Senator McGowan was in possession. He has four minutes.
Arterial Drainage (Amendment) Bill, 1995: Second Stage (Resumed).
I welcome the Minister back to the House. I hope his experience in the House will be helpful to his political career. I wish to tell the Leader of the House that, contrary to press speculation, there has been no attempt by the Fianna Fáil Party to use this Bill to test or to defeat the Government. That has never been discussed in this party and there is no substance in such speculation. Although the newspapers have highlighted this aspect of the Bill, Senator Daly is sufficiently experienced to draft a Bill that should command the support of the House. We know enough about administration to realise that the Government could accept this Bill but snooker it thereafter. The general public is concerned about this Bill and will monitor how it is dealt with by the Government and the Minister. The Minister supports and accepts the Bill. However, he will not have an easy time with it and we understand that he has a difficult job to do.
Last week we had an exhaustive debate on flooding. It is an insult to those who have suffered serious losses to see the Minister being photographed for newspapers and television and implying, in a sense, that such photographs will contribute to solving drainage problems in this country. To talk about what local authorities should do to solve drainage problems is totally insincere. As a member of a local authority who has a keen interest in drainage problems, I am aware that local authorities have no funding to provide the services demanded of them not to mention embarking on tackling the drainage problem. In fact, the local authority in my county has undertaken maintenance of some rivers which have been drained. However, it is difficult to understand why local authorities should be obliged to carry out maintenance work on drainage because there is no allocation of funding for such work from the Minister for the Environment.
To go on television and give the nation the impression that £2 million will solve the problem is an insult. The entire nation is watching the Government's response to this serious national problem.
The Senator has less than one minute left.
I would like to have more time because four minutes is not sufficient to discuss this matter. This Bill was introduced by a Senator with ministerial experience who is a native of rural Ireland. It has been accepted for debate in the Seanad in order to prevent hassle and make life easy for the Government parties in this House. That is not the perception that should be given to the public. The Government parties should be sincere. They can waffle as much as they wish when the Bill is passed. My impression is that the Government will accept the Bill and let it die a natural death thereafter. I appeal to the Minister not to do that. He would be better off lighting a bliss candle than adopting such tactics. The people will not accept them as a sincere and honest attempt to deal with this problem.
The Minister must not be blown off course in dealing with this important issue. It affects every section of the community and every local authority in Ireland. Look at the money we are paying the unemployed throughout Ireland, whether in Tallaght, in Dublin or in Burtonport in Donegal. We are spending millions of pounds every week paying people not to work. There must be a positive approach to the flooding problem. This Bill is an opportunity for the Government to demonstrate its sincerity and commitment to this problem.
I welcome the Minister on his fourth or fifth visit to the House and, to use a bad pun, I hope he is not too drained by the experience. This Bill gives me an opportunity to discuss flooding, an opportunity I missed last week when statements were made on the problem.
We can adopt three approaches to the problem of flooding. We must adopt a short term solution and we must look at medium and long term solutions. In the short term it cannot be denied that the country has experienced flooding which has not been recorded as so bad in living memory. When Senator Fahey and Senator Finneran, who are immediately affected by the problems in their areas, can record incidents and illustrate cases, it is no longer an academic exercise. It is an issue which is very real and close to the hearts of both Senators and credit must be given for the manner in which they spoke on these matters yesterday evening.
There must be an element of compensation for those who have suffered in the recent flooding. Large businesses and farms have been affected and in his speech to the House the Minister indicated the ways and means by which compensation can be obtained. There should be no bureaucratic delay in providing the compensation as it has been earmarked in the budget and elsewhere. In addition, all speed should be made in helping those overcome the problems which they face here and now.
There is a danger that, faced with the massive problems which exist and in attempting to overcome the genuine worries which people have, we rush ahead and adopt measures which have dangerous consequences for the future. We should therefore have a medium and a long term strategy to consider the problem of drainage. For example, a medium term strategy would be the immediate undertaking of a hydrographical survey of the south County Galway area — a measure which the Minister referred to in his speech to the House — to ascertain the nature of the problem and establish the efforts required to ensure that if there are heavy rains again next year, the problem will not be repeated. In addition, Senator Fahey indicated that short term measures can be taken over the summer and into the autumn to ensure that the problems will not recur this time next year. Similar measures should also be taken on other areas of flooding throughout the country.
It does not say much for our efficiency as a nation that the areas which were flooded in 1994 were flooded again in 1995 and we are none the wiser as to the exact reasons why this should have happened. I refer especially the south County Galway area, because in other areas — for example, the Mulcair — the causes are not unknown and the problem must therefore be addressed on a long term basis.
By long term I mean that we must examine the whole concept of drainage in the country. For example, I understand Senator Finneran has argued that the use of heavy machinery on agricultural land has resulted in the collapse of many of the fragile earth drains — especially in areas where the soil is very muddy — which were put down over the last few centuries. With the co-operation of the farmer's associations and Teagasc, there should be an awakening of interest by farmers in the concept of drainage and maintaining existing drains. There is no doubt that throughout Ireland much of the drainage from and within farms has not been given the same priority which it had in previous centuries. Perhaps younger farmers, in the rush to modernise their farmlands, have removed ditches and dykes for the purposes of joining fields, but in the process valuable dykes and drains have been covered over and inadequately cared for.
Likewise any farmer with a small river running through his land should ensure that he takes care of it and, if it is not already, work such as this should be covered under the REPS scheme. In addition, small rivers and streams should be considered as valuable parts of our heritage and environment in the same way as ring forts or any other such environmental object.
Many problems would not arise if everybody took care of their own stretch of river. However, the problem in Ireland is that we have a tendency to turn our backs on our rivers and there are very few towns which look onto a river. In our town two streets are unusual in that they face onto a river, but there is another older street where people's back gardens back onto the river and from there I have seen my neighbours pitch rubbish bags into the river. This does not cause an immediate problem for them, but it does so further down the river when the plastic bags and rubbish build up and add to the debris in the river. Plastic bags and the like are difficult to break down as they are not biodegradable and in consequence they mount up, causing blockages and preventing drainage from other areas into the river.
Awareness of the river as a thing of beauty, a source of income from the viewpoint of fishing and as a living thing is something which should be fostered. If we took more care of the small rivers, the problems which we face in the larger rivers would not be so big. For example, Senator Enright and Senator Finneran spoke of the problems with silt entering the Shannon from the Bord na Móna works. If Bord na Móna is responsible for a half of the Shannon silting up, efforts should be made to ensure that waters running through Bord na Móna lands should be filtered in some way to ensure that they do not carry masses of silt into the Shannon and clog it. It is as much the responsibility of a big organisation such as Bord na Móna not to clog up rivers as for an individual farmer.
The Mulcair area has demanded attention on an ongoing basis. In a previous debate, Senator R. Kiely said that we were fortunate in County Limerick in that first the Deal and then the Maigue were drained. The effect of this on people living in both areas has been phenomenal and the relief from flooding has been much appreciated by communities along the banks of both rivers. I spoke last week to a man who worked on the drainage of the Maigue and, while work was ongoing, tests were undertaken on the Mulcair which was the next river to be drained; but policy changed and the river was not drained. It seems unlikely that the entire basin of the Mulcair will be drained because the criteria for the drainage of rivers have changed somewhat, which is a pity.
