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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 16 May 1995

Vol. 143 No. 7

Arterial Drainage (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 1995: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am here today to honour a commitment given by me in the House during my first few weeks in office as Minister of State with responsibilities in the Office of Public Works. That commitment was, of course, the introduction at an early stage of new legislation aimed at combating the flooding problems which have persisted throughout the country and which were the subject of many debates in both Houses of the Oireachtas earlier in the year.

It gives me great pleasure, therefore. in the light of the various statements made and commitments given, to be in a position to give the necessary legislative backing to our proposals for the physical relief of the hardship caused by the very heavy rainfall in the past few years.

It is comparatively rare for legislation to be initiated from the Office of Public Works which is essentially an agency for the delivery of Government policy. Senator Daly will recall that, in 1990 as Minister he introduced the Shannon Navigation Act which extended the scope and capacity of the Office of Public Works to include valuable and vital work in the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell area.

As Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works I can say that this Bill is a cause célebre. I am conscious that it did not prove possible to meet the undertaking which I gave in good faith to Senator Quinn to publish the Bill before the end of April. I regret that and I assure the House that it did not happen through any lack of commitment on my part or that of any of the officials who have been involved in transforming the heads of the Bill that was approved by Government in March into the Parliamentary Bill which is now before the House.

Although the Bill is relatively short and, I hope, uncontroversial, the House will appreciate on reading it that a considerable amount of administrative, legal and technical research had to be done in the course of drafting. The speed with which such important and substantial legislation was drafted is remarkable and I express my appreciation to all concerned, in particular to the staff of the parliamentary draftsman's office, for their efforts.

The commitment I made to Senator Quinn and to the House was to have the Bill through the House by the end of May. I now ask for the co-operation of all sides of the House to ensure that that target is not just achieved but is surpassed.

The Bill before us seeks to amend and extend the powers to execute works of drainage and flood relief conferred on the Commissioners of Public Works by the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945. It is the second such Bill to be introduced this year, the first having been introduced by Senator Daly in February. The House will recall that the Government's opposition to that Bill was based primarily on the fact that it did not entirely address the issues involved and that the Government intended to introduce its own Bill as soon as possible. Nevertheless it would be less than prudent if I did not again acknowledge and express appreciation of Senator Daly's efforts and intent to expedite the introduction of the statutory measures necessary to widen the scope of the existing drainage legislation. It is also only right to acknowledge that the heads of the Bill approved by the Government, which form the basis of the Bill before the House, were substantially the same as those prepared by the former Minister of State, Deputy Dempsey. That work was also of considerable benefit in expediting the introduction of this legislation.

Before discussing the provisions of the new Bill in depth I will reflect briefly on the current legislative position and the circumstances which brought about the necessity for change. Although much has been said in our earlier debates on flooding problems throughout the country, a brief summation of the national drainage programme as it stands might be useful at this juncture.

The main statutory provision for the execution of drainage in the State is the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945. This Act provides that when the Commissioners of Public Works "are of opinion that the execution of arterial drainage works is expedient in respect of any catchment area for the purpose of preventing or substantially reducing the periodic flooding of lands in that area or of improving by drainage lands in the said area, it shall be lawful for the Commissioners to prepare a scheme for the execution of such works." This provision has always been interpreted as conferring power on the commissioners to prepare and undertake drainage schemes only in cases where a flooding problem encompasses the entire catchment area of a river, usually involving an area of several thousand hectares.

The 1945 Act endeavoured to consolidate previous drainage legislation dating back for more than a century. Under these various earlier enactments drainage works were carried out on a piecemeal basis often without regard to conditions elsewhere in river catchments or the effect of such works on conditions in other areas. With its passing the Act gave effect to the recommendations of the Browne Commission of 1938 to 1940, among which was the establishment of a central drainage authority based in the Office of Public Works which would thenceforth be responsible for the execution and maintenance of arterial drainage on a catchment basis.

I have alluded on a number of occasions in the past to the extent of the progress made under the national drainage programme established following the passing of the 1945 Act. More than 40 drainage and embankment schemes have been undertaken, involving works to some 7,300 miles of channels and embankments and conferring benefit on more than 650,000 acres of land previously damaged through flooding or waterlogging.

Some will argue progress was not what it might have been or what was envisaged when the programme was set up. I contend it demonstrates conclusively the commitment of successive Governments and the Commissioners of Public Works to the resolution of the problems which have persisted. Arterial drainage requires a lengthy preparatory process involving the collection of hydrometric data over many years to establish the flow regimes of rivers. It requires detailed engineering and valuation surveys of lands and watercourses — again over many years — and the design and formal exhibition of schemes so that those affected may comment on the proposals.

In recent years we have become much more conscious of our environment so that many modifications to both design and work practices have evolved. Care must be taken to minimise or avoid damage to wildlife, fisheries and landscapes, among other things.

Not least it requires a huge investment and commitment of resources. In the last 50 years a total of £640 million in current terms has been spent on the construction and maintenance of the works undertaken to date. In the 1980s substantial EU grants were made available for the work. It is essential, therefore. that drainage schemes satisfy accepted economic criteria as must all projects involving large scale public investment.

The increased awareness of our environment in recent years as well as changing emphasis on land use, the diminishing returns on the high capital investment required for arterial drainage and current EU policy, which is aimed at reducing production in many areas, has greatly reduced the prospect of formulating economically or environmentally acceptable catchment schemes. In the processing of future schemes regard must he had to all these factors. Various options for drainage or flood relief schemes will have to be considered and subjected to detailed analysis.

The apparent restrictions inherent in existing drainage practice leads me to the provisions in this Bill which propose to amend the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945, to provide the powers necessary to enable the Commissioners of Public Works to undertake drainage schemes for the relief of localised flooding from rivers and other watercourses in addition to their existing powers to undertake arterial drainage schemes in entire river catchments.

It will, however, be a requirement that any scheme to relieve localised flooding must have regard to the possible effects of the proposed works throughout the entire river basin. Thus such schemes will not be inconsistent with the strong recommendations in the report of the Browne Drainage Commission of 1938-1940 that "all future arterial drainage operations should be conducted on the basis of comprehensive schemes embracing entire catchments and not otherwise".

Flooding in localised areas and particularly in urban centres has, of course, always been a problem. Incidences of such flooding are widespread and not confined to any single area. There are also many rural areas where flooding is known to be particularly acute. The Commissioners of Public Works have been unable to undertake schemes to overcome the difficulties in these areas because existing legislation limits them to the catchment approach.

Catchment drainage schemes, by their nature, involve doing work in large areas where, because of the present situation in agriculture, the benefit is often marginal and is, therefore, outweighed by the costs. To that extent, unfortunately, it is our experience that the overall scheme becomes uneconomic despite the fact that the benefits that would result from the scheme works in urban and other local problem areas may far exceed the cost of doing localised work. That catchment schemes typically cost tens of millions of pounds while a scheme targeted at a specific problem area could be done for a fraction of that cost and would be more effective in that specific area, is also relevant.

Flooding, particularly when it affects residential areas, can cause severe hardship and disruption. Residents in areas which are subject to regular flooding live in continual fear of damage to their property and, in extreme cases, being cut off from their neighbours, supplies and services at times of heavy rainfall. They live in fear of the threat to life and loss of business or livelihood. Residents in such areas in some cases cannot even insure against the losses arising from flooding because of its frequency. This flooding, however, is not a new phenomenon and the Office of Public Works has faced pressure for many years to undertake drainage schemes in river catchments to relieve flooding in urban areas. The existence of a priority list of arterial drainage schemes, combined with the fact that works were in progress in higher priority schemes, served to offer hope to those lower down the list. Because of the difficulty in designing economically viable catchment schemes due to the current EU policy of discouraging the production of some agricultural products many areas are now left without hope.

While catchment schemes may become viable again in the future, the time has come to make the necessary changes to the legislative provisions to enable localised flood relief schemes to be undertaken.

There is, of course, an existing supplementary legislative provision, the Local Authorities (Works) Act, 1949. which provides a basis for the execution of localised works in certain circumstances. It does not, however, impose any requirements to have regard to the effect of works undertaken elsewhere in the catchment. While it might have been satisfactory in 1949, it is not now considered to be a satisfactory legislative basis on which to undertake the type of flood relief schemes I consider will be required in the future. In many cases river catchments cross administrative boundaries, a fact which lends weight to the argument for a central drainage authority as currently exists in the Office of Public Works.

While I am aware there are many other matters which merit consideration — which I am sure will be brought to the fore during the course of the debate — I would like to deal in general terms with the provisions of the Bill whose primary purpose is to extend the powers of the Commissioners of Public Works to undertake drainage works as provided in the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945.

Section 4 of the 1945 Act outlines the circumstances under which a scheme may be prepared in respect of a catchment area and details the matters to be included in the body of the scheme. Section 3 of this Bill proposes to amend this provision by extending it to include any watercourse or any part of a watercourse, thus permitting the preparation and execution of works in respect of more restricted areas, particularly urban and other areas where flooding causes considerable and significant hardship but where it is not possible to design economically viable catchment schemes.

Under section 4 of the Bill it will also be incumbent on the commissioners, in deciding the nature and extent of the works to be done for the relief of localised flooding, to have regard to the effects of any such works on conditions elsewhere. In this connection, it would be necessary to establish that the benefits accruing from the works undertaken in one area will not be greatly outweighed by the adverse effects they might have elsewhere. It might not always be possible to guarantee that changes in the flow characteristics of a river, arising from works, will not result in the worsening of conditions elsewhere along its course. It is, however the intention to ensure that any unavoidable adverse impacts are taken into account before an order confirming a drainage scheme is made. There is of course, provision in the 1945 Act for the payment of compensation for loss or damage suffered by reason of any interference during construction works. It will, therefore, be possible to compensate anyone who suffers damage during works undertaken in pursuit of the wider public interest.

Section 5 of the Bill deals with the publication and exhibition of localised drainage or flood relief schemes. Under the provisions of the 1945 Act the commissioners are obliged to allow local authorities a period of three months within which to submit their observations to them in relation to catchment drainage schemes and for the commissioners to place such schemes on public exhibition for a period of one month. In view of the urgent nature in many cases of schemes for localised relief, and their more local extent, it is considered that periods of one month and 14 days, respectively, should suffice.

In the drafting of the Bill I have also endeavoured to avail of the opportunity to make a small number of largely technical amendments to deal with shortcomings which have been identified in the existing legislation over the years.

I wish to provide a clear legal basis to enable the Commissioners of Public Works in certain circumstances to make agreements with third parties whereby such parties would bear all or part of the cost of executing or maintaining arterial drainage works. This is done in section 6. An example of the type of circumstances I have in mind would be a situation where a private individual, local authority or other body wished to have drainage work carried out by the commissioners and, while the commissioners might consider such works to be worthwhile, they would be unable to undertake them due to lack of funds. The works could nevertheless proceed if a third party was willing to meet the shortfall in the funding. In this connection I am of the view that the cost of any drainage works undertaken and paid for out of public funds should be fully justified by the benefits, whether social or economic or a combination of the two. accruing from their execution. A provision whereby funding could be provided from other sources should help dispel the fears of those who might otherwise be excluded or get a low priority rating.

