Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 1 Jun 1995

Vol. 453 No. 8

Arterial Drainage (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 1995 [Seanad]: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time." I am pleased to present this Bill in the House today. Members will recall that the issue of localised flooding came to public prominence earlier this year when the country was in the midst of a major flooding crisis. On a nightly basis we saw and heard on our television screens and in the other media organs, tragic scenes and stories of people whose homes were flooded, or cut off from their neighbours, farmers who were struggling to look after their livestock and small businesses in jeopardy as a result of the floods. It was abundantly clear in the light of that crisis that a sensible programme of drainage and flood relief works was essential.

During the course of a special debate on the matter in this House earlier in the year the then Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, gave a commitment to pursue with the Government the early introduction of legislation along the lines of proposals which had been prepared by the Commissioners of Public Works some time previously to permit the commissioners to undertake such a programme of works to prevent or alleviate problems of localised flooding. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance were approached about the matter and despite the many pressures of Government business they were both very sympathetic to the plight of the flooding victims and the Government, on their recommendation, agreed to pursue a range of actions including the early processing of the legislation.

I am happy, therefore, just a few months later, to be in a position to bring the Bill, which has already been debated and passed by the Seanad, before this House. Although it is relatively short and I hope uncontroversial, the House will appreciate on reading it that there was a considerable amount of administrative, legal and technical research to be done in the course of drafting. The speed with which such important and substantial legislation was drafted is remarkable and I express my appreciation to all concerned, as did my predecessor before me, in particular to the parliamentary draftsman's office for their efforts.

The Bill seeks to amend and extend the powers to execute works of drainage and flood relief conferred on the Commissioners of Public Works by the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945. It is the second such Bill introduced this year, the first having been introduced in the Seanad by Senator Daly in February last. The Government's opposition to Senator Daly's Bill at the time was based primarily on the facts that it did not address entirely the issues involved and that the Government intended to introduce a Bill as soon as possible. As promised at the time, the Government's Bill was also introduced in the Seanad first and I am fully aware that it was due in no small measure to the united approach of Members on both sides of that House that the Bill passed all Stages with speed and efficiency.

Like my predecessor, the Minister, Deputy Jim Higgins, during the Second Stage of the Bill in the Seanad recently, I, too, would like to acknowledge that the heads of the Bill approved by this Government, and which form the basis of the Bill now before this House, were substantially the same as those prepared by the former Minister of State, Deputy Noel Dempsey. This proved to be of no little benefit in expediting the introduction of this amending legislation.

Before going on to discuss the provisions of the new Bill in depth I take this opportunity to reflect briefly on the current legislative position and the circumstances which brought about the necessity for change. Much has already been said in earlier debates, particularly this year, in both Houses of the Oireachtas on the flooding problems and I expect much more to be said here during the current debate. I will comment more specifically on some of the problems during my response. In the meantime, a brief summation of the national drainage programme as it stands would, be of benefit at this stage.

The main statutory provision for the execution of drainage works in the State at present is the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945. This Act provides that when the Commissioners of Public Works "are of opinion that the execution of arterial drainage works is expedient in respect of any catchment area for the purpose of preventing or substantially reducing the periodical flooding of lands in that area or of improving by drainage lands in the said area it shall be lawful for the Commissioners to prepare a scheme for the execution of such works". This provision has always been interpreted as conferring power on the commissioners to prepare and undertake drainage schemes only in cases where a flooding problem encompasses the entire catchment of a river usually involving an area of several thousand hectares.

The 1945 Act gave effect to the recommendations of the Browne Commission of 1938-40, among which was the establishment of a central drainage authority based in the Office of Public Works, which would thenceforth be responsible for the execution and maintenance of arterial drainage on a catchment basis. Its enactment some 50 years ago was an attempt to update and consolidate existing drainage legislation which consisted of many statutes dating back for more than a century. Under these various earlier enactments drainage works were carried out on a piecemeal basis often without regard to conditions elsewhere in river catchments, or indeed the effects of such works on conditions in other areas. This was no longer considered to be an effective or adequate means of dealing with Ireland's drainage problems.

The extent of the progress made under the national drainage programme established following the passing of the 1945 Act is worthy of note. So far, more than 40 drainage and embankment schemes have been undertaken, involving works to some 7,300 miles of channels and embankments and conferring benefit on more than 650,000 acres of land previously damaged through flooding or waterlogging.

I am aware of the arguments that have been put forward that progress was not what it might have been or indeed envisaged when the programme was set up. However, I have no doubt that it demonstrates conclusively the commitment of successive Governments and the Commissioners of Public Works to the resolution of the problems which have persisted. Arterial drainage, as we have known it to date, would not be undertaken without a thorough study of conditions throughout a river basin including tributaries, large and small. It requires a lengthy preparatory process involving the collection of hydrometric data over many years to establish the flow regimes of rivers. It requires detailed engineering and valuation surveys of lands and watercourses often again over many years and the design and formal exhibition of schemes so that those affected may comment on the proposals.

In recent years too we have become much more conscious of our environment so that many modifications to both design and work practices have evolved. Care must be taken to minimise or avoid damage to wildlife, fisheries and the landscape among other things. Comprehensive fishery rehabilitation programmes are undertaken. Spoil is buried and the land rehabilitated rather than heaped on river banks as had been the practice, and areas of scientific interest are, where possible, excluded from schemes at the planning stage.

With the passing of EU Directive 85/337 for the assessment of the effects of certain projects on the environment, it has become obligatory on the Commissioners of Public Works to carry out detailed environmental impact assessments of drainage schemes and to publish the reports as part of the scheme exhibition documents. Article 16 of the European Communities (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations, 1989, made by the Minister for the Environment, incorporated the provisions of the EU Directive into national legislation by amending the relevant sections, i.e. sections 4 and 5, of the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945.

Not least, arterial drainage requires a huge investment and commitment of resources. In the last 50 years a total of £640 million in current terms has been spent on the construction and maintenance of the works undertaken to date. In the 1980s substantial EU grants were made available for the work. It is essential, therefore, that drainage schemes satisfy accepted economic criteria as must all projects involving large scale investment. In this connection in the 1970s detailed cost benefit analysis was introduced and has been applied to all schemes considered since.

The increased awareness of our environment in recent years as well as changing emphasis on land use, the diminishing returns on the high capital investment required for arterial drainage and current EU policy which is aimed at reducing production in many areas, has greatly reduced the prospect of formulating economically or environmentally acceptable catchment schemes. In the processing of future schemes, regard must be had to all these factors. Various options for drainage or flood relief schemes will have to be considered and must be subjected to detailed analysis.

I turn now to the provisions of the Arterial Drainage (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 1995. The Bill proposes to amend the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945, to provide the powers necessary to enable the Commissioners of Public Works to undertake drainage schemes for the relief of localised flooding from rivers and other watercourses in addition to their existing powers to undertake arterial drainage schemes in entire river catchments. It will, however, be a requirement that any scheme to relieve localised flooding must have regard to the possible effects of the proposed works throughout the entire river basin including environmental impacts. Thus such schemes will not be inconsistent with the strong recommendation in the report of the Browne Drainage Commission 1938-40 that "all future arterial drainage operations should be conducted on the basis of comprehensive schemes embracing entire catchments and not otherwise".

Flooding in localised areas, particularly in urban centres, has always been a problem. Incidents of such flooding are widespread and are not confined to any single area of the country. There are also many rural areas where flooding is known to be particularly acute. The Commissioners of Public Works have been unable to undertake schemes to overcome the difficulties in these areas because the existing legislation limits them to the catchment approach. Catchment drainage schemes by their nature involve doing work in very large areas where because of the present situation in agriculture the benefit is often marginal and is, therefore, outweighed by the costs. To that extent, unfortunately, it is often the case that the overall scheme becomes uneconomic even where the benefits that would result from the scheme works in urban or other local problem areas may far exceed the cost of doing works in those areas. The fact that catchment schemes typically cost many millions of pounds while a scheme targeted at a specific problem area could be done for much less and would be more effective in that specific area, is also relevant.

Flooding, particularly when it affects residential areas, can cause severe hardship and disruption.

Residents in areas which are subject to regular flooding live in continual fear of damage to their property and in extreme cases being cut off entirely from their neighbours, supplies and services at times of heavy rainfall. There is a constant fear of the threat to life and loss of business or livelihood. Residents in such areas, in some cases as we have come to realise, cannot even insure against the losses arising from flooding because of its frequency. This flooding is not a new phenomenon, and the Office of Public Works has faced pressure for many years to undertake drainage schemes in river catchments which would have the effect of relieving flooding in urban areas. The existence of a priority list for the execution of arterial drainage schemes, combined with the fact that works were in progress on higher priority schemes, served to offer hope to those lower down in the list. Because of the difficulty in designing economically viable catchment schemes, because of current EU policy of discouraging the production of some agricultural products, many areas are now left without hope. While catchment schemes may become viable again in the future the time has come to make the necessary changes to the legislative provisions to enable localised flood relief schemes to be undertaken.

There is, of course, an existing legislative provision, the Local Authorities (Works) Act, 1949, which does provide a basis for the execution of localised works in certain circumstances. It does not, however, impose any requirement to have regard to the effect of works undertaken elsewhere in the catchment or provide for maintenance of completed works and while it might have been in 1949 it is not now considered to be a satisfactory legislative basis on which to undertake the type of flood relief schemes which it is considered will be required in the future. In many cases too river catchments cross administrative boundaries, a fact which in itself supports the argument for a central drainage authority as currently exists in the Office of Public Works.

While I am sure that many other issues will be brought to the fore during this debate, I would like now to deal in general terms with the provisions in the Bill.

As I have already stated the primary purpose of the Bill is to extend the powers of the Commissioners of Public Works to undertake drainage works as provided in the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945.

Section 4 of the 1945 Act as amended by the European Communities (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations, 1989, outlines the circumstances under which a scheme may be prepared in respect of a catchment area and details the matters to be included in the body of a scheme. Section 3 of this Bill proposes to amend this provision by extending it to include any watercourse or any part of a watercourse, thus permitting the preparation and execution of works in respect of more restricted areas, particularly urban and other areas, where flooding causes significant hardship but where it is not possible to design economically viable catchment schemes.

Under section 4 of the Bill it will also be incumbent on the commissioners, in deciding the nature and extent of the works to be done for the relief of localised flooding, to have regard to the effects of any such works on conditions elsewhere. In this connection, I am sure you will agree, it will be necessary to establish that the benefits accruing from the works undertaken in one area will not be greatly outweighed by the adverse effects they might have elsewhere. It might not always be possible to guarantee that changes in the flow characteristics of a river arising from works will not result in the worsening of conditions elsewhere along its course. It is, however, the intention to ensure that any unavoidable adverse impacts are taken into account before an order confirming a drainage scheme is made.

There is, of course, an existing provision in the 1945 Act for the payment of compensation for loss or damage suffered by reason of any interference during construction works. It will, therefore, be possible to compensate anyone who suffers damage during works undertaken in pursuit of the wider public interest.

Section 5 of the Bill deals with the publication and exhibition of localised drainage or flood relief schemes. Under the provisions of the 1945 Act the commissioners are obliged to allow local authorities a period of three months within which to submit their observations to them in relation to catchment drainage schemes and for the commissioners to place such schemes on public exhibition for a period of one month.

