Senator D'Arcy is in possession and has 16 minutes left.
Arterial Drainage (Amendment) Bill, 1995: Second Stage (Resumed).
I indicated the previous day I would speak on coastal erosion. That is my main reason for speaking on the Bill because this debate and the statements on flooding a fortnight ago have featured the same points. Before doing that I have some points on arterial drainage.
One of the most familiar events in Ireland through the centuries has been flooding. Unfortunately, our rainfall varies greatly from one year to another and there is always panic when rainfall increases and is concentrated in a specific area. The latest rainfall is concerntrated in the west but there is also severe flooding in the east and south-east.
In the last week of January I made a journey from Galway to my constituency of Wexford via Clare, Limerick and Portlaoise. When I reached Carlow there was three to four feet of water at a bridge and I had to make a diversion through Athy. I saw at first hand the consequences of flooding not only in the west but through the midlands.
There has always been severe flooding in Wexford along the River Slaney, especially since Christmas last year. The flooding results from a lack of maintenance over a long period. Many smaller tributaries cause local flooding and although in Galway the case is somewhat different, local flooding has caused hardship to a large number of people. I sympathise with those in Galway and Clare who find themselves and their farms under two to three feet of water for an extended period. Unfortunately, the news today is not good; we are due to have further rainfall in the latter half of this week.
Some people may not realise the awful damage occurring as a result of flooding. Apart from flooding in farmyards, which is devastating because people cannot carry on their normal farming duties, there is flooding damage to grasslands. I have first hand experience of this and where such land is waterlogged for an extended period practically all the grassland needs reseeding, which is an expensive operation.
The Minister should bear these matters in mind when considering compensation. No other part of the country, aside from Galway, Clare and parts of the midlands adjacent to the Shannon, has such extended periods of flooding of grasslands. I ask the Minister to convey to the Minister for Agriculture our concern that this problem be taken into consideration for compensation.
According to a recent television report the present weather is the worst we have ever had in this country. There was an increase of 200 per cent in normal rainfall, particularly in the Shannon region, and increases of 117 per cent in the Waterford and south east regions. There has been an increase of 200 per cent in normal rainfall in other areas. It is clear that flooding is not new to this country but this year has been particularly hard in the context of overall rainfall across the country. Another report in the newspapers warned that there will be 30 year cycles of this type of rainfall as a result of global warming. If that is true the situation will be very serious.
There is no quick solution to this problem — we will never see the problem of flooding solved in our lifetimes. It is an ongoing problem which requires ongoing maintenance of tributaries and our large rivers. I compliment the Minister, Deputy J. Higgins, and his predecessor, Deputy Hogan, on their quick response to the flooding problem. The Minister has stated that the Government has decided, in light of the information available, on a coherent, coordinated response to the problems facing individuals and communities in the aftermath of flooding. I welcome the establishment of an inter-departmental committee, which the Minister will chair. It will oversee the response and co-ordinate input from various Departments and agencies which have responsibility in this area.
We as a community have an obligation to maintain tributary rivers. There has been flooding in Wexford since 1 January this year and the cause of that local flooding is readily visible. It is caused by the numerous tributaries of large rivers being unable to accommodate the vast quantities of rainfall that have occurred during the past two months. All that is required is attention to overgrowth and undergrowth. There are huge numbers of people unemployed. The current SES schemes could work to great effect in rural areas. People could be employed through the SES schemes by the county councils — they have the equipment, engineering staff and supervisors — to clean up these small tributaries at little expense to the taxpayer. There is not a parish in this country that does not require the cleaning of its tributary rivers. During January this year I was contacted about this issue by a number of people. I spoke to the engineer who was available at the time and he told me that the small tributaries are unable to take the large volumes of water. It is most depressing for people to find that not only are their farmyards flooded but also their dwelling houses.
The most important issue I wish to discuss, however, is the protection of our coastline. The national plan for the first time contains a provision for coastal protection. While the sum of £5.5 million is quite small relative to national requirements, the fact that investment in coast protection work has been recognised in this fashion must be welcomed. The national study carried out by the county engineers' association a number of years ago identified the sections of the coastline at risk. It highlighted the fact that about £125 million would be required to alleviate problems in the critical sections of approximately 490 kilometres. Wexford has the longest length of the most sensitive coastline in any county — approximately one fifth of the national critical coastline. This country's submission to the EU regional committee suggests that approximately £60 million would be required to deal with the most vulnerable sections of coastline in County Wexford.
In response to requests from the Department of the Marine the council has named four priority schemes — Courtown, Cullenstown, Cahore and Duncannon — and has submitted proposals to the Department for funding. A major beach nourishment programme, which will result in approximately £1 million being spent in Rosslare, has been undertaken during the past winter. It is being co-funded by the Department of the Marine, Iarnród Éireann and the county council. I can give some examples of the situation regarding coastal protection. This is not just a problem for Wexford — it is a national problem that has not been tackled. I will ask Senator Daly to withdraw his Bill to allow a longer and wider debate to take place.
The city and county engineers' report of 1991 indicated that approximately £125 million was necessary to carry out emergency repairs and protection works, particularly after the storms of 1989 and 1990. The report was given to the Government, of which Senator Daly was a member, six years ago but not one penny was provided to deal with that situation. That was a serious flooding situation. We can talk about inland flooding but flooding is also caused by the sea. A sum of £5.5 million is allocated in the national development plan for coastal protection until 1999. A programme costing £5.5 million is completely inadequate for a period of approximately five years. I will seek that the Government Bill will include provisions dealing with flooding on our coastline. The sum of £5.5 million is not adequate in the context of the requirement of £125 million. That is a large sum, but even £10 million or £14 million per year would be useful. We cannot expect the Exchequer to invest huge sums in one year, but a reasonable amount could be provided. It could be divided among the county councils of the coastal counties. That would achieve results.
In Courtown there has been severe erosion in recent years. There is danger to the beach and sand dunes and that the sea will undermine Courtown canal. Courtown pier is in danger of collapse in the event of a large storm like Hurricane Charlie. The funding requirement to alleviate these problems is approximately £1 million. North County Wexford is heavily dependent on major tourist resorts such as Courtown, where the population can increase tenfold during the holiday season of June, July, August and September. If that resort is affected by a very bad storm, the damage I have mentioned will occur. This information is based on the engineer's report.
In Cahore there is severe erosion of the beach. There is a danger of flooding of holiday homes and a danger to the drainage scheme in Cahore. Cahore pier is in need of urgent repairs. The cost of work in that area is approximately £75,000. The figures I am quoting are not huge; they are reasonable. In Cullenstown, another holiday resort, the amenity beach has been almost washed away. The River Cull at Ballyteige changes course due to erosion. There is severe erosion of cliffs in the area and an urgent need to stabilise the Cull estuary in order to halt further beach erosion. That is another sea resort which is in danger of collapse. The approximate cost for Duncannon, which is one of our blue flag beaches, would be in the region of £120,000. There is severe erosion at the southern end and the golf course, public roads and strand are in danger. The approximate cost of this would be in the region of £75,000.
The county council has an annual programme under which it provides X amount of money and which last year was in the region of £30,000. The local people provided about £35,000. Much work has been done with rock armour, which is where very large stones are brought to the beach, a ditch is made along the beach to stop the sea coming in and the sands build up around the rock armour. This has been extremely successful and if rock armour had not been put in place in Courtown very serious damage would have been done.
There is urgent need for a national coastal authority. There are too many agencies involved at present — local authorities, the Department of the Marine, CIE, the Office of Public Works and the Department of the Environment. A Bill of this type should include that type of development and essential repairs.