There are around 163,000 square acres of farmland in the area, 20,000 of which are subject to primary flooding and 60,000 to secondary flooding. As we now have an agricultural quota system, it is argued that this land could not be used if it was drained. However, those living there are more concerned about savings. Savings of up to £4 million could be made, even with the same quota system, because they could farm more economically. These figures were produced by Moore Park and various consultants engaged by the Mulcair drainage co-operative committee.
This committee has been in existence since 1980 and has monthly meetings. The co-operation of all the farmers in the area is assured. They realise that a whole arterial scheme cannot be put in place in the Mulcair but they are very anxious for some drainage work to be done there. It could start at the mouth of the river where it joins the Shannon and work upriver. It does not have to be done this summer but over a period of time. It will not cost the Exchequer millions of pounds if it is done on a regular, systematic, piecemeal basis.
Piecemeal work has been done on the Mulcair but it has never been followed through and there has been no continuity of the work done. The banks of the river were cleaned a few years ago, for example, which helped to prevent the town of Cappamore from being flooded. However, that work was not continued with the result that the banks became overgrown again and the town of Cappamore was flooded.
I am sure that the Minister of State has heard stories from other Senators about the trauma which people have had to suffer in the area. I heard of a woman cyclist who almost drowned in flood water where the banks of the river broke and water flooded onto the road. She fell off her bicycle and broke her hip which meant that she could not get out of the flood water. A passing farmer spotted bubbles coming from what he thought was a bundle of blankets in the middle of the water and rescued her. That is probably an unusual story but it indicates that when the banks of a river — and some of the banks of the Mulcair are ten feet high — break, the water cascades down and can have that effect on people going about their ordinary, everyday lives. The Dutch were worried about mouse holes and rat holes in their dykes. In the valley of the Mulcair, where there are ample supplies of other wildlife such as otters and foxes, the holes can be much larger and the danger of a breach in the banks is therefore far greater.
With regard to Senator Daly's Bill, there can be no doubt that the 1945 Act was in need of amendment in that drainage works could only be undertaken on a whole river. I compliment Senator Daly on taking the initiative to table this Bill. The Minister of State's predecessor, Deputy Dempsey, had been looking at this in the Department. Regardless of who initiated the Bill, the 1945 Act had to be amended to allow the type of piecemeal work to which I referred.
However, I am somewhat concerned about certain aspects of the Bill. Section 3 states:
The Commissioners shall, when constructing drainage or flood protection works, take such precautions and make such provisions as the Minister for the Marine and the Environmental Protection Agency may consider adequate for the protection of ...
That is right, but it should be expanded somewhat. There are often areas of great heritage value on the banks of rivers, such as ring forts, monasteries and churches as settlements were often built at the confluence of rivers. Those areas would also be in danger if they were not sensitively handled when drainage work was being carried out and I would like to see that aspect of the Bill strengthened. I know that that element of protection comes under the Heritage Council Bill but this section of this Bill should be strengthened to include heritage areas.
I am also concerned about section 5. As I said earlier, I am not against the concept of compensating people for disasters such as major flooding. However, the criteria for compensation are not defined in section 5, although perhaps they were in the original Act which I have not read — I will get a slap on the wrist for that. Section 3 refers to "localised flooding of lands, water courses, coastal and estuarine incursions, including urban lands". When I was away on holidays during the summer my front room was flooded by a flash flood. Leaves had blocked a drain and the water flew in the back door, through our front room and out the front door. Our house would be termed "urban lands" as we live in a town and, under section 5, I could apply to the Minister for compensation. However, I was compensated by my insurance company.
I cannot see in the Bill where the Minister and the public purse have been safeguarded from people such as me with occasional flooding which could be compensated elsewhere by insurance companies. People should only be paid compensation which they cannot get elsewhere. There is only so much public money to go around and if everybody who suffered any type of flooding was to appeal to the Minister for funding, the country would be even more broke than it is at present. Section 5 would have to be enormously strengthened before I would be happy with it.
There is no doubt that there is an urgent problem that needs an immediate solution. I urge the Minister to ensure that whatever compensation is necessary is paid quickly. If people's livelihoods are at stake they need to feel confident that they can pick up the pieces again. We need to examine solutions to the problem in the medium term, but we also need to look at the long term aspects of drainage and all its features. This must be a Government priority.
I am delighted to have another opportunity to address the problem of flooding. This is not a localised problem, although many people would have one believe that the only problems are in rural areas in the west, the Shannon basin or the Mulcair. The problem of flooding extends throughout the country. The extent of recent flooding has highlighted the fact that in recent years the incidence of flooding has dramatically increased throughout the country.
I am delighted Senator Daly went to great trouble to examine previous Acts dealing with drainage and flooding to introduce this Bill, which could solve quite an amount of the problems not dealt with in previous pieces of legislation. If the changes proposed by the Bill are accepted it would give the Minister and his Department an immediate opportunity to deal with problems as they emerge. I am also delighted that the Government provided time for the debate and will allow the Bill to go through the House. I presume the Government side will vote in favour when the time comes, because nothing in the Bill would create any problems for the Minister. It would enhance the Minister and his Department and he could probably take over the sainthood bestowed on his colleague in County Kilkenny in recent weeks if he dealt with this matter.
The problems of flooding are multifaceted. What has the Department done in recent years to monitor the causes of flooding throughout the country? Up to date scientific means are available to monitor the sources of flooding and this could be easily done if the Department hired the use of the Spot-image satellite. This would give a picture of the configuration of the source of the water and to where it goes. This facility is available for hire in Ireland and is being used by county and city councils and corporations to examine the configuration of land in the long term planning of houses and industrial areas. Given that this has been used previously, there is no reason why it cannot be used to discover the source of flooding.
If a satellite picture had been taken at the beginning of the recent floods it would have given a better indication as to how to the problems could be resolved rather than waiting and going through a long and detailed study. This would have to be carried out by surveyors on the ground. Even if a team of 1,000 surveyors was sent out over the next two years, one would not get an accurate indication of what should be done in the global sense.
Problems arise in dealing with localised floods because difficulties could be created for others in areas away from the flooded parts. Last year's Roads Bill gives county councils a chance to force farmers to take water off flooded roads by opening water courses. There is no doubt that flooding on roads has been a major source of concern. Road flooding is non-river oriented and there is probably more of this type of flooding in the country than river flooding. The Department must allocate more funds to local authorities to deal with this work, which was done in the past by gangs of men opening water courses in ditches.
Due to the heavy loads carried on rural and county roads, it is particularly difficult to maintain roads in the condition in which they were maintained in the past. Large vehicles from huge coops in the southeast, Munster and various other places go around the country collecting huge amounts of milk; but these vehicles do not damage the roads as much when they are full as they do when they are a quarter full. When they are not full, all the milk goes to one side and damage is done on the offside of the vehicle. This is causing problems.