In view of the urgent nature in many cases of schemes for localised relief, and their more local extent, it is considered that periods of one month and 14 days, respectively, should suffice. It is not intended to amend those provisions of the 1945 Act as they relate to the large catchment schemes or indeed to amend the other provisions in that Act which deal with consultation with other Government Departments. With regard to the latter I refer to the provisions of sections 7 and 10 of the 1945 Act which include, among other matters, that the commissioners take whatever precautions the Minister for the Marine may consider adequate for the protection and avoidance of injury to fisheries during the course of works and in consequence of such works.

In drafting the Bill we have also endeavoured to avail of the opportunity to make a small number of technical amendments to deal with shortcomings which have been identified in the existing legislation over the years.

It is the intention to provide a clear, legal basis to enable the Commissioners of Public Works, in certain circumstances, to make agreements with third parties whereby such parties would bear all or part of the cost of executing or maintaining arterial drainage works. This is done in section 6. An example of the type of circumstance which might arise would be a situation where a private individual, local authority or other body wished to have drainage work carried out by the commissioners and, while the commissioners might consider such works to be worthwhile, they would be unable to undertake them due to lack of funds. The works could nevertheless, proceed if a third party was willing to meet the shortfall in the funding. In this connection I am in agreement with the views that the cost of any drainage works undertaken and paid for out of public funds should be fully justified by the benefits whether social or economic, or a combination of the two, accruing from their execution. A provision whereby funding could be provided from other sources should help dispel the fears of those who might otherwise be excluded or get a low priority rating.

I am aware that concern has been expressed that section 6 as drafted simply deals with a situation whereby a financial agreement and only such can be entered into and does not adequately cover other situations which might arise such as agreements for the preparation or execution of works. I believe that this concern is not well founded as there are already enabling powers under section 43 of the Principal Act whereby the commissioners may enter into agreements or contracts with others for the execution of works. Section 43 of the 1945 Act, when read in conjunction with the new provisions proposed by section 6 of this Bill, should meet the different requirements which might arise.

The provisions of section 7 are necessary to limit the burden of maintenance work for which the commissioners will be responsible. The cost of maintenance will be payable from Exchequer funds. The 1945 Act provides that where the commissioners do work in an existing drainage district as part of a catchment drainage scheme the district ceases to exist and the commissioners become responsible for maintenance of the river and its tributaries. While this is not unreasonable in the context of catchment drainage schemes it would involve a substantial burden on the commissioners if it was allowed to apply to schemes for localised flooding. Consequently, the commissioners will not be responsible for the maintenance of the entire district but will be responsible for the work they carry out.

It is necessary too to cater for the situation which arises from time to time where, because of the development of land subsequent to the confirmation or completion of a drainage scheme, it is considered expedient to undertake drainage works even where such works may have been considered unjustifiable when the original drainage scheme was confirmed or executed.

There are many circumstances where works which were once regarded as unjustifiable might be considered necessary on later reappraisal of circumstances. These would include situations where the development of roads, housing or industrial estates result in significant additional quantities of surface water being discharged into rivers and watercourses. This in turn results in flooding which needs to be prevented or alleviated by further drainage works or increased flood protection.

There are also examples of situations where drainage works to prevent or alleviate flooding of undeveloped lands which were considered unjustified in the course of a drainage scheme may become essential where the land has been subsequently developed for housing, industries, etc. These situations are provided for in section 8.

Sections 9 and 10 are designed to deal with the situations which arise from time to time whereby modifications are made by landowners and others to channels and embankments which are maintainable by the commissioners. Circumstances vary from place to place. In some the modifications may be allowed stand but there is doubt as to the commissioners right to continue with the maintenance of the altered situation. In others, restoration may be necessary, and prompt action required, to ensure the effective functioning of the particular drainage works, especially where there is a substantial risk of flooding. These by implication involve costs and an adequate mechanism must be provided to enable such costs to be recovered. The existing provisions do not adequately cater for the differing situations which might arise.

The 1945 Act empowers the commissioners to compulsorily acquire any land for the purposes of a drainage scheme. However, it does not set out a detailed procedure to be followed by the commissioners in cases of compulsory acquisition, for example, for publication of acquisition notices, or service of notices on affected owners.

It is intended to correct this defect by providing that the Land Acts will apply to compulsory purchase under the 1945 Act and otherwise by setting out in detail the procedure to be followed. The Land Acts, which comprise many statutes enacted over a long period, provide a mechanism for the compulsory acquisition or interference with lands for undertakings of a public nature such as those envisaged by the arterial drainage legislation.

While the compulsory purchase powers already contained in the existing legislation are rarely exercised, it is felt nevertheless that the defect in the 1945 Act should be corrected. It is simple enough, with the extended powers of the commissioners, to envisage a situation, such as an urban flood relief scheme, where such powers might now have to be exercised.

The existing provisions relating to determination of the nature and extent of compensation to be paid to persons from whom land or rights have been acquired, or whose land has been severed from other lands, or access thereto, or been otherwise injuriously affected, have also been found to be inadequate and it is intended also to provide definitive procedures for the future. These matters are dealt with in sections 11 and 12.

During the course of the debate on Senator Daly's Bill, the provision in that Bill whereby local authorities would in future be obliged to publish annually their reports on the maintenance by them of drainage districts constituted by Acts prior to 1945, was referred to. A similar provision is being made in section 13 of the current Bill.

Section 14 is simply aimed at updating the long outdated penalties prescribed in 1945 for offences under various provisions of the existing legislation. While I am advised that the Minister for Justice is currently preparing proposals for a general updating of fines and penalties, it is proposed to avail of the present opportunity to cater for offences under various headings in the current drainage legislation in order to deter offenders. It should be appreciated that the maximum penalties under the existing legislation are as low as £10, plus £1 per day thereafter for anyone found guilty of a particular offence.

The amendments now being introduced will by definition have implications for various other provisions of the 1945 Act, many of which are actually being repealed. This matter is dealt with in section 15. One particular aspect of this section requires elucidation. I refer to the requirement in section 37 of the 1945 Act that the cost of arterial drainage maintenance be recouped from county councils.

When the 1945 Act was drawn up it was envisaged that the capital cost of drainage construction works would be borne by the Exchequer, but that the subsequent maintenance of completed schemes, though borne by the Exchequer in the first instance, be recovered from the county councils in whose jurisdiction they lay. The councils in turn levied a drainage rate to meet the cost. This remained the position until 1986 when the Government decided, rightly so, as both the domestic and agricultural rates had long been abolished, that in future such costs would be borne entirely by the Exchequer. No costs have been recovered from county councils since. The new provisions give statutory effect to the decisions already taken.

As I have already stated, the prime aim of this Bill is to provide a mechanism whereby limited schemes for the purpose of providing relief from localised flooding can be undertaken. It is not the intention that the prospect of undertaking further major schemes at some time in the future should be abandoned. The possibility of seeking EU funding for such schemes on the basis that they might permit acceptable levels of agricultural output and increased income to be achieved in a more environmentally friendly fashion, for example, by reducing fertiliser inputs, is currently being examined by the Commissioners of Public Works. Other similar opportunities may occur in the future.

Schemes for the relief of localised flooding will be undertaken by the engineering services division of the Office of Public Works. The division which comprises administrative and professional staff has responsibility for the current arterial drainage construction and maintenance programme and inland waterways. The workload on arterial drainage construction has been reducing due to the reducing number of schemes in progress. On the other hand, the drainage maintenance workload has been increasing as completed schemes have to be maintained.

The inland waterways programme is expanding steadily particularly since the transfer of the Grand and Royal Canals and Barrow Navigation to the Office of Public Works in 1986 and with the re-opening of the Shannon-Erne waterway in 1994. This expansion of engineering services seems likely to continue in coming years, particularly with the introduction of these new measures for flood relief.

In the meantime, may I again reiterate my thanks and appreciation to all who have so far been engaged in the process of preparing this Bill. I look forward with enthusiasm to the co-operation of this House in ensuring its speedy enactment.

I wish the Minister, Deputy Conveney, success in his new post. It is regrettable that I am not speaking to him as Minister for Defence and the Marine.

I thank the Deputy.

The main statutory provisions for the execution of drainage in the State is the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945. I am sure Members on all sides of the House accept the necessity for updating the provisions of that Act.

The previous Administration, aware of the need for changes in the 1945 Act, under Deputy Dempsey, the then Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, had the heads of a Bill prepared which were substantially the same as the heads of the Bill which form the basis of this Bill. In February last Senator Daly introduced an Arterial Drainage Bill in Private Members' Time in the Seanad in the light of the grave flooding problems throughout the country, because of the lethargy of the Government in introducing necessary legislation.

Recent changes in agricultural practices and road and housing developments have caused localised flooding which did not occur at the time of the enactment of the 1945 Act, the provisions of which are not adequate to fight the problems we face today. Increased localised flooding is causing widespread hardship, inconvenience and cost to urban and rural communities and under the 1945 Act, the Commissioners of Public Works are powerless to deal with such difficulties effectively, speedily and efficiently.

This Bill, which will amend the 1945 Act, is primarily aimed at enabling the commissioners to undertake works to prevent or relieve localised flooding, including flooding in urban and residential areas. While I welcome the Bill, deficiencies in the legislation will inhibit the Commissioners of Public Works from responding speedily to drainage problems that arise more frequently nowadays. Under the Bill schemes can be initiated to relieve flooding in urban and residential areas and it is a vast improvement on the provisions on the 1945 Act whereby only schemes relating to flooding problems encompassing the entire catchment area of a river, involving thousands of hectares, could be initiated. However, initiation of such schemes could take a considerable length of time and delay essential and urgent works being undertaken. Will the Minister examine the possibility of extending the authority of the commissioners to undertake works without the necessity to initiate a scheme in extenuating and emergency circumstances?

I accept the necessity to prepare schemes in most cases, but unless the Minister takes the power to authorise works without the preparation of a scheme, the commissioners may find themselves in the same position they are in now and, in times of emergencies, unduly handicapped in taking necessary action to deal with such emergencies.

I ask the Minister to consider this suggestion because this power is essential and will allow for necessary remedial works to be carried out in time, thereby preventing major crises from developing. As the old saying goes, "A stitch in time saves nine". It is important also that in the preparation of schemes, the Minister for the Marine and the Environmental Protection Agency be consulted where there may be a risk to fisheries or damage to the environment.

I welcome section 3 which amends section 4 of the 1945 Act but there is no reference in this section to coastal and tidal areas and estuaries. There have been many complaints regarding culverts and embankments in estuaries which are in need of attention and where the responsibility for such works is not clear. These should be included in section 3.

The maintenance of new works and the existing maintenance provisions are a major cause of difficulty. The establishment of responsibility for maintenance and the undertaking of maintenance works must be clearly identified.

I welcome the provisions in section 5 which apply to schemes. These will ensure that necessary action is taken but the Minister should have the power to authorise action without the necessity of a scheme. Section 6 is a welcome provision which will ensure that works which are not of a high priority will be undertaken. This policy is in operation in the Roads Department where local people are allowed to carry out work under direction from the county councils. Works that would not be done in a lifetime are now being carried out by people in their own areas.

