I thank all Senators for the varied and positive contributions they have made during the debate. I will deal with the individual contributions in a moment.
It is obvious, from what has been said here and during the lengthy debates on this subject in February and March, that we share a common aim of dealing with the serious problems arising from flooding which continue to plague us and have become even more pronounced in recent years. I am confident that the Bill, as drafted, meets our current needs to deal with these problems in a positive way and will cover the various suggestions made by Members. There will be more to be said on the subject when we deal with Committee Stage of the legislation. The introduction of the necessary drainage legislation is only one of the issues which have held our attention in recent months. There has also been the Government's response to the immediate problems of those individuals who suffered most during recent floods in south Galway, Clare, Carlow, Kilkenny, Cork, Offaly and nationwide.
What action was taken? Senator Fahey's bout of self-righteous indignation, when he made the allegation that literally nothing had been done to address the problem, was probably one of the most ill-founded statements ever made in this House. Collectively, between both Houses and a Minister of State appointed a mere three months ago, we have done more in the past three months than was done during the previous three, possibly the previous 50 years. I would like to illustrate the exact position.
On 7 February 1995, the Government established an interdepartmental committee, chaired by myself, to co-ordinate a response to the effects of bad weather. A national response plan to the effects of future occurrences of bad weather is now being prepared through this committee. The Government also decided in principle, at its meeting on 14 March 1995, to make funds available for the relief of hardship and distress for victims of severe flooding. It is the intention to channel these funds through the Irish Red Cross Society. An assessment of the extent and the scale of funding required is currently available. I received a report this week headed "Flooding 1995" from Mr. Des Kavanagh, treasurer of the Irish Red Cross Society. It lists the applications for flood relief as follows: Carlow, 28; Clare, 38; Cork, one; Dublin, two; Galway/Gort, 134; Kilkenny, seven; Kerry, one; Leitrim, two; Limerick, six; Laois, one; Offaly, two; Roscommon, three; Tipperary, nine, and Wexford, two. That represents a total of 236 applications. Mr. Kavanagh goes on to say: "We have carried out some inspections of the damage. We hope to complete visits early next week when the processing of all applications will commence and we will be in touch with you in due course.".
As a voluntary organisation with the expertise and know-how to carry out these jobs with a minimum of fuss and red tape the Irish Red Cross Society has done a tremendous amount of work in a short period of time. We can rest assured that the money will be in the hands of the people who need it in a short period of time, just as it was in 1993 and on previous occasions. Until a complete picture is received, the cheques cannot be sent out. Until the exact cost is determined, in terms of the liability from insured, non-insured and partially-insured properties, the cheques cannot be sent out. Until we discover the number of houses that are repairable, refurbishable or that cannot be reoccupied, we will not get the complete picture. We are determined to have the complete picture in a matter of days.
I am happy to report that, through my own initiative, a sum of 325,000 ECUs in humanitarian aid was made available from the EU Commission for the relief of such distress in Ireland. These funds will also be disbursed by the Irish Red Cross Society and applications are currently being assessed. One of the key factors in influencing Secretary General Williamson and the European Union to include Ireland in the disaster fund — Ireland had not been included; the Dutch and the Germans were there ahead of us — was the fact that it had already been decided that the Irish Red Cross Society would be the administrative and executive agency to disburse the funds. This was on the basis that it was an international organisation which did the work effectively in the past.
The Government has also made available, as has already been said on numerous occasions, a £2 million compensation fund to cover agricultural losses of stock and fodder arising from the bad weather and payments to date under this scheme have been made to over 500 farmers. A sum of £50,000 was allocated from this fund to Galway County Council for the repair of roads and a further £4 million has been made available for the repair of county roads countrywide.
Approval was given to the commissioning by the Office of Public Works of a special multi-disciplinary investigation into the causes of flooding in the south Galway area and which will recommend remedies to the problem. A number of submissions have been made by consultants who are interested in carrying out the study and it is expected that a commission will be put in place shortly. It has already been possible to carry out one scheme for the relief of flooding in County Galway and design work of two further flood affected areas has been initiated.