I will not criticise Senator Daly's Bill in the slightest as I think that it is timely. Nevertheless, the Minister stated in this House that he is prepared to bring a Bill before the Seanad to which we can make amendments. That is a very fair offer. Senator Daly's Bill contains compensation rather than protection, although I know that protection comes under the 1945 Act. I appeal to Senator Daly to do the logical thing by withdrawing his Bill and awaiting the Minister's Bill. We could ask the Minister of State today to give us some guarantee of a timescale when he will introduce his Bill in this House. That is all that we can ask for.
I welcome the Minister to the House and this debate on this very important issue. I wish to express my sympathy to all those who have had to endure flooding for the last few months. Appalling damage has been done to their houses, livestock and family life. I must be one of the few Members with constituents who are flooded in other countries, as some are flooded in the Rhine valley at the moment.
As a member of the Red Cross, I am very aware of the work which its committees have done in helping to distribute compensation to victims of previous serious floods. However, they have a mammoth task to undertake this time. I hope that as well as giving them money to help to compensate the victims, the Minister will also give the Red Cross itself a major grant to help in the distribution of what has to be brought to the victims. It is a voluntary organisation whose members give of their time very freely and honourably. However, the structures behind the organisation may need further bolstering if it is to undertake a mammoth effort on behalf of the Government as it has done in the past.
I have some concerns about the Minister's committee, which seems so wide as to include virtually everybody — the Departments of the Taoiseach, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Justice, the Environment, Defence, Agriculture, Food and Forestry, the Marine, Social Welfare, Transport, Energy, Communications and the Office of Public Works. I think that only Health and Education have been left out and I cannot see why they were as children are going to school in boats and the health situation would be quite appalling in those areas. It is a very big committee, which always worries me. I know that the Minister of State intends it to have an all embracing view of what has happened, but I feel that this is the sort of committee which when asked to design a horse would come up with a camel. I wonder how the European Union will regard such a committee.
As I said, I have constituents who have been flooded elsewhere. In modern times flooding of rivers has become extremely serious because we have built on and tried to use areas which are natural flood lands. This has been a major problem in Holland, where the area between the summer and winter dykes seems to have been one of the worst affected areas. In the past building did not take place on that land. We have to look at this very seriously when we examine arterial drainage. The Rhine has been greatly shortened by about 80 kilometers from Basle to the sea. That change in the whole watercourse has tremendous potential for hydrological and engineering problems. We have to look very carefully at why the problem has arisen in some areas which in the past were mainly marshland, such as the Shannon marshes.
I got the impression from the Minister of State's speech that he is going to take on board the best engineering advice in this regard. This is not simply a matter of boring holes in the ground and trying to get the water out, because this has become a recurrent problem in various areas. It is also important to remember that some of the richest lands in the world are alluvial plains which had regular flooding episodes. I know that this is no comfort to the people of Gort at the moment. All of those international areas with flooding problems such as the Mississippi valley, the Po valley, the Rhine valley and the Ganges have a tradition of flooding. However, it has got a great deal worse now, due largely to industrial development, which has not taken into account the best interests of the whole land mass.
I know that after two or three years trees are a great help in soaking up the ground water. For example, the flooding in the Ganges area has been caused by the deforestation of the lower hills. With regard to our afforestation programmes, we should examine if planting trees in a line makes any difference. The rivulets run down rather like a ploughed field. I have often wondered if anybody has done any research on that and if it would be better to plant the trees in diagonal lines — there is a Ph.D. project for someone if they are listening.
This is a many faceted issue and involves far more than installing drains. We have had very serious environmental problems to deal with, such as blocked drains, and a tremendous emphasis had to be put on maintenance. The weather conditions have been very bad, but it is also important to look at the industrial and residential development of lands near rivers, which are very charming places to live and very useful places to build industrial projects. We need to look at this very carefully to see if we are putting an unbearable strain on the environment from a hydrological point of view. Maintenance must be stressed, and not just individual maintenance by farmers but also by the county councils. Perhaps we have not been careful enough about this and it has been a contributory factor.
I strongly support all of those who are looking for some sort of national policy on coastal erosion. In parts of this country it seems as if we have thrown in the towel. There has been such severe coastal erosion that one wonders how a large amount of the problems there can ever be reversed and they probably cannot. I urge the Minister of State, in addition to his concerns about arterial drainage, to also accept the fact that this is a very serious problem for the whole island.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I compliment my county colleague, Senator Daly, for introducing this Bill. He recognises the significance and seriousness of the recent flooding. However, this begs the question why Senator Daly and his party did not present this Bill three months ago when they were in Government and had the opportunity to do something.
Flooding is not a new phenomenon. There have been flooding and drainage problems since the foundation of the State and Senator Daly and his party have been in Government for the most of that time. Perhaps this Bill was on a shelf in the loft of the Office of Public Works and Senator Daly took it with him when he was leaving office because his colleagues were not prepared to put it through Government. Perhaps this is why it is now before the House.
The Senator is lowering the tone of the debate. It was an enlightened debate until she spoke.
Nevertheless, I compliment the Senator for his initiative. It is a response to the existing problems. There are some valuable and laudable sections in the Bill and I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Higgins, and the Government will be in a position to consider certain aspects of this Bill and incorporate them into more extensive legislation, which the Government may bring forward soon. I am delighted to hear the Minister hopes to have his legislation ready and published within four to six weeks. This is a record time in terms of the production of legislation, particularly legislation of this nature because there is so much involved. It is a phenomenal task to have a Bill ready in that time and I congratulate the Minister and all the Departments involved.
Unlike Senator Henry, I think the establishment of the interdepartmental committee is extremely wise and highly commendable. I say this because those of us who have dealt with flooding problems over the years have always found it extremely difficult to identify one particular Department which will take responsibility for flooded areas. The position with regard to flooded roads is the only one which is clear. The local authorities are responsible if a road is flooded and damaged in their area. In other cases one gets the runaround between the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, the Department of the Marine and the Office of Public Works. The bucks keeps circulating between the Departments because nobody is willing to take responsibility.
By establishing this committee, the Government has pulled together the key Departments which traditionally had some element of responsibility. When this committee produces a report, I hope it will be in a position to identify clear areas of responsibility within Departments. It is up to the committee to decide but I hope, when a problem arises in the future, that one will be able to clearly identify who is responsible and get that Department to act because, heretofore, this has not been the case.
There are particular responsibilities, for example, in relation to the Department of the Environment and local authorities giving planning permission. In my constituency recently a field was bought by a local authority. This field has been repeatedly flooded over the years but there are plans to build a number of properties on it. One wonders what will happen if houses built on that field are flooded in ten years. Who will take responsibility? Some of the things that happen in the public sector are highly questionable. One wonders what people are about and when common sense should prevail.
If county councillors proceed, as we on Clare County Council and other councils have done at different times, with section 4 resolutions, they are always advised by the county manager that, as councillors, we are personally liable if something goes wrong as a result of the granting of that planning permission. These aspects must be teased out and examined in the context of the Department of the Environment.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry takes responsibility for certain lands, due to the traditional responsibility of the Land Commission which is now incorporated into the Department. There is a need to identify clearly the responsibilities of that Department across the country and I hope this will be done.
One of the problems addressed by the Bill and in the previous debate on flooding two weeks ago is the position with regard to forestry. Senator Henry referred to the drainage systems put in place for reafforestation. I attended a meeting in Connolly in my constituency two weeks ago where the people discussed the change in their local environment due to large vertical drains on the side of mountains in areas of reafforestation. Water gushes down the drains and onto the roads, which results in erosion. This is causing havoc and somebody must take responsibility for the forestry section of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. Some order must be imposed as regards what lands are reafforested.