Compensation for land acquisition and the problem of transfer and vesting of lands are dealt with effectively in sections 10, 11 and 12. These provisions will correct defects in the 1945 Act. However, the Government has failed to address the problem of compensation for families who have suffered severe losses due to flooding. These include losses to livestock, personal property and homes. A provision allowing compensation to be paid for these losses should be included in the Bill. A commission should be set up to deal with claims of individuals. Such a commission could be made up of two commissioners from the Office of Public Works, an officer to be nominated by the Minister, a county manager and a representative from the General Council of County Councils. It could review the claims of individuals for losses due to flooding, examine the causes and effects of flooding and make an annual report in that regard. It is important that the objectives in the Bill be achieved and that actions taken be under constant review.

The Bill is a welcome improvement on the 1945 Act. If the Minister includes the suggestions I made regarding compensation, the establishment of a review committee and the carrying out of a emergency works without the necessity of a scheme, it would enable the commissioners to deal more effectively with the problems faced by many local communities.

I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Coveney, and wish him well in his new position. I sincerely regret his regarding to this office from a senior Cabinet post because I feel it was unnecessary. The Minister of State is a man of outstanding integrity and his expertise, professionalism and ability will be of vital assistance in his dealings with the Office of Public Works.

No Government has done more damage to any State agency than this Government has done to the Office of Public Works in the way its authority has been diminished by expedient amendment to Bills in this House which take no account of the tremendous contribution the Office of Public Works has made in this and the previous century. It is ironic that Minister of State Coveney is taking this Bill in the House today when, all things being equal, he should be performing a different function on behalf of the Office of Public Works at another location.

I welcome this Bill. I was honoured to serve in Government, working in six different Departments, over a period of eight years. For two of those terms I had responsibility for the Office of Public Works; from 1987 to 1989 and from 1991 to 1993. It is important to put the historical context of arterial drainage on the record of the House. The Arterial Drainage Act, which was passed in 1945, contributed immensely to the economic development of many parts of this country. Land which was lying fallow, wet and derelict was used for full production which helped to sustain the livelihoods of farmers in rural areas.

It is ironic that Minister Coveney, in a Coalition Government involving Fine Gael, Labour and the reborn Democratic Left, is introducing this Bill in the House because in 1986, for the first time in the history of the State, the then Fine Gael-Labour Coalition Government interfered with the priority rating of rivers and the time schedule for draining. That Government took a decision to transfer a river in Munster to the top of the priority list and a river in Galway to a lower position on the list. The same Government cancelled the farm modernisation scheme in 1986. Up to that time, since joining the European Community in 1973, the EC was funding and underpinning arterial drainage here through the farm modernisation scheme. But as a result of the decision by the then Government to terminate future arterial drainage, my party, on coming to office in 1987, inherited an expenditure which was out of all proportion to GNP and GDP. We had to deal also with the effects of decisions that had been taken in 1986. We had no option but to continue with the work in progress but we were unable to proceed with additional drainage works on rivers.

I had long discussions at that time with the Commissioners of Public Works and the record of my utterances and parliamentary responses show that I initiated moves to amend the 1985 Drainage Act and bring forward this type of Bill so that we could proceed with localised drainage works in different parts of the country. I was transferred to another Department, just as Deputy Coveney was, and that work went into abeyance. The Office of Public Works operates under financial constraints and could not carry out new works until such time as existing works were almost completed. I am delighted that as a result of the tremendous efforts of Senator Brendan Daly in particular, the Government has responded by introducing this Bill and I compliment the Minister for being present for its passage through the Dáil. In particular I pay tribute to the experienced high quality staff in the Office of Public Works who helped to put this Bill together with the agreement of other Departments, as it will ensure that localised drainage works can be carried out in future.

We were generous in Government in dealing with arterial drainage. Members will remember that, heretofore, local authorities had to make an annual contribution for arterial drainage maintenance in their county and that created major difficulties for local authorities. When the former Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds was Minister for Finance a decision was taken to alleviate and change that and have the Vote of the Office of Public Works carry those maintenance charges. I believe it is time to look at the situation again because if local works are to be done, it is vital that the Office of Public Works has the flexibility, as the premier State agency with the expertise and professionalism particularly in hydro management to be able to respond when there is serious flooding in any part of the country. If the Office of Public Works is given that flexibility and the appropriate funding to deal with localised flooding in emergencies it can execute works to alleviate it and it is incumbent on the local authorities who benefit from those works to carry the maintenance charges thereafter. I am not referring to major catchment areas but to work to alleviate local flooding in urban or rural areas. The Office of Public Works would carry out such small scale works and, thereafter, rather than having it carry the cost of constantly observing, monitoring, managing and carrying out appropriate remedial works, the local authority would maintain it as it has the staff and equipment to carry out that work. I believe this is the road we should be going.

County Galway, the second largest county, is affected by flooding from its many rivers. However, only two catchments have been drained since 1945, the Corrib-Clare catchment that serves the mid and north Galway region which was drained many years ago and has been a major success.

Thanks to the late Michael Donlon.

The Deputy will get his opportunity to speak. I salute the late Michael Donlon, a distinguished man who originally joined our party but did not make it through our party convention process and decided to stand and eventually made it under a new banner. He was succeeded by his son John, who is a personal friend of mine — I acknowledge the contribution of the former Deputy Michael Donlon.

The drainage of the Corrib-Clare river brought tremendous benefit to the county, improved the livelihoods of many farmers and alleviated the risk of flooding in small towns and villages in the area. However, as a result of a political row in the northern part of the country, work in Curragh West, on the periphery of the parish of Dunmore and which adjoins Williamstown was not executed even though it had been planned.

There has been serious consistent flooding in Corrowest during the years. In January 1995 it was seriously flooded and the same applied in 1994 and 1990. Indeed, as far back as 1954 it was flooded. The situation is still chronic and in the intervening years there was constant annual flooding but not as bad as in the years I mentioned. The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Higgins, visited the area and commitments given have yet to be honoured. Things are so bad that people have had to vacate their houses, and farms are completely flooded. Animals have had to be moved. People will not have the use of their farms or houses until next month. It is vital that remedial works are carried out immediately to link with the Corrib-Clare catchment so that in future there will be no further imposition on the people who live in this wonderful rural area. I hope a firm commitment that this work will be done will be given. Further south, between Tuam and Headford, where our MEP Mr. Mark Killalea lives, there is tremendous flooding in Belclare and major local works are vital. Flooding has occured over the years and farms have been isolated. A number of homes were isolated but because of local council work a new road was laid in co-operation with the Land Commission and an alternative route to people's homes was constructed. That has not solved the problem because of the incessant rains of 1994-95. It is vital that the problem is rectified.

Gort was affected most by the flooding. On the weekend of 27-31 January the town was flooded and traffic had to be diverted. North of Gort, in Glenbrack six houses were flooded and the waters receded only recently. Four of those houses can never be occupied again. I have had discussions with the Minister of State, Deputy Higgins, on this matter and he gave me certain commitments on acquisition and compensation and relocation of these people. I recommend that those houses be acquired by the State, the people compensated and given the opportunity to rebuild new houses in a new location.

Fahey Construction no doubt.

I am delighted that the Minister of State is here because it is vital for rural renewal to people in the area to create an environment where people can make a livelihood and not be driven out of it. There are a few Clare people living in the Gort area who have been affected and I hope the Minister will take a personal interest in them.

I pay special tribute to my colleagues in west Galway, Senator Frank Fahey who lives in Gort, has done Trojan work as well as Deputies Geoghegan-Quinn and Ó Cuív, the local councillors Michael Cunningham and Michael Fahey and in particular Deputy Pádraic McCormack who has given tremendous time and attention to this problem. Gort and its hinterland, Glenbrack, Coole, Ballinderry right down to Kinvara and Ardrahan have all been affected. Some of the best lands where there is a tradition of growing cereals and beet — and we are a severely handicapped disadvantaged area — have been flooded. It is vital that immediate work is carried out in this area and that compensation is paid. Even today I have had letters from people telling me that they have not yet been paid the compensation promised. There is a huge number of claims but it is vital they are paid. People as well as animals have had to be relocated, although some animals were lost due to flooding. On the weekend of 27-31 January people in Ballinasloe town had to relocate and it is only in the past few weeks they have returned to their homes.

It is vital that attention is paid to the river Suck and, as a previous Minister of State at the Office of Public works, I was pleased to have brought forward the Shannon Navigation (No. 2) Act. As a result of that legislation it was possible to carry out works on 50 per cent of the river Suck, and the removal of rocks ensured a flow of water into the Shannon. It is vital that works are carried out in the area around Ashfield Drive on the north western part of Ballinasloe town, and improvements made on the Bunowen River so that flooding will not recur. The Suck was to be drained under an arterial drainage programme in the past, but it was never reached and may not be now. This famous fishing and navigation river flows into the Shannon at the eastern boundary of my constituency and has a major effect on flooding in south east Galway. I ask the Minister and the Office of Public Works, in co-operation with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, to have the south eastern part of County Galway bordering the Shannon down to the Suck at Ballinasloe declared a special extra-sensitive area under the ESA programme of the European Union. This is vital because every year farmers in this area are the victims of flooding, loss of stock and forage and are unable to cut hay in summer, only to graze it. Many small farmers in this area urgently require assistance on a permanent basis and if there is a relevant scheme in Europe we have a duty to utilise it to support our people, retain and sustain them and give them a livelihood they richly deserve.

On the same weekend, Loughrea was seriously flooded, particularly the area of Coscorrig to the south eastern part of the town not far from the lake where roads were blocked, houses flooded and people had to leave their homes. I pay tribute to the county council which has works under preparation to assist them. However, the Office of Public Works should examine the situation and formulate a localised scheme to ensure that this area is not again subject to flooding.

No other State agency has made a wider contribution than the Office of Public Works. Its activities include river drainage, the construction of schemes under the arterial drainage programme of 1945 and navigation programmes. Fianna Fáil in the past proposed the abolition of drainage districts because, under an old British Act, members and trustees of drainage boards were personally liable to ensure that flooding did not occur and to compensate those affected if it did. This Act removes further responsibilities from them. The drainage boards should be abolished and the Office of Public Works given full responsibility in co-operation with local authorities because there would be no point in burdening the Office of Public Works with the responsibility when it would be imprudent and impractical for it to become involved in certain drainage districts. The time has come to review problems of drainage in co-operation with local authorities and the Department of the Environment, and to put a stop to passing the buck whereby one State agency lays the responsibility on another. The Office of Public Works should be given the right to decide whether the Department, an urban district council or a local county council is responsible. No other State Department has the expertise to manage our waterways and drainage problems. The way forward is for the Government to give the Office of Public Works the necessary powers to transfer responsibility to the agencies or bodies it thinks should carry it. It is unfair that farms and houses in a particular area are flooded; one man in Fohena, County Galway, lost 57 sheep in one fell swoop because of flooding in a usually dry area. I visited that area last Sunday and it is still flooded. It is impossible for people to carry on their business. Farmers had to bear huge extra costs in regard to providing and transporting artificial feed for their stock because their own silage and hay was destroyed by the flooding.

