Business of Joint Committee.

I ask everybody to turn off their mobile telephones during the meeting and not just put them on silent because they interfere with the microphones.

The first item on the agenda concerns the minutes of the meeting of 12 January 2010, which have been circulated. Are they agreed? Agreed.

The next item is correspondence. I will go through the items of correspondence which have been received since the last committee meeting. The first item is document No. 2010/711, the GLOBE international newsletter, which we note.

The next item is 2010/712, a list of decisions taken by the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny, which we will note.

The next item is 2010/713 from Senator Denis O'Donovan regarding a request that the committee's forthcoming visit to Cork would include Bandon and Skibbereen. We will come to the Cork visit as part of travel, which is our next item on the agenda. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The next item is 2010/714, a request for the forthcoming visit to Cork to include a presentation on the proposed solution from Paudie Barry, engineering surveyor. We will discuss that.

Item 2010/715 is a list of bodies in the Emergency Response Committee. We will note that list for the moment and will invite a couple of those groups to the committee after our visit to Cork.

The next item, 2010/716, is the European Knowledge Network newsletter, which we note.

The next item is the water industry's water link international, which is a newsletter from that organisation.

The next item is from the Cork city manager regarding the flooding crisis. There is a report from Cork City Council, which we will note. We will discuss it as part of the proposed visit to Cork.

The next item is further documentation from Paudie Barry, engineering surveyor, which we will discuss as part of our proposed visit to Cork.

I refer to the other circulars issued to local authorities since our last meeting. The first is SHIP 2010/1, concerning commencement of Part 3 regarding the Housing Act — incremental purchase scheme. Next is SHIP 2010/2, concerning access to social housing for Bulgarian and Romanian nationals. This may be relevant for some people in their constituency work. Then we have WP 1/2010, waste from the extractive industries, to which a statutory instrument refers; WP 12/2009 regarding food waste; WP 2/2010, concerning waste management infrastructure and landfill remediation scheme; LGO1/2010 concerning the nomination of the Irish delegation for the EU Committee of the Regions; and PSSP 01/2010 concerning a code of practice for waste water for single houses. We should hold that one over because that issue concerns the EPA. A delegation from the EPA already appeared before the committee to discuss waste water treatment for single houses and I am aware the issue already has been raised in the local authorities where it will give rise to some discussion. We called for an overall standard in this regard. The circular is included in this group of circulars issued to local authorities, but I suggest we hold it over for further discussion as correspondence at our next meeting. Some people will be happy with the code of practice, but we will discuss the matter the next day. We will not need to bring anybody in from outside, but members may wish to make observations.

The next matter concerns statutory instruments that have been issued recently: SI 540/2009, Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 is a commencement order; SI 562/2009, Housing (Incremental Purchase) Regulations 2009; SI 556/2009, Waste Management (Management of Waste from the Extractive Industries (Regulations) 2009; SI 508/2009, Waste Management (Food Waste) Regulations 2009; and Statutory Instruments 496 and 550 Order and Regulations, which we are all aware commenced on 1 January. This is the notification for local authorities. We note all these items.

The next matter is the annual report. A draft annual report has been circulated to members and a draft work programme. The report is a routine document and contains a summary of everything we did last year, including all the meetings we held and the reports we issued. The draft work programme is a standard work programme dealing with all the headings under our committee. Some members have added suggestions. I make it clear that we are free to add to the work programme as the year progresses. I suggest we formally approve the annual report and work programme.

I propose we approve them.

I second that proposal.

Is it agreed? Agreed.

We move on now to travel proposals and the proposed visit to Cork. A draft proposal has been circulated to members. We received requests to deal with two issues in Cork, local democracy and flooding. The proposed date for dealing with the democracy issue is Thursday evening, 4 February. We propose that the meeting dealing with the flooding issue be held on Friday, 5 February so that we can deal with the meeting in UCC on Thursday evening and then commence the meeting on flooding early on Friday. These dates have been agreed with City Hall in Cork and arrangements are being made to bring us out to Iniscarra dam. Is it agreed we go ahead with this programme on Friday, 5 February?