Perhaps it is outside the Bill's remit, but there are lands being reafforested which should be used for agricultural purposes. There are areas of marginal land where afforestation should proceed, but there should be some restriction where there is good land and people anxious to farm it. At present, if a person has land they can plant trees, regardless of its quality. Some parameters and direction need to be given in relation to the afforestation programme. A clear policy and a development plan for agriculture and forestry must be drafted to impose some order in this area.
The bulk of reafforestation taking place uses coniferous rather than deciduous trees. There is land suitable for each type. Where land is suitable for deciduous trees, people should not be allowed to plant coniferous trees. In the long term, these aspects have an impact on soakage of water, drainage and the environment. This can also be looked at in a global context, because there appears to be a change in seasons.
I remember a former Minister for the Environment, Pádraig Flynn, introducing legislation in the Dáil some years ago which dealt with the ozone layer. He mentioned the difficulties it would pose in relation to climatic changes worldwide; there appears to be a knock-on effect in this area too. There has been unprecedented rainfall of almost 27 inches in the west in the past two months and it has had a huge impact on agriculture, roads, etc., which cannot be minimised. The interdepartmental committee must closely examine all aspects of this issue.
The Department of the Marine has responsibility for specific areas of the coastline. As an island nation, we must realise that we are in a vulnerable position, especially in certain parts of the country where coastal erosion is ongoing. Unfortunately, in the first submission made by the Government for Structural Funds five or six years ago, no section was included for coastal erosion purposes. As a result of pressure brought to bear by Fine Gael in the last submission, an application for funding for this area was included. This aspect must not be minimised or overlooked.
For example, in my constituency, near the Shannon estuary, a major section of a wall was damaged in the recent storms but it is impossible to get any Department to take responsibility for it. There are about six or seven farmers in an area where hundreds of acres have been destroyed by salt water. This land cannot be used for approximately a year and these farmers will suffer as a result. They should be considered for compensation in terms of fodder because there is actual damage. The grass will not grow and the farmers will not be in a position to cut silage or save hay.
Gort, Sixmilebridge and Ennis are good examples of what is happening in certain towns. In these three towns, within a short distance of each other, homes and businesses have been flooded and there is need for compensation. There is a section in the Bill that deals specifically with compensation and I wonder if the Minister will consider this for his own Bill? Section 6 deals with compensation in respect of flood damage out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas, but it would be very difficult at this stage to say that everybody will be compensated for damage to their houses and property. The reality is that within the next two or three weeks we could have up to ten inches of rainfall. While there might be a large number of properties flooded at present, there could be many more if the flooding worsens and the situation deteriorates.
The Minister needs space to take everything into consideration because until the situation levels off, nobody will know the full extent of the problem. There are a definite number of cases involving real hardship that will have to be considered for compensation. The level of distress and the damage that have affected some people's livelihood is phenomenal — their residential property, farmyard, machinery and lands, etc. It is a disaster for these people. There are a number of farming families who are facing disaster. Many of them would have raised money from the banks for farm development purposes or building a new house. They have major commitments and repayments to make, having believed that things would remain normal but a very abnormal situation now exists. Something has to be done for them. I do not know how this will be achieved because there are financial restrictions. The previous Government had no specific allowances or money in their Estimates for flooding or for special compensation purposes, no more than the current Government. We are talking about two Governments in office within a few months of each other. That is the reality but something must be done for the real hardship cases. There is another problem. The owners of houses which had been previously flooded — and were also flooded recently — cannot insure their properties.
Overall there is a major problem which crosses all Departments. In relation to rivers in County Clare ten years ago £200,000 was spent yearly by the county council on the maintenance of rivers. That is no longer the case. If one leaves aside inflation that is £2 million — £2.5 million with inflation — of river maintenance which has not been carried out because the council felt obliged to put the money into road development, and we all know the condition of our roads. There is a difficulty there. It comes down to the fundamental issue of finance, a difficult issue for any Government to address but this Government will have to address it.
The Minister's legislation will be before the House in a matter of weeks and it would be wise to withdraw the current Bill so that all aspects could be considered in detail because——
The Minister does not propose to do anything about compensation. He said he does not see any necessity for legislation on compensation.
There will be a Supplementary Estimate.
You do not have to legislate for compensation because an emergency Estimate is sometimes introduced and money is provided in this way. That happens where there is disaster or hardship. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry has already gone part of the way towards that when the Minister, Deputy Yates, made an announcement in relation to further compensation. I am sure that once this interdepartmental committee examines, in fine detail, the difficulties and cases of serious hardship which arise in particular instances special cognisance will be taken and special consideration given. I have every confidence that the Minister will do this. It would be prudent for Senator Daly to allow the Department, with the Attorney General, to fully examine every aspect of this situation.
Flooding is a monumental problem, particularly in the Gort area where there was a natural drainage system, with underlying limestone rock and water seeping through into swallow holes and underground rivers. There is a belief in that area that some of the minor swallow holes and drains which go into the underground rivers have been blocked off. Some would argue that this is because of extensive land reclamation in recent years and because of a change in the surface topography which has generated a change in the underlying topography. From a geographic and topographic point of view, it will be difficult for the Department to identify the difficulties there because there is a natural drainage system which has never been investigated. It will be difficult to find the source of the problem but I have every confidence the Minister will ensure this is sorted out.
There is a need for an immediate reaction to the priorities which exist at present. There are emergencies that need to be dealt with and there is need for an immediate action plan. There is a need for a long term strategy prioritised in relation to the drainage of rivers, coastal protection, sluice gates along the estuaries of smaller rivers flowing into larger rivers and sluice gates in bays along the coastline that are literally defunct or obsolete and cause flooding on hundreds of acres of land. These matters must be examined in detail. The onus is on the Minister to have a national action plan, a priority list drafted and to ensure that a progressive approach is adopted. I do not believe all our drainage problems can be sorted out with one stroke of the pen. That is not going to happen. We have problems because this issue has not been addressed for generations. If we start to address them now we may make some impact. I urge the Minister to take action and to recognise in the short term, the real difficulties that exist in particular areas and respond in a positive fashion.
I congratulate the Minister. I welcome him to the House and wish him every success in his new portfolio. I have every confidence that, being from the west, he fully understands the difficulties discussed in this debate. Coming from a rural constituency he knows what those difficulties are and if anybody can provide the action needed, this Minister can. I wish him well.
I would like to add my support for Senator Daly's Bill. This matter must be tackled immediately and I appeal to the Government to take action because time is not on our side. We have a habit of putting something off until there is an inquiry. With no reflection on the present Minister, this is one of the problems we face. We rely on Departments and local authorities to look into such matters. There are enough reports in various Departments, local government offices and the Office of Public Works to wallpaper all the houses in Dublin, and the number of reports has increased with successive Governments. It is a stalling process.
This Bill is a sensible one that would get on with the job in hand and give power to the Office of Public Works and local authorities to deal with these problems. They may not be major problems, but if they were properly dealt with they would prevent a lot of the major flooding problems. The hardship that is created, the damage done to homes and the health hazard and cost of repairing their homes is the same, irrespective of whether the flooding is in an urban or rural area. Sometimes when claiming for compensation you may find that your insurance company may not cover flooding. They call it an act of God. We can blame God for many things, but the Government are often at fault as well.
I would like to refresh Senator Taylor-Quinn's memory when she asked what the last Government did about flooding. It did more than the rainbow hurricane we now have. It had to clear up a national debt built up over five years by the irresponsible Government before it. When our party came to Government in 1987 this country was on the verge of national bankruptcy and despair across the board. It had to tackle more important matters than drainage streams. We had to drain the national debt and bring back some of our responsibility and credit-worthiness——
Fair dues to you.
——due to the reckless actions of the previous Government.
Could you return to the Bill, Senator Byrne?
I am only refreshing the Senator's memory.
Is the Senator referring to 1977?
He is referring to 1963; Hurricane Charlie.