The provisions of section 7 are necessary to limit the burden of maintenance work for which the commissioners will be responsible. The cost of maintenance will be payable from Exchequer funds. The 1945 Act provides that where the commissioners do work in an existing drainage district as part of a catchment drainage scheme, the district ceases to exist and the commissioners become responsible for maintenance of the river and its tributaries. While this is not unreasonable in the context of catchment drainage schemes, it would involve a substantial burden on the commissioners if it was allowed to apply to schemes for localised flooding.

It is also necessary to cater for the situation which arises from time to time where, due to the development of land subsequent to the confirmation or completion of a drainage scheme, it is considered expedient to undertake drainage works even where such works may have been considered unjustifiable when the original drainage scheme was confirmed or executed. There are many circumstances where works which were once regarded as unjustifiable might be considered necessary on later reappraisal of circumstances. These would include situations where the development of roads, housing or industrial estates result in significant additional quantities of surface water being discharged into rivers and watercourses. This in turn results in flooding which needs to be prevented or alleviated by further drainage works or increased flood protection.

There are also examples of situations where drainage works to prevent or alleviate flooding of undeveloped lands which were considered unjustified in the course of a drainage scheme may become essential where the land has been subsequently developed for housing, industries and so forth. These situations are provided for in section 8.

Sections 9 and 10 are designed to deal with the situations which arise from time to time whereby modifications are made by landowners and others to channels and embankments which are maintainable by the commissioners. Circumstances vary from place to place. In some, the modifications may be allowed stand but there is doubt as to the commissioners' right to continued maintenance of the altered situation. In others, restoration may be necessary and prompt action required to ensure the effective functioning of the particular drainage works, especially where there is a substantial risk of flooding. These by implication involve costs and an adequate mechanism must be provided to enable such costs to be recovered. The existing provisions do not adequately cater for the differing situations which might arise.

The 1945 Act empowers the commissioners to compulsorily acquire any land for the purposes of a drainage scheme. However, it does not set out a detailed procedure to be followed by the commissioners in cases of compulsory acquisition, for example, for publication of acquisition notices and service of notices on affected owners. It is intended to correct this defect by providing that the Land Clauses Consolidation Acts will apply to compulsory purchase under the 1945 Act and otherwise by setting out in detail the procedure to be followed.

While the compulsory purchase powers already contained in the Act are rarely exercised, it is felt nevertheless that the defect in the 1945 Act should be corrected. It is simple enough, with the extended powers of the commissioners, to envisage a situation, such as an urban flood relief scheme, where such powers might now have to be exercised.

The existing provisions relating to determination of the nature and extent of compensation to be paid to persons from whom land or rights have been acquired, or whose land has been severed from other lands, or access thereto. or been otherwise injuriously affected. have been found to be inadequate and it is intended also to provide definitive procedures for the future. These matters are dealt with in sections 11 and 12.

During the debate on Senator Daly's Bill reference was made to the provision in that Bill whereby local authorities would in future be obliged to publish annually their reports on the maintenance by them of drainage districts constituted by Acts prior to 1945. A similar provision is being made in section 13 of the current Bill. Section 14 is simply aimed at updating the long outdated penalties prescribed in 1945 for offences under various provisions of the existing legislation. While it is my understanding that the Minister for Justice is currently preparing proposals for a general updating of fines and penalties, it is proposed to avail of the present opportunity to cater for offences under various headings in the current drainage legislation in order to deter offenders.

The amendments now being introduced will, by definition, have implications for various other provisions of the 1945 Act, many of which are actually being repealed. This matter is dealt with in section 15. One particular aspect of this section requires elucidation. I refer to the requirement of section 37 of the 1945 Act that the cost of arterial drainage maintenance be recouped from county councils.

When the 1945 Act was drawn up it was envisaged that the capital cost of drainage construction works would be borne by the Exchequer but that the subsequent maintenance of completed schemes, though borne by the Exchequer in the first instance, be recovered from the county councils in whose jurisdiction they lay. The councils in turn levied a drainage rate to meet the cost. This remained the position until 1986 when the Government decided, rightly, as both domestic and agricultural rates had long been abolished, that in future such costs would be borne entirely by the Exchequer. No costs have been recovered from county councils since. The new provisions give statutory effect to the decisions already taken.

While the prime aim of this Bill is to provide a mechanism for limited schemes for the purpose of providing relief from localised flooding, it is not the intention that the prospect of undertaking further major schemes at some time in the future should be abandoned. The possibility of seeking EU funding for such schemes on the basis that they might permit acceptable levels of agricultural output and increased income to be achieved in a more environmentally friendly fashion, for example, by reducing fertiliser inputs, is currently being examined by the Commissioners of Public Works. Other similar opportunities may occur in the future.

Schemes for the relief of localised flooding will be undertaken by the engineering services divisions of the Office of Public Works. The division which comprises administrative and professional staff has responsibility for the current arterial drainage construction, maintenance programme and inland waterways. The workload on arterial drainage construction has been reducing due to the reducing number of schemes in progress. On the other hand, the drainage maintenance workload has been increasing as completed schemes have to be maintained.

The inland waterways programme is expanding steadily, especially since the transfer of the Grand and Royal Canals and Barrow Navigation to the Office of Public Works in 1986 and with the reopening of the Shannon-Erne Waterway in 1994. This expansion of engineering services seems likely to continue in coming years, especially with the introduction of these new measures for flood relief. In the meantime, the first step is to secure the passage of the Bill into law and I look forward to the co-operation of all sides of the House in ensuring its speedy enactment.

I thank the Minister for the speed with which he has acted and for introducing the legislation to the House today. I assure him that he will have our full co-operation to get the best possible legislation on the Statute Book arising from our discussions here and in the Dáil.

However, the Bill appears to be inadequate in some respects and it will greatly disappoint many of those affected by flooding following the acute problems which arose late last year and early this year. The proposed amendment of the 1945 Act to enable the localised flood relief schemes to be undertaken is welcome and I pay tribute to the Commissioners of Public Works and their professional and technical personnel for the work they have undertaken in the whole area of drainage and work arising from the legislation on the canals, which I put through the House, together with their forward thinking with regard to the development of a modern waterway system. They have not only professional and skilled personnel available to them to deal with these problems, but also a large data bank containing records going back over a number of years which will be important and valuable in the work to be undertaken under the new legislation.

There are some deficiencies in the Bill, which we will address on Committee Stage, and which will inhibit the Commissioners of Public Works in responding speedily to events, especially in places where damage appears quickly. Measures will be taken to enable schemes to be prepared to relieve flooding, but there could be a considerable delay in the preparation of these schemes. While the Minister has attempted to shorten these delays by reducing the time limit for public display, the fear is that in the preparation of localised schemes there could be long delays which would exacerbate certain problems which could be dealt with expeditiously if other arrangements were in place. In view of this, the Minister should extend the authority of the Commissioners of Public Works to undertake works without the necessity to prepare a scheme.

I agree with the necessity of preparing schemes. Indeed, in many cases it would be essential to prepare schemes, because as the Minister rightly remarked, account must be taken of the impact any scheme may have on the overall catchment or indeed on other local areas.

Under this legislation the Minister and the commissioners would need to have authority to move speedily in an emergency without having to prepare a detailed scheme. This could be done in consultation with local authorities and others. I suggest that the Minister look carefully at the prospect of having a further amendment included to deal with emergency cases. If he is not prepared to do so I will provide an amendment for him. It will be similar to the amendment I have put down to the Bill, as introduced, and not an attempt to undermine the desirability of having schemes properly and carefully prepared and examined before they are executed.

Emergencies may often only necessitate moving in to relieve the situation where a flood could quickly — as was seen in Ennis last winter — almost submerge four or five of the busiest streets in a town. It was suggested that certain minor works could be undertaken in an emergency. If this is not done the legislation might be found, in practice, to be inadequate and either the Minister of State or some other Minister of State for the Office of Public Works would have to return to the Oireachtas seeking permission to further amend what is being amended here.

I am fully aware of and appreciate the sentiment expressed by the Minister on the greater public awareness of the importance of preserving the environment. We must ensure that care is taken in undertaking works, to be aware of our fishing industry and the damage which could be caused to it, or environmental damages which arise from certain types of schemes. In light of this, in the Bill I prepared and published, which was debated in this House, a specific section was included that the commissioners would in consultation with the Minister for the Marine and the Environmental Protection Agency agree a formula for undertaking works. I thought at the time, that the provision whereby the Commissioners for Public Works were not bound by fisheries laws was no longer a tenable position and it would be in the best interests of the environment if we had a more defined statutory consultative process. My view has not changed. I note from the Bill that the Minister has a procedure for consulting with them on environmental matters. It would be preferable to have a section which would put it beyond any doubt that the Minister would consult with the Minister for the Environment, the Minister for the Marine and the Environmental Protection Agency on schemes where there would be a risk of environmental problems or of damage to fisheries.

It is not too clear from the Bill whether some other issues are covered. I want to draw the Minister's attention to coastal and tidal incursions and tidal catchments. It is not clear whether works such as repairing culverts in coastal areas or estuaries are covered by the Bill. The Minister will be aware that there is a Coastal Protection Act which may need to be amended; I am not certain this is the way to proceed. I would like to hear the Minister's views whether it would be possible to make it clear beyond doubt that estuarine incursions of culverts and embankments in coastal areas could be dealt with in this legislation because that is not clear.

The Minister received a number of complaints from different parts of the country. I know he was made aware of the complaint we had about the Shannon estuary and Leamore, which is near Kilrush, where hundreds of acres of land were flooded because a wall which was built by the Commissioners of Public Works fell down and there has been no clear indication who is responsible for the maintenance of work that was done 50 or 60 years ago. Some of these works were carried out by the Land Commission, which has since been abolished, and no authority is willing to accept responsibility especially where heavy expenses may be involved.

That brings me to maintenance, which the Minister also raised, and the establishment of responsibility for maintenance, even that which will be done after some of the new proposals the Minister has in mind are undertaken. A major complaint from landowners, local residents and householders has been that in areas where culverts have broken down, especially because of coastal erosion and matters connected with it, no system has been found where somebody in authority could be made responsible to have the damage repaired.

During my time in the Office of Public Works, there were difficulties with Clohaninchy and the west Clare coastline — I am sure there are hundreds of other Clohaninchys — where the old system, because of coastal erosion, had broken down and the county councils and the Office of Public Works were reluctant to accept responsibility. I am not certain these proposals are covered in this legislation — coastal areas are not mentioned but the Bill mainly deals with catchments and arterial drainage. I would like clarification of that before we move to the next stage.

Perhaps the greatest complaint and the biggest flaw in this legislation is the absence of any provision for the payment of compensation in genuine hardship cases arising from the flooding of domestic dwellings which has been caused largely by the failure of the drainage system provided by the State. These points have already been discussed in this House and it is not necessary at this stage to go over them again, but I want to remind the Minister of the severe hardship many people suffered because of the acute flooding at the end of last year, in some cases for the second or third time.

