Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 3 Feb 1994

Vol. 438 No. 3

Adjournment Debate. - County Galway Coastal Erosion.

I am glad to have this opportunity of raising the problem of serious coastal erosion in Tawin Island, Maree, Oranmore, County Galway which is situated approximately eight and a half miles from Oranmore and approximately 15 miles from Galway city. Tawin Island is joined to the mainland in Maree by a bridge which was constructed approximately 100 years ago. Previous to that it was connected to the mainland by a causeway. There are ten families living on the island which has a population of approximately 50 people. The island population is made up mainly of farmers and some people engaged in fishing.

There is a great deal of history attached to the island. In the early part of this century, approximately from 1910 to 1912, Jack Yeats and Roger Casement were regular visitors to it. In fact, the former President of Ireland, Eamon de Valera, attended an Irish school on the island in the early 1900s. At that time there were two schools on the island, an Irish speaking and English speaking school. Sadly, the only school on the island was closed in 1992 with the children now having to make their way to Maree school which is approximately four and a half miles away.

As a result of coastal erosion this island may be washed away. A visit to the area this week in the company of two local people, Tim Holland and Michael John Hardy, highlighted the serious effect of the coastal erosion, particularly on the north side of the island as one enters from the bridge. This is the area which faces towards Galway city and is open to the full rigours of the Atlantic. This problem has become acute in recent years, probably due to the change in the prevailing winds from south, south west to north, north west which is exposing this side of the island to the Atlantic Ocean.

Over the past number of years the local residents have made valiant efforts to stop this erosion by mounting stone and gravel banks in places where the Atlantic was breaching the coastline but because of the change in the prevailing winds, there is now approximately a 200 yard stretch of very vulnerable coastline and this is the problem which must be tackled. The tide is coming in and flooding vast acres of farmland. Due to the extreme flooding and retention of sea water above what used to be the high water mark, the level of the water at the changing of the tide is on two different levels each side of the bridge resulting in extreme pressure being put on the bridge and the causeway with the water seeping through. In fact at various times during high tides, which can occur every two weeks at this time of the year, the island is completely cut off with two to three feet of water on the roadway. Often this can be repeated two to three days in succession, depending on wind conditions. This has changed dramatically in recent years. A few years ago the maximum period for which the island could be cut off was about an hour whereas now it can be cut off for at least two to three hours at a time, the coastline having broken in new areas on the north side. Because of flooding on the island this will place more pressure on the other areas in Maree, like Mweelon and Ballinacourtey, which can be affected by the rising tide and the retention of tidal water because of coastal erosion in Tawin Island. Other areas in Maree are also affected by coastal erosion — Blackweir and Luggane — where farm land is being lost through coastal erosion.

I have been in contact with Galway County Council about this matter and have been informed they are not in a position to do anything because of lack of funds. Three years ago funds were allocated to local authorities for the repair of storm damage. It must be remembered that County Galway has 689 kilometres of coast, one of the longest in the country. More importantly, 185 kilometres of that coastline is of soft land composition which means there is a major problem in the county.

I note in Chapter 9, page 117, of the National Development Plan 1994-99 a very short paragraph under the heading "Coastal Protection" which reads:

The primary objective of this sub-programme is the preservation of local infrastructure. It is proposed to address priority coastal erosion problems under a programme of investment amounting to £5.5 million. The main benefits will be the maintenance of local infrastructure, tourism amenities and transport links to isolated communities.

It appears that Tawin Island would indeed qualify under this heading for a coastal erosion grant. Of course, I understand there will be enormous demand on this very inadequate sum over five years in that it will mean less than £1 million annually to be divided between all coastal counties nationwide. To put this matter into perspective it is equal to the sum allocated in the budget last week to Croke Park. I am sure coastal erosion grants have suffered because of the cutback in the £8 billion we were originally supposed to receive from the Structural Funds, reduced to £7.2 billion. Indeed that £700 million, or whatever we lost at that time in the juggling, would constitute an ideal sum to tackle coastal erosion nationwide.

I am making the case for Tawin Island because of its historic nature. It is essential that a programme be devised to alleviate coastal erosion there. I assure the House — and anybody concerned — that Galway County Council will have no difficulty in drawing up a plan to deal with this problem if the money is provided from Structural Funds for that purpose.

I thank Deputy McCormack for raising this matter. I should say that primary responsibility for coastal protection lies with property owners, whether they be private individuals or a coastal local authority. The function of the Department of the Marine is to work in conjunction with coastal local authorities on the management of the coastal zone. Of course the Department will facilitate, where warranted, anyone who wishes to implement an appropriate coastal protection scheme by granting them a foreshore licence.

In relation to the specific location referred to by the Deputy, Tawin Island off County Galway, no details of the nature of the erosion involved are available. Officials of the Department of the Marine have been in contact with their own regional engineer in Galway and the engineering department of Galway County Council regarding erosion at Tawin Island. Neither the Department's engineer nor the council's local engineer are aware of an erosion problem at this location. In these circumstances, I suggest the Deputy should raise this matter again with Galway County Council, who can if required seek advice or assistance from the Department of the Marine.

The Deputy might be interested in the Department's plans for coast protection over the next number of years. As I am sure the House will agree, coastal erosion is a serious and growing problem. This fact was recognised in the Programme for a Partnership Government which stated that increased emphasis is to be given to the problem of coastal erosion. Following this commitment, the Government, in the context of the National Development Plan 1994-99 provided a sum of £5.5 million to help address the erosion problem. This funding will be subvented for the first time by Structural Funding from the European Union.

The Department of the Marine is currently drawing up a national coastal protection plan for 1994-99. This plan will rely to a significant extent on the coastal protection priorities identified to the Department by the various coastal local authorities and on the findings of the county and city engineers association's national coastal erosion committee's report on coastal management, published in July 1992.

The objectives of the Department's plan is the protection, through coast protection works, of key coastal areas, especially those with significant economic infrastructure where, in the absence of such works, there would be a short to medium-term risk of major damage. The prioritisation criteria to be utilised in the selection of projects will include: the economic cost — lifetime cost of the works including maintenance must be less than the loss that would otherwise be suffered over that period; the livelihood protected — resultant saving of State unemployment benefits, etc; environmental or ecological premium — preservation of areas of scientific interest, heritage items, unique flora, fauna or habitats and amenity protection — tourism, recreational or beauty of coastal stretch preserved. Such preservation works support rural development, tourism, environmental protection and other activities which contribute to increasing the economic potential of coastal areas.

Finalisation of the list of projects to be included in the plan, indeed the nature of those projects, is subject to further discussion with coastal local authorities. As part of this consultation procedure it is intended to identify a comprehensive management policy for the entire coastal zone, both on the seaward and landward sides. This approach to the coastal resource is essential. I am sure the House will agree that the protection of the coastal resource, with its immense value in economic, environmental, ecological and sociological terms, is something that we, as a society, have both a privilege and duty to protect and preserve for present and future generations.

I am confident that the Department of the Marine's plan will make a significant contribution to the preservation of the Irish coastline.

I thank the Minister but I might point out to him that the county engineer is aware of the problem because I took him out to the site.