Various matters must be addressed. In the past there was a large number of mills and weirs on most rivers in the country. There has been much contention about the ownership of these weirs and who should be responsible for their maintenance or elimination. Apart from their aesthetic value, in many cases the removal of mills which are not being used could eliminate quite an amount of flooding.
It is difficult to suggest simple ways of dealing with flooding. In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, dykes were built in south Kilkenny because the river was at a higher level than the land in the Nore-Suir valley. Dykes were built along the River Suir near New Ross, and close to Waterford and these have lasted for hundreds of years. Even though the land is ten to 15 feet below the level of the tidal river, there has never been flooding in those areas. It was a simple means of eliminating a problem.
In County Kilkenny, during the flood two years ago, an engineer, Mr. Harry Shine — a man who would know more about water and flooding than anybody in the country — had just retired from the Office of Public Works. He built a simple dam of clay and eliminated flooding from 17 houses in the quay area of Kilkenny. It was a simple job but it eliminated the flooding. Sometimes one does not have to spend a huge amount of money to eliminate localised flooding, but one has to be careful to ensure that one is not transferring the flooding problem from one area to another.
In the recent statements made on flooding in this House, I criticised the fact that the budget allocated compensation of only £2 million for farmers whose land had been flooded. While this figure is a welcome addition to the flood relief programme, few people will be able to qualify under the criteria set. What value will that figure be after it has been spread among all of those affected around the country?
We had a major flood study done for the Kilkenny city area in 1986, which cost us £225,000. The solutions presented by the experts would, by the time everything was put in place, have cost in the region of £7 million. The corporation, in conjunction with various other people, came up with an amended proposition which we felt would deal as effectively with the problem but would cost only £355,000. This figure only deals with what we would call a five year height flood; it may be extended to a ten year period. However, we do get also what is called a 100 year flood. The last such flood in Kilkenny was in 1947, when people had to be taken out through the roofs of their houses. It washed away two bridges and did a lot of damage. No amount of money could eliminate the problems such a flood would cause, and the same would apply to other regions throughout the country. We are not talking about eliminating these unpredictable major floods, but the normal flooding that is reasonably predictable.
An early warning monitoring system — it is not in the Bill — should be put in place by the Department. If a small river floods at a certain time one is guaranteed that the bigger river will burst its banks a few hours later. Although the Office of Public Works has monitors in rivers to detect changes in the river flow, it is not co-ordinated with any central system. Why not computerise these monitors so that a signal is sent to a central point which would at least give time to those under threat of flooding to get their protection measures into place and their property to a safe place. This Bill gives the Commissioners of Public Works, in conjunction with the various other agencies, an immediate way of doing something specific and fast.
Last night, the Minister suggested that the Bill is flawed in the sense that if certain localised efforts were made to alleviate flooding, it may have a bigger impact on a broader scale. Section 3 (2) of the Bill states that "The Commissioners shall have regard to the impact on the entire catchment of any works undertaken in a local area". Obviously, the Commissioners of Public Works would not do something that would cause problems elsewhere.
I welcome the Bill and ask the Department, the Minister and the Government to take it on board. No one is looking for kudos from this, but a solution to a major problem that will not go away. Allocating large sums of money will not solve the problem in the long term either. The more pressure debates like this put on the Government, the better. It should be kept up until the moneys necessary are made available. Emergency moneys can be made available for other areas. However, while needing short term compensation, we also need a long term solution. This Bill provides a method whereby long term solutions can be found for some of the major problems that have arisen through flooding and drainage schemes.
Reference was made to the Mulcair river. We have a few small rivers in Kilkenny which border on Tipperary and Laois. The Goul drainage committee meets once a year. Councillors get together for about ten minutes to discuss the progress made in this scheme from last year. The meeting takes ten minutes, which is about the length of time it takes to sign the attendance sheet. Unfortunately, nothing has been done and the Goul drainage scheme is now as far from complete as it was when it was established in 1923. That is no different to many other schemes around the country.
This Bill, if passed, would strengthen the Minister's hand in seeking funding. For that reason the Minister should take the advice of his Government colleague, Senator Kelly, and allow it to go through.
I want to extend a warm welcome to the Minister, Deputy Higgins. It is the first occasion I have spoken here since he returned to this House as a Minister. The Minister was a distinguished and effective Member of the Seanad and I had the privilege of serving with him.
The Minister has always impressed me as a person of action and integrity. That fact weighs strongly with me when he suggests or requests that it would be advisable for the House to await the presentation of his Bill. The Minister has said that the Bill will be before the House in a matter of weeks and will be introduced in the Seanad. For these reasons it is better to wait and have a comprehensive measure with the full support of the Government. It is the sincerity that I know the Minister possesses that is encouraging me to support that line of action.
I have reservations, which I will mention during the course of my contribution. However, before referring to them, I want to pay a special tribute to my constituency colleague, Senator Daly, for bringing his Bill before the House. He has responded to what is an urgent need and has played his part in focusing public attention on an extremely serious matter and I support the concept of the introduction of legislation and Private Members' Bills in this House. However, because of the arguments put forward by the Minister and from what I know of him, I am prepared to support his contention that it is a better proposition to await the Government's Bill.
Of all the contributions I have listened to — and I have been here for the entire debate — Senator Fahey's impressed me for a number of reasons. I know Senator Fahey for a long time and he can be as party political as anybody. When it comes to firing the shots, he can do it; but his contribution last night was in an entirely different vein. It seemed to be a cry of frustration at the difficulties he encountered with others, to which I will refer, in the past year when attempting to get aid to homes and farms flooded in his constituency. He said he was successful in getting a promise of aid from the Minister for Finance but that it was frustrated by the Department of Agriculture.
It was known that these farms and homes would probably be flooded-again this year. I always regarded the public representative, the Member of the Oireachtas, as the last bulwark between the affected citizen and bureaucracy. There is a history of bureaucracy attracting to itself more power as time progresses without accepting responsibility when that power is used to the disadvantage of a citizen. As legislators, we must face up the fact that if bureaucrats utilise that power to the disadvantage of a citizen, against the advice of those who know the risks involved, then bureaucracy must accept the responsibility to the point of being personally sued for negligence in these matters.
Senator McDonagh, who has yet to speak, is from that particular area. His frustrations will be similar to those of Senator Fahey. Public representatives in that area, including Senator Fahey, Senator McDonagh and Deputy McCormack and others, have endeavoured to resolve the position there. The role of the public representative vis-á-vis bureaucracy has been crystallised by the situation which has been allowed to develop. I will be interested to hear the Minister's response to that.
What we are facing today is the result of years of neglect. Action has been forced on us because of the difficulties we have encountered in recent months. I accept that there have been record levels of rainfall this winter and that countries throughout Europe have faced similar problems. Nonetheless, there has been a history of neglect and a scaling down of work begun centuries ago, but intensified in the 1930s to the 1950s. Valuable work was done in that period as regards river drainage, estuary embankments, the protection of coastal areas, etc. During that period there was an understanding between the authorities and those concerned of the relevance and importance of that drainage work. The works to which I refer were essentially carried out by pick and shovel. We are now in an era of modern machinery which could undertake and complete that work in a short period.
