Thursday, 7 February 2019

Questions (11)

Barry Cowen


11. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the details on the management of the River Shannon as part of the Managing Flood Risk in Ireland report; the timelines of the projects announced in the report; the annual allocation until 2027; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5764/19]

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Oral answers (12 contributions) (Question to Public)

I would like details about the timelines of the projects contained within this report and the annual allocation up to 2027, and confirmation that this week's events relating to the capital development plan will not impinge on this report or the funding that is needed to implement it. I trust that, given where the Minister of State is from, he will ensure that.

On 3 May, I was delighted to launch 29 flood risk management plans and announce investment of €1 billion in flood risk management as part of Project Ireland 2040. These plans are the output from the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, programme, the largest flood risk study ever carried out in the State. They set out the measures proposed to address flood risk nationally and include 19 new flood relief schemes to protect towns in the River Shannon catchment in addition to the scheme already under way in Athlone. Twelve of these have been prioritised as part of the ten-year programme.

Since the launch of the plans, the OPW and local authorities have been pro-actively engaging to advance the implementation of these schemes. Engagement with the local authorities is ongoing in respect of Springfield, Ballinasloe, Nenagh, Longford, Rahan, Castleconnell, Mohill, Leitrim, Clonaslee, Carrick-on-Shannon, Killaloe and, in Limerick city, King's Island and its environs. The procurement of consultants for the detailed design of these projects will commence in the near future.

Capital funding for the delivery of the existing schemes and the additional schemes identified by the flood risk management has been provided by the Government in the Project Ireland 2040 plan. Expenditure on flood risk management will increase to €100 million annually by 2021.

In January 2016, the Shannon Flood Risk State Agency Co-ordination Working Group was established by the Government to support the CFRAM programme and further enhance the ongoing co-operation across all of the State agencies involved with the River Shannon, including the ESB, Waterways Ireland, Bord na Móna, Inland Fisheries Ireland, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the OPW and the relevant local authorities. The Shannon group has taken a number of significant decisions since its establishment, including targeted maintenance at a number of locations, trialling the lowering of the levels on Lough Allen, studies to explore managing flood risk at the Shannon callows and lowering the Shannon below Parteen weir.

I will ask Deputy Eugene Murphy to take my supplementary question.

That is agreed.

I thank the Minister for State for his reply. Like him, if I go out my back door or front door, I am not too far from part of the River Shannon, be that Roosky, Termonbarry or Ballyleague-Lanesborough. The Minister of State and his staff keep in contact with me, given my role in this matter.

Questions are being asked following what we have been told about the overspend on the children's hospital. Is any of these projects going to be hit? The Minister of State will agree that many areas that will experience difficulties are not included in the CFRAM programme of maintenance. Climate change is having an effect and we will have more severe storms. For example, the west coast has been promised very bad weather tonight and tomorrow. We hope it will not be as bad as people are saying. As the Minister of State knows, even inland areas are being flooded that never flooded before. Will he confirm that the €100 million he mentioned will be spent per annum?

I appreciate where the Deputy is coming from on this matter. We work together and have regular phone calls on it. He will acknowledge our commitment regarding the money. Since I started in this job, the amount has increased from €40 million to almost €70 million, and we will increase it further to €100 million. However, spending that money can be difficult at times.

One could have an objection to a scheme or judicial reviews or all such issues that can hold up the delivery of the schemes. My Department is working with the local authorities right around the country. The Deputy can see that.

On the question regarding the River Shannon, it is probably the first time in years action has been taken. The Deputies will be well aware that many taoisigh travelled around the country and along the banks of the Shannon on the back of a tractor. Commitments were given and things done but nothing really happened. Over the past three years, and particularly since I came into office, the Deputies have seen the risks with the high levels and what we have done to maintain normal levels by working with all agencies across the Shannon catchment. Work is happening. They are up in Carrick-on-Shannon, as the Deputies are aware, and we announced its funding recently. Athlone is well on the way. Even in Portavola, Banagher, which has been talked about for years, the job is finished. It is done. As for the targeted maintenance, we received nine licences. We have done the work on seven and are back in there at present doing more work. We are actively involved with each one. On the question regarding the country overall, I am committed to spending the funding I have available but it is not always easy to spend all of it.

I accept that one can run into difficulties and problems. However, a few things concern me in this regard. I acknowledge the Minister of State's undoubted role in this. He is in contact and some works are being carried on. In my county, however, because of the flooding and because the River Shannon runs from one end of the county to the other, people who should be relocated have not been relocated. I accept certain works are being done on the River Shannon. In terms of maintenance and the amount of silt and peat in the River Shannon, I had thought there was some agreement with Bord na Móna that there would be a pilot scheme to remove some of it. Finally, my party brought forward a Bill on the ESB's control over the levels of water on the River Shannon. That Bill has been sitting there for probably two years at this stage and it needs to be progressed. I am sure the Minister of State agrees that we need to provide a single management board in charge of the River Shannon, rather than having all these groups.

I appreciate the effort the Minister of State has made. I do not question that in any way. Because of climate change, however, we must get twice as busy and twice as serious about this.

On the Deputy's first question on relocation, he referred to County Roscommon, which I have visited on many occasions. As for Lough Funshinagh, plenty of people have made promises. I have delivered in terms of the funding to the local authority to come in looking for a scheme, and we will make that happen.

The Deputy talks about the relocation scheme. I have sat in kitchens with people around this country. One hundred and thirty-four people applied for it. There are now 36 looking to move. People do not want to move. In some cases, people have come and said that they would move and we are working with those people, but when one returns and engages with them, they say it did not rain this year or they did not experience high floods and would like to stay. We are asking people to give up their family home to move. In some cases, people just do not want to and they work on it.

What was the other question the Deputy posed? The Deputy asked three questions.

A broad authority.

On an overall authority, I totally disagree with Deputy Eugene Murphy.

We must agree to differ. I can only commend the co-operation I am getting from all State agencies on the Shannon, from the ESB to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which many Members in this House have criticised. They have worked closely with me. We made things happen. In Portrane, people were talking about houses falling into the sea for years. We sat down with the different agencies, in particular, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, that made that work happen. We are doing that right around the country. A single agency around the Shannon will not work. What we have, in terms of the steering group, is working and work is happening.