Instead of draining the wet lands, Senator Taylor-Quinn's Government has savagely cut the allocation for county and national roads — some £1.25 million of funding for county roads was cut in my county — and it is a national scandal.
We are discussing the Arterial Drainage Bill.
We will have a flooding problem with all our roads if such small amounts of money are handed out to our counties. The Government came out with many pious platitudes around both this and the other Chamber over the last three to four years. I do not know where this Government is spending all of its money, but they have savagely cut the funding for county and main roads. It is a national scandal and I condemn the Government for it. It will cost more in a few years time to undo this lack of progress. My party had to pick up the tab in 1987 when virtually nothing was given to local authorities for county roads. We had to begin from a low base and the same thing is happening again. It will cost twice as much to repair these roads next time and there will be more flooding problems as well.
There is little co-operation under successive Governments between various State bodies, whether it is the local county council, the Department of Agriculture, the Office of Public Works or any other body. They are all little independent republics; they will not even phone each other. You may resurface a street with tarmacadam today, Bord Telecom may tear it up tomorrow and the county council may put down a sewerage scheme through it the day after. One would not see such lack of co-operation and squandering of public money anywhere else in the world. We are not a country that can continue with that type of duplication and waste of public funds, whether they came from Europe or from the national taxpayer. It is sad to see it happening. With a little co-operation and planning, it could be avoided.
I agree with Senator Taylor-Quinn when she referred to flooding in parts that have never experienced it before. This is due to bad planning. Of course, most of the people who made these decisions have gone to higher posts and no one is responsible. However, the people in the town, village or rural area have to put up with the flooding. Even our motorways and by-passes are continuously flooded, and I am not referring to the downpours we are getting at the moment. That would not happen if they were designed properly. The water is a traffic hazard if it freezes over, but nobody seems to care. We cannot even build a bridge across a stream, even though we might have 30 councils, without bringing in a consultant — maybe a retired county engineer — to design it. We are going backwards. The taxpayer is being ripped off and it must stop. We are not getting value for money and I do not care what Government is in power. For every pound a local authority gets from central funds, whether local or European, there is approximately five pence left to do the work. The rest is spent in red tape and in maintaining the overstaffing of many Departments and that is not good enough.
We are the laughing stock of Europe. We are throwing money away. There is lack of supervision and no imagination. The older generation had more commonsense and foresight when they were maintaining roads. The local county council would work on the county or main road and the Department of Agriculture would try to clear the ditches and drains that were blocking up watercourses, but there would be more flooding on the road. As I said, these bodies do not speak to each other; they never did. It would make too much sense to do that. Then consultants are brought in to find out what is wrong. Much bad planning was done over the years by those bodies and it should stop.
I referred to Coillte two weeks ago. It is a law onto itself and the problems it is creating are unbelievable. Great damage has been caused to public roads due to flooding and heavy machinery. While that body may create a few jobs, it is destroying others and is causing unnecessary expense for local authorities. Senator Henry named the various bodies involved. They do not cooperate with one another; they are all independent republics. It is time some Minister got them to act in a co-operative manner to solve this problem and not be going around in circles; we have been doing that for a long time.
I pity those people who have suffered from this flooding. It is a terrible thing to have one's houses and property damaged. In rural areas, fertiliser has been washed out of the land and this creates a danger to livestock. This could also create a greater risk of fluke problems. One cannot then bring machinery onto the land. It is not just confined to winter months. This is happening in many parts of the country.
While there is a problem, if we had more commonsense and there was more co-operation between some of the Departments, maybe some of the problems could be avoided. There is a village in my constituency called Ardfinnan which is flooded twice a year by the River Suir. That river, like the Shannon, has been drained many times over the last 40 years. Important work was carried out 40 years ago by local authorities, but many court cases arose from it. We drained the River Anner outside Clonmel and it nearly broke the local authority; there were High Court cases taking place for three years. While we may complain about problems, the minute one tries to solve them, many people will say "Stop, you cannot do that." It is sad to see that happening and there should be more commonsense and co-operation. Gort has also suffered heavily in the last few months and my heart goes out to the people there.
There must be more co-operation between the various authorities. This would save a lot of money, energy and time. They use JCBs to remove bends on county roads which results in flooding on the road. I cannot understand why a senior inspector from a Department cannot ask these so-called experts and highly qualified people why something was done a particular way and why it was not supervised properly and then tell them that they have lost their job as a result. All that happens is that they are moved to another section. That day is over.
Young people will not put up with these smug little arrangements in Government Departments and in local government. They see it as a closed club where nobody can question anybody and where the buck does not stop with anyone in the Departments, local authorities, Coillte Teoranta, the Office of Public Works or elsewhere. It is a cosy arrangement, but the people and the taxpayers are suffering because they are not getting value for money. I appeal to the Minister, who has been in public life for a long time, to get the heads of these Departments together and lock them in to a room until they decide to do something together in the national interest.
I congratulate Senator Daly for introducing this Bill. We must express our concern about the stress and loss people have experienced during the worst winter for many years. Having listened to Senator Byrne, one would blame the present Government of seven weeks for the level of rainfall we have had in the past few months.
The rainbow caused that.
Does the Senator know what is at the end of a rainbow?
There are always showers after rainbows.
Those experiencing difficulties because of the flooding have suffered a lot of stress. We must empathise with them and do what we can. From his statements in the House on flooding and on this Bill, I know the Minister is doing everything he can to alleviate the problems and to reach a solution. I heard the Minister speak at a party meeting in Athlone recently and I was impressed by his sincerity in trying to obtain a solution to these problems, which some said were not fixable. I know the Minister is concerned and is determined to do everything he can.
The winter of 1994-95 was one of the wettest in decades. Rainfall in February was 249 per cent of the average, while in January it was approximately 170 per cent of the average. The effect of this has caused devastation in many areas, including Clare, Galway and parts of Limerick and west Limerick. The Mulcair area of Limerick has received a high profile because of the seriousness of the problems there, but there are lesser problems in west Limerick, including county roads which were already referred to.
I welcome the establishment of the interdepartmental committee to coordinate the response to the bad weather and the effect it has had on people. It is a response to some of the things which Senator Byrne spoke about. The Government is concerned about co-ordinating the Departments and services responsible for alleviating the situation. That is a positive step, because too often Departments work alone like independent republics. The Minister has taken a decision to ensure co-operation and co-ordination in the activities. The Government has responded by establishing the interdepartmental committee to deal with the situation.
While we share the objectives of this Bill, I welcome the announcement by the Minister that he intends to introduce a Bill which will cater for most of the situations outlined in this one and which will extend to other important areas. We should compliment those who have worked since 8 December. Some 25.5 milligrams of rainfall were recorded in the Shannon weather station on 7-8 December. It was from that date that our problems started. We should compliment the various organisations and services which have assisted people over that period, including the Garda and local authority workers who, despite criticisms made by Senator Byrne, have worked extremely hard in all areas of Limerick day and night; I am sure the same applies in Clare, Galway and other areas. The Army, the Air Corps and the voluntary Civil Defence must also be complimented. We saw spectacular pictures on television of the work which the Air Corps did in more seriously flooded areas.
A feature of this debate has been that everyone ensured that their area was highlighted, so I would like to refer to mine. The problems of flooding are confined to two areas in west Limerick, Foynes and Shanagolden. There is a unique problem in Foynes in that there is flooding from the hills and also tidal flooding. I would like to draw the Minister's attention to that so that money be provided from the special fund to relieve the situation. Maybe he could impress upon the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin, the need to provide funding for a proposed sewerage scheme in the village because that would relieve many of the problems in the Foynes area.