We should reflect on a statement made by Fr. Harry Bohan, a person of national repute from my county, when flooding occurred in the village of Sixmilebridge and eight families were forced to leave their homes on two occasions. He referred to the fact that a flyover was being constructed over the dual carriageway a few miles from Sixmilebridge. He asked what kind of a warped economic system allows for over £3 million to be spent on a flyover on the Limerick-Shannon road when four miles away eight families were flooded out of their homes because there was no money to open a drain at the back of their houses. I emphasise the word "drain", because that is all that is involved, not a stream or a river. Because of neglect and the failure to keep that drain open, eight families have been twice forced to leave their homes. We would do well to reflect on the words of Fr. Bohan in relation the warped economic thinking which pumps millions of pounds into a flyover a few miles from these unfortunate people.
I refer to Senator Daly's Bill and the proposals in the Minister's Bill. Both place the responsibility on and express a lot confidence in the capacity of the Office of Public Works to resolve the difficulties. I do not share either their optimism or confidence. The Minister in his speech referred to the great achievements of the Office of Public Works as regards drainage in the 50 years since the Arterial Drainage Act was passed. He said: "In excess of 650,000 acres have benefited from works on a total of some 7,300 miles of river channels and coastal and estuarine embankments." He referred to expenditure of £500 million and £140 million. The important figure is the 50 years.
I have taken the trouble to read the Dáil debates on the passing of the Arterial Drainage Act in 1945. The timeframe envisaged for the completion of what was intended in that Act has long since passed. The Act designated 28 major catchment areas; work is now underway on area No. 13. At that rate of progress and, indeed, at the way progress has slowed down, we are not talking about another 50 years but at least another century. That is not the answer to the problems we face.
Some time after 1945, 30 minor catchment areas were identified; work is now underway on area No. 8. I say to Senator Daly and the Minister that the Office of Public Work's performance represents neither a record of achievement nor urgency. Perhaps I have been hard in what I said; I would gladly accept an adequate answer. I assure the Minister and Senator Daly that the views I expressed are widely shared by many in the community, particularly victims of flooding.
Senator Daly and the Minister indicated that there would be a move away from the concept of the entire catchment area and the drainage of it. I support the proposal that attention be now given to the improvement of stretches of rivers and blockages. I am not sure whether those affected by flooding will be confident that their problems will be resolved satisfactorily by the Office of Public Works in view of the pace of performance and the results since 1945 to date, but if there is an answer to that we should get it.
Other factors contributed to the flooding. We cannot ignore the affect of forestry. There has been extensive planting of mountainsides and uplands generally which requires extensive drainage and open drainage in most parts. The result is that heavy rain floods downhill much faster than before the forestry had taken place. The water pours down into valleys, and into drains and streams that have not been maintained for years; they are overpowered and flooding occurs.
I am moving into delicate ground now, although I do not hesitate to do so, but over the past 15 or 20 years environmentalist and other groups have been successful in mounting a campaign for the preservation of wetlands as a habitat for migratory birds. Questions of flora, fauna and areas of scientific interest also arise. Some of these groups' campaigns have been so successful that we have reached a stage where drainage can be seen as unpatriotic activity.
These groups have a tendency to go overboard on issues they adopt. However, try to explain to a family that has been flooded out of its home that there is an area of fauna or flora a few miles up river, or that a bureaucrat has decided there is an area of scientific interest and that the preservation of those areas of scientific interest is of greater importance than the family home. I repeat Fr. Harry Bohan's comment that it is a warped mentality which supports that attitude. The success of the efforts of those groups has created the feeling that it is unpatriotic to be involved in drainage affecting wetlands.
These are factors in the difficulties we now face. These issues which are of concern to some — the preservation of the areas to which I alluded, the habitats of migratory birds and the preservation and development of fisheries — can be accommodated in a sensible arrangement. The will is there to protect and it can be done in conjunction with a will to protect homes and farms from the devastating flooding of recent years.
My county has suffered greatly from flooding. I referred to what happened in the picturesque village of Sixmilebridge and I tied that in with Fr. Bohan's comments. There is a drain which has not been opened or attended to and the effect of that neglect is the flooding of eight family homes. The front garden of one of these homes had been a national prize winner in competitions. One can imagine the strain, frustration and anger of people affected in that area. In my own town of Ennis housing estates that never knew flooding have been hit in a devastating way in recent months and people have been forced to leave their homes.
Ennis is in the River Fergus catchment area and the Fergus was No. 20 on that famous list of 28. If we are depending on the rate of progress to date, moving to No. 20 from No. 13 would take another 50 years. In the light of that, how can we get people to accept that we are serious in attending to the tragedy that has hit their homes? Rural areas of the county have been hit particularly badly. Many roads have been closed and traffic has been diverted, often into another flood. People have had to leave their homes.
Coastal erosion is another serious matter. Other Members have referred to the work that has been done in regard to coastal erosion over the centuries. The need to do this work was recognised many years ago and it was successfully undertaken with picks and shovels. We are now in the era of modern machinery and we are still faced with problems. We are not protecting or preserving embankments and we are not maintaining river drainage. We are not doing the work that has been recognised through generations as necessary to keep our rivers flowing.
People have referred to particular difficulties we have due to the physical shape of the island. Look at what the Dutch did; they kept out the North Sea. We are not expected to keep out the Atlantic Ocean or any sea; all we are expected to do is provide a sensible system that enables the water from our rivers to flow into the sea. If one reads the discussions which took place during the passage of the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945, it is interesting to note the timescale envisaged and, given the equipment then available, that they were confident the work could be done successfully in that period.
I urge early action, or we will be looking at relocation. We will be faced with massive costs unless we deal now as a matter of urgency with the problems that have been outlined. In areas such as south Galway and in towns such as my own we are also facing the massive cost of relocating families and rehousing them on higher ground. I welcome and admire the Minister of State's commitment and sincerity and I am sure he will bring before the House in a matter of weeks the legislation that will deliver what is needed.
Ar dtús, ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach agus fáilte a chur roimh an Bhille seo. No one has more experience of flooding in the west than the Minister of State. He is familiar with the situation and he will do his utmost to ensure the flooding is alleviated as soon as possible. I congratulate Senator Daly on introducing this Bill.
In County Sligo we have had problems for many years with Lough Arrow and the River Owenmore, which borders on the Minister's constituency. The real problem with drainage is getting cooperation and unity among conservationists, the fishing fraternity and the farming community. It is not easy to get those groups to pull together.
The Arterial Drainage Act does not help because under its provisions one either has a big scheme or nothing. This meant that a job could be held up for years while feasibility studies etc. were carried out to satisfy interests. The biggest cause of flooding in many cases is lack of maintenance and this Bill sets out to remedy that problem. People believe the only way to relieve flooding and drainage is a large scheme with large machinery and piles of spoil put on the side banks. However, that can often cause its own problems. For generations men with shovels and drags kept the waterways clear and kept flooding at bay.
While I agree this is one of the wettest years we have had — my own land has never been as wet — I see nevertheless that watercourses and main rivers have not been maintained. In my area of Drumcliffe the council is the agent for the Office of Public Works and it does some work. However, we do not have the funds needed to do the work to alleviate flooding in Drumcliffe.