At the moment people have to apply to the local county council, the health board, the Department of the Environment, the Department of Agriculture and the Office of Public Works and each of those agencies disclaimed responsibility, saying another agency was responsible. The Office of Public Works is responsible in the area of drainage, it is not a compensating Department, except under the 1945 Drainage Act, under which commercial companies have drawn down huge amounts of money from the State because the water was dirty. If the Office of Public Works is charged, on behalf of the taxpayer, with making a contribution to improving the infrastructure of waterways, it is conferring benefits on local people, properties and companies and it should not be possible for those people to draw down millions of pounds in compensation to the detriment of the taxpayer and other parts of the country. I believe in localised drainage and there should be no need for environmental impact studies. In the case of a small localised scheme there should be no need for compensation. Work should be executed and the responsibility for maintenance thereafter given to the local authority.

One area of my own constituency, mid and south Galway, is bedevilled by consistent flooding by the Dunkellin River. I am happy to be here today to speak on this Bill because on 28 January I traversed the Athenry-Loughrea Road on three occasions, at 8 a.m., 12 noon and 6 p.m. There was no sign to indicate that a particular part of that road was flooded. I was, therefore, lucky to come out of a serious flood with my life although I lost a new car. That is how serious the situation in our area is. The Dunkellin River has bedevilled the livelihoods of people in the east, mid and south Galway areas for the past century. Although it was second on the list in 1986 for drainage, it is now fourth. Heretofore the priorities for drainage were decided by the commissioners who made a recommendation, whereupon the Minister decided when to allocate the money, and a programme went forward. Works that were instituted by Mark Killilea, Minister at the time, and others have not been carried out. Certain localised works should be carried out now. I welcome the section of the Bill that allows local groups to execute works in co-operation with the Office of Public Works and other agencies.

The Deputy's time is now exhausted.

I cannot understand the rules of this House as regards the sharing and allocation of time.

The rules are explicit.

We benefited in south east Galway from the Killimer-Cappagh scheme when the late Minister, Paddy Beegan, took a decision which was of major benefit to our area. However, Woodford, Portumna, Ballycrinane and Ballyshrule, are still subject to flooding. A recent plan for improvement works included diverting the river. There is an area about 800 metres long for which the Office of Public Works is not responsible because the course of the river was altered.

I expect works will be carried out in the Ballyshrule area. I welcome the Bill and hope that the commitments given by previous Ministers, Deputies Jim and Michael Higgins, will be honoured. Hopefully there will not be localised flooding in 1996. Houses, land and stock are expensive to repair and replace.

I wish the Minister every success in office and acknowledge the immense contribution made by the commissioners and the excellent staff in the Office of Public Works. I hope they will be allowed to proceed with their many plans which will benefit the nation.

There has always been a close association between politics and drainage. Though it may have waned somewhat it will be reflected by the level of participation in the debate. In Deputy Treacy's version of events there was only one set of good people and one set of bad people.

I did not say that. I am in the happy position of having the knowledge; the Deputy is in the happy position of having the perception.

There was a by-election in my county in 1964 when Fianna Fáil was in Government. The main issue was drainage of the River Shannon. That was the shibboleth. It was an issue in all elections and was used by Fianna Fáil with great success. The then Taoiseach, now deceased, thrust his first into the air with great emotion at a public meeting in Castlerea and said: "If it is the last thing I do I will drain the River Shannon". He is dead and there have been many Taoisigh since then but not a bucket of water was taken from the Shannon. So much for political promises. Fianna Fáil has a disgraceful record as far as promises are concerned. For over 50 years they promised they would drain the Shannon.

I remember a Taoiseach who told women he would give them £9.60. He is now a member of the RTE authority.

I welcome the Bill. It is the Government's response to the problem which arose this year. Local flooding has been a problem for many years but no State agency was responsible for dealing with it. The Office of Public works only deal with drainage and flooding on a catchment basis. Local authorities have a limited role but have insufficient funds to enable them carry out works worth talking about. I am a member of the River Suck joint drainage board. Drainage boards are maintenance boards with limited financial resources. Their main source of finance come from local authorities within the catchment area.

Between 1 December and 1 March, 26 inches of rain fell in the west, far in excess of the average rainfall for the period. According to the meteorological office, the normal rainfall during that period is 14 inches and for a year it is 19 inches. The flooding created terrible problems in south Galway and other areas such as Roscommon, in Bushfield, Brackloon and around Athlone. Some people were isolated in their homes and others had to leave their homes and lands. They were in a desperate plight and looked to Government agencies for assistance. The Government came to their rescue and introduced this Bill.

In 1990 there were severe floods especially in the area of the Shannon Basin. I attended public meetings in Athlone and south Roscommon. There was tremendous misery and loss as a result of that flood. I tabled questions to the then Minister, Deputy Treacy, asking what the Government intended to do. It did not do anything. At a public meeting someone said to Deputy O'Rourke who was then a Minister: "When you were in Opposition you said much could be done about drainage in your area". Her response was: "That was then, this is now".

We are grateful to the Government for bringing in this imaginative legislation which is tailored to meet the need. The Bill proposes to deal with localised flooding. It is much slower to carry out arterial drainage works in a catchment than it is in a local area. It usually takes years to survey catchments. Deputy Treacy tried to denigrate the Minister, Deputy Higgins. He promised that as long as it was feasible to remedy localised flooding through the provisions of the Bill it will be remedied. The Government will keep that promise.

It was interesting to listen to Deputy Treacy talk about what happened in 1986 and how certain catchments were moved up and down the priority list. That is the first I heard of it. He forgot to mention that in 1988 the Minister for Agriculture, then Deputy O'Kennedy, agreed at the farm talks in Brussels to the abolition of EC aid for field drainage in Ireland. Field grants for drainage were available until 1980. After the mid1970s most of the funding for this work came from the EU. Funding was also available under the western drainage scheme, an 80 per cent funded scheme, which operated from the late 1970s until the 1980s. In 1988, at the EC farm talks, the then Fianna Fáil Minister for Agriculture agreed to the abolition of all assistance for field drainage.

I welcome the Bill and would like to put forward some suggestions which might improve it. There is no provision which allows for direct co-operation with the drainage boards. I am a member of the joint drainage board governing the River Suck, one of the longest rivers in the country. Like other drainage boards, it is funded by the local authority or authorities which have land in the catchment area of the river. I regret that these drainage boards which have acquired an enormous amount of experience and expertise in drainage and which carry out maintenance and flood relief works on an annual basis have been excluded from the Bill. The Office of Public Works should endeavour to avail of the experience of all the official bodies involved in drainage. It would be more efficient for the flood relief works on the River Suck catchment to be carried out by the joint drainage board and for the design work to be carried out by the Office of Public Works.

Drainage boards should be given adequate resources with which to carry out this work. In this year's Estimates a sum of £2.517 million, an increase of 7 per cent on last year's figure of £2.345 million has been provided for arterial drainage works. While I welcome the increase it is totally inadequate in terms of the amount of work which needs to be carried out. The amount provided under the heading "drainage maintenance by the Office of Public Works" is £5.250 million, an increase of 1 per cent on the figure for last year. While in previous years funding for construction and ongoing works accounted for most of the drainage budget, nevertheless this level of funding is inadequate to deal with the problem. The Office of Public Works should be able to carry out the necessary maintenance works on rivers and streams every four or five years. However, because it can only carry out this work every ten years the problem is almost as bad as when it initially cleared the channels.

We live in the era of the great environmental debate about wetlands, waterways etc. Much of this debate is uninformed and it has led to a resistance to drainage works. We need to keep drainage systems open if we want to prevent environmental damage caused by waterlogging, flooding and excessive weed growth in river beds. No reference in made to this in the great environmental debate and this, in turn, is reflected in the funding provided for this work in the Estimates. We must take on that aspect of the great environmental debate which tells that we should not carry out any drainage works. It is crucial that adequate funding is provided for the implementation of the provisions of this Bill. I hope other agencies will be invited to carry out drainage works and that they will be given sufficient funding.

I am fortunate to represent a constituency where an arterial drainage works scheme is in progress in the Boyle river catchment. This scheme, which was originally called the Boyle-Bonnet drainage scheme, was introduced in the 1982 budget by the then Minister for Finance, Deputy John Bruton. This is the only arterial drainage scheme which has been commenced since 1982. During the preparation of its Estimates last November the previous Government proposed to terminate the scheme this year. That decision is reflected in the Estimates under which the Government is operating. It is unacceptable that this scheme should be terminated two years before it is due to finish. Under the 1945 Act there is an obligation to ensure that all catchment drainage schemes undertaken are properly completed and I call on the Minister to ensure that this work is finished. If the scheme is terminated many of the 73 employees face redundancy. The spirit of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work is that no Government employees should be made redundant against their will. I would not mind if the work was completed but I object to the scheme being terminated now. If the Minister does not take serious note of what I am saying he will face strong resistance from the farming community whose land was seriously flooded last winter and for whom this scheme is vital. One could not anger farmers more than by telling them that a drainage scheme which would resolve the problem of flooding on their land is to be terminated. I do not believe the nonsense being circulated within the Office of Public Works that it is not cost efficient. Naturally people who want to terminate such schemes will make those arguments but I do not accept them.

Environmental damage is not involved. Any work being done has positive economic benefits in terms of jobs for the area and in terms of land improvement. There are still thousands of people who depend on small farming. There are thousands of hardy souls who will not be forced out by economic handship. They will endure a certain amount of hardship and low income to live in these parts of the world. We should do nothing to increase the pressure on them to leave.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Foxe. This new legislation to combat persistent flooding is welcome. Both physical and financial relief of hardship is necessary. The Bill extends and amends the powers to execute works of drainage and flood relief outlined by the 1945 Act.

The former Minister with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Deputy Jim Higgins, in the Seanad was much more generous than the previous speaker on the Government benches in putting on record the amount of work done in preparing such legislation by the former Minister of State, Deputy Noel Dempsey. Deputy Higgins stated in the Seanad that the work by Deputy Noel Dempsey on this issue was of considerable benefit in expediting the introduction of this legislation. I am pleased there is at least one generous Member on the Government benches who is prepared to give credit where credit is due.

Now there is much greater emphasis on the environment and care must be taken to minimise or avoid damage to wildlife, fisheries and landscape. It is unfair to blame environmentalists for holding up work. It is up to Members on all sides to ensure that legislation is brought in to deal with these problems fairly, effectively and honestly. I hope this legislation will lead to that type of approach and enable specific problem areas to be addressed and localised flooding relief schemes to be undertaken.

Section 3 will allow for the preparation and execution of work in respect of restricted areas, particularly urban areas. The Minister will be aware that the town of Ennis suffered badly during the recent flooding; both residential and business properties were badly affected. This leads to financial and psychological hardship. There are difficulties for those not insured and for those who have been insured. People are wondering whether they will be in a position to obtain insurance in the future and whether they will be able to pay what is most likely to be an increased premium.

In regard to issues of compensation, there is much concern as to whether enough money will be allocated to the Red Cross for distribution to compensate for flood damage where there has been no insurance. Already, individuals in County Clare have had to pay sums of £280 for assessment of damage to be eligible to apply for compensation. One person in Sixmilebridge had to pay experts £550 to apply. Is this money refundable? Such a situation is ludicrous.

I have mentioned a number of times in the House the hardship caused by the flooding in Ennis to both business and private houses, Loughville, Sixmilebridge, Newmarket-on-Fergus and all over north Clare. We have been promised by the Government that compensation will be forthcoming. Why the delay?