I understood that the Government was to avail of this opportunity to put a mechanism in place that would enable compensation to be paid in these cases, and that it would have availed of this measure to put this matter on a statutory basis rather than the haphazard way in which it has been dealt with by agencies which have other humanitarian work to do. Here I refer to the involvement of the Red Cross, a humanitarian organisation which deals with major disasters and crises around the world. Dealing with the problems arising from flooding, and the periodic flooding of catchments should be dealt with by the Government, the Minister for Finance and this Administration.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry was in Gort travelling around like Noah in his Ark at the time of the crisis, but I do not think he has been seen there since. I do not know what happened to Noah after he left the Ark, but people whose homes have been flooded would like to see Noah come back to deal with their claims.

This Bill does not enable claims to be made, examined or paid. This will be a cause of great disappointment to many people, some of them in Clare, who have been looking forward to this legislation and for some indication from the Government that a mechanism would be put in place to examine and deal with their grievances. A number of sections in my Bill dealt with that matter in some detail. I was prepared to look at the establishment of a committee to examine claims and report to the Minister. I appeal to the Minister to reconsider his attitude in that regard.

If the Minister is prepared to amend the Bill in regard to compensation, some provisions in the Bill I introduced could be refined, if necessary, to adequately deal with the situation. If the Minister is not prepared to do that we will have to consider drafting some amendments and seeking the support of independent Senators and others for them. I remind the Minister of the experience of his colleague here last week. I am not threatening the Minister——

Is that a threat?

It is a very clear indication that we firmly believe it is necessary to set down a statutory basis from which to deal with compensation for people who have had serious problems and who because of the inadequacies or unavailability of insurance cover — the Minister highlighted this in his speech — have not had their grievances and problems satisfactorily dealt with. The committee I suggest should be set up to deal with compensation would have other functions; it would not be entirely committed to dealing with applications for compensation. It would be an advisory committee for the Minister and it could also examine the causes and effects of flooding.

As the Minister of State is well aware, when we discussed the drainage problems here a number of Senators mentioned issues such as the desirability of granting planning permissions in areas likely to experience flooding. Some huge town developments took place in areas, which an examination of the Ordnance Survey maps shows, are clearly identified as being areas likely to be subject to flooding. Nevertheless planning permissions were given for major developments in these areas, some of which have in no small way contributed to problems which have arisen.

I refer here to areas of Loughville, an area adjacent to Ennis, where the complaint has been that some fairly major developments adjacent to the town of Ennis have caused flooding. Major land reclamation and development caused flooding on adjoining land and on the public road and this problem has been getting worse each year. It would be advisable if the Minister could call on an advisory committee and that committee should not only deal with claims for compensation arising from incidents of flooding but should also examine the possibility of producing an annual report setting out precisely its findings and what action is being taken. I welcome the provision in this section, which was in the previous Bill, which makes available to the public the reports of the drainage committees. The committee which I suggested the Minister should establish would advise him on priorities and causes and effects which could be remedied outside his remit and control and would publish an annual report which would set out what was being achieved.

To a large extent, the Commissioners of Public Works have not got the maximum credit for some of the outstanding work they have completed. It is desirable that such arrangements be put in place and I urge the Minister to consider them before Committee Stage. The Bill, while welcome, is flawed in a number of respects but we can deal with them effectively here. It would be better to deal with those flaws here because it is unlikely that we will see similar legislation before the Houses of Oireachtas for the next 40 or 50 years. It is more than 50 years since the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945, was before these Houses.

Not with Fine Gael in Government.

Fine Gael has been in Government so little——

That is the problem. Senator Daly's party has a lot to answer for.

If I were to be drawn on that, I would probably say for the next 100 years. The Minister should do what we suggest and we will co-operate with him in making these amendments. The Bill is welcome as far as it goes.

I welcome the Minister to the House and compliment him and his staff for bringing this comprehensive and detailed Bill to the House so quickly. This legislation constructively and positively tackles the problems caused by drainage and flooding. We have been beset by difficulties because, as the Minister clearly outlined, of the restrictions which pertained in relation to the 1945 Act.

Over the years public representatives have had a good relationship with the Office of Public Works which, because of the restrictions in the 1945 Act, was unable to move into certain areas and undertake works which needed to be done to relieve flooding. This Bill looks at this problem and empowers the Office of Public Works and the Minister to undertake small operations in major catchment areas while not detracting from the major catchment drainage proposals for those areas. This must be commended. The Minister and his staff must take full credit for the fact that this has been dealt with so well in the Bill and for acting promptly.

Listening to Senator Daly one would believe that Fianna Fáil had not been in power for the past 50 years. He was Minister of State in this Department for two years some time ago, but we did not see him present similar legislation. This Minister must be complimented for responding and reacting so quickly.

There are problems caused by flooding in each constituency and the severity of flooding has been evident since 1991. The main problem which exists at present commenced in 1991 and continued through 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995. It is not for me to say who was in Government during those years, but the fact is that there was no response and no action for four years. There is an onus on each of us to ensure that this fine legislation is passed through the House quickly so that the Office of Public Works can tackle the problems throughout the country.

I hope that by the end of this year and early next year urgent remedial works will be completed which will prevent a recurrence of the flooding we have seen over the past number of years. The Minister has been motivated by that. He must be complimented for touring the country and visiting the affected areas in every county. He and his officials have seen at first hand the difficulties which people have endured in recent months and years when their residences were flooded. In some cases their houses were destroyed beyond recognition and they will never be able to live there again. A great deal of repair works needs to be done to houses which have been seriously damaged. The effect and the psychological impact this has on those concerned is dramatic and cannot be underestimated and the hardship experienced by these people has had major repercussions on their families.

Farmers, particularly in the Gort area of County Galway, have experienced severe difficulties. Their land, cattle and fodder have been destroyed. Senator Daly referred to a visit by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Yates, to that area and to Noah's Ark. That Minister had the wit to come to see the severity of the situation even if it involved getting into a boat. Unfortunately, that cannot be said of his predecessors. The Minister must be commended on the way he responded and acted. I have been in contact with many people who have received compensation cheques for loss of fodder and livestock and they are happy with his response.

The fall out which business people in urban areas have experienced as a result of their businesses being flooded has been phenomenal. They lost goods and business because people could not get into their properties. I hope the Minister's proposal will relieve the problems for these people and that remedial work will be undertaken.

The Bill provides specific powers and substantially amends the 1945 Act. I am pleased the Minister has made specific announcements for nine priority areas because he saw at first hand the fall-out from flooding there. I hope the £1 million to £2 million which he proposes to spend will relieve the situation in those areas and that the work will be done which will enable people to remain in their homes next year, without the fear of being flooded out. I appeal to the Minister to prioritise other areas and to look at each of them.

Section 6 is particularly welcome because it enables the Minister and the Office of Public Works to "enter into an agreement with one or more other persons (including a local authority or authorities) whereby that other person or persons agrees or agree to defray, in whole or part, the costs". A lot of constructive work can be carried out between the Office of Public Works, the local authorities, the Department of the Marine, the Land Commission, the ESB and CIE. I appeal to the Minister to use that section to full advantage.

The Minister visited the Ballycar area of Newmarket-on-Fergus where part of the railway line is flooded and unusable for over five months each year. This has caused a lot of difficulty for CIE. This section could be used if CIE, Clare County Council and the Office of Public Works were involved in a joint venture to relieve the situation there. I appeal to the Minister to use that section in relation to this problem.

That job is done.

A large section of a wall in the Leamore area, west of Kilrush, has been eroded as a result of the storm, high tides and south-westerly winds. A Fine Gael Government sanctioned the building of that wall in the 1950s and the work was done by the Land Commission.

It is easy to know a Fine Gael Government was involved because it was built on bad foundations.

I hope the Minister will consult with the Land Commission to deal with the problem in the Leamore area. There is an onus on the relevant Departments to pay the necessary costs.

The Clonlara-Blackwater area of the River Shannon is subject to flash flooding. Locals say this happens because the ESB engaged in specific activities and changed the course of the River Shannon to erect a dam to generate electricity. That is an area that needs to be investigated. Section 10, which confers powers on the Minister when another authority changes the course of the river and causes flooding, should be considered in relation to this problem. I welcome this section in the Bill. The information the Minister and his officials collated during their tour of the country over the past number of months has been included in the various sections of this Bill.

Belharbour in New Quay, County Clare, has also experienced problems. The Minister met a deputation from that area in Gort some weeks ago. Clare County Council and the Department should address this issue. The Minister has arranged for a specific study to be done of the swallow-holes and watercourses in that area. I hope this will be done as soon as possible to resolve the problem.

Senator Daly referred to flaws in the Bill, particularly the lack of compensation provisions. The Bill specifically deals with compensation for the compulsory purchase of lands to alleviate flooding. I commend this approach. Senator Daly is more concerned about money and financial compensation for people whose houses are flooded. It would be unwise to include in legislation details relating to monetary compensation. What is the Department's role in this regard? Where major crises arise, each case must be examined on its own merits because every case is different. It is not possible to put on the Statute Book details about monetary compensation.

Recently we witnessed an effective way of compensating people. The Government must be commended for the way it provided compensation for victims of such hardship. The Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Higgins, went to Brussels and got £260,000 from the EU, the highest per capita in Europe, and that was supplemented by money provided by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Quinn.

We did not hear about the additional money.

The Minister asked the Red Cross to administer the scheme and an office was set up in Gort. Senator Daly criticised the involvement of the Red Cross in this area. I disagree with him because it was a good idea to ask the Red Cross to administer the compensation scheme. He claimed it should be involved in humanitarian work in Third World countries or elsewhere. However, if there is a crisis in this country and assistance is required, there is no organisation better than the Red Cross to do it. It is currently examining the applications in relation to house damage, etc. Will we ask the taxpayers to take on the role of insurance companies and, if so, what will be the fall-out? It could be a dangerous precedent and should not be commended.

Senator Daly also said that this Bill does not deal with tidal or estuary problems. I would remind him that in 1989 a Fianna Fáil Government transferred powers covering these areas from the Office of Public Works to the Department of the Marine. Is he now saying that we should give those powers back to the Office of Public Works? Under section 6 third parties may co-operate with the Department of the Marine to defray the costs of arterial drainage works.

The Bill is comprehensive and detailed and covers every aspect of the recent flooding problem. As I said, the Minister and his officials must be commended for doing this so quickly and effectively. The £2 million allocated this year will be put to good use and I hope future budgets will allocate more substantial funding for arterial drainage.

A section in the Bill deals with local authorities and maintenance. Unfortunately, local authorities are not getting the necessary funding to carry out the necessary maintenance works. There is an onus on the Government to provide local authorities with proper funding for the maintenance of rivers. The Bill states specifically that annual reports on maintenance works should be made available to the public for examination. Clare County Council has not carried out maintenance work on rivers; the money has been used on roads. In the past local authorities received money from agricultural and industrial rates and they then decided how to spend it. Proper funding must be provided to local authorities for necessary maintenance works. If these works had been done, the flooding would not have been so severe. The Government must consider this matter.

I hope this Bill is passed as quickly as possible. I commend everything in it but I am anxious to hear other ideas. The situation we experienced over the past number of years must not be allowed to continue and this Bill will ensure that does not happen. I hope that by the end of the month, as the Minister promised in the House some time ago, this Bill will be on the Statute Book and that during the summer the Office of Public Works will get the necessary work done throughout the country.