If a tree falls across the river, we can cut it and take it out. If something blocks a bend, we can send a few men out and get the water running. But that does not amount to servicing the river. The side banks need to be pared down. In the summertime, when big floods come, large stones come down and block up the river. The water flows each side of the blockage and eventually there are islands in the middle of the river. All those obstacles create flooding later on. If we had a sensible scheme whereby some authority would make a certain amount of money available for the removal of all those obstacles from the river, the flooding would be alleviated and many of our problems would be solved.
It is important that this Bill go through the House. The Minister may add whatever amendments he wants to it, but I do not like this talk of a Government Bill because there is a grave danger that this will push the resolution of this problem further down the road. Over the years we have seen similar problems put on the back boiler. There has been flooding in my county, but thank God no one has been left homeless. Land and crops were destroyed and good fodder land was destroyed earlier in the year — they could not get in to cut the meadows — but it is not as bad as the flooding in Galway, Roscommon and other parts of the country.
I do not know how those people whose homes have been flooded will get back into their houses again. I have seen the flooding on television and the cost of the damage will run into thousands of pounds. We must have some way of compensating those people. We will be asked where the money is to come from. That question is always asked at county council level as well. We never seem to have money, but if a big court case or inquiry comes up we can get plenty of money. If someone takes an action against a local authority and the case goes to the High Court, as happened in my own county, £0.5 million can be found; but we never can seem to find money for the necessities of life, for the drainage of land, which is so important.
This flooding will cost the local authorities a large amount of money. Many, county roads have been destroyed and will have to be built from the foundation again. The county councils cannot carry out this work without money. Both the county councils and the farmers must be compensated. Many people have insurance, but insurance may not cover all the damage. Some farmers have to all intents and purposes been put out of business. We must ensure that those people are compensated and are given a chance to get back into business again. If we cannot fully compensate them, then perhaps very low interest loans could be made available to help them rebuild their lives and their livelihoods.
If this Bill was passed we could begin the work. To date no effort has been made to drain even one gallon of water from the floods that are all over the country. No one has a machine in, no one is doing any work to drain the flooded land. We cannot do it under the present Arterial Drainage Act. Feasibility studies are being done in my own area and we are told they are almost ready; but when we are ready, environmentalists, fishermen and farmers must be reconciled and again there are problems.
Another serious problem in my county, as a result of all this flooding and damage, is coastal erosion. I do not know how we are to come to terms with that. In addition, deposits from erosion are blocking the outlets of rivers in flood. This is another serious problem. Sluice gates are needed in some places. If these were provided they could be closed and opened whenever necessary and maintenance would clear the way in front of the sluice gate if deposits piled up. In this way drainage problems would be solved before they arise. Many protection walls were knocked and those walls were in many cases protecting the roads. In my own county a number of roads have been washed almost completely away because the walls protecting the road are gone. This is another problem we will have to look into.
There are many problems associated with flooding. This Bill represents the first serious effort to bring responsibility for drainage within the ambit of the local authorities and to bring local authorities and the Office of Public Works together to put a mechanism in place to alleviate the serious flooding and the loss of homes and livestock resulting to farmers. So far I do not believe anyone has set out to do a survey or an assessment of the cost of flooding. When we had similar flooding in north Sligo, within weeks we had accounts done of the cost. I wonder whether the councils in those counties affected by flooding are doing any costing at the moment, or whether they have been asked by the Department of the Environment or anybody else to assess the damage, because unless we assess the damage we do not know how much it will cost to rectify it. We are told that money may be available from Europe. Holland got money almost immediately from Europe. Why is Ireland getting nothing? Are we making a case to the European authorities to get compensation for farmers? The outlook as I see it is very bleak. I do not see anyone coming up with figures and I do not see anyone helping the flooded areas.
This Bill is about trying to alleviate suffering and to help people in trouble. We do not know whether insurance will cover the full cost of damage to households. Some houses are very badly damaged. We all know perfectly well that it will cost a large amount of money to refurbish those houses. The occupants of one house that is now flooded won the garden of the year award last year. A lot of work was put into getting the garden done and winning an award and now all that work is six foot under water. That is one of the saddest stories of this flooding that I recorded. Have we made any efforts to face up to those realities?
Senator McGowan told the Seanad what was done in Donegal some years ago where machines which had been standing idle were made available to the local community by the Office of Public Works. The local community became involved and collected money. With the use of a machine at a nominal fee of about £1 a day, they did a great job to alleviate flooding. The Government should look at how we could involve communities, councils and the Office of Public Works in a joint effort. If local funds have to be raised to supplement those coming from the Department and from Europe, we would be making a genuine effort. Many people in local communities would gladly contribute towards helping to alleviate this flooding.
In circumstances like this, when things are so bad in the west, it might not be a bad idea for the Government to consider making national lottery money available for alleviating flooding. This is a serious emergency. A number of families are in rented dwellings because their houses and homes are flooded. Surely in an emergency like this we should do something. If houses were burned down all kinds of services would be made available to rehouse people. What is the difference between a house being made uninhabitable because of a flood and it being made uninhabitable because of a fire? When certain problems arise we have no trouble rising to the occasion and providing services and help, but when there are other problems which have disastrous effects on people we do not seem to rise to the occasion at all. The national lottery is another source of funding. It will take a great deal of finance to solve the problem.
The first thing that must be done is to try to get flood waters flowing. We must start at the lowest point by providing machines to reduce flood waters. The only way we can do this is by passing a Bill similar to the one proposed by Senator Daly. If the Minister is not happy with this Bill we have no objection to him introducing suitable amendments. If such amendments are put to the House we could have the Bill passed by next week and could have the first real and sincere effort made to alleviate flooding, get water flowing again and enable families to move back to their homes. I appeal to the Minister to do this at his earliest possible convenience.
Arís cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach agus caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil comhgháirdeas tuilte aige. Bhí mé ag caint leis cheana in a lán áiteanna agus, i measc na n-áiteanna sin, i ndeisceart na Gaillimhe nuair a bhí sé ag féachaint ar an tuilteach.
It is sad that the terrible trauma experienced by families as a result of the recent flooding has to continue as the heavy rain continues and the floods fail to subside. There seems to be no sign of the bad weather and terrible conditions abating because of a deluge of heavy rain. During last night there was heavy snowfall in Galway which will make matters worse. People continue to suffer.
The most severely affected area without any shadow of doubt is the area in the hinterland of Gort. Other areas in the country have been affected, but most focus has been on this area. The Minister will be familiar with other affected areas such as Creggs in the Williamstown area, where, despite the unceasing efforts of people like the local councillor, Mr. Tiernan Walshe, flooding continues and more work needs to be done. I come from Turloughmore, which means dry lake, but this year it is not dry. A road in the Canteeny area has been under water for about six weeks and the national school has been forced to close for periods during this time.
I recently asked Galway County Council to do some work in this location and was told it would cost £50,000 to raise the road and rebuild and restrengthen the walls and that this money is not available. Lack of adequate finance is a key problem and unless it can be found very little will be done.