Although Clare County Council made its submission to the Department of the Environment there is still no news of plans to rebuild the bank along the river Fergus to prevent further flooding to Fergus Park, yet we are only talking about 180 meters of river bank. The people affected by the flooding in Fergus Park are extremely concerned about their position. They have had to undergo tremendous hardship. Hardship is a word that conjures up all sorts of difficulties which people face. One cannot emphasise or exaggerate the difficulties which many people throughout County Clare have suffered during the past few months due to flooding. It is all very well for Ministers to visit the area — we welcome such interest and concern — but we would prefer some practical evidence of their concern in terms of financial help in the short term and legislation in the long term. I am pleased to contribute to this debate today because we see that legislation is beginning to move forward.

I hope the Office of Public Works will examine areas where the development of roads, housing or industrial estates has increased the discharge of surface waters into rivers and watercourses. This has caused serious problems in many areas, not least in Loughville, Ennis, County Clare.

I welcome the provision where a third party wishes to deal with the flooding problem but perhaps the Office of Public Works was not in a position to fund the project. The third party could, according to this Bill, meet the shortfall of funding. While this would address the immediate problem I hope the Minister or his successors would not use this as an opt out clause, thereby reneging on their responsibility to deal with such situations through the Office of Public Works. The onus is on the Minister because obviously the buck stops with him. I do not wish to see any further delays. I add my voice to the comments made earlier by my colleague, Deputy Noel Treacy, regarding the tremendous work which the Office of Public Works has done and continues to do on behalf of the people.

Concern has been expressed about the potential for delays in the preparation of schemes to relieve flooding and the need to deal with emergency cases. All of us whose constituencies were badly affected in December and January know the need to be able to deal with such problems immediately. There has been a number of emergency cases. Clare County Council did its utmost to deal with the problem but obviously greater help will be needed from State agencies, through legislation, to deal with those matters immediately and effectively.

The Minister will be aware of coastal and flooding near Kilrush, County Clare and that such areas have been badly affected. There seems to be a reluctance by the State to have the damage repaired. Will the Minister state categorically who has the overriding responsibility in such cases? Some Members will be aware that there is a tendency in such matters to pass the buck.

What does the Minister propose to do about the flash flooding in the Clonlara area of the River Shannon? Will he elaborate on section 10 which deals with these matters when replying to the debate. I share the fear, given the derisory sum of £2 million for this year, that little work will be done in 1995 on arterial drainage. It is all very well to welcome such legislation but we all know there is little point in doing so unless substantial funding is available to back up such legislation. Does the Minister intend to provide the necessary funds to county councils for maintenance works?

I wish this Bill well but we all know that the real test of any Bill is its implementation, following which we will assess its real value. For the sake of those in County Clare and elsewhere whose property was flooded on more than one occasion I sincerely hope that this Bill will have positive and immediate results.

I thank Deputy de Valera for sharing her time with me and offer my congratulations to the new Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Coveney, on his appointment. I also wish the Minister of State, Deputy Carey well. He had his hands full during the spring but I am sure that this did not present an insurmountable obstacle.

I welcome the Bill. While it is easy to be critical we must recognise the good work done by the Office of Public Works, particularly since the mid-1940s. Since then 7,300 miles of drain have been opened servicing 650,000 acres of land. Given that the average farm size is 40 acreas one can imagine the number of farms and households which have benefited as a result. At present day values the commissioners have spent £640 million in carrying out this work. This is not to be sneezed at.

The main purpose of the Bill is to put a mechanism in place under which the Office of Public Works may devise schemes to prevent or relieve localised flooding. This should not mean that larger schemes will not be introduced in the future. We should think carefully about this matter and provide for the introduction of such schemes in the Bill.

We are becoming greener by the month, in terms of agricultural practices. At present food is being produced with the aid of fertilisers. As time proceeds there will be a dramatic reduction in the volume used, meaning that more land will be required to produce food. While major drainage schemes are not the order of the day in a few year's time the trend may be reversed. In this context 50 per cent to 60 per cent of the world's population go to bed hungry. In addition, 20 million children died from starvation last year. Despite this food production in this and other countries is limited. If this trend is reversed there will be a dramatic increase in demand for land. I foresee this happening.

The Bill contains a number of welcome provisions. The local authorities will be requested to conduct an annual review of drainage works within their areas, which is desirable. In certain counties maintenance works on local rivers have not been carried out in recent years. Prior to 1988 the Commissioner of Public Works footed the bill in carrying out works but recouped maintenance costs from local authorities. This trend should not be reversed as many local authorities do not have the price of a stamp. The Minster of State would not be able to do much for the people of Gort with the money available to local authorities.

Section 9 (3) (a) states that if relevant works are modified, relocated or altered in any way by a person, with or without the consent of the commissioners, the commissioners may reinstate those works to their original condition before such modification. If the commissioners give their consent why would they need to reinstate the works concerned to their original condition before such modification? This appears to be a contradiction.

I hope that the local schemes devised for the Shannon basin, as far north as Boyle in County Roscommon, will continue to relieve flooding and provide some comfort for the people living in those areas. During the spring there were floods in areas which have traditionally suffered from flooding. The problem on this occasion was that it was much more severe than in previous years. In addition, areas where flooding had never occurred were unexpectedly submerged. The areas most affected included Gort in south Galway, Ennis, County Clare and parts of County Roscommon. When the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Higgins, visited County Roscommon he gave his word that he would try to secure funding. However, he did not meet with much success when he went to Europe for this purpose. The sum secured was inadequate. Since then, because of certain happenings here, there has been some lateral movement and the Minister of State has moved on. I wish him well.

I welcome the Bill and wish all associated with it the best of luck.

I welcome this Bill which is necessary to allow the Office of Public Works to become involved in relief drainage works. The traditional responsibility of the Office of Public Works related only to arterial drainage work. I acknowledge the good work of the Office of Public Works who, under the 1945 Act, carried out many useful drainage schemes, particularly the Corrib and Clare drainage scheme in my county. That work was very useful and to this day reaps benefit for County Galway.

The recent flooding crisis in Galway, particularly in the Gort and south Galway area, could not be tackled under the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945. This Bill provides for the Office of Public Works to become involved in relief drainage work and other work that will relieve hardship for people badly affected by flooding. The crisis in south Galway and the publicity it received nationally and internationally probably speeded up the introduction of this Bill.

I welcome the Minister of State with responsibility for western development, Deputy Carey, and the new Minister with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Deputy Coveney. He has taken over a very demanding and important position and will be a very busy man. I compliment his predecessor, Deputy Jim Higgins, for the great work he did in producing this legislation and steering it through the Dáil. At a public meeting in Gort in February he gave an assurance that this legislation would be before the Dáil by the end of May. Despite everything that happened since and that he is no longer in that Ministry, the deadline was missed by only one day, which is a great record for a Minister. Deputy Higgins did more in the five months as Minister of State at the Department of Finance than previous Ministers did in eight years — I heard some of the previous Ministers speaking on this Bill earlier, but I will not comment further on that. Deputy Higgins approached his job enthusiastically and as a result of his efforts we are debating this Bill.

There was serious flooding in Gort and the south Galway area this year. This problem has existed for a number of years and is steadily getting worse, this being the worst year. The flooding starts near Peterswell outside Loughrea where the rain water from the Slieve Aughty and Roxboro hills rushes down into the valley flooding Grannagh, Blackrock, Loughwadda, Skeahana and Drumore. It forms a basin there and goes underground at Ballylea and on to Coole Lake. The water from Loughcuttra and Gort also flows into Coole which causes an overflow at Coole Lake. The underground system from Coole Lake to Kinvara simply cannot take the water. The overflow of Coole Lake has been the major cause of flooding in the south Galway area, in Killomoran, Ballinasteagh, Tierneavan and Glenbrack housing development outside Gort.

There was flooding in other locations in south Galway which are not connected to Coole, such as Kiltiernan, Rashane, Roo and Tarmon, and the flooding at Tarmon has not receded since. It should be understood that we are not talking about flash flooding in the south Galway area but flooding that occurs in January and lasts until May.

There has been very severe flooding of houses in this area. I have seen the pain and anguish on the faces of people affected. One man moved his wife and family from their flooded house at Grannagh to his mother's house, but within three to four weeks her house was also flooded even though she lived on higher ground. That man's house was under five to six feet of water, and that remained the case for six to eight weeks. Six or seven houses in that area have been abandoned and will not be occupied again until a permanent solution is found to the problem. How can one expect people to restore their houses after the destruction and devastation caused by flooding in the knowledge that the problem may recur next January? These people, some of them in Glenbrack and other isolated areas, will not go back to their houses.

Many reasons have been advanced for the severity of the problem in south Galway such as the change in forestry patterns on the hills around Loughrea, Kilchreest and the Slieve Aughty mountains, changing farming patterns, with the reclamation of much land in the area in the last ten or 15 years, the filling of swallow holes and heavier rainfall. Whatever the cause, the problem got progressively worse. In 1990 the flooding was the worst in living memory and the people thought they would never again witness such flooding. However, in 1991 flooding recurred, with the worst flooding ever occurring this year.

This Bill will also allow immediate steps to be taken to alleviate some of the problem. It will allow the Office of Public Works to open up and clean out swallow holes, but that may not solve the problem. Eventually the water will have to be drained to the sea, which is an achieveable objective. Under the 1945 Act that could not be done but this Bill will make it possible to carry out that work which is already at planning stage. Consultants are being interviewed this week for the job.

While county councils respond to the problem of flooding, they can only do so much. They carried out very good emergency work in south Galway this year in removing people from isolated areas whose houses were flooded and roads cut off. County councils are responsible for keeping roads clear and they often respond by allocating money for the raising of roads. This matter was first brought to my attention in 1990 when flooding was very bad on the Turloughmore-Athenry road at Coolarne. The county council allocated £35,000 towards raising the roads in that area. I met one of the council engineers around the time who told me that the road which was flooded is 17 feet over the Clare river, one and a half miles away.

In co-operation with the council a local committee succeeded in draining the road to the Clare river. With the county council I was successful in having the money which was allocated for the raising of roads transferred to the drainage scheme, and that alleviated the problem. The problem had existed for hundreds of years but was solved in a couple of months. The road has been clear since, with the exception of one location on which flooding occurs for a short period, but that can be solved also. I am a firm believer that the solution to many of these problems lies in drainage rather than other remedial works. In many cases the raising of roads leads to further problems because the road acts as a dam and holds back water from its natural course to a drainage outlet. This brings me back to the south Galway scheme and the drainage works carried out there.

I attended a meeting at the height of the crisis in Kiltiernan in south Galway, a village on the main road between Galway and Gort. The main road, local houses and the national school were flooded and in the village at Caheradoo road access to nine houses was cut off by floods of nine to ten feet. People had access to their houses through five or six fields half a mile from the main road, but on the Sunday I visited the area, that access was also cut off due to flooding. Out of that frustration the local people decided they were not prepared to tolerate the position any longer. They did not have access to their houses in 1990 when the flood water was two feet less than until 15 May this year. Those people initiated a drainage scheme to drain the flood water. They thought it would be a simple matter to drain it as far as Fingall Lake, but that did not solve the problem. Eventually they had to drain the water to Ballindereen and the sea at Killeenaran. They brought the water a distance of five and a half miles from Kiltiernan national school and drained the water from the village of Caheradoo in 12 hours, which in 1990 has remained closed for 12 weeks. Those people encountered difficulties. Everybody told them the work they were carrying out was illegal, that they did not have any authority to do it and that it would harm the environment. The scheme was especially designed by Tobin Engineers, consultant engineers in Galway to ensure the environment would not be harmed and I challenge anybody who studies it to say otherwise. They will see that it did not have a harmful but a beneficial effect on the environment because it was designed to take only the surplus water away from the houses, the national school, five of six roads and a nursing home at Clough Ballymore near Ballindereen and the natural turloughs were restored to their normal level.