Will the Chairman clarify the times and dates again?

Thursday, 4 February and Friday, 5 February.

Is it the evening of Thursday?

The meeting is at 7.30 p.m on Thursday, in Cork. The committee clerk will circulate details of transport options so that members can arrange travel.

Why was it decided to visit Cork when there was flooding in other areas also?

People felt that the flooding in Cork city, particularly as related to the Iniscarra dam, seemed to have caused the biggest single problem. We are aware there was flooding in every county. We could go to every county, but at previous meetings here people felt that particular problems arose in Cork. It remains to be established whether the dam was relevant to that. Cork city as a major urban area where people were affected seemed to have the biggest problem and it was agreed we would visit Cork. We will not visit all 26 counties and members should not even think we should.

I totally disagree that we should go to Cork, because the midlands have been very badly hit by flooding. My constituents would think little of me if I headed off to Cork and neglected their interests. I want their interests put on the same level as those of the people of Cork. I have evidence with me today of the serious flooding across the midlands, including in counties Longford and Westmeath. The situation is serious. I would appreciate it if the committee could see its way to meeting the people in the midland counties, the mayors of Longford, Westmeath, Laois, Offaly and Roscommon to discuss the situation. We have been calling for the past five or six years for the setting up of a River Shannon authority to manage the River Shannon, which is the cause of the problem. We have been given commitment after commitment by successive governments over the past 15 years, but nothing has been done. A public meeting organised by the IFA in Athlone was attended by approximately 800 people last Sunday evening. The anger vented at that meeting was unbelievable. I cannot blame the people for their anger. Some of their homes were flooded to a depth of eight feet. If we decide to meet one local authority, we must afford that opportunity to other local authorities. I will not go to Cork. Instead, I will attend a meeting with the mayors and county managers of the midland counties. I hope the Chairman, as a Deputy from the midlands, will see his way to accommodating these people. I would very much appreciate it if that were to happen. I have the evidence.

This is the first time Deputy Bannon has refused to travel. The same plea could be made for Galway, so I will not repeat it.

I have the same photographs for Laois.

In the same vein, if the committee is to meet the people from the areas affected, as suggested by Deputy Bannon, it should meet someone from each group.

What does the Senator mean by one from each group?

From each group represented on the local authorities. If it is to meet management and the cathaoirleach of each authority, it would be as well to meet someone from each group also.

I do not know what members think of that. We said we would have a meeting on the issue. Perhaps we will have an opportunity to meet representatives and sitting county managers when an overall report is being done. Perhaps a representative from each of the regional bodies could agree to come here to make a brief presentation on some occasion in February. Perhaps some mechanism such as that could deal with the issue.

We need some mechanism that will include people from other counties.

We will allocate a date for that.

I agree, we cannot meet people affected by flooding in each of the 26 counties. I could bring people from Carlow, but I will not do that. I understand the areas we are discussing, Cork and the Shannon area, are the places that suffered most.

Would it be appropriate to invite a representative from the regional authority?

I do not think they have enough teeth. I served on a regional authority for nearly 12 years and they have no teeth. We need to invite the mayors and managers of the respective local authorities to a meeting.

Maybe we should deal with that proposal next week.

We will try to work out a proposal that will meet with representative groups from some of the different regions. We will deal with that proposal at our next meeting and arrange for that in February. We have already agreed to meet a few groups, not only from Cork. The committee is not in a position to travel. The Cork visit is just to see an example of what happened.

What will the committee do in Cork?

The draft schedule is as follows. People will arrive in Cork on Thursday evening. We will have a meeting in City Hall at 8.30 a.m. on Friday. We will meet the city and county managers, who will speak for their local authorities, and representatives of the Office of Public Works. The purpose of that meeting will be to receive a brief from officials before we commence our public visits on the day.