We are dealing with a natural disaster. Flooding has occurred continually over the years, although not to the extent of this year, and, regretfully, very little has been done. There has been a great deal of discussion and many reports have been commissioned. For the first time ever we now see a real commitment, particularly from the new Government, to look at and alleviate the problem and make sure there will not be a recurrence. There is also a very committed, co-ordinated local effort, particularly in the Gort area, to implement a remedial policy.
The fundamental problems can be identified. One is related to the capacity of rivers, which are not able to discharge the huge amount of rain. There have also been problems due to high tides and prevailing winds. The Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Deputy Jim Higgins, is to be complimented on the way he is tackling the problem. The interdepartmental committee, which he will chair, will oversee and co-ordinate the various suggestions from different Departments and agencies and ultimately, I hope, find a solution to the ongoing problem. His initiative in setting up this committee must be greatly welcomed.
In a discussion of any proposed Bill or amendments we should recognise the efforts of the Government so far to help people suffering from flooding. Some £2 million has been made available to the Department of Agriculture to compensate farmers for loss of fodder and stocks. I hope some provision will also be made to help people who have been forced to buy in fodder — I have stated this publicly already — and to cover people for loss of land which has been flooded for a considerable period.
Some £4 million has been made available for county roads. This will bring a sigh of relief to county managers, county engineers and councillors because a great deal of money from emergency funds has been used since Christmas to help raise roads in an effort to alleviate and prevent flooding on them. This is a welcome development.
The supplementary welfare allowance administered by health boards can be used to assist those affected. An advertisement seeking consultants to carry out a special study of south Galway will soon be placed in the papers and I am sure this will be welcome news to the people of this area. The interdepartmental committee will meet in the next week or so and will be chaired by the Minister. This is a very significant initiative.
European officials have been invited to visit and assess the situation. The Minister of State will be visiting Brussels — if he has not done so already — to highlight the problems. Cases have already been made in the European Parliament for funds for areas in France and Italy which have been affected by flooding. I hope we can also go down this road and that money like that which the people in France and Italy have called for will be forthcoming. I understand that funds of this nature will be provided for remedial action to prevent reoccurrence rather than for compensation or current problems.
I can identify and sympathise with the people who have suffered losses in south Galway. I welcome Senator Daly's Bill and commend him for it. I only just realised that it is Senator Daly's Bill because, from reading the newspapers at home in Galway, I was under the impression that this was Senator Fahey's Bill. Senator Daly must be complimented this morning on his initiative. I know Senator Fahey contributed and I commend him for that.
He had a very big part in it.
It is a positive initiative and I commend all those involved. We also had a big contribution from the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works when he said last night that a Bill will be initiated in this House. This Bill will provide a great opportunity for a long, meticulous and detailed discussion and there will be room for amendments and attention to detail. It will be open and transparent and everybody will have an opportunity to speak and make suggestions. I commend the Minister of State for accepting an Opposition party initiative and allowing the forthcoming Government Bill to be initiated in this House.
Deputy Higgins is no slouch; in fact, he is quite the opposite, a live wire. He will not stand on ceremony. He will not wait or be given to delay. Of all the people who could deal with this crisis, there is no better man to react. He can identify with the problems and the terrible situation that prevails in the west of Ireland because he comes from the west and there is flooding in his own area. He is very familiar with the situation and his intention and commitment are clear. The Office of Public Works will control and take responsibility for all aspects of drainage including local drainage works.
I believe the intentions are good. The Minister of State has pinpointed certain defects or concerns in this Bill. I say to the Opposition party who introduced this Bill that there can be no defects as the matter is too serious. Let us get it right now as people's futures depend on it. Consultation is already underway on the proposed designing of schemes to prevent further flooding. Waiting for the Government Bill to come into this House will not deter progress. Progress or remedial action is not inhibited or delayed in any way.
For a number of years I have served with Senator Fahey on Galway County Council, in the Seanad and on various other bodies. I have never publicly disagreed with him but I must pose a number of, albeit rhetorical, questions. His utterances in the House last night were steeped to a certain extent in political tones. Of course, I sympathise with the people of south Galway and their plight. I have been monitoring the south Galway situation with consternation. I was in the area during Christmas week and I have kept in constant touch with it. I want remedial action now and I agree with the grim picture Senator Fahey painted. I never want to see a recurrence of the south Galway flooding problems, but making a political football out of the people's problems is not helpful. It was not correct to cast aspersions on the speech of the Minister of State last night.
Over the years we have heard much talk about what should be done and what could be done but I have to pose the question: what has been done? We have had studies and now we have a proposal for another detailed study which is to be followed by remedial action. Very little came out of the other studies. It is obvious that the torch has been passed, thankfully, to a new Administration which is committed to action. The days of words and pious platitudes are over. The current Government is committed to replacing words and verbiage with action.
I agree with Senator Fahey and commend him on the picture he painted in this House last night. It is grim and true and he has my support in everything he says. However, the first drainage scheme of any type, albeit small and local, directing water from the flooded source to the sea was established through local initiative born out of frustration and strongly backed by the Fine Gael organisation in the area.
I pay tribute to Deputy McCormack and the local Fine Gael councillor, Toddie Byrne, who went far and beyond the call of duty in trying to find a solution to a desperate problem in south Galway over the last number of months. We got very little support and encouragement from Senator Fahey and the local Fianna Fáil councillor. Like other Fianna Fáil activists in that area they became doubting Thomases. Now, of course, when they see positive results coming from the Fine Gael way of thinking, they seem to be saying that this scheme is working based on action rather than words. At last the people of south Galway and other parts of the country where floods have created havoc see hope and a concerned Government.
I would like to see certain things happening. European funds should be provided to help householders. It is obvious that past Governments, and possibly this Government, cannot procure funds for this type of situation. I agree with Senator Farrell that lottery funds could be provided on a once off basis to help people. A sum of £1 million could be provided on a once off basis to help the people of south Galway in an area which, without any shadow of a doubt, should be called a disaster area.
I appeal to the lottery people, whom we have all supported and who have a marvellously viable structure, to provide on a once off basis the £1 million which is urgently required to help the people of south Galway in their hour of need and their great plight. Perhaps this is the road we should be going down. If a proposer or seconder is required, I will make the proposal in this House that we seek £1 million. I will also propose that the area of south Galway, if it is possible for the Government to do so, would be declared a disaster area. As a response to that, if European funds cannot be provided, the national lottery should come to the aid of the people in that area.
I would also like to see the introduction of payments for fodder where land has been under water for a considerable period of time. I would also like to see support for local initiative. Funds should be provided for cash starved councils to raise roads. Councils which have used up a lot of their funds over the past number of months should not be penalised or punished. The Department of the Environment should provide supplementary grants for councils to help them to raise roads in order to stop a recurrence of flooding in many areas throughout the country, particularly in the areas closest to my heart.
I welcome certain sections of the Bill, particularly section 8, which calls for a representative of the General Council of County Councils to be included on any proposed committee. I welcome and support this suggestion.