An emergency co-ordination centre or one-stop-shop was established in Gort, County Galway, staffed by representatives of the Western Health Board, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Galway County Council, the Irish Red Cross Society and the Office of Public Works. Some 500 callers have been assisted in relation to claims for compensation, rehousing and humanitarian aid.
Army vehicles have been deployed for the transport of school children to and from schools and to provide other assistance as required in the south Galway area. The Army Air Corps, using helicopters, have carried out over 200 cargo sorties, transporting almost 100 tonnes of fodder, fuel, foodstuffs and medicines to stricken householders. The Government decided to provide a Supplementary Estimate this year to enable specified drainage works to go ahead. These will commence after the enactment of the new Bill.
Notwithstanding all these measures which I think the House will agree reflect the extent of our commitment to the resolution of the plight of all those affected, the physical remedying of the causes of the problem must now start. With the enactment of the current Bill, we will be able to commence work on the ground in selected areas. In this connection, I have noted with interest the representations made in respect of the many areas around the country which have suffered most. In drawing up our future programme of work, all these will be considered and be taken into account and the majority of them will be got to in due course.
However, for the immediate future it has been decided to concentrate on a number of areas. The Commissioners of Public Works are at present undertaking the necessary survey data, collection and design work in these areas under its existing powers and with the goodwill of the landowners onto whose land they have had to go. It is, however, essential that they be given the powers proposed in this Bill before any substantial work can commence on site. The criteria used in selecting the priority areas were primarily the severity of flooding and the availability of most of the necessary data, for example, where flow measuring devices have been installed for a period of years or where previous studies have been made.
In Galway, there are a number of areas where the hardship is particularly obvious. I have already referred to the proposal for the study in the south Galway area. In the town of Gort itself, it has been possible to identify likely solutions and these are being examined. At Belclare near Tuam, excavation to lower the level of existing flooding has already been undertaken successfully while a scheme for the Williamstown area is also been considered. This, like the south Galway region, is a highly sensitive area and detailed examination of the likely impacts of the works on the environment have to be, will be and are, necessary in advance of work commencing.
Consulting engineers have been appointed to design a flood release scheme for Carlow while in Kilkenny, designs prepared by consultants engaged by the local authority are being examined as a matter of urgency. Designs for schemes for the Cappaghmore, Newport and Sixmilebridge areas of Counties Limerick, Tipperary and Clare, respectively, are well advanced and the necessary data is being collated at Duleek, County Meath. Options for flood relief in Dunmanway, County Cork, will also be assessed shortly. As can be seen, the areas involved are geographically widespread and it is hoped to commence further work during the year.
I will now return to the Bill itself. The House will note that I have not included a provision for payment of compensation to people who may have suffered loss or damage through flooding. I do not consider it appropriate to make such a provision for a number of reasons which I will outline briefly. I would also point out that the heads of the Bill, which I inherited from the present Opposition, did not contain any such provision.
It would be normal, and I submit entirely reasonable, to expect that people and businesses would insure against loss due to exceptional events such as flooding and it would be entirely inappropriate for the State, on behalf of the taxpayer, to say that we are going to assume all that responsibility. Furthermore, there is a duty on people to take reasonable precautions to protect their property from damage. I recognise that there are some areas where it may be difficult to reinsure property which has been damaged by regular flooding but I must emphasise that the objective of this Bill is to provide for the removal, elimination or alleviation of flooding and the elimination for all time of the risk in the selected areas that I have already decided to announce.
The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is operated by the health boards on behalf of the Department of Social Welfare, has provision to cater for emergencies such as severe flooding. The Government has shown by its response to the most recent flooding incidents that the State does have the capacity to provide assistance, in monetary and practical terms, when and where it is most needed. The House will be aware of the many measures that have been implemented already and the Government has promised to establish a further humanitarian aid fund, the nature and extent of the need for which is currently being examined.
A statutory scheme would be extremely difficult to frame. It may end up being too rigid, too inflexible, and there would also be the apparent risk of excluding some deserving cases that could be assisted far more satisfactorily under the existing regimes. In the circumstances and in the light of all that has been said, I look forward confidently to the continued support of the House in completing the remaining Stages.
