I propose to take Questions Nos. 411 to 419, inclusive, together.
Home and Farm
Last November I announced that the Government had agreed a once-off Voluntary Home Relocation Scheme for those primary residential properties that flooded during Winter 2015/2016. This is a scheme of humanitarian assistance, targeting aid at those worst affected properties, for which there are no alternative, feasible measures.
The Office of Public Works is finalising the administrative arrangements for this scheme and working jointly with Local Authorities and the Department of Social Protection. Initial funding of €2 million for the scheme has been allocated this year. I expect to be able to appraise Government of the administrative arrangements and announce further details of these arrangements shortly.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has indicated that the administrative arrangements for the Voluntary Homeowners Relocation Scheme will help it identify those farmyard buildings worst affected by the flooding during Winter 2015/2016. That department will work with these individual farms to determine if there are any alternative remedial works to protect those farmyard buildings at risk. This approach will inform the feasibility of any future once-off targeted scheme for Voluntary Farm Building Relocation.
Lake Levels and Shannon Group
The Shannon Flood Risk State Agency Co-ordination Working Group met on six occasions in 2016 and on one occasion to date in 2017. Information about the Group is available on the OPW website, www.opw.ie.
The Group took a decision in October 2016 to trial the lowering of the lake levels on Lough Allen, within the existing statutory framework, during the Winter 2016/2017 to help mitigate potential flood risk. A protocol was agreed between ESB, Waterways Ireland and the OPW to lower the late Autumn and Winter minimum lake levels in Lough Allen by approximately 0.7 metres with the first reduction implemented in October 2016. The Group has agreed that the trial will be repeated later this year, commencing in late Autumn.
The Group is also developing a plan for strategic maintenance, to help reduce further deterioration of the River Shannon, and is considering the development of viable flood risk reduction measures in the Shannon Callows, as a further commitment to enhance co-ordinated activities by the relevant State Agencies. These plans are taking into account the environmental, legal and resource implications involved.
The Interdepartmental Flood Policy Co-ordination Group that I chair met four times in 2016. Last November the Group presented for consideration and agreement by Government an interim report setting out progress on its work and making appropriate recommendations for consideration by Government at this time. The report is available on the OPW website, www.opw.ie. Progress continues to be made by sector leads on recommendations within the interim report and those policy areas identified that require further action. While the OPW remains in contact with sectorial representatives, who are members of the Group, I will convene a meeting of the Group in the coming weeks to start the process to co-ordinate a final report for consideration by Government.
A Steering Group to establish a National Flood Forecasting Service has met on nine occasions to date, agreed a Terms of Reference and prepared and agreed an implementation plan comprising a number of phases, including an initial set-up phase (scheduled for completion by Q3 2018) and a development and trial phase (scheduled for completion by Q1 2020). Given the complexities involved in establishing, designing, developing and testing this new service, it is anticipated that it will take at least 5 years before it is fully operational and it is estimated it will require a staffing complement of 15 full-time posts. Met Éireann has appointed one new staff member to date to lead the project.
The Interdepartmental Flood Policy Co-ordination Group is considering the potential costs and benefits associated with the introduction of an individual property protection scheme. The Group is being informed by two different pilot projects, which are currently underway in Thomastown and Graiguenamanagh in County Kilkenny and Crossmolina in County Mayo. In respect of the Kilkenny pilot, the OPW is funding the costs of a research and feasibility study into the potential provision of individual property protection. No funding has yet been drawn down by the Council on the pilot study, which is due to conclude and make recommendations in April. In Crossmolina, consultants have undertaken surveys of individual properties and Mayo County Council has procured a contractor who is currently installing the defences at the relevant properties. To date, no funding has been drawn down by the Council. The Co-ordination Group’s work, when completed, will be submitted to Government for consideration in the context of the merits of the introduction by Government of any scheme to support individual property protection measures.
Minor Works Review
A review of the Minor Flood Mitigation Works and Coastal Protection Scheme is currently underway with a view to examining the criteria for consideration within the Scheme, including for example the various thresholds for the assessment of benefit. Consultations are underway with Local Authorities with a view to examining any potential improvements, administrative or financial, which will encourage applications under the scheme. It is expected that the review will be completed shortly.
Work to develop guidance to clarify the rights and responsibilities of landowners in relation to the maintenance of water course on or near their lands is at an advanced stage and will in the coming weeks be subject to legal advice before being finalised.