A number of schemes have been introduced since the Arterial Drainage Act was enacted in 1945. As someone who comes from an area which was successfully drained in the 1950s and 1960s as a result of the 1945 Act, the Corrib and Clare catchments, it would be remiss of me not to mention the legendary Minister of State — I understand they were called Parliamentary Secretaries in those days — and former all-Ireland Galway footballer, Mr. Mick Donnellan, who introduced this scheme and whose work will never be forgotten in the River Clare basin. Members will recall that Mr. Mick Donnellan was replaced in later years by another great member of that dynasty, Mr. John Donnellan, who also performed heroically for his county.
You should have reelected him.
He was a good man on the field.
Like myself and other Fine Gael people, he would also make a strong case for south Galway. He did so with distinction in the past and I am sure there is no reason why he would not do it again in the future. We would welcome him on our ticket at the next election.
One would think we were at a branch meeting.
The south Galway executive.
The Office of Public Works has expertise, strength and organisation to undertake effective schemes to alleviate flooding, including that at local level. I understand that proposals have already been prepared by the Office of Public Works for the amendment of the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945, to provide it with the necessary powers to undertake works for the relief of localised flooding caused by rivers. I am sure the proposals will also involve discussions with the Minister for Finance and will soon come before the Dáil. As the Minister said, they will also come before this House. At the end of this discussion I hope we have a Bill to enable us to implement proposals and policies for a reasonable solution to the flooding problems which have bedevilled the countryside this year. I hope the EU will respond positively to helping the people who have suffered flooding in their houses in recent weeks.
While I welcome certain aspects of the Bill — and I have already commended Senator Daly — it should be given further consideration and flesh should be put on its bones. I look forward to the Government's Bill which will be introduced after consideration and work by various experts and which will be of great substance.
As there are two Senator Kielys in the Chamber, I ask to share my time with Senator Dan Kiely.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
It gives me great pleasure to support Senator Daly's Bill, which is an amendment to the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945. I commend him for introducing this Bill to the House and I am sure it will be passed unanimously.
Drainage has always been a problem in this country and for a 100 years prior to 1945 drainage works were carried out on a piecemeal basis and dealt with drainage problems in localised areas of river catchments. Several hundred of these minor schemes were carried out under various statutes in what became known as drainage districts, the maintenance of which became the responsibility of the local authorities. Some 165 of these are still in existence.
The inadequacies of this piecemeal approach to drainage problems was highlighted by a number of drainage commissions, especially the Browne Commission, which met between 1938 and 1940. It commented adversely on the haphazard creation of individual districts without consideration of the interests, problems and requirements of river basins which was repugnant to the idea of a planned drainage policy. Lack of maintenance was also a feature and in many cases schemes deteriorated to such an extent that works had to be redone on more than one occasion.
Among the main recommendations of the Browne Commission was that there should be a central drainage authority based in the Office of Public Works with responsibility for the construction and maintenance of arterial drainage schemes on a catchment basis. The Arterial Drainage Act, 1945, gave effect to the recommendations of the Browne Commission. It is now the sole basis for the commissioners' statutory authority for arterial drainage, which benefited agricultural land.
I live in the catchment area of the River Deal and work was carried out there between 1962 and 1968, which benefited 11,900 acres of land. The Arterial Drainage Act, 1945, was put on the Statute Book by a Fianna Fáil Government in 1945. I am sure this Government was responsible for successfully constructing these arterial drainage schemes in places where they were needed. The Maigue catchment drainage scheme is also in my locality. This work was carried out between 1973 and 1986 and it benefited 13,500 acres of land. This scheme was also funded by the EU.
Senator Farrell spoke about spoil and he said that if there is drainage without spoil it will cause flooding. However, in the Deal drainage scheme the spoil was left in heaps and the local farmers had to level it off afterwards. Because of EU funding the Office of Public Works is now able to spread the spoil. Environmentalists are also worried about interfering with the environment, but the environment is enhanced by the work done by the Office of Public Works.
Flooding has taken place because of the heavy rainfall and although it is widespread, Galway is severely affected. The rain this year has been the heaviest since rainfalls were recorded, twice as much as in previous years. This has contributed greatly to the flooding we have experienced throughout the country over the past three months.
Galway has figured highly in this debate and it is only natural that people mention their own areas. I must also be parochial and refer to the Mulcair, which has been flooded many times over the past years. The Mulcair has broken its banks at least four or five times since Christmas and pumps and fire brigades had to be brought in on each occasion to relieve the flooding. Recently a woman almost drowned and had to be removed to hospital. This shows the damage and distress which the Mulcair flooding has caused to the people in the immediate area.
It was number one on the arterial drainage list and it was promised the work would start as far back as 1971. Many areas of the Mulcair have banks like dykes in Holland where houses and land are below the level of the river. I often passed through that way and I see the flooding. Roads and some houses can be flooded and if the bank bursts they will be washed away.
I understand that the arterial drainage work on the Mulcair has been put in abeyance or abandoned. The reason the Mulcair has not been drained is the cost benefit analysis problem and the Mulcair Drainage Society believes the economic assessment has been done wrongly; it was based on increased output. Today we have quota farming so the assessment should have been done on reduced costs rather than increased output. These points were raised before the assessment was carried out but they were not heeded.
The Mulcair Drainage Society Limited undertook a study with the co-op in their area and Moorepark which showed a cost saving of £2.5 million per year on dairying and £1.5 million per year on stores and beef, based on Teagasc estimates. This shows there would be a total saving of £4 million per year on dairy and beef alone. This would pay for a lot of flood relief, boost employment in the area, keep families in rural areas and stop the terrible stress, social pressures and financial ruin.
It is most upsetting that misleading figures have been given out about the cost. The Mulcair Drainage Society Limited request that the scheme be started at the mouth of the river; there is a fall of 117 feet to the main problem area so it would be easy to drain. We must ensure that that number of miles would not be flooded again. This is probably a most deserving area in the country, although Galway might be more deserving because it has been flooded many times.
This Bill will definitely help the drainage of the Mulcair and would put drainage schemes in operation there soon. The Bill provides the required powers for the Commissioners of Public Works and also influences compensation and other studies. Section 3 (1) (a) reads:
The Commissioners shall, without the necessity of preparing a scheme, execute drainage works for the relief and prevention and maintenance of localised flooding of lands, watercourses, coastal and estuarine incursions, including urban lands, buildings and properties as shall appear to them to be necessary or expedient.
This subsection will give the Office of Public Works power to quickly alleviate localised flooding without preparing schemes. If they had such powers, I am sure the flooding problems in the Mulcair area would have been alleviated long ago. I commend Senator Daly for introducing this Bill which was badly needed to help alleviate these problems.
The Minister said he was—
... asking the House to oppose the Bill on the grounds that, in the first case, the Government will introduce, as quickly as possible, its own legislation to permit work to relieve localised flooding and second, the proposed provisions are unnecessary since there are already adequate provisions and mechanisms in existence for paying compensation where that is appropriate.
I cannot see how the Minister's legislation can improve this Bill to permit work to relieve localised flooding. If he has ideas for its improvement, he can always amend this Bill and have it passed as soon as possible.
