“That Seanad Éireann:
-floods are an inevitable part of life in Ireland but the frequency and intensity of flooding has greatly changed both now and into the future, as Met Éireann can confirm, because the type and intensity of our rain and our weather has changed and our flood management needs to adapt also;
-floods are usually caused by a combination of events including:
- heavy rains;
- overflowing rivers;
- broken dams;
- coastal storms and storm surges;
- a lack of vegetation;
- blocked or overloaded drainage ditches;
- infrastructure that was built on flood plains;
- numerous severe floods have occurred throughout the country in the last decade;
- floods present a risk when people, property, the environment and our cultural heritage can be potentially damaged, land eroded, nutrients leached from soils and soils washed away;
- through the appropriate measures in the right places, we can reduce their likelihood and limit their impacts;-natural flood management is an approach to managing soil, wetlands, woodlands and floodplains along a river to retain and slow water at times of flood risk, reducing the speed and the peak of floodwaters;
-international best practice in flood risk management recommends:
- a river basin whole catchment area approach;
- not passing flood risk management problems in one region on to another;
- insofar as is possible, we must engage in natural processes to help and guide us as we move forward to solve flooding challenges;
- mitigation, non-structural and soft engineering measures should be considered and deployed where appropriate recognising their environmental value;
- structural measures, such as defence structures are important when it comes to the protection of human health and safety, and valuable assets;
- while structural measures such as hard engineering provide important and viable protection to many at risk communities, the design of flood risk solutions needs to both consider and,as appropriate,integrate non-structural and soft engineering measures as both more efficient and sustainable mitigation measures. Nature conservation and landscape management considerations need to be taken into account;
endorses Ireland’s whole of Government approach to flood risk management which is co-ordinated by the Office of Public Works (OPW) across three strategic and policy areas:
- prevention: e.g. avoiding construction in flood-prone areas;
- protection: e.g. taking feasible measures, both structural and non-structural, to reduce the likelihood and impact of floods;
- preparedness: e.g. informing the public about dealing with flood risk and a flood and building community resilience;
recommends, due to the significance of the task we are facing, exacerbated by climate change, that the Government:
- maintains a multi-annual investment programme managed between the OPW and the local authorities in flood relief measures to protect communities;
- requests the OPW and local authorities to engage with experts such as hydrologists in the fields of flooding and coastal erosion for solutions to flood risk management;
- undertakes a national land use review, including farmland, forests and peatlands, so that optimal land use options inform all relevant Government decisions. The review will balance environmental, social and economic considerations and involve a process of evaluation of the ecological characteristics of the land. It will include consideration of emissions to air and water, carbon sequestration and climate adaptation challenges. Policy co-benefits, such as rewetting or forest regrowth to mitigate flooding risks in river catchments, will be considered. The national land use review is currently under way, at first phase, by the Department of Environment,Climate and Communications together with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine;
- promotes planting of ‘protection forests’ along rivers and lakes to protect water quality and assist in managing flood risks;
- progresses the development of a national policy on coastal erosion and flooding that takes account of damages present and predicted due to climate change;
- launches a new revised and strengthened River Basin Management Plan in 2022, drawing on a collaborative approach between all stakeholders, which is currently open for public consultation.”
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Is deas é a fheiceáil i gcomhair an ábhair thábhachtach seo. I thank the Minister of State for his time today. We have had lots of emergencies, and I believe flooding is an emergency and down the track things could be a lot worse. Today, we introduce a motion on flooding out of a deep concern about an increase in flooding across our country, including coastal, town and village farmlands. We cannot wait for things to get even worse to realise what we should have done. We cannot wait to have events such as those we witnessed in Germany happen here.