A request has been received from Mr. Paudie Barry, an engineering surveyor who is endorsed by the Cork city manager. He will present a proposal to us. He has carried out a detailed assessment of water levels in the region.

It is proposed to visit Inniscarra dam, which is approximately ten miles from Cork city. The ESB is to arrange a lunch. There is to be a visit to a badly flooded area and, in this regard, the county manager recommends Bandon. It is hoped an OPW engineer will be able to act as a tour guide. We said we would meet people from the badly affected area of Middle Parish. There is a strong request to go to west Cork also. We can talk about whether all the visits can be made on the Friday.

I will not attend the meeting. I will not take a free dinner from the ESB because it is responsible for what happened on the River Shannon. I request that the members do not take a free dinner from the ESB.

The draft itinerary was agreed on the last occasion. My town, Fermoy, was badly flooded. I do not want to appear extravagant or to tear the plans apart but I cannot understand why the members cannot visit Fermoy on their way, talk to the people and see the state of the river. For generations, the River Blackwater has been flooding the whole of north Cork. I make my remarks in support of the residents, businesspeople and shop owners of Fermoy who were flooded.

If members of this committee only visit Cork city, it will be like what occurs in respect of Dublin. When the thaw hit Dublin, there was no thought put into the plight of those down the country. If the members visit Cork city, they should most definitely visit Skibbereen and Clonakilty also.

What is the timetable?

There were three serious floods in Skibbereen in the space of three or four weeks and the people have been affected seriously. They will feel absolutely let down by the committee if it does not fit in a visit to them. We do not have to stay in the town for two or three hours but should visit it nevertheless.

To show concern.

Yes, if it is possible to visit it on the way.

I do not want to be tearing the backside out of the agenda and understand there is a tight schedule. However, Fermoy isen route and has taken a fair battering from flooding. The circumstances there are similar to those in the area described by Deputy O’Sullivan.

Deputy O'Sullivan says we should definitely try to visit Skibbereen.

Skibbereen and Bandon are all on the N71, although one could be delayed for a long time at present because of the conditions on that road.

There is correspondence from Senator O'Donovan.

I am glad Deputy O'Sullivan is present today. I support him because the flooding in Skibbereen has been exceptional. This day a week ago, when we had a meeting, the Army, the Civil Defence and council were sandbagging all the properties in a very co-ordinated and good fashion. The town has been hit four times in six weeks. Bearing in mind that towns such as Fermoy and Mallow were flooded also, a major flood plan for Skibbereen must be produced and implemented. The Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Mansergh, visited the area last week at the request of Deputy O'Sullivan and said some preliminary works will be done. The authorities in Bandon – good luck to it – have been given a major injection of funding with which to proceed with a flood plan. Skibbereen has not received funding and that is why I am saying it is exceptional. Properties have been flooded there four times and businesses have been destroyed. They were flooded on new year's eve and the town was basically deserted by shoppers and others over Christmas and the new year. I support Deputy O'Sullivan's contention that Skibbereen should be visited, if at all possible. Of all the towns in Cork, it is the one with no major flood plan. There is great concern that if there is another flood——

How long will it take to get there?

It is approximately 75 minutes from Inniscarra, which is being visited at lunch time.

Each way.

I would be willing to go, but perhaps not every member of the committee. Is it feasible to do what we propose for Friday and travel to Skibbereen in the evening?

It is about an hour and a quarter to Skibbereen. If there is to be a choice between visiting Bandon and Skibbereen, we can discuss it in a moment. Our itinerary involves a visit to Cork City Hall, where we are to meet the managers of both local authorities, followed by a visit to the ESB premises. It would make more sense to visit the Middle Parish in the morning because we will be driving past it. We would then be finished in the city and this would give us time. The worst situation we could be in would involve trying to get out of a meeting with people in west Cork at 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. and then experiencing heavy traffic in Cork at 4.30 p.m., thus not being able to have a timeframe for the return visit to the city. I suggest that we visit the Middle Parish in the morning, thus giving us flexibility in west Cork in the afternoon.