The introduction in the Bill of a reduction in the time-scale for consultation with local authorities from three months to one month and for publication from one month to 14 days is extremely welcome and will reduce the amount of time that is wasted. Yesterday or today Senator Daly said — I am not sure if it was on Clare FM or in the House, he seems to have one speech for that radio station and another one for here — that we could not get this work done speedily enough.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senator Daly is not in the Chamber.

What he said is on the record so perhaps I could refer to what he said ten minutes ago. He said that we could not get the work done speedily enough. Is he suggesting we should put in a bulldozer immediately and charge ahead in any direction without any specific engineering report or direction or any idea of what the fall-out might be further downstream or of what damage may be caused elsewhere? That would be an irresponsible approach. The basic groundwork must be done and a scheme prepared. This scheme has been completed in much less time than heretofore and I commend the Minister for this and wish him good luck with the Bill.

I welcome the Bill. It is a step forward and I compliment the Minister and his officials on the work they have done preparing it. It provides the key development in that the Office of Public Works will now have responsibility for the relief of flooding throughout the country.

However, while I applaud much of what is in the Bill and do not have a problem with it, there are two areas about which I am concerned. The first has been mentioned by Senator Taylor-Quinn. This is the necessity to prepare schemes to respond to an urgent situation, such as we have seen in the recent past. It is one thing for the Office of Public Works or any Department to prepare and implement a scheme. We all know how long it takes for the wheels of bureaucracy to turn. On the other hand, a scheme may be prepared in a joint venture with the private sector, perhaps with the support and approval of the Office of Public Works. The Minister has missed a major opportunity to provide for a situation where schemes can be prepared as a matter of urgency to alleviate the major problems we have seen up to now.

It is not our intention to propose amendments which would result in commencing digging with a bulldozer or Hymac without proper planning. It would not be our intention to see any work done which would hinder or have a negative effect on the environment, ecology or wildlife of an area, but this is not to say that the Bill should not include a provision whereby the Minister would take the power to have a scheme prepared as an urgent short term measure.

I wish to refer to the little scheme in Galway which was carried out by Deputy McCormack. The emphasis of this scheme was not to drain land but simply to alleviate abnormally high flooding. Consequently, a great deal of the concern which was expressed by some people that this was going to have a dramatic effect on the ecology or environmental stability of the area was without basis because all it did was to reduce the level of flooding to a normal level. I found it rather strange that on the one hand we were told we had approval from the Office of Public Works and, on the other, we received faxes from the wildlife section of the Office of Public Works stating this work could not be carried out.

I know this part of the country inside out and not one whit of damage will be done to its wildlife or ecology as a result of what has been done. I defy anybody to say what difficulties could be caused. The people involved in that scheme wanted to reduce the level of the water under the Ballinderreen road by another 18-24 inches. This was not allowed because it may have reduced the level too much. There is no reason a common sense approach could not be applied in that situation, for instance, using a sluice which would control the level of the water. The Minister is missing a major opportunity by not allowing for simple straightforward common sense schemes like this to be included in the Bill.

In south Galway there are two ways of solving the problem. There is the way provided for in the Bill, which means that in five years we will have the same problem or there is the more common sense approach, which is that a scheme will be initiated with the support, backing and authority of the Office of Public Works and the local authority but it will be a joint venture with the people who are affected.

I have seen data which have been collected locally by some engineering firms as to how the problem in Coole can be solved. There is a simple solution but it is not provided for in the Bill. The location of the real problem in Coole and in all of the Gort area is the inability of water to flow from the lake in Killamoran to the sea. There is sufficient evidence in the studies which have been carried out to show that the water collects in Coole, some goes underground to Killamoran and some underground to the sea. Hydrological studies in the past, using dives, have shown that the water goes in a number of different ways to the sea at Kinavara. Water levels have been taken and it is not financially impossible for a drainage scheme, like the one carried out in Ballinderreen, to be carried out from Killamoran to the sea at Kinvara. It would have the effect of reducing in a controlled way the level of the water at Killamoran, which would result in a reduction of the level of the water at Coole and its backup, and the flooding which this has caused could then be relieved.

The Minister can carry out any studies he likes over the next few months and I guarantee that this is the solution they will recommend. I have always advocated the cleaning of swallow holes because this would make the problem less serious as water would not get through them as quickly as in the past. I am advocating a simple scheme which will only have the effect of alleviating flood levels and not draining any place.

I am proud of the unique ecological system in south Galway and I do not want to see it interfered with. I do not want to see the unique turlough at Caherglisaun, which we describe as Killamoran, affected and it need not be because excess water can be released from that location which, in turn, will release excess water from Coole thus alleviating the flooding problem.

We do not want to drain the country around there and do not want to lower the levels in Coole because we realise the serious ecological effect it would have on one of the most unique landscapes in the world. We simply want to take a common sense approach to get rid of the excess water. This legislation will do that but it will take a long time to get to grips with how to do it and it will spend a long time dealing with environmentalists. We have no problem with the environment, and the environment will not be affected but, unfortunately, we have a problem with environmentalists who, irrespective of what you do, feel it is wrong to put a spade in the ground.

That is why we will be tabling an amendment asking the Minister to take the power to execute works to prevent or reduce periodic flooding in an emergency without the necessity of preparing a drainage scheme. By that I mean that, rather than starting to dig, one should first carry out the necessary preparatory engineering and planning works. But there is no necessity other than to do a cursory examination of the environmental impact because the scheme will not be designed to take away water that has always been there. It will simply be designed to take away excess water in an unusual period as we had in the last couple of months.

The Minister should consider including that in the Bill because I am concerned about what we will get as a result of the major study to be undertaken by consultants who are about to be appointed. The issue of drainage will be confused with the issue that I want dealt with. We are not talking about drainage, reducing water from areas where it has always been, or about a negative ecological effect on the environment.

The question of compensation is also missing from the Bill. Senator Taylor-Quinn commended the Minister for the effective manner in which compensation had been provided but the Senator should speak to the 20 or so householders who have been homeless for 15 weeks during which time they have been paying large mortgages as well as rent for alternative accommodation. As of today, 16 May, they have not received one penny and that is not good enough.

There was no necessity to bring in the Red Cross to do this job which should have been done quickly and effectively by the Departments. Voluntary agencies, meanwhile, were running around the country trying to do a job which they should never have been asked to do and the result is that we are still struggling to get money to those people.

Nobody appears to have responsibility for a natural disaster but surely the Government must take responsibility for occurrences which are not covered by normal insurance premiums. I agree with Senator Taylor-Quinn that we should not allow any insurance company off the hook in regard to their responsibilities in this respect. However, when a natural disaster occurs and brings about a most unusual situation, as south Galway experienced over the last 16 weeks, the Government must take responsibility for it.

The Bill is seriously flawed since it does not address that situation. It is a natural inclination on the part of Government not to take responsibility to pay any money unless they absolutely have to, but that is not good enough. The affected householders should have received some compensation from day one, and the insurance issue could have been dealt with in the normal way. If this had been done, the money which would have been paid by the insurance companies could then have been refunded to the Government.

As of today none of these people has been paid any money and it is clear that the compensation they will receive from insurance companies will not be sufficient. In addition, the money being given to the Red Cross by the European Union is also insufficient, yet we still have not received any indication from the Minister other than to say that he will, in time, introduce a Supplementary Estimate. Because that is unsatisfactory we will be proposing amendments along the lines of the previous Bill introduced by Senator Daly.

The situation was well summed up by Senator Taylor-Quinn. We will have this Bill passed in a month — and I give credit to the Minister and his officials for that — but that is as much as we will have achieved because this Bill is not going to solve any problems.

If anyone wants an assurance that the problems are not going to be solved this year it is included in the explanatory memorandum which sums up my main dissatisfaction with the Bill. Under the heading "Financial and staffing implications", the final paragraph states:

The cost arising from the Bill will depend on the availability of funds [that is as good a piece of Civil Service-speak as you can get] and on the case, on cost/benefit grounds, for undertaking works [that is a close number two]. Expenditure of the order of £1 million-£2 million may arise in 1995 [I would put in brackets after that "and we hope it does not arise"]. The staffing implications in Office of Public Works will be the subject of further consideration.

That is a pathetic piece of English to put into a Bill. How are the people in south Galway, who have been suffering unbelievable hardship for the last 16 weeks, going to take that kind of tripe? Do you think the people in the west are complete fools? I am annoyed because when I showed this to some people in south Galway over the last few days I was told to go to hell and to tell the rest of the politicians to go with me. If that is the kind of stuff we are getting to solve a human crisis, a situation where families are at breaking point, then we, as politicians, should keep it.

Will the Minister say something definite about what will be done before the Bill leaves the Seanad and not say it will depend on the availability of funds or on expenditure that may arise in 1995? We know expenditure must arise this year, so why does he not announce how much will be spent and on what? If he has not yet decided what he will do this year in south Galway and Gort and what swallow-holes need to be cleaned, he will never decide. If he has decided he should tell us. That at least will alleviate some of the uncertainty and frustration.

I spoke to a man last night who did not know whether to go back to his house because he did not know if it was worthwhile to repair it. He wanted an indication that something would happen this year to alleviate his problem. Neither the Minister's contribution nor the Bills gives that man any hope. Consequently I am dissatisfied with the legislation.

In speaking so strongly I am reflecting the frustration found where I live. I hope there will be a response to it.

I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate him for expeditiously bringing forward this Bill. Like every Bill introduced in these Houses it is not perfect. No Bill ever produced in any legislature can be. However, it is the best which can be produced in the circumstances.

The original Bill was introduced by Senator Daly who is one of the least partisan politicians I have known. He brought to the production of his Bill a great deal of expertise from the Office of Public Works and from his period as Minister for the Marine. That same expertise is available to the current Minister. In so far as the background is concerned, therefore, the information talent bank is the same.

I have read the Official Report of everything said on this subject. A few moments ago Senator Fahey gave great technical detail, as Senator Finneran and Senator Kelly, among others when they spoke. I am sure the Minister will take on board the tremendous knowledge and technical expertise of Members. The local and national knowledge displayed by the proposer of the other Bill has been noted by everyone in the House and I join with the Minister in congratulating him on a job well done.

It seems earlier that one has to be from Clare to speak about flooding. Having listened to Senator Taylor-Quinn and Senator Daly, I decided that was one battle I did not intend to join on this pleasant afternoon.

I know that Cork city suffered flooding for many years; it used to be said that if one took a lease in Oliver Plunkett Street, one bought a punt to go with it, to carry out one's goods and leave because as regularly as clockwork, when the wind, tide and rain coincided. Patrick Street and Oliver Plunkett Street were flooded, sometimes up to four feet deep.

Friends and colleagues of mine had shops in this area so I know what is involved when houses, farms and businesses are flooded. It is not only a question of compensation — flooding sets a person back months and in some cases years. Even worse, it is disheartening. The victims have to deal with insurance companies whose standard practice is to avoid paying if at all possible, slide out of their obligations when the opportunity arises or in every way to mitigate their responsibilities. In many cases people only get part-compensation for their goods and chattels when they deserve a full accounting.

