal circumstances, the level of water in this former turlough does not peak until March each year. As a result, families who are already being impacted by Covid-19 restrictions are under additional untold psychological pressure as the flood waters outside their doors inch closer and closer.
After my appointment as a Minister in the previous Government, I engaged the Geological Survey of Ireland, GSI, to assess exactly what was happening with this turlough. The GSI completed a very detailed hydrogeological analysis of Lough Funshinagh. It is now imperative that a comprehensive review of the GSI work is carried out to incorporate the current situation, thus providing revised flood maps to take into account the fact that this turlough is now rising year on year and properties which would not have been considered to be under threat up to now, based on the original assessment, are now incorporated into this re-evaluation, due to the changing hydrology of the area. It was clear from the study that the turlough would not rectify itself and as a result, working with the former Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Kevin Boxer Moran, I ensured that funding was provided to Roscommon County Council to appoint consultants to conduct a comprehensive analysis of potential solutions to address the flooding situation within the catchment of Lough Funshinagh. The consultant's report was published last September and indicated that the cost-benefit assessment did not justify the construction of an outlet for the excess water. However, the situation has changed dramatically since then, with the unimaginable prospect that this year could see all previous flood record levels broken. As a result, there must now be a complete review of the original cost-benefit analysis for the overflow pipe from Lough Funshinagh to Lough Ree. Such a review should not be completed in advance of the aforementioned revised mapping exercise based on the GSI data or the development by the Office of Public Works, OPW, of a revised cost-benefit analysis mechanism that clearly reflects the unique challenges of turlough flooding which is not accounted for in the current cost-benefit analysis.
Also required is the reopening of the voluntary home relocation scheme; the establishment of a voluntary farmyard relocation scheme as agreed by Cabinet in 2016; specific funding provisions to help address the farming challenges within the catchment of the lough arising from the dramatic change in water levels including, at the very minimum, a mechanism to allow famers, as a force majeure measure, to start their basic payment scheme entitlements; and the complete reassessment by the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, of the special area of conservation, SAC, and national heritage area, NHA, designations in light of the permanent flooding of the turlough that has caused the destruction of all trees, shrubs and grassland as well as the rare plants in the area which, together, gave the turlough its unique status as an SAC and NHA designated area.
We need a comprehensive assessment and a long-term solution to this problem. We cannot, under any circumstances, continue in a piecemeal fashion, relocating one or two properties every year until the existing community is completely relocated.