Flood Relief.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this issue and selecting it for debate.

We are again looking at a monumental waste of public funds on this project and I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon, who has had his hands on this project. He participated in some of the launches we had with regard to it.

Since the serious flooding in south Galway in 1975, a series of reports, studies, assessments, designs and work has been carried out, at a cost of approximately €3 million. The famous Peach report, which was commissioned at the time, was to have been the answer to all the drainage problems in south Galway but is now an academic study. Dúchas and local authorities were involved in trying to find a resolution to the problem as well as many other agencies. However, at all times when I was a Member of this House and the Lower House, I doubted the sincerity of the commitment of Ministers to the project.

The Minister for Finance allocated funding to it in the budget and I thought we then had a statutory allocation. Alas, the project has come to a standstill without any of the fanfare with which the Minister of State participated in in his glory days. The Minister of State at the time, Deputy Treacy, launched the project on five occasions and, for political advantage in the run up to elections, stated that it was proceeding. This seems to be the case elsewhere too.

We have had no benefit from this project despite the fact that €3 million has been allocated to studying it and €3 million has been allocated for the implementation of works. We had identified Termon, Cregaclare, Peterswell and Ballinderry as the areas which would benefit. The Minister of State showed and named the townlands and farms that were to benefit in the local newspaper, all of which were written to individually and told the way in which they were to benefit from these works. Now that has all gone.

Will the Minister of State clearly indicate what has happened and what went wrong? I understand the reasons and sympathise with the concerns of farmers in the Craughwell area who were the victims of the movement of water from an upper area downwards. However, further works to alleviate the problem of water moving from A to B could probably be undertaken if there was determination. Surely, a reason could have been found to start from the sea upwards in order to alleviate any problems that would arise in the land which falls in the middle in the Craughwell area. These are serious concerns with which I sympathise.

However, it is wrong for local government politicians to say in Craughwell that they had the money for the project taken back and, if they are in Termon or Ballinderry to say the Minister was an awful man to give the money back to the Government rather than spend it to the benefit of people in that area. Cost-benefit analyses have been carried out in various places, which have shown it would have been of benefit to the area.

Can the Minister of State clearly state, without the equivocation of which he is so fond, why this project has been abandoned, where the money has gone and how much public funding has been wasted to date?

I presume the drainage project to which the Senator refers is the flood relief scheme proposed for the Aggard Stream in Cregaclare, County Galway.

The Minister of State is being very cynical.

I want to be very specific because the Senator has been colourful in the terms he has used and I want to answer everything clearly.

A scheme for this area was developed by OPW and the proposed works were placed on public exhibition in February-March 2002 as required by the Arterial Drainage Acts. A significant number of observations were received in response to the public exhibition expressing concern that the works would exacerbate the flooding already occurring in areas downstream of the Aggard Stream. The technical advice available to the OPW did not support this view. Nevertheless, to address the concerns that had been raised, OPW agreed with Galway County Council to carry out additional river maintenance works on the council's behalf on the Dunkellin River. The estimated cost of the Cregaclare scheme and the additional works was approximately €2 million. However, further objections were received from the residents and the landowners along the Dunkellin River who remained unhappy with this proposal and requested further substantial works. I met with representatives from the area and OPW officials had a number of further meetings in an effort to resolve the situation. However, it was made clear that the landowners were not prepared to allow OPW to proceed with the Cregaclare scheme. In the circumstances I had no option but to decide in September 2003 that the Cregaclare scheme could not proceed. All those who had submitted observations in response to the public exhibition were informed of this decision in writing.

The Senator mentioned a figure of €3.5 million. The background to this is that in February 2000 the Department of Finance sanctioned expenditure of €3,174,345, £2.5 million, on flood relief works in south Galway. The sanction stipulated that any works undertaken would have to avoid unacceptable environmental consequences, offer a reasonable cost-benefit ratio and, of course, fully comply with all relevant legal requirements. The south Galway steering committee was established to consider what works could be carried out within the terms of this sanction. I know Senator Burke is familiar with the work of the committee and with the extensive efforts made to examine all options for flood relief works.

The committee examined the possibility of carrying out flood relief works in the Termon, Kilchreest, Mannin Cross and Kiltiernan-Ballindereen areas but none was considered viable for economic or environmental reasons. A proposal to replace culverts at Kinvara was approved and carried out by Galway County Council with funding of €243,000 from OPW. A total of €163,330 has been spent in investigating the feasibility of works in the above areas and in bringing the proposed scheme for Cregaclare to public exhibition.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I would point out to the Senator that the Department of Finance sanction of February 2000 conveyed approval to OPW to spend from its existing allocation and was not an allocation of additional funding to OPW for south Galway. I would therefore like to stress that there is not a sum of money being held to one side that can only be spent in south Galway. I must also point out that flood relief works had been carried out by OPW at two other locations prior to the establishment of the south Galway steering committee. A scheme was carried out in the Lacken-Ardrahan area in 1996-7 at a cost of €86,196 and on Bridge Street in Gort town in 1997, at a cost of €333,986.

I am very aware of the impact flooding has had on the people of south Galway and I have met many individuals and representative groups over the years who have been directly affected. The onus was on me as Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works to satisfy myself that everything possible had been done to find acceptable solutions. I am satisfied that the OPW has made strenuous efforts over the years to identify flood relief works that could be carried out in south Galway within the relevant criteria. Apart from those works outlined above, it is regrettable that it has not been possible to do more due to a combination of environmental and economic constraints as well as local objections.

The Seanad adjourned at 9.05 p.m. until10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 4 March 2004.