I use the Shannon for recreation and I know almost every harbour and inlet on that river. I drove through Clare and other counties and saw the devastation caused by flooding throughout the region. Last week I was in Banagher, and it is obvious great hardship has been caused.

As I said earlier there are many experts on this in the House, but to an urban dweller it is shocking to see the devastation to farms and houses, even with the knowledge that this is a natural phenomenon, or a so-called "act of God". When I went to sea, it was always an act of God when a person fell down a companion-way in heavy weather; it was not that someone had put something slippy on the companion-way. However in the case of flooding we have control over some aspects of the problem but none over others. We have no control over the weather and cannot foresee the strength of winds or that there will be constant rain. We cannot always know what damage has been done to land by the ways it has been used. As Senator Finneran said last week, we do not know what farm operators do to their land, what they fill in, cover up or neglect.

It would be unreasonable to hold the State responsible for many matters but there are areas for which it is responsible. Senator Daly and the Minister highlighted one such area, the lack of a fast response because of the confinements of the legislation. That was addressed in both Bills. A fast response, by doing what needs to be done in one area without defining a catchment scheme, is of vital importance in addressing the problem. This will be welcomed by all sides.

There are other major players, some of them part of the State, such as the ESB and Bord na Móna. Any investigation of responsibilities should be directed towards Bord na Móna. Although it is a State body it still has responsibilities. A person who sailed up the Shannon and got Bord na Móna bags or wire caught in his propeller, would not feel warmly towards that organisation. However, in many cases its care of the rivers adjacent to its operations leaves much to be desired. It is easy to talk about the responsibility of farmers or the Office of Public Works but Bord na Móna will have to play a role.

I am an unashamed, if not uncritical, fan of the Office of Public Works. There are monuments to that organisation throughout the State. In most cases it does a first class job. I have seen that myself and I have heard many comments from French and German visitors to the Shannon region about the quality of work done by the Office of Public Works along the Shannon system. The ESB was the main contractor for the Shannon-Erne waterway, and its daily operation is of a consistently high standard. I was in Derry last week and I met people who had travelled it — Unionists who are now starting to come South in greater numbers — and they had the highest praise for the way the section of the waterway in the South was conducted.

The Office of Public Works has enormous expertise. We can read the past reports of the Commissioners of Public Works in the National Library which were a source of information on rivers, for example, when there was little else available. The Office of Public Works's efficiency is evidenced by the transformation of the canal system on its transfer from CIE to the Office of Public Works. It is now rapidly becoming one of our best tourist attractions.

Senator Fahey quoted the explanatory memorandum where it refers to financial implications. It was a little disingenuous to do so. Having held office Senator Fahey knows better than most that a Minister first fights for the Bill and then fights the Department of Finance; that is the way it works. When Senator Fahey was a Minister of State he knew that if there was a chance of getting any money he had to overcome the conditioning that seems to affect most people when they become officials of the Department of Finance. It is a culture which automatically includes so many caveats that it may render provisions meaningless.

This simply tests the mettle of the Minister concerned. I thought the note was in good English but I know what Senator Fahey means. One should not be put off by the caveat that: "The cost arising from the Bill will depend on the availability of funds..." How many times did the Senator hear that when he was in office? Incidentally, the Senator did a reasonably good job and extracted substantial amounts from the system.

The Senator should be reminded that the explanatory memorandum is not the Bill, irrespective of the quality of its language.

I thank the Senator. If ever his party gets back into Government I hope it will include explanatory notes with all its speeches. I am simply commenting on some of Senator Fahey's remarks.

If the Senator was living 16 weeks with his mother-in-law it would not do him much good. That was my point.

I have as much faith as Senator Fahey that, at the end of the day, the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Higgins, will extract similar levels of funds to do the job as he did in his day.

The end of the day passed 12 weeks ago.

I welcome this Bill as I welcomed Senator Daly's Bill. It is important to remember that, despite billions of dollars having been spent in the US over many years, millions of dollars worth of damage is done every year by floods. It is impossible to tell people there are environmental hazards we can get rid of and which will never affect us in the future. It is most important that this is said at the beginning of this debate.

Great effort was put into building the Thames barrier, for example, but there is still flooding in the Thames basin. There is not a major river valley in Europe where there have not been floods. It may happen only occasionally, such as the Adige Valley or near Florence or along the Rhine, but there are environmental and geological hazards which we will not be able to overcome.

There have been acute problems in the west due to high rainfall in the first few months of the year — up to 200 per cent the normal figure. It is impossible for any ground — never mind the karst limestone of Senator Daly's and Senator Taylor-Quinn's area — to cope with such an increase in a short length of time, and the floods, therefore, were not surprising.

The implications of flooding for the wildlife service must also be considered. A great deal of effort has gone into the preservation of the country's flora and fauna and, in certain areas, these will alter dramatically even without flooding. However, that is poor consolation to those who have suffered from the flooding recently.

I have not visited the affected areas in the west but from what I have seen on television and in photographs, houses seem to be relatively new in the areas where flooding has occurred. A major difficulty associated with the flooding along the Rhine this winter was that there had been a considerable amount of building between the winter dykes and the summer dykes. This had not been the case in the past and an additional strain can be put on land with which it cannot cope. When planning permission is granted for building, is any consideration given to warning people about environmental hazards which may occur in the area? I hope the Minister will consider this.

Meteorologists tell us that just because we say it is wetter it does not mean the climate is getting worse. Apparently, climactic changes are measured over a 30 year period. I gather, however, there has been a change in the climate; we are having much wetter periods with much heavier rainfall and more predictable drier periods. It is little consolation to those who are flooded but such matters must be taken into consideration.

Many of the areas where flooding has occurred recently have a history of flooding going back to medieval times. However, when examining the reasons for the flooding we must look at the man-made factors that may be involved. It has been suggested that forestry may be important in this regard and I presume the Department is researching this. Efforts were made apparently to plug turloughs in some areas to control the water. My knowledge of hydrology is poor but, as far as I know, if one plugs groundwater exits in one place the water will come up in another. In the west we are dealing in the main with ground water and not river water, and it is extraordinarily difficult to deal with this problem because of the geographic hazards in the area.

I spoke briefly about the environmental problems which may also arise. There is a long and difficult problem regarding road building in the Pollardstown fen. When areas are important to the preservation of the country's ecology, we have to see if we can go around rather than through them. I hope the Minister will ensure that such matters are examined. We also have to look at matters from an international perspective which may have seemed good at one stage but were later found to be disastrous. The building of dams was popular 30 years ago but now even the Aswan Dam is considered to have been a mistake to a certain extent. I hope that a broad and philosophical outlook is adopted when drainage schemes are being considered.

Particular difficulties can arise in urban areas because public health must be taken into account. When draining an area we must be careful that the drinking supply is not affected. This has been a problem in Gort where drainage water does not benefit from the cleansing effects of passing through the soil and sewage seams go rapidly down into karst limestone and along the fissures. This can contaminate drinking water. However, these problems may have been rectified in every area but I remember this happening in the west where a heritage centre was built in outbuildings at Lough Coole. It had to be closed because the sewerage scheme was found to be contaminating the drinking water for the heritage centre and a considerable amount of work had to be done. This was one of the problems mentioned in connection with Mullaghmore. In areas where the geology is unpredictable, one can encounter a considerable amount of trouble and rectifying one problem may cause a disaster in another area.

I have one more question: where will the outflow be? The outflow from any drainage scheme can cause trouble. I remember hearing about trenches that were dug in the west, unofficially — I think towards Galway Bay — and it was said that they were affecting the oyster beds. I hope the Minister examines environmental issues, public health issues and the effect of these measures on other industries or endeavours in the area. This is a most difficult problem which requires much thought.

I would like to hear the Minister's comments on advising people seeking planning permission about serious environmental hazards to their property, be it residential or industrial. This is becoming a problem, not just in Ireland but everywhere. I am not suggesting that we build houses on stilts but perhaps we should suggest that they be built on higher land. I was struck by the fact that all the houses in the disaster area in the west appeared to be new. I look forward to hearing the Minister's comments.

May I give a quarter of my time to Senator Belton?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Much has been said in strong tones about the flooding problem in this country and, no doubt over the next two days, many more voices will vociferously elaborate on the problems. I bring into the House this afternoon a blatant example of what the flooding and the wet situation on the western seaboard does to its people. Being a man of sober habits and not given to decimation of the body I believe that the heavy cold that has now engulfed my body results from the fact that I live on the western seaboard which is wet in the extreme. This wetness has been caused in the main by the prevailing winds which roll in so much rain from the Atlantic. It hits the western seaboard and leaves the area with a deluge of water which has caused many problems, particularly over the last number of years.

There is no need for me to elaborate on the trauma families have experienced in many areas, particularly in my own area of south Galway, in the last number of years and the terrible flooding problems of late last year and early this year. The problem of water getting into houses and their desecration has sent a wave of sadness through the nation. A few short years ago, in 1991, a similar problem occurred and lasted for a number of months; this is an ongoing situation. Since then, apart from words of sympathy, the help of neighbours and efforts by the local authorities from their own feeble resources to help the people who have been beset by this natural disaster, very little has been done. Thankfully things have changed.

The introduction of this Bill is a watershed in the history of this country and I am sure many people who have been beset by the problems of flooding over the last number of years are very happy that the torch has been passed to a new Government which is prepared to apply itself to finding a solution to a very difficult problem. In welcoming this Bill to the House it would be remiss of me, having seen at first hand the efforts of the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Higgins, not to compliment him and his Department on a meaningful initiative in introducing a Bill which will not put obstacles in the way of the permanent alleviation of flooding problems.

This is a major step forward and for the first time ever the Office of Public Works will be empowered to deal with flooding on a localised basis. It has been apparent for some time that there were considerable benefits to be achieved by tackling flood relief work on a local rather than a catchment basis as was required by the legislation up to now. The flooding situation, particularly in south Galway and other areas, was the impetus for the amendment of the Act. The Bill will see to it that the alleviation of the suffering and hardship in both urban and rural areas due to localised flooding can now be tackled in earnest. I also welcome the Government's commitment to provide extra resources to the Office of Public Works in 1995 to get this work under way.

When we talk of dealing with flooding on a localised basis, it would be remiss of me not to put on record the great work that has been done in the Coolarne area of the parish of Turloughmore in County Galway. That area has been subject to flooding for hundreds of years. However, in recent years the flooding problem has been greatly alleviated by a local initiative which was undertaken with the assistance of Galway County Council and a local committee. This can be seen as a pilot area. The local authority in question also deserves to be complimented.

The Minister has not spared himself. It would be remiss of us not to compliment him on the interest he has taken in the problem and on his present efforts to implement a lasting solution to prevent a recurrence of the disasters we witnessed in the flooded areas last winter. There is an all party approach to this problem and we must give credit where it is due. I compliment Senator Daly for the initiative he has taken and the effort he made to highlight the flooding problem in his Bill.