Warmer temperatures mean warmer air and more moisture which results in heavier rainfall. According to Met Éireann, the frequencies of heavy precipitation events, also known as rain, show a notable increase of approximately 20% at least during autumn and winter months, at a conservative guess. How will crops grow and cattle be fed if more and more land is flooded for longer periods? What effect will increased flooding have on indigenous food supplies at a time we need to be more resilient as a nation.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA,, climate projections indicate an increase in the likelihood of river and coastal flooding, water stress to crops, pressure on water supply and adverse impacts on water quality, and negative impacts on human health and well-being. We have all seen the mental health devastation brought upon people who have lost family homes due to flooding in many parts close to where I live in counties Clare and Galway. Are we going to wait until cars are floating down all of our main streets and hundreds of people are drowning to take this issue seriously?
We need to put our money and expertise where our mouths are and mitigate flooding threats properly. We in the Green Party have looked for climate proofing measures for our farms and coastal and inland communities for decades. Now, luckily, every party is talking about climate change, which is positive. The time for talking is over. It is our duty to protect farmlands, crops and all of our villages and towns in coastal areas and along rivers. Bad flood management will not suffice. Hard engineering solutions alone will not solve the problem, although they will play a part. It is like trying to stop water coming out of a colander. Blocking one hole just increases the quantity coming out of other holes.
Every town and city in Ireland is built on a river because that was how everything was transported long ago. I experienced kayaking down Parnell Street in Ennis a number of years ago. The plan at the time was to raise the wall parallel to that street along the river bank. Lo and behold, two years later the flooding had moved to Abbey Street. Instead of repeatedly destroying the same businesses year after year, we have just moved the problem further down. This was due largely in part to bad planning in the past, which resulted in building on floodplains. Enough of the past; we have to face the reality of now and the future.
Our rivers host villages and towns all along their routes. This means that every river and town is susceptible to flooding and sorting out the flooding problem in one place just moves the problem somewhere else, be that to farmlands or the next village or town. Prevention is better than cure. If we do not move towards proper whole river and catchment-based solutions as soon as possible, we will waste millions of euro blocking holes in a colander instead of investing properly in upstream and design solutions for entire areas.
We need upland bog rewetting. As we all know, bogs are like sponges. We need the right trees planted in the right places, as they help to soak up water and hold onto soil instead of soil depletion, which then causes the shallowing-out of rivers leading to increased flooding. There are amazing solutions in other jurisdictions and great researchers from Trinity College Dublin and elsewhere who make a brilliant case for mainstreaming nature-based solutions into integrated catchment management systems, which work at a fraction of the cost of other solutions.
One of the main reasons I brought this up was because I grew up 5 km from the closest village and not too far from a river. I am young but in my lifetime, I have witnessed devastation. Over the years, I have seen a large amount of land being covered and flooded. Farmers have tried to drag a sop of hay out of wet fields. I can see the visual of that and land slowly disappearing for longer periods, something which is happening more frequently. My neighbours and farmers are wondering what they can do. They cannot move their farms. We need to look seriously at what we are going to do.
I did not mention the Arterial Drainage (Amendment) Act 1995 in the motion, but the Minister of State has been handed a poisoned chalice. We do not need to be defensive as a Government about past problems, the Arterial Drainage (Amendment) Act or anything like that. We need to be honest and fair, look at the situation and realise that hard engineering on its own has not served its purpose and, in fact, sometimes we have wasted a lot of money on it. It will not be fair if we have hard engineering in one place because the problem will be moved somewhere else.
We need to face reality. We can blame climate change. I do not care what we blame, but the current practices are not fit for purpose. We have great examples of what can be done. I have mentioned previously a town in Pickering, England, which was offered hard engineering solutions only, and locals feared for their neighbours in a town down river. A catchment-based solution, in conjunction with the local authority, was agreed. The local authority also engaged with experts on catchment-based solutions, which were a quarter of the cost of other solutions. The town has never flooded since, nor has its neighbouring town downstream.
We have solutions. Let us not be afraid to admit we got things wrong in the past. Let us grab the nettle and do this for the people of Ireland who are worried about the flooding they will face this winter, be it in Cork city, Cloonlara, the midlands or coastal communities. The Minister of State has a huge job ahead of him because coastal flooding is a whole other ball game, given rising sea levels. I do not envy him but I would like him to know that I am here to help in any way I can, as are my colleagues in the Green Party.