As regards tidal flooding, work on this could be co-ordinated with the Foynes Harbour Trustees to ensure that any development in the future in the harbour will prevent the tide from reaching the town. This does not happen regularly and I understand it is 40 years since a similar situation occurred in Foynes. That highlights the unique situation we face today as a result of the high level of rainfall, flooding and wind. We cannot blame the Government for that because it is an act of God.
The problems in Shanagolden are not as great and the local council, which has looked at the situation, believes it could take care of them with perhaps £25,000, which is not a considerable amount. The previous speaker spoke about county roads, which I will raise on the Adjournment tonight. I want to use this opportunity to draw the Minister's attention to the concerns in County Limerick about the devastating condition of county roads and the inaccessibility of rural areas. We welcome the initiatives of this Government and the Leader programme which, I hope, will be of benefit. We are looking closely at the initiatives which Minister Carey is taking in developing rural areas and his pilot studies. However, if one talks to people in County Limerick at present they will say they need access to their houses, school and villages.
I take exception to Senator Byrne, who said this Government is not providing for county roads. Last year his party contributed £83 million to county roads; we have allocated £103 million this year. The tax amnesty, which was debated at length, made £20 million available. Some £5 million became available during the European Parliament elections. More money was available last year, but if we had a tax amnesty, we too would give £25 million. Effectively we have increased the base line from £83 million to £103 million.
I refer to the Mulcair drainage scheme, an old hoary chestnut, which I spoke about two weeks ago. Since the debate I have discussed this with various people, including the IFA. This scheme will cost £40 million and, while it is necessary, it is unrealistic to ask the Government to fund it. I ask the Minister to introduce a phased system. The first £1 million, which is the most important, would provide the greatest relief because there is probably a return to scale as one spends money. If we spent £1 million plus each year, the situation could be improved over a period. The people would see the State authorities responding to a difficulty they have. They would see relief — although limited initially — and that should be the approach.
All the work has been done on the Mulcair drainage scheme, including environmental studies. I draw attention to it although it is not in the constituency in which I live, but it is in my county and is of extreme concern to those who live there. It is as serious for the people in Cappamore as for those in Sixmilebridge and Galway.
I look forward to the Minister's Bill. I compliment Senator Daly. I have introduced Private Members' Bills and got a certain response over a period of time and I know how Senator Daly feels. I withdrew Private Members' Bills when a Minister promised to introduce similar Bills. We did not put the Bill to a vote; I withdrew Bills on the basis of a commitment from a Minister. That happened during the period of this Seanad and I urge Members to act in the same manner. They should wait and see what the Government draws up with the help of the draftsman and its support systems. I know what it is to draw up a Bill without those supports and the consequent limitations. Senator Daly is in a similar position to that which I was in on several occasions. When I knew a Bill was to be introduced I withdrew mine. I look forward to the Minister's Bill.
I understand there are a number of speakers offering and it was agreed on the Order of Business that the Leader of the House would speak at 3.30 p.m. and Senator Daly at 3.40 p.m. Will Members share their time?
I wish to share with Senator O'Toole. I hope to limit my time to less than ten minutes.
Is that agreed? Agreed. There are about 17 minutes left.
My contribution will only be four or five minutes.
I will not speak.
I will try to limit my contribution to five minutes. I welcome the Minister of State to the House and congratulate him on his appointment.
The Seanad has done the country a service over the past two weeks because of the attention it has focused on the devastation caused by the recent floods. Senator Daly has done the country a service in bringing forward this important Bill. It focuses on getting something done about the problem and after all the talk there must be action, some of which will need legislation. We are all agreed that action is necessary but within that consensus differences have emerged as to what exactly should be done and how it should be done.
I am not an expert on drainage and I do not come from an area that has been affected by drainage problems. However, over the past two weeks I have studied carefully what many of my colleagues have said and I am beginning to learn something about the difficulties being experienced. Let me declare a clear preference: the best course of action is for the Government to adopt this Bill and then address whatever flaws they find by way of amendment. That was proposed by Senator Fahey last week and I congratulate him on it.
Apart from the obvious political one, I do not see any good reason the Government cannot accept it as it stands and then have a pause before Committee Stage so that the input from various Departments can be incorporated into the final result. Accepting the Bill would be widely welcomed as a non-partisan approach to a serious national problem and it would reflect the constructive nature of the debates in this House.
Accepting the Bill now would also send a message about the urgency the Oireachtas attaches to getting something done. It would offer some encouragement to the many people suffering hardship as a result of the floods. On the other hand, rejecting this Bill now and asking us to wait for a Government Bill at some later time would run the risk of reducing that urgency. Instead of action we would be delivering yet another promise in what has been a long history of promises. It is my preference that the Government should accept this Bill. However, it is not prepared to do so and I regret that as it would be the best way forward.
What should the House do in the light of the Government's unwillingness to adopt this Bill? Should we shelve the Bill and wait for the Government's Bill or should we pass this Bill in defiance of the Government knowing that the victory would be pretty empty in terms of getting something done about the problem? The key issues here are action and urgency. The country wants action and wants it now. I suggest that in deciding how to vote on this Bill we should ask what decisions will result in action, what action and if the action will be soon enough.
It comes down to speed. I went to the Minister today and put it to him how important I felt this matter was. He has told me the heads of the Bill went to Cabinet yesterday, and were approved, and to the Parliamentary Draftsman today. He has given me a commitment and asked me to pass it on to the House that the Bill will be published before 30 April — I asked for a specific date not a vague indication. He also gave me a commitment that it will be introduced here before 31 May. I would prefer to have it here next week but I will accept that the Minister's timeframe is realistic enough. It is an appropriate enough response to the pressure from the debates in this House.
I suggest we give the Minister and the Government the benefit of the doubt and then we should watch like hawks to make sure they deliver.
I have indicated clearly to the Government side and to the Fianna Fáil Members that I will support this Bill for a number of reasons. I have seen and felt the alienation of people in rural Ireland which is understood by many in this House. I saw the look of optimism on people's faces when the Minister visited them last week; his visit was appreciated. Putting through this Bill will not of itself bring action. I ask the Government to accept this Bill in its totality, to defer Committee Stage and to introduce whatever changes they require and intend making in the proposal outlined to Senator Quinn.
I have discussed this matter with my first cousin who is cathaoirleach of Galway County Council. He has conveyed to me the sense of alienation people feel there; they feel cut off. We need to show a sense of solidarity with them. In fairness, the Minister has done that with his visit. My vote in support of them is telling them that we have seen the brain drain out of the west moving east and, in many cases, have seen communities being denuded. I want my vote to be seen as a gesture of solidarity with them. That is not to take from those on the Government side who would have the same commitment to that area.
I am glad this Bill was initiated in the Seanad. From what I know of the Gort area I do not see the solution to the problem. If the problem is underground drainage, I do not see how that can be cleared; if the problem is opening up a drainage passage from Coole to the sea, for example, there are huge decisions to be taken. I do not pretend to know the answer to emptying out the excess water in that area. It is important for the Seanad to show solidarity with the people there: telling them that we are with them; if they need to be compensated, that will be given within reason; if work is needed we will do that within reason. There are two ways of doing that, either by a vote in a gesture of solidarity or, better, by the Government saying that it will accept this Bill and take it over on Committee Stage. The procedure is there to do so.
I compliment Senator Daly. As with everyone on both sides of the House, my sympathy is with the people who have been flooded. It is heart wrenching to watch what they have put up with and I will vote with them today in the same way as I voted when the Government proposed to establish a Ministry to deal with rural and western development. Those people need that sense of solidarity, they need our support and my gesture and vote today is with them.
Ar an gcéad dul síos, the hardship caused by the flooding must be addressed by the involvement of the State in two ways. Immediate financial aid must be given to those who have been flooded out of their own homes and holdings over the past couple of months. It was pathetic to see instances where people could only see their homes across a sea of water. The television pictures brought it home to us that action is needed in this regard.