This Bill is most welcome. It is vital that it is implemented now so that there is not a recurrence of the flooding in future years. Money must be provided to enable county councils to raise roads in areas prone to flooding. A welcome aspect of the Bill is the inclusion of a provision that councils will be reimbursed for money spent on such work. At least the local authorities will not be out of pocket. That is crucially important because local authorities are starved for cash at present. I commend my local authority in Galway for its marvellous work during the emergency in the Gort area over Christmas, despite limited funds. It cleared debris and helped to drive back the waters. It is crucial that councils are not penalised in such cases. I hope that money spent by local authorities will not be taken from the roads programme and that these authorities will be reimbursed.

As a resident and representative of the area of County Galway that has been most bedevilled by flooding, I compliment the Minister on his decision to have a study of the problem carried out. A number of companies have tendered to undertake it. I hope the Minister will do all in his power to expedite the implementation of the results of that study — no time can be wasted. I also appeal to him, on completion of the study, to ensure that remedial action will be taken, particularly in Gort and the south Galway region.

It is imperative that the Government ensures that the people of Gort will never have to face another winter in fear and dread of flood waters invading their premises and farmyards, leaving them, their children and their households in disarray. People living in the flooded areas are like John the Baptist crying in the wilderness and looking for assistance and resources. Over the last number of years little has happened. Those people are looking to the Minister, Deputy Jim Higgins, as the messiah. We do not pretend that he can walk on water but we believe he might be the Minister who will lead these people so that they will never again have to wade through water.

Moses Higgins.

The Minister can play the role of Moses and lead these people if not to the promised land certainly to dry land.

They will be able to see it anyway.

At last we have a Bill that attempts to do something meaningful to help people who are in a traumatic and difficult situation.

Like the Cathaoirleach who will put the question to the House following the Minister's concluding remarks, my question to the Minister is — will he ensure that the study is implemented as soon as possible? Will he do all in his power to ensure that remedial action is taken before the rains and the floods of next winter so that the people of south Galway in particular will never again have to face a winter like last year? I live in an area called Turloughmore which means Dry Lake. The water in my parish has receded as a result of a flooding programme which was implemented by the former Minister, Michael Donlon, a member of my party. I hope our party in this Government, with the assistance of its partners, will see to it — and we are going in the right direction with this Bill — that the flooding problem that has bedevilled this country, especially during last winter which was the wettest in the history of this State, can be prevented in the future.

I compliment the Minister on the enormous effort he is making. I am confident he will see to it that this Bill is quickly implemented throughout the country. It will be of great assistance to many communities.

I welcome the Minister and I compliment him for introducing this Bill. Senators from rural areas who understand the problem of flooding and its attendant complications realise that it is not an easy task to frame legislation such as this. There is no point relieving flooding in one area by creating a flood elsewhere. That is the problem confronting the Office of Public Works in this Bill.

The policy since the passage of the 1945 Act has been that a big catchment area should be drained. That is easy to understand and much good work was done throughout the country. At this stage, however, the Office of Public Works has sufficient knowledge from its experience and research to oversee and complete small areas to relieve localised flooding. This will be welcome in areas that suffered greatly during last winter. Some of those areas were in County Galway, County Clare, in my own County Longford, along the Shannon basin and parts of County Roscommon. All along, there was no hope. People expected help from the county councils and turned to the Government; but, in fairness, everybody's hands were tied. The Bill, therefore, moves the process forward. The Office of Public Works, the local authority and the local community can now have an input in resolving the problems in their areas.

Will the Minister arrange for the Office of Public Works to undertake a survey on flooded land throughout the country? There are many areas in the Shannon basin and elsewhere where the land is flooded for three or four months of the year. There was a joke in Longford at one time where a local man was asked how much land he had and he replied that he had 25 acres when the tide was out and 15 acres when the tide was in. He meant by this that during the winter months, inland as he was, the tide from the local river was flooding.

I congratulate the Minister and wish him and his Department the best of luck. There is a hard task ahead. It is intricate work and much research needs to be undertaken. There is no point in solving one problem by creating another. The legislation is timely and the Minister is to be congratulated for the speed with which he dealt with this matter as many important factors had to be considered before the legislation could be drafted.

I propose to share my time with Senator Dan Kiely.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I was under a misapprehension before Senator McDonagh's intervention. I had thought that the Minister and his colleagues in the Fine Gael Party had reached the promised land shortly before last Christmas when they acceded to Government, but it is now apparent that we must wait until the floods are parted before the chosen people reach the promised land.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I also welcome the Bill. I will not be opposing it on Second Stage, but there are some amendments which I have tabled as the Bill can be improved. Hopefully, when we discuss the amendments, the Minister will treat them in the spirit of our attempt to be helpful to the construction of the legislation rather than otherwise.

The Minister has expressed regret about the fact that he gave an assurance to the House regarding the Bill which was not fulfilled to the letter. I accept his regret, but, as I said a couple of weeks ago on the Order of Business, commitments of this nature should not be given lightly to the House as they are very solemn. This was an explicit commitment, and explicit commitments of this kind need to be delivered on, even though I accept that there can be difficulties in drafting and so on which cause problems. We owe a debt to Senator Quinn for drawing attention to the commitment. It was especially serious in the context of a vote which was likely to be close, whereby its outcome was affected by the statement which was made.

Having expressed regret, the Minister has appealed to us to expedite the passage of the Bill through the House to ensure that the second deadline for the end of May will be met. In this respect, it is not our intention to hinder the Bill, but the passage of the Bill and the speed of its passage are predicated by the fact that it is presented to the House on time. This is, again, a reminder to the Minister, and others, of the importance that commitments entered into on the floor of the House be delivered upon.

I commend Senator Daly for his initiative, because without it we would be waiting very much longer to have the legislation before us. We, therefore, owe him a debt of gratitude also. Neither the Government nor anybody else can predetermine the incidents which took place over the winter, but experience teaches us that we can expect severe flooding in certain places almost every winter. In those circumstances it is highly important that intervention be rapid and effective. It must operate at two levels. The first is possibly not directly within the scope of the Bill — although it is related to it — and it is the degree to which people who are seriously affected can be helped and supported by the local authority and the Government when the incident happens. This must be the greater priority. Where people are displaced from their homes and where their homes are flooded, the initial concentration must be on relieving their suffering and rendering whatever assistance can be put in place.

As a secondary consideration, and one which is urgent, but less urgent than the first, action must be taken to ensure that the flooding can be avoided in future if that can be effected by a drainage scheme or by other action, which is what the Bill proposes. It is important that we have the capacity to respond quickly and effectively. In trying to avoid future flooding and deal with the flooding that has taken place, the Bill goes some way towards producing a more rapid response, one that is tied up in less bureaucracy and allows for intervention.

However, we should have passed the time when the Minister for Agriculture, like Captain Bligh, sailed through the flood waters of Gort and gave assurances as to how the people would be attended to and protected. The budget contained provisions to alleviate some of the suffering, but these should not be represented as a panacea for all the ills. The terms of the proposals were narrow. One was in respect of the loss of livestock and the other was loss of fodder; no more than that. However, what about the householders, those who were displaced from their homes and the damage to homes, property and businesses? Assistance must be provided in these instances, in addition to the farmers who had to endure the loss of their livestock and fodder. What about their machinery and their homes? It should not have been represented that the provisions contained in the budget were going to solve all problems, and photo opportunities on lakes of water in Gort do not do anybody any good.

That is begrudgery.

It is not begrudgery. I am surprised that the Senator does not share my concern for the fact that the people who were affected should be protected, supported and given some level of assistance.

That is a different point.

People have been forced to take rented accommodation. What happens in those circumstances? No officials have visited those homes to see for themselves the extent of the damage and what may done. While the Office of Public Works has done valuable work over the years, some of the work undertaken brought huge environmental consequences. It is not right, as is the case in parts of south County Kildare, that we still have heaps of spoil lining the banks of the River Barrow or that there are mountains of spoil lining river banks in County Meath, or that we produced canals which devastated the fish life and some of the fauna around those rivers. I suspect those things were done out of good intention, by the lights of the time, but they had environmental consequences. That is the defect I see in the Bill. It does not pay attention to the potential for environmental damage. We have to act speedily, on one hand, so the difficulty exists about not restraining the Office in terms of a quick response. We must ensure, nevertheless, that the environmental consequences are not permanent. That is the deficiency in the Bill. I know that Senator Daly has an amendment down for Committee Stage, which I support, in terms of protection of fisheries etc. The Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht will be introducing the third plank of his platform on heritage, which involves wildlife. How does that fit in with some of the proposals on arterial drainage? There is the question of spoil and the final question — I support Senator McDonagh on this — of reimbursement of the county council for moneys which it must spend by virtue of having to intervene in a flood situation.

In the good old days of the "Minister for Snow" Kildare County Council spent a large sum of money clearing the motorway around Naas and we are still waiting for the compensation. I would hate to be the county council that carries out immediate work to alleviate flooding and then tries to recover its expenditure from central Government funds. It must be said that if local government were properly funded it would not have to seek to recover funds from central Government.

There are a number of minor points I would like to raise which I will return to on Committee Stage. In section 11 (1) (a) (ii) of the Bill it says "the compulsory substantial interference with any land". What is substantial? Would somebody please define what substantial means? Section 12 (4) (a) states that "in case all the land comprised in the vesting order is in the occupation of the same person, or persons, post a notice containing a copy of the order on or near the land". Is there a specific legal definition of what "near" means? Must we wait until the courts test that particular matter? These are simply minor points. I do not wish to be pedantic about them. We will return to them on Committee Stage.

I thank Senator Dardis for sharing time with me. I welcome the Minister. I welcome the Bill, even though I do not agree with it in its entirety. There are many flaws in it. I hope that the Minister, having heard contributions from all sides of the House, will consider some of the amendments which have been put down and perhaps come to a compromise in the best interests of the people we represent. I can see many flaws in the Bill. The Minister is not going far enough in certain quarters. I suggest that he extend the authority of the Commission to undertake works without the necessity of preparing a scheme. It is a major flaw that while a scheme is being prepared, a problem might evaporate in the short term and reappear in the long term. The scheme would then be lost and another one drawn up. It is simply layers of bureaucracy and the Minister has not gone far enough in this regard.

The problem of flooding did not arise in this country during last winter. Flooding has been a fact for the duration of the country's history and the duration of our lives. Floods are a regular occurrence in the part of the country I represent. During most winters we experience eight, ten or 15 storms. In summer there can also be severe storms and major flooding. I mentioned before that I was a small shareholder, with the bank, in a public house. One morning, in the busiest part of the year, I opened the back door of the premises and four feet of water flowed through and out the front door. The place had to be closed down at one of the busiest times in the year. That happened years ago, as the result of a flash flood. This is the norm in the area I represent.

I would like to mention something already referred to by other speakers and that is the level of compensation. While much huffing and puffing was made about £2 million being made available for fodder throughout the country, no compensation was paid. There was no mention of EU moneys. There is no mention of any money at all in this Bill for the people who have suffered. I know of one particular family in my own area outside Ballybunion and the bridge that connected them to society was completely washed away. These people have to use planks of wood to enter and leave their homes, to go to work, to church and to the local towns. Where will these people get compensation to replace this bridge? There has been much talk about Galway. I empathise with the people of Galway for the hardships they have endured, but several homes in the North Kerry constituency are still under water and the people have moved out. People who were constructing homes, that were almost finished, will not now complete the work where mortgages have been drawn down by building societies. I would like to know what the future outcome will be for those people?