If those types of schemes were allowed, they would greatly benefit the environment because wildlife in those natural turloughs and lakes nest and feed on high reeds at the lake edges. This year, because those lakes and turloughs were flooded for several hundred yards, and miles in some cases, wildlife was driven out to hatch in farm ditches and on farm land. The ducks on Caheradoo Lake did not successfully hatch this year because the eggs were taken by foxes. Because of the scheme initiated in co-operation with local people wildlife will return to its natural environment next year, there will be no excess flood water and the natural turloughs will be restored to their normal level. That is important. As one who encouraged the local community to carry out that scheme I encountered great difficulty from people who told me such a scheme was illegal and would harm the environment. I am as interested as anybody in protecting the environment and I will bow to nobody in that regard.

The consultant engineers dealing with that scheme were also interested in protecting the environment and ensured that the road openings were of a certain height to facilitate the draining of surplus water. It took five weeks to secure permission from Galway County Council for a road opening licence under that scheme for Ballindereen to allow the natural flow of the water to the sea at Killeenaran. Galway County Council was very reluctant to grant that licence because of the dangers it might pose to the environment. It is satisfied that no damage was caused and that it was an environmentally friendly scheme. My colleague, Deputy Connor, referred to this matter and it will be the subject of a major debate before flood waters in south Galway and other areas are drained. Is it not time that those interested in the environment met with people whose land and houses are flooded and who are unable to return to their homes this year? This is a problem they must solve through co-operation.

I warn the people of south Galway that even though the Government, the Minister of State, Deputy Higgins, and the new Minister, are making every effort to find a solution, they will encounter many obstacles. Environmental impact studies, which are time consuming, will have to be carried out before flood waters are drained to the sea. There is no easy solution to the problem. I am not an engineer but a mere politician and I know it was not possible to drain the water from the road in Coolarne, which was 17 feet higher than a river a mile and a half away, except by digging the channel to the river. It is not possible to drain the water in South Galway six miles from the overflow of Colle Lake in Killomoran to Kinvara except by digging a channel. It may not be necessary to dig a channel that distance, as proved to be the case in Kiltiernan-Ballindereen scheme when we had to dig only 500 yards to drain the water from one flooded area to a lake or a turlough which drained it over natural ground to Ballindereen. We then had to dig an open trench a mile and a half through wetland to the sea at Killeenaran. It will not be necessary to carry out any works that will damage the environment. The draining of such flood waters is a major problem and it is time a public debate was held to discuss the dangers.

I am in possession of correspondence between the wildlife section of the Office of Public Works and Galway County Council. Some of the dangers posed by the scheme proposed to be carried out by the local community are frightening. A paragraph of one letter states:

Under the EU Habitats Directive, Ireland must protect Candidate SACs. [That area is a candidate for SACs]. If we fail to do so the European Court may instruct the local authority responsible for the damage to reinstate the habitat at whatever cost. There could also be a loss of European co-funding to the authority responsible. Withholding of European funding need not be confined to projects in the "conservation" related field alone.

The language used in that letter to the county council alarmed the county manager and luckily it did not arrive until he had granted the road opening licence and the flood water had been drained to the sea in Killeeraran and the houses were no longer flooded. If that letter had arrived before the road opening licence was granted the nursing home in Clough Ballymore in which there were 35 elderly patients, to which a doctor did not have access, would be flooded still as would the nine houses in Caheradoo and Kiltiernan national school.

That work was carried out with due regard to the environment. Nobody deliberately sets out to damage the environment. This problem must be addressed. On 13 April I contacted the person who wrote that letter to Galway County Council. I wrote him a friendly letter suggesting that all those involved should meet and discuss the matter, including officials and those affected. Similar to events in the recent past, I am disappointed I have not received a reply to that letter. That is not the proper way to treat a public representative or a community in south Galway who are living in fear that such flooding will occur again in January.

I sympathise with people who are not returning to their homes because they are afraid they will be flooded again. Their problems cannot be solved by next January because it is necessary to carry out environmental impact studies. It is also necessary to appoint a firm of consulting engineers to devise a solution to the problem, irrespective of the cost. There is no easy solution. We must find a way of draining the flood water to the sea at Kinvara. That will impact on the environment, but if it is not drained, the problem will be devastating for some people in south Galway. I have walked over flooded lands in the past month where the water has only now receded. Those lands are black with nothing except dock weeds growing on them, the only weeds that survived the floods.

I accept the compensation package was good. Farmers who received compensation of £24 an acre, a modest sum, have to reseed their land, but they have suffered the loss of acreage under water until May and have lost silage for this year. How will those people survive or face another winter in which similar problems may arise? We should cut out the red tape and do the necessary work to solve the problems in south Galway. I very much appreciate the praise Senator Fahey and Deputy Treacy directed at me for my work in the south Galway area; which I no longer represent because it has been transferred to east Galway. However, that will not stop my efforts to resolve the problems in that area. The problems in south Galway today may be the problems of west Galway tomorrow. I will not rest easy until the problem is resolved. I assure Senator Fahey and Deputy Treacy that I will not let down the people of that area.

Ba mhaith liom mo chuid ama a roinnt leis an Teachta Mattie Brennan agus b'fhéidir an Teachta Brendan Smith.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Ba mhaith liom cuidiú leis an méid atá ráite ag na Teachtaí eile agus tréaslú leis an Aire nua; agus is oth liom gur tharla an rudaí a tharla dó an tseachtain seo caite.

This legislation is long overdue and most welcome. I pay tribute to my party colleague, Senator Daly, for introducing a Private Members' Bill in the Seanad which, in many respects, was superior to this Bill which amends the 1945 Act which was excellent legislation in its time, but has many shortcomings for dealing with present difficulties. Deputy Michael Ahern referred to a number of provisions he believed required improvement. He spoke in particular about the need to establish a review body and suggested a possible membership and functions for the body. The Minister should consider that.

Members are concerned about the legal competence of the Office of Public Works to undertake emergency works. Concern was expressed about the threat posed to individuals who carry out emergency works and this was borne out by Deputy McCormack's remarks about the efforts of local people to address the problems in the south Galway area. Galway County Council showed no regard for those affected or respect for the public representative whose representations have not yet been responded to. Deputy Ahern also made a strong case for the legislation to provide for compensation payments. This is a grave omission from the Bill and I hope the Minister will address it. While nationally relatively few people were affected by the flooding, the extent of the suffering was enormous. Under the provisions of the Bill it should be possible for particular cases to be dealt with, as happened earlier this year.

Another matter of concern is that no State body or local authority is ultimately responsible for particular problems. If one raises a matter with a county council, one may be advised to take it up with the Office of Public Works where one may be told the matter might be more appropriately dealt with by the Department of the Marine, and officials in that Department may refer one to the Department of the Environment. This is very frustrating for public representatives and the individuals concerned and is not adequately addressed in the Bill. While this may not be appropriate legislation to deal with the matter, it should be dealt with as soon as possible.

An area which has been overlooked in discussions on flooding is the effect of coastal erosion and high tides. The scenario I outlined frequently applies to those problems. In the Leadmore West area of Kilrush substantial damage was done by high tides on two occasions this year. People appreciate that they qualify for compensation under the flood relief agricultural scheme because of the damage caused by the encroachment of the sea but similar problems are likely to arise in the future. While coastal erosion affects many areas, it is not always a major problem. We frequently propose grandiose measures to address it and are put off by the cost of implementing them. For example, the cost of dealing with such problems in the Kilkee areas was put at more than £100,000, but eventually a small group of farmers reconstructed a sluice at a low cost which substantially improved the position. Similar problems also arise in the Quilty and Belharbour areas, but there is reluctance to carry out the necessary works.

Much of the work done under the provisions of this Bill will arise from last year's extensive flooding. Because remedial works were prohibited under the 1945 Act, particular difficulties arose in the Sixmilebridge area of County Clare but they can be addressed under this legislation. An undertaking has been given to carry out necessary sewerage works, funding for which has not yet been cleared by Europe.

Many people in the north Clare area were also prevented from living in their homes for many weeks because of flooding. This presented major difficulties for the families involved. Now that the flooding has receded and the matter is no longer highlighted by the media, people are concerned that action will not be taken until similar difficulties arise next year. That this legislation is on the Statute Book does not guarantee that action will be taken because action requires funding. While it is intended to provide funding, there are many difficulties to be addressed. Perhaps the Minister should consider sanctioning some of the works outlined by Deputy McCormack which would not cost a great deal of money and would be more effective than some of the grandiose schemes proposed.

In the New Quay area of north Clare a national secondary road was closed for 12 weeks this year, seven or eight weeks last year and a minimum of four weeks over several years. That is unacceptable and the matter should be addressed. Environmentalists are concerned about the means that might be adopted to undertake relief in that area. I hope the National Roads Authority will ensure funding is provided to clear the road. The Minister outlined nine towns where special relief works are to commence immediately. I was disappointed that Ennis, a large town where major damage was done, was excluded. We need to examine on a regular basis areas where damage has occurred and where relatively little work would help to alleviate the suffering of the people involved.

If I were to list all the areas of difficulty in my own constituency I would use all of the 20 minutes available to me but I want to accommodate my colleague, Deputy Mattie Brennan, who has problems in his area.

I welcome this legislation and hope the Minister will consider the suggestions I made.

I welcome the Bill. As the arterial drainage scheme is no longer in operation I welcome the new proposal being introduced. The solution to the serious problem we are discussing in the House is a complex and costly one and the passing of this Bill will result in the spending of a great deal of money. However, it is a step in the right direction.

The Arrow and Owenmore rivers in County Sligo did not come under the arterial drainage scheme. Perhaps I should not criticise but when Deputy Connaughton's party was in Government it suspended both the arterial drainage and the farm modernisation schemes. When an application for funding was made to Europe, it was not forthcoming because the then Government said it was not interested in arterial drainage.

Why did the Deputy's party not re-establish them?

That Fine Gael Coalition Government discontinued all cost benefit analysis in regard to arterial drainage. For two years, the issue of arterial drainage was not on that Government's agenda. It was not until the then Minister for Finance, Ray MacSharry, requested a cost benefit analysis and an environmental impact study of the Arrow and Owenmore rivers that action was taken.

Is that why they were done?

Those studies were completed, but unfortunately no money was forthcoming from Europe for arterial drainage. Ray MacSharry was one of our finest Ministers for Finance and he was also one of the best EC Commissioners for Agriculture. We were fortunate to have such a man in Europe because, thanks to him, farmers in the Arrow and Owenmore catchment area receive regular cheques. Members of this House who are farmers receive those cheques also, including myself. Despite what the Minister said in regard to a cost benefit analysis and an environmental impact study, they will not have to be carried out on the Arrow and Owenmore rivers because they have already been done. If the necessary funding is made available, work can commence on those rivers immediately.