I am surprised to hear that, "there are adequate provisions and mechanisms in existence for paying compensation where that is appropriate." To my mind, there are no such adequate provisions. The Minister mentioned that this Bill was flawed but if he brings in a Bill without such provisions it will have even more flaws. I appeal to the Government Senators to support Senator Daly's well thought out Bill which will be whole-heartily welcomed by the Mulcair Drainage Society and other concerned societies because it will ensure that the necessary work to alleviate flooding will be carried out as soon as possible in their immediate areas.
I listened to Senator Fahey's account of the trouble in Galway where a factory that makes hurleys — and the making of hurleys is dear to my heart — will be out of business until next June or later and they experienced similar problems last year. This is a serious problem which should be tackled very soon.
Senator Burke referred to slurry in farming and I know it is a problem, but there are pollution control schemes that could deal with that adequately. I appeal to the Government to provide good grants for farmers who need to engage in pollution control and the building of slurries, etc., because this is a problem that must be tackled.
Senator Burke also mentioned water flows down from the hills due to overgrazing. Whether they are undergrazed or overgrazed the water will flow down anyway; it will hardly flow uphill. A severe flood will cause damage to hillways. Recently I saw a road and a hill gutted by a severe flood. No matter what growth there is, water will flow anyway.
I commend Senator Fahey on his contribution but I was disappointed that Senator McDonagh criticised him. He said Senator Fahey was making a political football of it. I do not know about Senator Fahey but Senator McDonagh made a political football out of it today and he had more than one kick at it because he was trying to win. He also praised the Minister as a man who did not go in for ceremony. I hope he will not bother with ceremony now and will accept this Bill and introduce whatever amendments he likes.
I welcome the Minister and I want to thank my colleague and cousin Rory for allowing me to share his time.
I was amused when I heard the story of the hurley factory having to close down. Maybe now he will go back and look at where he got the hurleys for the All-Ireland; maybe that is where the mistake was made.
The Minister is spending a lot of time in this House, and rightly so, because this is a serious national problem. We come here every week thinking the worst is over, but when we return to our constituencies we find it is just as bad.
I commend Senator Daly for his courage in introducing his Bill. The Minister should seriously examine it rather than saying he will introduce his own legislation. As the other Senator Kiely said, if the Bill must be changed we can amend it in the House and put it into action rather than putting the matter on the long finger.
This Bill will strengthen the Minister's hand with the Minister for Finance. Rather than waiting for the drafting of his own legislation and then putting it through the Houses, he will be able to get money more quickly for this serious problem. The Bill gives absolute powers to the Office of Public Works, who have done good drainage work through the years.
People have been local and parochial in this debate. This is as it should be because if a person cannot look after his own how can he look after others? There was flooding on the Feale and the Cashen in the 1960s and I commend the Office of Public Works for handling that problem. The flooding in my area at that time was as bad as it is in Galway, Roscommon and Clare now.
At that time there were many protests from anglers about the damage that would be done to the Feale, which was called the second best salmon river in Europe. If anything, the fishing on that river has been improved. If drainage work is properly supervised it will improve the fishing amenities and facilities along these waterways. If fish stocks in rivers are running down it is not because of drainage. Perhaps we should look at the Atlantic, where the problems are really caused.
I support Senator Rory Kiely's criticism of Senator McDonagh's comments about Senator Fahey. Senator Fahey came here with an open mind and there was no mention of politics in his contribution. He was concerned about the people he represents. All political parties must work together to help the victims of the flooding. Something must be done. No one should say it was an act of God or it did not happen in the last 100 years, because it might happen again.
Two weeks ago we spoke about flooding. I returned to my constituency to a meeting in Ballyduff, in the Cashen catchment area. The main streets in that town were severely flooded. In Kilmoyley a young man was building a house; he had not put in the windows or doors and there was three feet of water in the house. He will not continue building his home and I do not know who will pay for it.
All the houses in the area were flooded and no compensation was put in place for those people. A sum of £2 million was allocated to compensate the farming community for fodder and damage to livestock. What about the people who have been forced to move out of their homes to live in guesthouses or with relatives or neighbours until their lives return to normal? No compensation has been put in place for those people and the Minister must see if a scheme can be set up.
Money was made available when the Dodder flooded. When flooding occurs in places with a large population, and with RTE cameras close by, a big commotion is made; helicopters, ambulances, etc. are provided. However, in rural areas where a small number of people will be flooded, unless those people and we as their representatives highlight the problem, the media would not go near them.
The west of Ireland is a disaster area in terms of flooding. This has been happening for a number of years and must be tackled. Main drainage schemes provide the answer. Some people said new types of drainage have led to pockets of water gathering in areas where they cannot evaporate.
I had a drainage problem in a premises I owned in partnership with my bank until it took the property from me. I was flooded once a year until my neighbours and I formed a community group and started a drainage project under the local improvement scheme. If more money was given through that source, water could be diverted into the major waterways and the Office of Public Works could do the main drainage works. That would alleviate the problem.
The Minister should examine this Bill, amend it if he wishes and put it through the Houses. This is not a political football, it is an answer to a problem for many people.
I welcome the Minister and his officials back to the Seanad, only a week after our debate on flood damage. It is good that this Bill has been put down because it allows debate of the issues involved. The present flooding is concentrated in the west. If the Minister and his officials hear much more on the subject they will become waterlogged.
I welcome the Bill, but I ask Senator Daly to do the logical thing. Senator Kiely quoted one section of the Minister's contribution but he took it out of context; the Minister clearly stated his Bill is ready. It has gone through various Departments and is ready to come to this House.
He never said that.
He did say it. If I am reading his speech wrongly——
Read it again.
The Minister said:
I will deal first with the argument that the Bill is unnecesary. When I first addressed this I indicated that I was confident that the proposals for the amendment of the Arterial Drainage Act, which have been prepared by the Office of Public Works on the instructions of the previous Government, would shortly be cleared by him for submission to Government. I am happy to be able to inform the House tonight that the Minister for Finance, after careful study of the proposals, has now cleared them. They are being circulated to the relevant Government Depatments for observations in accordance with standard procedure.
Nothing could be clearer.
That is not what Senator D'Arcy said; he said the proposals had been sent back by the Departments.
No, I said the Minister was preparing the Bill, had sent it to the sections of the Department and that it was now being returned.
It has not gone out yet. It takes six months for that process.
Senator D'Arcy without interruption.
Whether it takes six months or three months, it is in preparation. We should do a good job. We represent rural constituencies, which have taken the brunt of the flooding over time. I remind Senator Daly that for the past nine years Fianna Fáil was in office as the larger or only party in Government and did not introduce any Bill.
Flooding did not first happen in January 1995, it has happened down through the years. I remember debates which took place in these Houses when the Minister was the late James Dillon. Much good work was done at that time, but for the last 20 years little arterial drainage work has been done. We must return to that work.
I will not make the main points of my speech now as there is only one minute left before lunch. There has been a great deal of repetition, because the statements on flooding took place a week ago. The Minister must be bored listening to the same points being made all the time. The issue of coast erosion must be examined. I will seek amendments to the Minister's Bill to deal with that problem. Wexford has 140 miles of coastline and there is a huge problem with coast erosion. This is an island and almost all areas of the country, including the Minister's constituency, have been affected by it. It is a serious problem and we should include a provision in this Bill to deal with it.