There are many points of view as to the cause of flooding. The heavy rainfalls were mentioned, the harvesting of trees and other causes are being debated. The action that has been taken by the interdepartmental committee in bringing together the various arms of the State and bodies and the appointment of consultants to bring in a report is definitely the way to go forward in this regard. The commitment to bring in amending legislation in the near future that would embody the reports that come in is a very definite line of action which should be some encouragement to the people in the areas, and that action should be supported by this House.
I cannot understand why this Bill is being opposed today. So many people have congratulated Senator Daly today that I cannot believe that there is opposition to this Bill.
This issue has been debated here for the last two months, both in Fianna Fáil time and in Government time. The issue itself is one of a disaster for the west. That is recognised by the Leader giving Government time for this debate. Someone said earlier that because this is an Opposition Bill it is a bad Bill. I do not agree with that. Whatever action or lack of action there may have been in the past, the fact is that Senator Daly reacted in a positive way and should be supported. I was made aware of this disaster by Senator Daly, Senator Fahey and Senator Finneran. As the Leader knows, we tried to make sure that this was the top priority on the Order of Business every day and here we are after two months.
Senator Quinn has looked for action. We cannot stand up here today and say that we have not seen action. I will not list every Minister who has been to Galway to see the situation. They have to speak for themselves. All I know is that Senator Daly and the Fianna Fáil Party responded to the crisis that they saw at the time by bringing forward a Bill that will in the main be part and parcel of the Government Bill. I wonder what the response of Government would be if this was an east coast problem, if this was a Dublin problem? If there was flooding in Malahide or Howth, what would the issue be? There would not be two months' debate or worries about a Bill to be brought in on 30 April. We may not see the Government's Bill before the summer. The last time we had a problem in Dublin we had an immediate response from the then coalition Government under Garrett FitzGerald, and rightly so. Compensation was duly paid. Why are we being delayed in this instance? Why is there so far no real commitment to payment? One must find the difference between the east coast solution and western one. I wish to knock one thing on the head. The Bill is not an open cheque book, it is strictly tied to the Department of Finance in any compensation payments.
I wish to mention Seanad reform. I mentioned last week on the Order of Business that Senator Manning is absolutely committed to Seanad reform. If we are talking about the Seanad playing a meaningful role in political life, surely there is an ideal opportunity to do so today by allowing this Bill to be passed here today and put on the Dáil Order Paper to show that we really care about the issues on the ground. Everyone here today agrees that something has to be done. My colleague has brought something forward and Senators have an opportunity of showing today that the Seanad has a meaningful role to play.
I wish to mention to our independent colleagues that many of their voters in universities are from the west. Senator O'Toole rightly said that today is a day for all of us to stand four-square with those in the west. Many of those voters may have left the west now, but still have strong family ties and very much feel that there is a need for political action to solve this problem. Senators have an opportunity to show their support in a meaningful way by supporting this Bill. The independent Senators have the opportunity today to nail on the head once and for all the suggestions in recent articles that there is a lack of independence in their vote.
I ask them to support the Bill as all of them have by their contributions today made it quite clear that they support all of what Senator Daly is trying to achieve. The best way to achieve that, if we really mean that the Seanad has a role to play, is for this Bill to be passed and put on the Dáil Order Paper.
Senator Norris, you have four minutes.
Thank you very much, Sir. I doubt that I will need the four minutes, but I am very grateful to have the opportunity to say a few words on this Bill.
First, with regard to what my distinguished colleague, Senator Wright, said in reference to Senator O'Toole's contribution, I do not think it is necessary for us to analyse the constituency and see whether or not we have a preponderance of votes from the west. If we do not have a preponderance we certainly have some votes there, but we do not need to have that kind of connection. We are a small island and everybody on this island has been moved by the plight of people stricken by the recent flooding. Gort has been principally mentioned, but there has been flooding all around Carlow which has not had quite so much mention. Very serious difficulties have been created for people.
Two points arose from the general discussion. I was struck, for example, by references made to swallow holes. It is very easy to make a mockery out of these features of the landscape; but the reason it struck me as significant was that, among the arguments I listened to from environmentalists and farmers, I heard that the impact of modern farming technology, silage and so on, led to the use of a lot of black plastic and that many of these natural drains had been blocked by plastic, so it gives us a very salutary reminder of the impact of industrial and domestic pollution even on natural features of the landscape. The second idea may be a little fanciful and far fetched but I put it forward simply because among other things today I heard somebody from Dublin who had no connections with the west saying that he had been to Gort and was so impressed by the hospitality and decency of the people and their difficult circumstances that he had taken out — this is a man on disability pension — an advertisement in the newspapers costing him £91 asking people to spend a weekend there and now I gather that the bed and breakfasts are almost full up. That is a very practical, decent show of solidarity indicating how important tourism is.
One of the suggestions in the Gort area was the development of a large arterial drainage canal. This may be naive, but I wonder if that could not also become some kind of tourist feature. I do not know how large these things are, whether there could be an ornamental or a boating aspect to it. Perhaps that is naive or fanciful, but it could be looked into. With regard to the Bill, I will display my independence in the way in which I vote. In particular I want to show my independence from Senator O'Toole. We have all over a long period demonstrated that we are genuinely independent. When Fianna Fáil was in Government, sometimes I voted against it, sometimes I voted with it.
I commend Senator Daly for his foresight and initiative and the Fianna Fáil Party in bringing this matter to a head by introducing legislation. It is exactly what this House is all about and I congratulate them on it. But I would also have to say I have spoken to Senator Manning and Senator Cosgrave and am happy that the three requirements in which I was interested — that the most valuable suggestions made by Fianna Fáil in the Bill would be accepted and introduced by the Government in its legislation, that this legislation would be introduced in the Seanad and that there would be a realistic time scale within which this legislation would be introduced — have been satisfied as far I am concerned and I will, therefore, have no difficulty in voting with the Government.
I will begin where the last few speakers finished. Senator Quinn got to the nub of the matter when he said that the Seanad and Senator Daly have done a national service by allowing us have this detailed debate over this period. This debate has put pressure on the Government to respond. This pressure is very much welcomed by the Minister, Deputy Jim Higgins, who is only a short time in this post but already has shown a grasp of what has to be done and a commitment to do it. All the pressure on him from the commitments he has freely and willingly given in this House will be used to speed up even further the process of the legislation he has promised.
I have no worries about Private Members' Bills and hope that during the remainder of this session we will see such Bills. The sky does not fall down if a Private Member's Bill is accepted and passed by the House. It is part of our function to be legislators.
I oppose this Bill because I have been advised — like Senator Quinn I am a novice to questions of arterial drainage and have tried to study the factors relating to it — that a more comprehensive Bill is needed. In the spirit indicated by Senator Fahey last week and advocated by Senator Lee and Senator Roche, specific sections, in particular section 4 but also other aspects, of Senator Daly's Bill will be incorporated in the new legislation.
We are all used to promises and waiting; but people, especially in the west and in my own county of Carlow, cannot wait any longer. The Minister has been very specific. He has given Senator Quinn a time commitment. Nobody gives a commitment unless they intend to honour it. That commitment will be honoured and legislation will be introduced in the House which will take the best out of Senator Daly's Bill and address the other problems which need to be tackled. It will be in the House in the time indicated by Senator Quinn. It will begin its life and will be given priority in this House. I hope that Bill will be on the Statute Book in time for work to commerce on clearing up the problems which the Bill is designed to deal with.
An additional sum of £4 million is being made available for county roads and £2 million for agricultural compensation. The interdepartmental committee is meeting at the moment on the problems. The Government is committed to tackling the major black spots this year as soon as the legislation is enacted.