I want to pay a special tribute to Senator Daly because he initiated a Private Members' Bill in this House. We gave a commitment in good faith that enshrining the sentiments and spirit of this Bill would be taken on board and we have enshrined vast tranches of the Bill in this regard. Indeed, we have taken one section of that Bill in toto. I hope that the constructive atmosphere that has prevailed throughout the debate since the flooding crisis came to a head in February will prevail for the remaining Stages of the Bill.
I want to reply to the provision that Senator Daly seeks to enshrine as part and parcel of his previous Bill before the House. The thought that one could go in without preparing a scheme on an emergency basis is fraught with danger. The time constraints have been so considerably removed and reduced that we will be able to move. The Local Authorities (Works) Act, 1949, is already in place and provides a mechanism for a local authority to go in immediately on its own initiative and tackle a problem. Emergency flooding in a small area, the release of gullies and so on, can be dealt with. All the local services which come under the ambit, remit, powers, scope and jurisdiction of the local authority can go in there. However, to embark by way of enshrining in legislation a provision that one can go in willy nilly with Hymacs and JCBs without conducting a design is not on. We cannot, and will not, provide for it, the EU will not allow it and, as has been said by Senator Henry, when one tackles a scheme like that without taking due cognisance of the downstream effects, one is obviously taking on board a number of dangerous possibilities in terms of tampering with water schemes and other services there, apart altogether from the environmental considerations.
The purpose of this Bill is to combat, cope, deal with, alleviate and eliminate flooding. If the Bill is effective, and it will be, there will be no need for a compensation proviso. I am determined that once this Bill is put in place, the tenets, teeth and action enshrined in it will be acted on immediately and the misery suffered by the people in the areas affected this year will no longer be a feature of their day to day lives in winters to come.
Therefore, pressing this aspect of the compensatory element and putting into legislation that we, as legislators and taxpayers, must provide for fundamental statutory compensation is not on and is not needed. We did not need it this year; we acted immediately and we are in the process of putting a compensation scheme in place. People will be rewarded on the basis of their needs so that what is in situ now will be in place for the future and can be acted on under the new legislation. As I said, this provision was not in the heads of the Bill we inherited from my predecessor, the former Minister for State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Dempsey.
I thank Senator Taylor-Quinn for her keen appreciation of the difficulties of the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945, and the legislative constraints it placed on me. I also thank her for spelling out in clear detail what is intended by section 6 of the Bill, which has been generally welcomed. Under that section we can now undertake joint ventures with local authorities and individuals, and with Iarnród Éireann if there is a railway line involved. The Senator mentioned a place called Ballycar where a railway line is involved and we can now act. From now on we can go in as the need arises, as resources permit, where there is a willingness on the part of the communities to act of their own volition in conjunction with us, and work out a multiplicity of arrangements to relieve flooding. I thank the other Senators whose contributions were extremely constructive.
Senator Fahey was gracious in thanking me for bringing forward the legislation but that is where the rapport between us ended. I have seldom heard such a litany of bile, most of it highly erroneous, misleading, unfounded and unfair. He said that not a single thing has been done for the people of south Galway. I have visited south Galway with my officials on numerous occasions. I have been in the houses in Glenbrack that were shown on "Six One News" tonight. I have seen at first hand the trauma, tragedy and devastation that is the lot of those people and I am determined that they will be looked after and whatever provision is needed will be made.
There has been a general acknowledgement that we have done everything possible within the constraints upon us and the resources available to us. I was very happy to be the recipient of an award from the local community in Gort at the beginning of May when people buried the political hatchet and were prepared to come together to say that a job was well done, and to thank the State and the State services for the manner in which they tackled the problem. Unfortunately Senator Fahey was not present for this gala occasion.
The people of south Galway are top of our agenda when it comes to compensation. We have set up a one-stop-shop there to which 500 people have called. At present the assessment is being carried out and will be completed within a matter of days. We have already paid several hundred farmers in south Galway up to £4,000 compensation for the loss of livestock and fodder. As a result of the strong representations made to us by the people of south Galway, we have extended the scheme to include not only loss of livestock and fodder but grassland which, because it was so long under water, will not be available for summer grazing. There is a general acknowledgement in south Galway and in Senator Fahey's immediate neighbourhood that a good job has been done.
