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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 25 Jun 2009

Vol. 196 No. 6

Flood Relief.

This issue, which has received widespread news coverage over the last 36 hours or so, concerns the unprecedented flooding as a result of almost freak weather conditions in west Donegal, a Gaeltacht area, in the parish of Gweedore, one of the strongest Gaeltachtaí in the country. Severe, heavy rainfall resulted in rivers bursting their banks. Bridges were broken, houses flooded and roads torn apart. People have seen in the national media that there was 8 ft. to 10 ft. of water in certain areas, including the sean Teach an Phobail, the old church in Derrybeg.

I have spoken to numerous local residents over the last 36 hours or so who have explained their personal circumstances. While there is the global element of destruction being caused, there is also the localised destruction of private dwellings, where roads going into private houses have been torn apart and gardens, houses and sheds have become waterlogged.

It is a very serious, emergency situation. As I mentioned, it has affected private dwellings, business premises, community facilities, including religious facilities, and farms, including farmers who even lost sheep stock which were washed out to sea as a result of the heavy rainfall. County, regional and local roads have been torn apart. Public bridges along regional and county roads have also been torn apart. Footpaths and public walkways have been severely damaged and access points to private homes blocked.

Since the issue emerged on Tuesday evening between 4.30 p.m. and 6 p.m. when I started to receive telephone calls from members of the public in the area, Donegal County Council has reacted swiftly. It has reacted in an emergency manner dealing with it on a local basis. Despite being under increasing financial pressure, the roads section deserves special recognition for the work it has done. It has reacted magnificently. Credit is also due to the roads engineers, the area manager and the director of roads and transportation, Mr. John McLoughlin. The Donegal county manager, Mr. Michael McLoone, visited the site yesterday and spent most of the afternoon at the location to see at first-hand the damage that had been caused.

The main issue arising is the cost of the damage. Donegal County Council is putting together a comprehensive overview of the indicative cost of the damage caused. It is hoped the report will be ready overnight before the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, and the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Coughlan, visit Gweedore tomorrow morning. The report will provide a technical overview of the money required to repair the damage. While the council is continuing with this work, it simply does not have the resources locally to repair the damage. That is where Government intervention is required to deal with this unprecedented situation. There may be a number of Government agencies, including the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, the Office of Public Works and the Department of Transport, involved. I have spoken to two Ministers today and appreciate that the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, is coming to Donegal tomorrow morning. However, Government intervention and financial assistance for Donegal County Council is required in order to reinstate the public infrastructure that has been severely damaged as a result of flooding.

Luckily no lives were lost. The same parish suffered flooding more than 100 years ago when five lives were lost while people were attending church. Money needs to be ring-fenced. There must be a co-ordinated response which I understand the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, will be leading. I hope financial assistance will be available to Donegal County Council and the people of Gweedore to overcome this nightmare. It is a nightmare for the families and individuals affected.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise the issue. It is important to raise it and I look forward to hearing the response of the Minister of State.

I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Mansergh.

I thank the Senator for giving me an opportunity to come into the House to discuss the severe flooding which occurred in the Gweedore Gaeltacht area in County Donegal on 23 June. It is ironic that the flooding took place at a time when most of the rest of the country was basking in sunshine. The Donegal fire service has described the weather as freakish.

The Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Deputy Mansergh, is very much aware of the hardship and loss suffered as a result of flooding and is pleased, through me, to have the opportunity to record his personal sympathy and concern and that of the Government for the victims of the flooding. The Minister of State has visited the scenes of flooding in many parts of the country where severe flooding has occurred and has first hand knowledge of the hardship and worry that flooding causes. With the Office of Public Works, he is acutely aware of the impacts of flooding and is committed to doing all he can to alleviate them both through the provision of defences to best practice standards to reduce existing flood risk and by taking steps to prevent the creation of future risk. This is not the time to go into detail on these matters as time is limited and the topic under discussion is the flooding in the Gweedore area.

OPW engineering staff met on site engineering staff from Donegal County Council on 24 June. A combination of spring tides, together with prolonged torrential rain on 23 June, contributed to flooding on lower level lands. The heavy rain commenced at approximately 3 p.m. and continued unabated for approximately four hours. Eight county road bridges were damaged — mainly parapet, soffit and scouring damage; four private bridges were also damaged, two of which serve blocks of six or nine houses approximately. Parts of county roads were washed away or suffered surface damage along the course of the channel. Among the buildings flooded were a craft shop, a flower shop and the old church at Derrybeg which now houses the Gweedore library. A number of private properties were also flooded and more details on the precise number affected are awaited. These are preliminary findings and the process of gathering further information is ongoing. It is hoped a preliminary report will be available shortly and an early meeting will be set up between Donegal County Council and OPW officials to assess what can be done to prevent a recurrence.

The Minister of State is conscious that, in addition to the trauma caused by the flooding, people also suffered financial loss arising from the damage caused to their property. The Department of Social and Family Affairs has responsibility for providing humanitarian assistance where it is considered appropriate and is providing help through the community welfare officer network for victims of the recent flooding. Where people are suffering hardship, they should contact the local community welfare officer for assistance and each case will be dealt with confidentially and on its merits. I should point out, however, that recent humanitarian assistance schemes have not been extended to cover business or agriculture.

The Office of Public Works will continue to work with Donegal County Council to try to alleviate the risk of future flooding in Gweedore and the surrounding areas. I, again, express my sympathy to the victims of the flooding in parts of County Donegal and assure them of the support of the Minister of State for the work under way to minimise flooding risk in the future. I thank the Senator for his important contribution. We are attempting to deal with the matter urgently and bring all parties on board in the process. As the Senator said, a number of Ministers are giving the matter their immediate attention. I know that, working together, we can deal with the serious issues confronting those in the part of the country affected.

The Seanad adjourned at 3.10 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 30 June 2009.