The Government is committed to introducing a Supplementary Estimate for the Office of Public Works this year. This will cover the cost of the study in the south Galway area, the fees for a number of commissions which the Office of Public Works will shortly place for the design of a number of flood defence schemes to protect areas where sufficient data are available to allow designs to be prepared, the cost of installing data collection equipment in other areas known to be subject to periodical flooding so that a programme of work, for which several Senators called, can be prepared and will also cover the cost of any schemes which it may be possible to commence this year.
This House has highlighted the problems, which have been well and fully discussed. We have had proposals from the Opposition and a Bill, which has many worthwhile aspects, presented by Senator Daly. We have the proposals of the Minister which will include many of the aspects of Senator Daly's Bill but will be more comprehensive. We have a time commitment and a pledge to put into the new Bill what the House thinks is worthwhile in Senator Daly's Bill. This is a joint effort here today. Senator Quinn got to the nub of the problem. Commitments have been given. I know that everybody on the other side of the House will watch like hawks to see that these commitments are honoured. I would do the same if I were on that side and will do so from this side. All parties and Members of this House want to see action quickly.
The House has seen that the Minister, Deputy Jim Higgins, has the will, determination, commitment and ability to have this legislation here in the timescale outlined, to get it enacted and start the work, about which Senator Quinn talked, to ensure that as far as possible — acts of God are outside the control of all of us — the sort of situation which is the culmination of years and years of neglect can be tackled. This party has been in Government for only the last eight or nine weeks, so this is an issue with which no one can afford to start playing politics and is one which we as a House and a country must tackle. When the Minister's proposals are in the House before the end of May, we will see that the work which was done here today and has been going on for the past few weeks will be successfully completed.
I express my sincere appreciation to all those who contributed to the Second Stage debate on this Bill and thank all those who commended and supported the proposals contained in it. My intention in introducing the Bill was to respond to the crisis which has been caused by the unprecedented flooding which has taken place in localised areas since the end of 1994, to put in place a formula which would enable action to be taken to alleviate it and to pay some compensation in deserving cases where flooding has occurred and is occurring at present.
I was disappointed with the Minister's response. He more than anyone else is fully aware of what is required to resolve these problems. I had expected that he would be far more positive in his contribution. I can fully understand his reluctance to accept the Bill and to spell out how he proposes to deal with the shortcomings identified in it. I cannot understand why he is not convinced of the necessity to put in place a mechanism to enable claims for compensation to be examined and either paid or rejected. The suggestion that he does not need such powers is, in my view, a basic error of judgment on his part and one I think he will later regret.
My proposal would focus all claims in one direction and would probably at the end of the day be more efficient, cost effective and satisfactory for all the parties involved. The present arrangement, whereby various Government Departments and agencies will be involved, will result in disparities from area to area in the response and delays in dealing with the problems because of the involvement of several Departments and agencies. This is a chaotic arrangement from an administrative point of view, no precise cost or estimate will be available, the need for urgency and action to deal with the problems will be further frustrated and delayed and the grievances people have will be continued and exacerbated.
I strongly recommend to the Minister that he should review his decision with regard to the payment of compensation and come forward with a proposal, even at a later stage, if he is not happy with the measure I have proposed. With regard to his criticism of the Bill, which was nit picking, we are prepared to look at any amendments which he may propose and which would strengthen the Bill.
The Minister mentioned two aspects of the Bill which he was concerned would make the situation more difficult to resolve. One of these is already provided for in that in looking at localised flood problems I have inserted a provision that the total catchment would be taken into account lest damage might be caused elsewhere because of the remedial work undertaken. That was one of the Minister's concerns and we have catered for that in the Bill.
A small amendment to section 8 would rectify what the Minister sees as a shortcoming in the legislation. I am sure the Minister has decided to reject this Bill but he has already given some consideration to how these problems can be solved. I suggest that the approach I have adopted is one way, but perhaps there are others. He said there is a major deficiency in the Bill but that is not an issue because it could be rectified with one small amendment.
The Minister made a long speech but it was short on specifics. It is appalling that he has spent weeks talking about a trip to Brussels to seek financial backing. He should have made this trip weeks ago and shown his concern not only to the people affected but also to those in Brussels as well. The Commission will not be awaiting his visit. It has already had numerous discussions and involvement with other member states with difficulties.
It shows an extreme lack of urgency that, at this late stage after all the discussion, debate and dialogue and the introduction of this Bill, the Minister has not made that important trip to Brussels. I know he has to get a certain amount of information together. However, if he is trying to convince people in Brussels that there is an urgency about this problem and that money is required to come to grips with it, he will need to show more urgency in his dealings with Brussels than he has shown up to now.
I am sure that they are aware of the situation. From my experience with them, the Commission officials will want precise information from the Minister on the nature of the problem here, the extent of financial hardship and the amount required to remedy it. His arguments in Brussels will not be convincing if he is prepared to tell the people there what he told us, that is, that the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, the local authorities, the State agencies and communications departments and the Irish Red Cross are all responding in their own way.
We welcome the response these bodies have made. I take the opportunity, as many others did, to put on record the appreciation of the community for the work done by State agencies in so far as they can deal with the situation. I especially mention local authorities which have endeavoured to deal with these problems in the best possible way and with the most immediate response available to them. Both legislative and financial shortcomings have limited their response. I put on record our appreciation for the efforts they have made. All local authorities would agree that it is beyond the bounds of their financial abilities to tackle these problems. They need financial support from the Government, backing from the European Union and a co-ordinated approach.
By not adopting the proposal in this Bill for set legislative arrangements to deal with problems, the Minister will be left with a haphazard and directionless arrangement. He will not be able to determine the full extent of the problem without having a huge bureaucracy deal with it. The impact in Brussels of endeavouring to highlight the emergency here and the necessity for urgent remedial funding to deal with it will be weakened.
When the Minister has the opportunity to meet officials of the Commission, they will specify the need for the establishment of a more focused administrative arrangement before they sanction any money. I strongly urge the Minister to adopt the proposal in this Bill. It would not only strengthen his hand with the Government and the Minister for Finance but it would also strongly strengthen his position in Brussels when seeking funds from the Commission and the European Parliament. It would be a more streamlined, efficient and cost effective way of dealing with the matter and would be far more beneficial in endeavouring to establish the case.
I want to refer to some of the comments made here; I took notes on every speech. Each person mentioned an aspect of the problem which was relevant to their own area and was important to them. Some points overlapped because the nature of the problem is the same in many areas and constituencies. This underlines the seriousness of the problem facing us, the urgency of dealing with it in a comprehensive manner and the necessity to make the firm commitment that, apart from the legislative changes that will be put in place, the necessary financial measures will also be taken. There has been no evidence of that up to now.
Senator Fahey outlined in graphic detail the misery and hardship his neighbours have suffered during this flooding, especially in the south Galway and Gort area. He, more than anyone else in the House, has seen the results of the floods on his own doorstep and no words of mine could express the deep feelings of frustration he expressed last week. The situation in Gort and south Galway is unacceptable and must be remedied now. The only way we can demonstrate our support for the community there is by passing this Bill, completing urgent remedial work to resolve the problem and paying reasonable compensation to those left without insurance or any prospect of assistance from any quarter.
I commend the Minister on the advertisement in today's paper relating to the study in Galway. However, I believe it will be a long time before we will see any results. Where environmental matters and issues of that nature are to be taken into account, it will be a long time before we will get a consultancy report on how to deal with the Gort problem. I reiterate what Senator Fahey said and what has been repeated by spokespersons on behalf of the community in Gort that this is now a disaster area and should be treated as such. Pending the outcome of consultancy studies, reports and examinations of the nature of the problem and how it should be dealt with, as a matter of extreme urgency, some remedial action should be taken so that people will have some prospect of salvaging their homes and property.