I would like to ask the Minister why he does not take power in section 6 of the Bill to enter into joint ventures with county councils, local farmers and others. Is the power there to enter joint ventures with these people? Has the Minister the power to do that rather than the Commission? I would like clarification on this particular part of the Bill. Much work can be done in that regard. In the past much work was also done under the local improvement schemes on small drainage problems, whether they arose from bogs or headlands. While this was abolished some years ago, attempts have been made to have it reintroduced into the local improvement schemes. There is room for the Minister to give extra funding to local authority members for local improvement schemes in their areas. That would alleviate many of the problems we now face. The Minister mentioned the large arterial drainage schemes carried out in the past. The two in my own area, on the Feale and Cashin, were quite successful. Environmentalists are now worried about flora, fauna and wildlife. I am worried about them also. I am involved with many gun clubs in my county. We try to preserve and breed wildlife, but we are worried about the damage the floods are doing to the flora and fauna. It is the damage the floods are doing, not the amount that drainage work will do, which concerns me. I am not particularly worried about the amount of damage done by drainage work, but it should be monitored. A flood can do much more damage to the country's wildlife.

The Minister recently mentioned nine pilot schemes which would be undertaken. I did not see any mention of my area in this regard. Perhaps he was not notified that County Kerry had floods in the same way that other counties had. Why were the nine places not identified in the Bill? Was the Minister successful on his recent trip to Europe in obtaining any money from the European Commission for the severe flooding problem we had in Ireland? Does he envisage putting a programme to the European Union to try to get some compensation for the people who had their homes and property damaged?

Does the Minister intend to get extra money for repairing the roads whose surfaces were washed away or to give any money to help repair private roads? These roads cannot be repaired unless people pay for it out of their own pockets or a local improvement scheme is established. Does the Minister intend to give extra money to local authorities for the local improvement schemes to help the people who are severely disadvantaged by what has happened?

The bridge in Ballybunion was washed away and that story was aired on the national airwaves on numerous occasions; Pat Kenny mentioned it on his programme too and it was brought before our county council. The cost of replacing the bridge will be in the region of £15,000. Nobody knows from where this money will come. Until something is done, the planks will remain on this bridge and nobody will take any notice of them until they break some fine morning when people are going to mass.

Will money be put in place to compensate these people? Great damage was done to property in my constituency and these people can no longer get insurance. This is a huge problem. Something will have to be done because our climate and the floods will not go away.

I would like to see the Minister given more powers and a stronger voice in the Bill. Would the Minister clarify section 6 because this concerns me the most? I compliment the Minister on the speed with which he brought this Bill to the House. I also compliment Senator Daly for initiating this debate; this Bill would not be here today had it not been for him.

I wish to share my time with Senator Townsend.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister. This Bill has been long awaited. The last Arterial Drainage Act was passed in 1945. This Bill is eagerly awaited by communities whose property is regularly flooded. The most recent prolonged spell of bad weather, with people being marooned and not being able to get to their homes, brought home to us the plight of families living in flooded areas.

I want to refer to the Blackwater catchment area in County Cork. We were advised that the arterial drainage scheme for that catchment area was No. 18 on the priority list. Does such a list still exist or is priority given where a crisis arises?

I particularly welcome the provision in the Bill which gives the Commissioners of Public Works the power to undertake drainage schemes to relieve localised flooding from rivers and other watercourses in addition to their existing powers to undertake the arterial drainage schemes in the entire catchment areas. The Minister said "It will, however, be a requirement that any scheme to relieve localised flooding must have regard to the possible effects of the proposed works throughout the entire river basin.".

The Minister refers to the Report of the Browne Drainage Commission of 1938-40, which said that "all future arterial drainage operations should be conducted on the basis of comprehensive schemes embracing entire catchments and not otherwise.". I am a little concerned about that statement. Does it mean that, if a person puts forward a project to relieve flooding in a local area where it is has been proved that this can have a detrimental effect on the people living there and would not be a costly scheme, they would have to go through these criteria before it is approved? I would be sceptical about this if we were talking about localised flooding; this has been mentioned by others as well.

The Minister also said that "The Commissioners of Public Works had been unable to undertake schemes to overcome the difficulties in these areas because the existing legislation limits them to the catchment approach.". It is recognised that there is a problem in such areas and that this Bill will give effect to relieving that problem and the flooding in such areas. The Minister also talks of the existing supplementary legislative provision, that is the Local Authorities (Works) Act, 1949, which provides a basis for the execution of localised works in certain circumstances.

I raised this issue in my area — we must be concerned about any flooding problems in our constituencies — and the reply was that the local authority could undertake this scheme under the 1949 Act. Everybody knows that asking a local authority to undertake a scheme of that nature with the financial constraints under which local authorities work is not on. I also welcome the repeal of section 15 of the Act, which I suppose is a relief to the local authority. However, I do not know to what extent because I am not familiar with that aspect.

The Minister will no doubt be commended for bringing in this Bill, but to give effect to its provisions, the people who will be looking to this establishment for relief will require works to be urgently undertaken and to do that, finance must be provided. I hope the Minister will consider that matter and provide the necessary finance.

I thank Senator Sherlock for sharing his time with me.

I welcome this Bill. I come from County Carlow which suffered from bad flooding on three occasions recently. I cannot understand why it has taken 50 years to bring in an amendment to the 1945 Act; it baffles me. It can be said without fear of contradiction that this Minister has done more by putting this mechanism in place than has been done by other Ministers in the previous 50 years so far as the flooding problem in Carlow is concerned. We have talked about this many times but this Minister has done something.

I was also delighted that the Office of Public Works has identified Carlow as one of the nine high priority areas where relief works can be undertaken immediately. This did not happen by accident. It was brought about by submissions to the Department of the Environment and the Office of Public Works by Carlow County Council and Carlow UDC as a result of strong local public representation.

Under the new legislation the Office of Public Works will have the power for the first time to deal with localised urban flooding. This section, which is the main provision of the Bill, gets to the root of the problem as far as Carlow is concerned. I am glad that work will be carried out in such a way that flooding will not be relieved in one town by transferring it to another. In other words, flooding will not be relieved in Carlow town in such a manner as to cause flooding in Leighlinbridge, Bagenalstown, St. Mullins or Kilkenny. In that context as well I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Office of Public Works and the craftsmen who work for the Office of Public Works on the fine work they have done in restoring the lock at Millford, County Carlow. People in the area — and, I hope, a wider public — know that Millford is a place of great natural beauty and the work which has been carried out will add greatly to the amenities there.

I am glad that in addition to its main objective, the Bill will rectify deficiencies in the original 1945 Act. These relate to compensation for compulsory acquisition or interference with land during the course of drainage works, authorising the Office of Public Works to deal with unauthorised interference with drainage works and requiring the local authorities to make annual reports on their maintenance drainage districts available to the public for inspection. This is also welcome. As I said previously. I come from an area which has been affected by the flooding. I am not worried about the niceties of the situation or about bureaucracy. I ask Senators to pass this Bill as soon as possible. We have waited and talked for 50 years about such a Bill. The time for talk has passed. Let us get on with the work.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I wish his Bill well. This legislation has my broad support in so far as the main thrust of the Bill is to deal with localised flooding, a matter that I have spoken about many times. I compliment the Minister for bringing it forward. In his address to this House he acknowledged the contribution of the former Minister, Deputy Dempsey, and our colleague, Senator Daly, in their efforts to have this matter expedited.

The spring of 1995 brought home to many people the severe hardship and trauma that extensive flooding can cause. Over the years we have seen photographs and reports on television about serious flooding problems on the banks of the Shannon and the Suck and in other areas of the country. On this occasion we were shown houses, towns, streets and whole stretches of countryside under massive amounts of floodwater. The extent of flooding on this occasion was brought home to everybody through television. People did not know what could be done to relieve this serious situation. The Bill being initiated in Seanad Éireann today allows the Office of Public Works to initiate small ad hoc drainage programmes where there is a serious flooding problem which can be alleviated without involvement of a scheme for a whole catchment area. That is a very important step. I compliment all those who have come forward with that proposal to address this problem.

We had an extensive debate in the Seanad on flooding some weeks ago. At that time many of us outlined the problems as we saw them and the difficulties being experienced by people in different parts of the country. I addressed the problems experienced in County Rosin common. The Minister recently circulated a press release about the Bill and a list of priorities to be included in the first tranche of activities of the Office of Public Works under the new legislation. While I am sure there was relief and praise for the Minister in the nine areas mentioned — they are all deserving cases — people in my county were somewhat taken aback that Roscommon was not mentioned in the Minister's list of priorities. They feel they were discriminated against, that their case was not properly evaluated and that the due entitlement of the people of County Roscommon was not recognised.

When we had the debate here on flooding I outlined the reasons Roscommon is subject to flooding. The county is hemmed in between the Shannon and Suck rivers. During my time on the Consultative Council to the European Commission I spoke with many people about flooding in Roscommon and many surveys on flooding have been done. It is known nationally and at European level that the consequences of 50,000 acres of Bord na Móna bogs being drained into the Shannon and the Suck over a period of 40 years has created a silt problem in both rivers.

I explained as best I could to the Minister during the debate in this House that the maintenance of the River Shannon from Meelick Weir back to the town of Athlone and from Shannon Harbour back to Athleague was a priority. I consider it to be the most important priority outside Gort in 1995. It is not accepted in the Minister's statement that hundreds of families have been cut off in the mid and south Roscommon area over the years. This year many more were cut off than ever before. I outlined in this House that a farmer of 80 odd acres had 60 odd acres under water; I was wrong. He has 100 acres, of which 84 acres were under water. I was not aware of the full situation at the time. About one acre of this farmer's land is under water all the time. This is prime upland in a place called Dysart in County Roscommon.

I do not say that we should take out some other area and add the county of Roscommon, but the Minister and his officials should look at the possibility of the maintenance of the Rivers Shannon and Suck. The Shannon river is the responsibility of the Office of Public Works to a great extent. No other body has any drainage responsibility in that area. It is known by all the counties and local authorities that adjoin the Shannon that the maintenance of that river from Meelick Weir back to the town of Athlone would alleviate much of the flooding that takes place in the whole Clonown and south Roscommon area back to Athlone. I understand also from my colleagues across the Shannon that it would be very helpful to them as well. With a certain amount of maintenance, without any removal of rock but with the removal of silt, much of the flooding in that area could be alleviated.

The river on the other side is the River Suck. It is generally thought that the River Suck Drainage Board has responsibility for this river, but the first nine miles are that of the Office of Public Works. It is only at the town of Ballinasloe, nine miles from the mouth of the river, that the River Suck Drainage Board comes into play. There is limited maintenance of the River Suck from Ballinasloe to Athleague to Castlerea, but none on the first nine miles.

In this area there is a major commercial industrial development, that is, the excavation and processing of 50,000 acres of peatlands. The two rivers must accept all the silt from that development, although not one shovelful has been taken out of either for 30 or 40 years. I admit that one fold was removed somewhere between Ballinasloe and the mouth of the Shannon for navigational purposes a few years ago. The Minister and his officials should look again at that situation.