Senator Fahey made the point that not a single act or initiative will be possible under this legislation. I was delighted to be in Kilkenny yesterday to listen to representations from Kilkenny Corporation and Kilkenny County Council and to receive, as in Senator Lanigan's very constructive contribution tonight, the acknowledgement that Kilkenny's difficulties for the last number of years will now be ended because the necessary work will start this year. Work will also start in the following nine areas: Carlow, Dunmanway, Belclare, Williamstown, Sixmilebridge, Duleek, County Louth, and in Newport, Tipperary and that is just the beginning. Work could not start up to now because our hands were tied by the 1945 Act. It was a fine Act in its day but it has run its course and no longer meets the exigencies of the current situation.
We are in the process of drawing up our priority list and while there are nine schemes this year, there will be more schemes next year and the following year. People have asked whether the funds will be available. I have already received the assurance of the goodwill of the Cabinet on this issue. There is a commitment on the part of the Government that this legislation is not simply an empty formula, it is a legislative process which will end once and for all the flooding difficulties in many areas. As Senator Lanigan said, no legislation is perfect. Rome was not built in a day and we cannot tackle all the problems together. We are establishing the priority list and are according priority status to the areas which have flooded households. We will then move on to other categories of building. However, flooded households and dislodged families have to be our primary concern and that is why we have begun with the nine schemes announced this week with this Bill.
I thank Senator Magner who rebutted the allegations that the memorandum contains some kind of dilution of our commitment. Anybody who knows about the preparation and presentation of legislation knows, as Senator Magner rightly put it, that one fights one's corner for legislation first. When the Bill is in place, then one fights for funding. We have already fought for these resources. I thank Senator Henry for her very constructive contribution and for putting the situation in perspective. This was an unusual year in that rainfall was 250 per cent higher than normal. It cannot be said with certainty that widespread flooding is over, that next year will be any different or that we are in a cyclical pattern that is now ended. Unfortunately, four of the last six years have recorded rainfall levels above the average.
There is an ominous indication that the experience this year could well be the experience for years to come. That is why we have decided to amend the legislation. I share the Senator's concerns about the possible environmental impact. That is why it is vital that we appoint consultants. It is very easy to denigrate consultants, to say that the money should be spent at the coal-face, but it is necessary to go through the consultative process to get the best professional expertise because if we get it wrong the costs will still be high.
I can assure Senator McDonagh that south Galway is a priority. Some 31 companies, experts from Ireland, Great Britain and the European Union, have made substantial submissions in relation to their interest in carrying out a geological hydrological study of the south Galway area. We are confident from the level of expertise indicating an interest in this area that at long last a solution will be found.
I am amused at Senator Fahey's homespun solution to the problem. I wonder where it has been for the last seven years. Would that there was an easy homespun solution to the problem; there is not. A maze of factors must be considered, elements so diverse that nobody has yet managed to make a recommendation. However, we are determined to find the best solution to deal with the problem and I am confident that the necessary recommendations will be made to enable us to find a long term solution. Judging by the expertise and commitment evident in the expert submissions made so far, we are confident that we will be in a position at some stage in the near future to find a solution to the problem.
I take on board the points made by Senator Dardis, although he seems somewhat confused. On the one hand he wants a quick, effective and efficient response, while on the other hand he wants the potential for environmental consequences to be taken into consideration. We cannot have it both ways. If we are to go in, we must do so after due consultation and consideration of all the consequences. Senator Dardis also asked what was meant by "substantial compulsory interference." This means — it is also in the Principal Act — something which is part of the scheme, or substantial works which are part and parcel of what is going on at a particular point. It must be differentiated from other works which are accidental, such as where in the process of carrying out the works a pillar or a pier is knocked down.
Senator Dardis asked about vesting notices and what exactly was meant by "on or near the site." This part of the Bill has been cogged from the Shannon Navigation Act, 1990, where that was the terminology used. We are talking about putting notification of the intention to vest the land — compulsory acquisition — as near as possible to it. Often that may be determined by whether or not the land is flooded. If it is flooded there is no point putting a sign in the middle of a flooded field because it would not be legible——