In the Arrow and Owenmore catchment area, a total of 29,000 acres of land are flooded. That land is often flooded for two or three weeks in the summer — it is not a problem that is confined to the winter. Continuous floding occurs on that land when there is a heavy rainfall. This problem affects about 3,000 farmers, most of whom have farms of approximately 42 acres. I recently received a letter from the Office of Public Works stating that if the draining of these rivers would improve the quality of farming in these areas, it would not object to that works. Draining those rivers would greatly improve the quality of life of the farmers in that catchment area. They have suffered greatly over the years and I hope, when this Bill is enacted, the Arrow and Owenmore rivers will be drained.

I am familiar with the benefits of arterial drainage. I have a 35-acre farm, part of which is on the banks of the River Moy. The draining of the River Moy was of immense benefit to the people living in that catchment area. I am sure all Members hope that the same results can be achieved when the Arrow and Owenmore Rivers are drained.

The committee formed to demand arterial drainage works for the Owenmore and Arrow rivers has met the former Taoiseach and various Ministers, including Ministers for Finance. Recently its members met with the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Higgins, in Kennedy's Pub in Doocastle. I was present at that meeting during which the Minister said he would favourably consider their request. He was quite sincere and the committee members were happy with the outcome of the meeting. I know the Minister of State, Deputy Coveney, will be sympathetic to their case also.

Deputy Nealon accused me in this House of saying that money was being made available to drain the Arrow and Owenmore rivers. The Deputy and I are the best of friends but I must correct him. I received a letter from the present Minister for Finance confirming that his predecessor, Deputy Bertie Ahern, considered proposals to make money available for the draining of all rivers.

More than anybody else, the people of Galway suffered greatly this winter from the effects of flooding, but people in other areas have suffered also. I continually raised this matter with previous Ministers, including the then Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Deputy Brendan Daly. I invited him to see the problems that existed in the Arrow and Owenmore river catchment area. I raised the issue also with Deputy Noel Treacy when he was Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works. He gave my request favourable consideration and I pay tribute to him for the work he did in that regard. I pay tribute also to Deputy Noel Dempsey for the work he carried out in regard to this problem. When the then Minister of State at the Office of Public Works, Deputy Dempsey, left office the Bill was almost ready and it is welcome that it has been introduced so quickly. This Bill is a step in the right direction for the people in the catchment areas of the Arrow and Owenmore Rivers.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Crawford.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I join others in welcoming this Bill. It gives hope and confidence to people, who through no fault of their own have to live through winter flooding, when ordinary everyday life becomes an absolute drudgery. No one should have to go through that torture. Where it is possible to drain a river although there are situations where it is not possible to do so, the State has a responsibility to do so.

Everyone is aware of the flooding in Gort, because they saw on television what those people had to go through. However, they are not the only ones affected. In the previous Fine Gael administration I was involved in the Department of Agriculture and I remember making a statement that drew a fair amount of criticism that the time had come to stop talking about draining the Shannon. People through it was unusual that a Deputy from the west should say that. I have always believed there are limits in a country with an economy of our size. Of course, we have to manage the Shannon better. Where it is possible to drain, it should be drained. Because we are an island country with low-lying areas we always had the problem of flooding and I suppose it is fair to say we always will. Various attempts were made in recent times to manage the Shannon, this great tourism and fishing asset. People throughout Europe and the world envy our majestic Shannon but we have not treated it with the respect it deserves. I do not hear people saying that it is possible either from an engineering or financial point of view to drain it. What does one do then? Take the situation as it is and draw up plans to provide greater access to our wonderful waterway. We have all seen what can — and has been — done in the Ballyconnell-Erne waterway. I look forward to investment in the Shannon project but I do not think it will be in drainage.

It is reasonable and fair to pay tribute to the Office of Public Works. It has done a hugely expert job, it may have taken a long time but that was because of the on-off funding by various Governments down through the years. In my area we have seen the benefits of one of the bigger schemes, the Corrib catchment, and this made a tremendous difference to half the county. Back in the early 1980s, after the last field drainage under the western drainage scheme, the European Community more or less said it would no longer give money to farmers to drain their land but finance them in a different way. The EU provided incentives to grow an environmentally friendly crop rather than for drainage and provided incentives for investment in forestry. It was felt that there would be a better return from forestry than from draining poor land that would revert to its previous state under most conditions. There is a certain validity in that but as a farmer I have always believed that the only way a farmer could make a living was by the way he worked his land. It is a pity that there is not some limited help for field drainage because it would give farmers an extra four or five acres. That debate is over.

If we do not have the resources to carry out large drainage schemes what happens in isolated areas which have not been drained because they were not part of a larger scheme? When I was in Government I introduced a scheme modelled on the local improvement scheme for groups of farmers to come together and carry out drainage works with 50 per cent assistance from the State and 50 per cent local contribution. Several little jobs we carried out under that scheme. The Bill provides for better designed programmes for the future draining of fragmented areas. It is not confined to the west and even though the majority of Members who contributed come from the north and north-west people still think it only applies to the west. Flooding is a problem in many countries. My understanding is that if the land can be drained, in other words if there is an outfall, an opportunity will be given through the good offices of the Office of Public Works in conjunction with locals to alleviate the flooding.

I will now touch on a number of aspects. I have found as a public representative that it is possible to get great local co-operation but sometimes people — for reasons best known to themselves — decide to hold up a good scheme that will help them and their neighbours. It is not in the common good that a person should be allowed to hold up progress for a frivolous reason. I am glad the Bill provides for the right to object.

I am delighted with the decision to reduce the length of time plans must be on display to the public. Under certain conditions, for example, where there is flooding, the notice need only be exhibited in public for 14 days. I am glad that if compulsory acquisition must be resorted to it is possible under this Bill and people who want to hold up a good scheme for a frivolous reason will know they are on a loser from the beginning.

I pay tribute to the former Minister, Deputy Jim Higgins, who did Trojan work in his couple of months in the Department. We have now listed eight or nine places entitled to go to the design stage and the money has been provided. These are schemes that will cost between £150,000 and £250,000 — small but extremely valuable projects that can be carried out locally. I hope these eight or nine will be the forerunners of many such small groups. I see no reason the Leader groups and others who work for the betterment of rural Ireland should not provide funding to help those projects. Any scheme to help rural Ireland should be called into play when people are cut off from schools, hospitals, churches and shops, when their lifestyle is so curtailed that they become almost hermits. I hope the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, the Office of Public Works and the county councils will see this as a joint effort and act accordingly.

I am glad the situation in Gort is being addressed. I recently attended a meeting of the IFA committee on drainage and it is clear that much work remains to be done. The Gort area has set a headline for the rest of the country. Many of the views expressed in this Bill were implemented by Deputy McCormack and his committee. This worked in Gort, and it will also work everywhere else.

The people in the Williamstown and Curragh West area of Dunmore and Belclare have enormous problems. We had occasion to visit the site in Williamstown, Dunmore at the height of the flooding to see a family marooned in the middle of a lake. Raising roads is not the answer to the problem. Where it is possible to pump the water out, we should do so.

I am as true an environmentalist as exists in this House. As a farmer I believe it is important to protect the environment and I have great respect for many of the sincere groups involved in environmental protection. However, some have surpassed limits altogether and their activities bear no relationship to the hardships people must suffer. Some of the environmentalists who have spoken about arterial drainage should be put into the four houses in Gort where the level of water has reached the top windows, and I would like to see what kind of report they would write about the prospects of living in those houses in the future when the surplus water has been drained.

I do not want to drain land that has been flooded for years. I want to drain off the excess water so that people can live and go about their normal duties. Many of the turloughs, lakes, etc. are part of the environment and we want to retain them. I have not met a farmer who wanted to drain a lake that was there since the day he was born, but he certainly does not want to see it extending in and around his house. I commend the Bill to the House and sincerely hope this is the beginning of a new era of helping people to help themselves.

I, too, congratulate the Minister, Deputy Coveney, on introducing this Bill. I congratulate him on his appointment and on his continuous generosity towards his predecessors, including Deputy Jim Higgins and other Ministers who were previously involved.

In the past 50 years £640 million has been spent on arterial drainage. Now, some 50 years later, that we are allowing partial drainage of catchments is a sign that we realise such expenditure in small areas cannot continue.

The Erne catchment is a truly cross-Border problem which has been with us for generations. I realise that under the EU regulations we cannot or should not consider arterial drainage as we know it.

However, it is obvious that the silt and the bushes and trees need to be cleared out of the channels of the tributaries of that river to avoid flooding of private houses, the destruction of roadways and to allow tourists to use the rivers for boating and fishing.

In counties Monaghan and Cavan we have the Bunowen and Finn rivers which need to be cleaned up, and I hope this Bill will allow that to be done. The peace initiative provides an opportunity to use some of the Border funds in that regard. If this were done it would allow fishermen to use the banks and tourists and others interested in boating to navigate the rivers. It would link all the tributaries to the main Erne, with the Ballyconnell Canal and, in turn, with the River Shannon.

Many studies were carried out and vast amounts of money were spent. We heard Deputy Brennan speak of cost analysis, etc. There is no need to waste more money carrying out surveys of the Erne catchment area. This Bill will enable the works to be carried out and will improve the area around Clones, Ballybay and Cootehill. As there is drumlin soil in the area farmers use low lying areas, which are subject to flooding, for hay and silage. While we do not wish to see lakes and bogs reclaimed farmers must be able to use low lying land without the fear of flooding.

I know one house which until two years ago had not been flooded. They raised the foundations by three feet to ensure they would not be flooded out in future. Normal maintenance work on rivers and tributaries was not carried out.

The arterial drainage of the River Blackwater was an excellent job. Unfortunately too much money was spent on it and no work could be carried out on its many tributaries.

I welcome the Bill.

I join in complimenting the Minister, Deputy Conveney, for introducing the Bill and the Office of Public Works for all the work they have done both in the drainage and heritage areas. It is an excellent body and I am never slow to praise it.

I compliment the former Minister, Deputy Higgins, and other Ministers who held that office, in particular, Deputies Treacy, Dempsey, former Deputy Brady and Senator Daly. He introduced a Bill into the Seanad and many of the points he made were taken on board by the Government.

We must cut the red tape as far as drainage is concerned. In section 4 of the Bill the Commissioners must have regard to the effect of localised drainage works throughout the catchment. Local authorities must give their observations on the work to be carried out. There is power under section 6 to agree with third parties to share the costs of a scheme. The Minister should clarify the position as my original information was that the problem would be dealt with at local level. However, it now appears that every scheme must be submitted to the Office of Public Works and the local authorities must be notified. Other third parties may have to be contacted regarding costs.

I welcome section 13 which requires a local authority to make available for public inspection the annual reports of the maintenance of drainage works for which they are responsible. Local authorities have done tremendous work in this area over the years but funding had been a problem.

We are talking about land drainage and that is preferable to raising the level of roads in areas where flooding occurs. In my parish there was an estimate of £35,000 for the repair of a certain stretch of road. An excellent job was done on it. It would have cost £40,000 to raise the level of part of the road. When flooding recedes we quickly forget there was a problem.