Senator Burke raised the question of slurry disposal and problems of pollution which are typical in many areas. He referred to Sixmilebridge where flooding in the local river backed into the sewerage system. People found raw sewage in their private dwellings and were forced to leave their homes. He outlined this in graphic detail and there is no necessity to repeat it. The problems of pollution and overflows from flooded streams running into septic tanks and sewerage systems is not only creating a hazard by damaging property, houses and public systems but is also creating a serious public health hazard in many areas. This could be of immense dimensions unless it is dealt with quickly.
Senator Finneran highlighted the problems in the Roscommon and Shannon basin. He outlined how 37 acres of a 40 acre farm were completely covered in water and the highest flooding levels ever were recorded in Shannonbridge. He was rightly critical, as many Senators were, of the lack of maintenance over a long period which has brought about a very serious situation in many areas.
Senator McGowan made a number of suggestions as to how flooding problems in every local authority area could be tackled. He stated that millions of pounds were being paid out every week in unemployment benefit. The unemployment problems in some areas could be resolved by providing work in social employment schemes and co-ordinated schemes organised by co-operatives, local authorities and local farming communities. This could probably be done at less cost to the Exchequer than Government schemes.
Senator Kelly said that the floods this winter were never seen before and most people would agree with that statement. She supported the payment of compensation to those affected, but it must be given to those who deserve it and not to spurious claims. This theme ran through many of the contributions. Special hardship cases involving people who have been devastated by the flooding and who have no insurance cover must be dealt with immediately. That is the basic flaw in what the Minister is asking us to accept. I have no hesitation in withdrawing my amendment to the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945, provided the Minister gives us a commitment to deal with compensation by way of legislation. However, he is not prepared to do that. On the first occasion we debated this issue, he said he was not prepared to put a legislative measure in place for the payment of compensation.
There will be special Supplementary Estimates.
Will the Minister put a legislative measure in place for the payment of compensation.
I will do better than that; I will provide money through the Supplementary Estimates.
When and how much?
Senator Daly, without interruption.
That is my main difference with the Minister.
Members on the Government side said that we should withdraw this measure because the Minister will introduce his own Bill, which will be well thought out and more comprehensive, and that consultations will take place with various Departments. I know the process well; I have been through it many times and I also know that one does not always get the desired result from legislation. The Minister indicated that he saw no necessity for compensation legislation. That is the basic flaw in his proposals. This afternoon people said they were not familiar with the complications in this area. One or two speakers said they were not experts in arterial drainage and that they knew little about how the law worked. The Minister is not dealing with compensation, which we have done in this Bill.
There will be compensation.
Legislation establishes an entitlement.
The people want the money; they are not worried about legislation.
Senator Daly, without interruption.
We are proposing that compensation will be paid and that there will be an independent committee under the Minister's guidance, with two commissioners from the Commissioners of Public Works who are experts in decision making and in the administration of this area, where claims, spurious or otherwise, will be made, but which will only be paid in genuine cases of hardship and where people can demonstrate that they are not in a position to provide for themselves. A provision in this legislation allows a person who is dissatisfied with the way their payment is being dealt with to appeal to the Minister for Finance. I am satisfied that while the Government may vote against this Bill on the basis of the Minister's proposal, he will not introduce a legislative arrangement for the payment of compensation and he will not introduce an appeal mechanism. His suggestions are short changing this House. While we may be foolish at times, we are not naive enough to think we are not being taken for a ride. The Government will not get away with this approach.
The Senator is modest.
Senator Howard mentioned Sixmilebridge and Ennis, which demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945. Flooding has been a problem here for many years. The Fergus catchment was on the famous priority list, which was a never ending list of flooded catchments. The River Fergus never moved from its position on the priority list, apart from minor remedial works which were undertaken by Clare County Council. Business, private houses and shops in the town were also flooded because the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945, could not be used to deal with the local problem in Ennis and could only deal with the whole Fergus catchment. The Ennis problem will never be dealt with under present legislation.
Senator Farrell gave details of the projects in his area. Most of the contributions dealt with problems in local areas and there was general agreement that something should be done. Senator Henry spoke about coastal erosion and provisions are included in this Bill which will not be in the Minister's legislation. Is the Minister giving us an assurance that coastal erosion will be dealt with in the Bill which he proposes to introduce here on 30 April?
It will be comprehensive.
Will coastal erosion and protection be dealt with in that legislation?
It will be a comprehensive Bill.
I have an idea of what will be in that Bill and it will not deal with coastal erosion. The Minister must state here if it will deal coastal protection and if the Coastal Protection Act, 1963, will be changed.
It will be a comprehensive Bill.
Will there be provisions in the Minister's Bill——
I assure the Senator he will not be disappointed.
Senator Daly, without interruption.
Senator Byrne spoke about the need for co-operation between the various agencies and I repeat his sentiments. Many Senators availed of the opportunity to compliment the Army, the Air Corps, Civil Defence, local volunteers and local authorities for the work they do. However, they are working with their hands tied behind their backs because they are short of money and this has been borne out in several cases in the past few weeks.
Last night at a meeting in Gort a discussion took place about an offer from the Bishop of Galway to use the weekly collections to try to remedy the problems in that town. There is little indication of a meaningful or worthwhile commitment by the Government to deal with the serious situation there.
I commend this Bill to the House and I urge everyone to think carefully before voting about the misery and hardship which thousands of people have suffered in the past few months because of the serious situation they face. On Monday night I spoke to the Shannons from Carran, which is one of the most attractive parts of Ireland in the heart of the Burren, who have not lived in their homes since Christmas. They have suffered hardship and misery because of these conditions. Their neighbours allowed them to stay in their bed and breakfast accommodation which is used in the summer. I can see no prospect of support to redress their plight; they have no insurance and no one to compensate them. Like many others, they are looking to this Government to deal with these matters and we ask the Government to do so by adopting this legislation.
- Bohan, Eddie.
- Byrne, Seán.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Daly, Brendan.
- Dardis, John.
- Fahey, Frank.
- Farrell, Willie.
- Finneran, Michael.
- Fitzgerald, Tom.
- Haughey, Edward.
- Honan, Cathy.
- Kelleher, Billy.
- Kiely, Dan.
- Kiely, Rory.
- Lydon, Don.
- McGennis, Marian.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Mullooly, Brian.
- O'Brien, Francis.
- O'Kennedy, Michael.
- O'Toole, Joe.
- Ormonde, Ann.
- Roche, Dick.
- Wright, G.V.
- Belton, Louis J.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Calnan, Michael.
- Cashin, Bill.
- Cosgrave, Liam.
- Cotter, Bill.
- D'Arcy, Michael.
- Doyle, Joe.
- Farrelly, John V.
- Henry, Mary.
- Howard, Michael.
- Kelly, Mary.
- McDonagh, Jarlath.
- Magner, Pat.
- Maloney, Sean.
- Manning, Maurice.
- Naughten, Liam.
- Neville, Daniel.
- Norris, David.
- O'Sullivan, Jan.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Reynolds, Gerry.
- Ross, Shane P.N.
- Sherlock, Joe.
- Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
- Townsend, Jim.
- Wall, Jack.
- Wilson, Gordon.
Naturally, I am disappointed that the Bill has not been accepted. However, I remind the Leader of the House that we will hold him and the Government firmly to the dates and commitments that were given in the course of the debate. In the event of the Government Bill being defective or inefficient we will submit amendments to rectify such deficiencies. At that stage we would expect support from the Members who voted against us this afternoon.
I thank Senator Daly for the effective and courteous way in which he introduced the Bill. Of course, I expect to be watched like a hawk on the commitments given — I would not expect otherwise — and they will be honoured.