Fine. We might not get back. Some members may have to stay on Friday evening if the visit runs very late.

There is no point in half doing the job if we visit. We must show solidarity with all the towns and areas affected.

With a view to looking after the eastern end of Cork, I have sympathy with Fermoy, which I know has suffered flooding over the years. Would it not be possible to visit it on the way on Thursday evening?

Some members might travel by train.

I knew I would solve it for Deputy O'Keeffe.

Some members, if not all, may be able to go to Fermoy. Some might only make it by Friday morning.

Yes. They could visit at 4 p.m. or 4.30 p.m.

We will try to agree to have as many members as possible visit Fermoy on the way to Cork city. Not every member has to be present on every single step of the journey. On Friday morning, we will do our business with all the groups in Cork city and in the afternoon or evening we will be free to head to west Cork. Perhaps not everybody will choose to go to west Cork, although as many delegates as possible should do so.

That is fair enough. Could I be provided with a copy of the itinerary when it is ready because I am not a member of the committee?

Absolutely. We will notify all Oireachtas Members from Cork and invite them to join us.

Bandon, Clonakilty and Skibbereen are all on the N71.

It does not matter. It will be after dark when we get there but we can meet the groups.

Has this committee any plans to bring the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government before it? He does not seem to understand the seriousness of the circumstances or that Ireland extends beyond the Pale of Dublin. His remarks on television have been ridiculous. Local authorities nationally are starved of finances. It is important that we invite the Ministers for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Transport to a meeting of this committee at the earliest opportunity to ensure proper funding is put in place to deal with the problems caused by the floods and the recent heavy frost.

We said there will be further meetings after the visit to Cork and we will produce a report. We can create a list of people to invite before the committee at its next meeting.

I will be very brief. I would not like to believe we all concur with Deputy Bannon's comments on the ESB. It is a very good organisation and has employed many over the years. The CEO is a Kildare man and is very honourable and decent. Several of my constituents work with the ESB and its hospitality is very welcome. We accepted a cup of coffee or tea from the Dublin Port Authority. That is all we will get and it is unfair that Deputy Bannon should make such remarks about the ESB.

I listened to a representative of the ESB at a meeting in Athlone last Sunday evening. He believes the ESB does not need the facilities of the River Shannon. However, it has caused serious flooding of the River Shannon down through the years. There is no proper regulation in place and the ESB is the dominant authority in that waterway. I believe it has a lot to answer for, although I stand to be corrected in this regard. I have no animosity towards any individual who works for the ESB. However, the ESB as a unit is not doing its job.

During last week's meeting I made the point to the regulator of the new committee that we should have a river authority and asked for his view in that regard. However, he did not give his view on the matter. That proposal is in line with the suggestion made by Deputy Bannon. I understand that before the foundation of the State there existed in this country one river authority. We now have, in some instances, up to seven authorities running affairs in respect of our rivers. However, this responsibility is, in the main, that of the ESB, the fisheries board and the OPW. It appears nobody is accepting responsibility for anything.

We must move on.

There are 40 groups that have vested interests in the River Shannon.

Yes. We must finalise our itinerary. Members agreed that the joint committee should visit UCC for the electoral reform meeting on Thursday, 4 February. Perhaps members will indicate to the clerk if they are available to travel. I understand Deputy Ned O'Keeffe will be in Cork.

I will be in Fermoy.

Perhaps Deputy Fitzpatrick will indicate if he is available for that visit.

Perhaps the Deputy will contact the clerk on the matter. I will ask the secretariat to contact members regarding their availability for the visit. We will flesh out the exact details of it at a later date.

Sitting suspended at 4.02 p.m. and resumed at 4.05 p.m.