The Minister should visit the north western part of the county — the Castleplunket, Castlerea, Bushfield and Brackloon area and other areas, including Dysart and Curaboy. The flooding which people in County Roscommon have experienced over the years merits the inclusion of the county for works under the priority list. I will emphasise that again on Committee Stage and I ask the Minister to look again at this matter. I understand a statement was made that surveys had not been carried out. However, the Rivers Suck and Shannon have been surveyed many times. There is a Shannon forum and a Suck Drainage Board and there is also an Office of Public Works report on the River Suck from the Shannon Harbour to Ballinasloe. There is enough paper work as regards those rivers. I hope the Minister will look at that situation in the near future.

As regards third parties and their involvement in joint ventures or drainage works, does the Minister envisage that a body such as the River Suck Drainage Board would have the opportunity for a joint venture for the maintenance of that river? If that is the case, I do not see a problem getting the minimum maintenance of the River Suck over a period of years which would result in a reasonable flow of the river.

The Minister referred to water courses or parts of water courses. The River Shannon is the main artery of water through the west midlands area. While there is an excellent flow in most parts of the river, there are pockets where clogging occurs. That has happened as a result of the work of Bord na Móna and the natural build up of silt caused by land drainage. Will the Minister identify problem areas along the section of the River Shannon between Meelick and Athlone? Further up the Shannon at Ballyleague in the Strokestown area there is a problem.

Under this Bill the Minister could do something positive about drainage in County Roscommon. He might save his colleagues in Government a lot of money in this regard. Applications for millions of pounds have been made to the Department of the Environment to raise roads to alleviate the problem where people cannot get to their villages, homes and farms. Is the local authority allowed to be involved in this scheme? Can the local authority identify a problem on the basis of access as well as the relief of drainage? These problems are interlinked and the involvement of local authorities with the Office of Public Works would be important.

The issue of compensation was referred to by my colleague. Senator Daly, when we had a debate on flooding and again today. The Minister and his officials should look at this matter again. People cannot get insurance in certain circumstances. I believe compensation on a statutory basis is essential. However, we do not want to open the floodgates — excuse the pun — by allowing people to believe that the public purse is open at all times. What people have experienced this year cannot be allowed to happen again. The issue of compensation should be looked at.

My party will submit amendments on a number of technical points in the Bill, which I hope we can tease out. The Minister has responded to a public demand by introducing this Bill and I compliment him on that. By and large, he will have my support. I ask the Minister not to allow this matter to be clogged up by bureaucracy further down the road.

Drainage is an emotive issue. Even where local authorities are responsible for drainage, there can be an "I'm all right Jack" attitude, and co-operation and understanding of the other man's position can be cast aside. When the Office of Public works is dealing with drainage in an area I hope there will be public debate. If this happens the public will support efforts being made. Often when public works are considered or initiated, fear caused by a lack of information and communication causes people to put up barriers. When this Bill is being implemented the public must be made aware, through the local authorities or otherwise, of what it is about.

The Bill has a lot to offer and will improve the situation in rural areas. I understand that it also provides for problems in urban areas. The Bill has great potential and it will have a positive effect. Roscommon County Council met yesterday and sent a resolution to the Minister in this regard. The people from County Roscommon, who have suffered greatly from industrial waste in the rivers and from a lack of jobs, feel aggrieved that no one has responded favourably to their problem. The number of people employed by Bord na Móna is one-third what it was four or five years ago. Job opportunities are not as plentiful as they were and neither the local authority nor the local community can change this. Perhaps the Minister could ask his officials to consider removing the silt in the rivers. I am not talking about removing rock formations in the River Shannon or the River Suck but about their maintenance to allow a better flow of water. This would help to alleviate some of the other problems in the county.

I welcome the thrust of the Bill, although my party will table amendments. The House and the public welcome the opportunity to consider the Bill's benefits.

I join with other speakers in welcoming the Minister to the House. While people may disagree with certain points and criticise different aspects of the Bill, everyone must agree that it is a great achievement to bring this Bill before the House when the Minister has been in office such a short time. The Minister is amending the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945, the Arterial Drainage (Amendment) Act, 1955, the Companies Act, 1963, the Land Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845, and the Registration of Title Act, 1964. I congratulate the Minister and his officials in this regard.

I want to pay tribute to Senator Daly because he introduced an excellent Bill. The Minister also paid tribute to his predecessor, Deputy Dempsey, who had undertaken work in this area. The Minister came to the Department at a time when the country had just seen some of the worst flooding in living memory. He did not start with a baptism of fire but a baptism of water and he responded to the crisis.

The main thrust of the Bill is to carry out works to relieve localised flooding in urban and rural areas. The Department and the Office of Public Works should be able to carry out improvement works in local urban and rural areas where houses have been continually flooded and prevent damage being caused to homes, businesses and livelihoods. This Bill ensures that the Minister will be able to act in time if people risk losing their homes and lives as a result of flash flooding which recurs each year. The Minister and his Department will also undertake other major schemes. The main thrust of the Bill is to relieve localised flooding.

I live in County Offaly and I watched with interest the television coverage of the areas affected by flooding, including Carlow and Galway. The Minister and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Yates, were present on many occasions. While the flooding in County Offaly was not as bad as that in Gort or in parts of Carlow, we also suffered considerable losses and I will mention some of the areas worst affected. I understand from Offaly County Council and Laois County Council that proposals have been submitted to the Department. Perhaps the Minister could confirm if he has received them and if he will be able to rectify some of the problems in these two counties.

The Minister should have received a proposal for Moneygall. Army Hill in Moneygall lies along the national primary road and many of the local authority houses on it were damaged by the flooding. The water swept further down the village and other houses were also damaged. Perhaps the Minister, in co-operation with Offaly County Council, could try to relieve this situation. I am confident he will get support from the county council.

Kinnitty lies at the bottom of the Slieve Bloom mountains and it, as well as Cadamstown and Clonaslee, were flooded. It was dangerous to travel the roads in that area because one was in danger of being swept off them. The culvert in the main street in Kinnitty was completely blocked and it was lucky that no one was killed. A licensed premises in the village was destroyed.

This problem also occurred in Kilcormac. Flooding originated in lands at the rear of Kilcormac and no drainage was able to cope with it. Flooding has occurred in Kinnitty and Moneygall on a number of occasions. I visited houses in these areas and saw the serious damage the people suffered. It is essential that this does not recur. The main street in Ballycumber was damaged by flooding. In Geashill, outside Tullamore, there has been regular flooding over the years. This year it was particularly bad and four houses were very badly flooded. Mountmellick road on the way into Geashill and the area near the high wall in Geashill, across from the main street, were affected. There was a massive amount of water there and houses were very badly flooded. Mill Road in Geashill was swept away. The proposed schemes could encompass this area and allow improvements to be carried out.

I was glad to hear Senator Finneran mention Shannon Harbour. Across the harbour, the areas of Banagher, Lusmagh, Shannonbridge and Doon were badly flooded. A person on the hill of Banagher might as well have been looking out to the sea from Dún Laoghaire because the Shannon was so high at the time. This Bill is more geared towards smaller schemes. I do not think money will be available to carry out major work on the Shannon. Because of the continuing flooding problems experienced in this area it is essential that the Minister endeavours to allocate at some future date a sizeable amount of funding to see how flooding there can be relieved.

Kennedy's Cross is just outside Birr. I hope to show it to the Minister in the near future. The local authority has had to spend over £150,000 there since the flooding occurred to ensure that the national secondary road was clear for traffic. There was a diversion of traffic on this road. Families were totally cut off. One person had to leave her house, which is so badly damaged that she has been unable to return to it. Other family members could not travel to and from school. They even had difficulty driving their tractor in and out because the flooding was so high and was like an artificial lake. The extent of the flooding problem in Kennedy's Cross will have to be carefully examined by the Minister in the not too distant future. The top experts in the Minister's Department should come to the area and examine it in co-operation with Offaly County Council to see how the problem there can be relieved. Flooding will be a continuing major problem on the national secondary road and the lives of families will be ruined because of it.

There was flooding in the Blueball/Mount Bolus area. The Minister will be aware of this because the area has submitted a scheme. Aghagurty Bridge, which is on the back road from Roscrea to Kinnitty, was totally swept away by flooding. A number of other areas in Offaly were flooded, but I will not mention them. They have submitted a scheme to alleviate the flooding, the total cost of which will be in excess of £1 million to implement.

Houses in Bridge Street in Portlaoise were badly flooded and some people had to leave their homes. Fortunately, the fire brigade was able to get there in time to pump out the houses. Firemen were on active service there for a few days because the flooding was so bad. Bridge Street is lowlying. Some of the residents there are elderly and the flooding caused them a great deal of distress, worry and concern. A family had to be evacuated from its house in New Road, Portlaoise. I ask the Minister to see what can be done about this.

There was flooding in Mountmellick and a scheme for the area has been submitted to the Minister. Part of Graiguecullen is in County Carlow and part of it is in County Laois. County Carlow engineers may have submitted a scheme for the area to the Minister. The streets and roads there were flooded and homes were severely damaged. I ask the Minister to see what can be done about this also.

The Minister's Department has problems because some of the drainage which has been carried out has not been successful. Artificial manure is being spread at such a level that it is causing excessive growth, and weeds in rivers and lakes are part of the problem. Road widening is upsetting water courses and causing problems. Afforestation and the cutting away of bogs are also contributing to the problem.

In fairness to the Office of Public Works, when it has carried out drainage works it has tried to look after wildlife. It has brought about many improvements in the Lusmagh area and has done a great deal to protect wildlife there. The Minister is to be congratulated on this. He has been sensitive to fisheries in the carrying out of drainage works. I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister on it. He is in office for only a few weeks and it is great to see him bringing such an important Bill, which has great relevance for many people, before the House.

I welcome the Minister and thank him for initiating this Bill in the Seanad. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. Last winter there was flooding in many parts of the country, which was more severe and widespread and lasted longer than in any previous winter. Some areas which were only marginally affected in the past suffered severely on this occasion. In several areas the flooding was the worst in living memory. Homes were flooded and had to be abandoned. Houses and whole communities were isolated. Farmers lost livestock and fodder, and young and old suffered hardship and inconvenience as a result of road closures, detours and traffic disruptions. Some business premises, particularly in rural areas, were severely affected. Local authorities are faced with huge unforeseen bills because of the costs incurred in trying to deal with some of the problems caused by the flooding. Some of the roads which were used as detour routes were unsuitable for the additional traffic they had to carry and, as a consequence, suffered severe damage.

I assume at this stage there are some statistics available on the extent and severity of the flooding and estimates of the damage and losses it caused. My local authority carried out a survey of the main areas which were affected in County Roscommon. I assume other local authorities did likewise. Our county engineer prepared an estimate of the cost of repairing flood damage to roads in the county and an estimate of the cost of raising certain roads which were affected by the flooding. I am sure that the Department of the Environment and the Minister's Department have received similar estimates from other local authorities.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 6 p.m. and resumed at 6.10 p.m.