I visited Curragh Lough between Dunmore and Williamstown, with a number of my colleagues. I received a letter from a resident of Curragh West in which she stated:

My parents have not been able to attend the post office to collect their pensions. My mother had to cancel an outpatient appointment at University College Hospital, Galway, because she was unable to make the hazardous journey across waterlogged fields and boundary fencing. Both my parents have been unable to attend their doctor to collect medication which is vital to their health and well-being. I am sure I need not preach to you about the effect this hardship is having upon their lives as normal, independent, old age citizens or, indeed, on mine as their carer.

That is one of many letters I and my colleagues received and it spells out the difficult circumstances in which people found themselves in the early months of 1995. I hope we do not forget that.

I welcome the Bill. Swallow holes will be identified and drained at local level. I was shocked to see how quickly rain could fall. In one section of the road near Caltra the road flooded very quickly and caused problems for people, including one woman with four young children who were trapped in a car.

Serious damage was caused to roads in County Galway. The road grant was cut in 1995 by £600,000. Funding must be provided to repair the roads which were damaged. The Minister of State, Deputy Coveney, is not responsible for local authority funding but he must raise this matter, which is clearly related to the drainage of land, with his colleagues.

The South Galway Flood Victims Action Group in a submission to the Minister raised a number of very important points which should be addressed. It referred to the need for these people to be given advice by loss assessors, solicitors, engineers and other professionals before they submit a claim for compensation. I would like to know the status of this submission to the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Higgins, on 27 March. I presume the Minister of State, Deputy Coveney, and the Government are dealing with this matter.

There are many groups involved, for example, householders who were insured, those who were not insured and people living in isolated areas whose homes were completely surrounded by water.

Farmers who lost stock and income and had to leave their homes will also require professional advice. The Air Corps and Galway County Council provided great assistance to the farming community in particular. There is a need to clarify the position of householders, farmers and business people in those areas. Many business people in the Gort area suffered losses as a result of damage to their stock and structural damage to their premises. While the Government moved quickly to introduce this legislation following the publication of Senator Daly's Bill, I am not happy that there has been an adequate response to the proposal submitted by the South Galway Flood Victims Action Group. I hope the Minister will address this point in his reply.

Assistance must also be provided for people living in the Curragh West area between Williamstown and Dunmore, Belclare, the Lake View area of Moylough and Fohena. The Minister of State, Deputy Higgins, visited some of those areas and we are awaiting his response. The GSO has carried out a survey of the lake in Glenamaddy. Every year the road from Glenamaddy to Creggs is flooded, particularly at Christmas time, and on one occasion one could not even gain access to the local cemetery. The Office of Public Works responded very quickly once it got the go ahead to proceed with the work. However, I cannot understand why this work cannot proceed at local level when the Office of Public Works is cluttered with applications. If public representatives ring the local office to inquire about the possibility of a bridge being built they are told that it can provide help and advice but the farmers must build the bridge. If they ask about having a river deepened they are told that the scheme was completed years ago and it can only carry out routine maintenance. The Corrib catchment has been of great benefit to County Galway but other rivers such as the Dunkeelin are causing serious flooding. The roads in that area have been badly affected by this flooding and I hope that this matter will be dealt with as soon as possible after the enactment of the legislation.

The recent flooding has alerted us to the problems caused by litter and dumping. If a road is flooded the local authority must first try to drain the water into the adjoining land and fields. However, it cannot do this if it is hampered by dumping. I hope the Minister will reply to the question I have raised. The Office of Public Works is underfunded and I welcome the additional £1 million-£2 million being provided this year. I presume extra staff will also be appointed. I hope some of the bureaucracy will be done away with so that there will be action in those areas which have suffered from severe flooding in recent years.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Nealon.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Higgins, on introducing this Bill, which is now being followed through by the Minister of State, Deputy Coveney. It is interesting to note that this is only the second occasion on which we have dealt with arterial drainage. Obviously, there have been dramatic changes since the 1945 Act was passed. Excellent work was done by the Office of Public Works in the past. It did tremendous work on the Maigue and Dee drainage schemes which benefited entire catchment areas. We had a specific difficulty with localised flooding and this Bill responds to that problem.

The excessive rainfall, resulting in the recent flooding throughout the country, highlighted the necessity for this Bill.

Several speakers have referred to the flooding in Galway. The people were touched by the scenes shown on televison and by the tragedies experienced by the people of Galway. The problem was not confined to Galway although the focus was specifically on the Galway problems.

We had problems in Limerick. In Foynes there were acute problems. Several of the residents were flooded on three separate occasions recently. We are trying to respond to that problem by certain remedial works carried out by the county council. The Maigue drainage scheme resulted in speeding up the flow of water which alleviates the problem.

Because debris gathers under the bridge problems arise in Croom. On several occasions the river overflowed, flooding six or seven houses. This happened again recently. I have raised the matter with the Minister of State and I hope the Office of Public Works will respond to the specific and localised difficulty there. I understand the problem could be rectified by extending and raising an existing wall and would not involve the expenditure of large sums of money. That would give much relief to the residents of Croom, who live near the bridge, on the busy road between Limerick and Cork. I hope, following discussions I had with the Minister of State this work will be tackled as a priority in the near future by the Office of Public Works in Limerick.

Where drainage works were carried out in a wide catchment area, there is a difficulty regarding smaller tributaries. I could give specific examples which resulted from the success of previous schemes in my county. Tributaries often create flooding difficulties for the residents in the area but as they were not included in the original catchment area the Office of Public Works is precluded from attending to them. Frequently residents are trapped as the county council will not countenance doing work on such tributaries which they regard as an Office of Public Works problem. I hope this Bill will provide for those types of difficulties.

With regard to smaller schemes I hope a financial arrangement can be entered into between the Office of Public Works or the Government with county councils to enable those works to be carried out. I am anxious to draw attention to specific examples I highlighted in the past, where people have encountered problems.

In welcoming the Bill and in reflecting on works which have been done I wonder whether cognisance was given to fisheries and wildlife. In recent years there has been an acute consciousness of those aspects of being environmentally friendly. When the Office of Public Works respond to the problems of specific waterways it will have to be conscious of the environmental aspects.

Members of local authorities are conscious of the problems caused to our road structure by flooding. On this Bill I do not intend to elaborate on the condition of the county roads. Certainly, we have a problem in regard to the flooding of those roads. No specific funding is allocated to county councils for flooding type problems which occur occasionally. The Department of the Environment is not sensitive when a case for extra money is presented to rectify occasional flooding difficulties, many of which are caused by attendant drainage difficulties.

I welcome the REPS scheme with its emphasis on minimising the use of fertilisers. The excessive use of fertiliser leads to leaching of nitrates into water-courses, the growth of weeds and siltation causing flooding. I was interested to hear the previous speaker refer to the plastic sacks and other debris dumped into rivers. It is unfortunate that people will resort to this. I would have thought people would be conscious of the important role rivers play in tourism and every aspect of Irish life and would not resort to such dumping.

I welcome the fact, mentioned by a previous speaker, that the Bill is getting rid of layers of bureaucracy. An interesting aspect of it is that if works are to be done by the Office of Public Works the county council will be required to display notice of these works for about a month and 14 days afterwards the works can commence. In the past one could have to wait a considerable period before responding to a problem which might require urgent remedial action. There are many laudable aspects of the Bill.

I note the Opposition continued to ask when this Bill would be introduced. It is worth reflecting that it is over 50 years since the original Bill was enacted. While the previous Government had prepared the heads of the Bill it had seven years to respond to this problem which did not become acute overnight. It has existed for many years.

I hope this Bill, when enacted, will respond to the needs and desires of most public representatives in the House and will respond to the problems and difficulties many people experience with flooding problems. In any dealings I had with the Office of Public Works I have found it to be very responsible.

I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Coveney, every success in his new portfolio. He did a tremendous job as Minister for Defence and the Marine. He is a person for whom I have great admiration. I have no doubt he will soon be back to full Cabinet rank.

What we are doing here is dismantling the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945. This Act made possible the drainage of some of the major river catchment areas throughout the country. As we are about to do this it is only right to acknowledge the beneficial work done by the Office of Public Works under that Act. Many a green acre is now carrying cattle instead of snipe because of the work done under the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945.

My first experience of the workings of this Act was a pleasant one as the dredging machines and the men in their wellingtons slowly worked their way up the Moy river from Ballina, through County Mayo, County Sligo, my neighbouring townlands, my own townland of Coolrecull in south Sligo to the streams that flowed through my father's land. The benefits can still be seen. Unfortunately, the mounds of sand and rubble dredged from the river bed and left to deface the banks also remain. That was the practice of the Office of Public Works at the time although I admit this changed in later years.

My next experience of the workings of the Arterial Drainage Act was as a politician and not so pleasant. When I was first elected to this House in 1981 my predecessor, Eugene Gilhawley, a distinguished Dáil Deputy for Sligo for many years who had just retired, handed me an extraordinary large file with the admonition: "Try to do something about it. I have been trying for all my public life and the job has still not been done". The file related to the drainage of the Owenmore and Arrow.

This was first raised in the House in 1927 and has been raised on a regular basis ever since by every Deputy who has had the honour to represent Sligo. I have raised it on the Adjournment, by way of motion, question and interjection and in the budget debates even though I was not always in order in doing so. The file handed to me by Eugene Gilhawley has grown alarmingly since. Sadly, flooding continues to occur on the Owenmore and Arrow.

This catchment area was placed in the queue in the 1945 Arterial Drainage Act. Farmers whose land was flooded on a regular basis, not just in the winter but also in summer, waited and finally the Owenmore and Arrow reached the top of the queue. What happened then? The arterial drainage scheme for entire catchment areas was abandoned by the previous Government.

Did that not occur in 1986?

This Bill lifts the obligation on the Office of Public Works to devise schemes for entire catchment areas and enables smaller schemes to be introduced. Strange as it may seem, I welcome the Bill for the simple reason that the worst flooding on the Owenmore and Arrow will be relieved. This will enable the Office of Public Works to remove the blockages which are easily identifiable.

During the past few months we have seen on television the damage caused by flood waters throughout the country. Sligo did not feature prominently on this occasion but the floods there were just as bad and as damaging as the floods in Carlow, Galway and along the Shannon. We had our quota of swamped houses. The reason Sligo did not feature was that, unfortunately, this was not news in Sligo. Flooding occurs in the Owenmore and Arrow catchment area in the middle of summer each year, not just in exceptionally bad years. A total of 29,000 acres of land and 3,000 farmers are affected, mostly small farmers with an average farm size of 42 acres. To put the matter in context, the floods affect one-fifteenth of the entire land area of County Sligo and the losses each year are substantial. On average the floods last 21 days.

The Owenmore and Arrow drainage committee has been seeking action since 1942. Despite the fact that we have failed to have the promised arterial drainage works carried out, I welcome the Bill which will enable the Office of Public Works to introduce localised flood relief measures rather than schemes for entire catchment areas. This limited activity could be of enormous benefit in freeing the flow of water and preventing the annual flooding on the Owenmore and Arrow. This summer the land of farmers, including Paddy Joe Hannon, along the banks of those rivers and far removed from these areas will be flooded and their silage damaged. This is inevitable and it happens each summer.

Once this Bill has been passed and signed by the President, before the ink is dry, I give the Minister of State notice that I will be on his doorstep asking that the Owenmore and Arrow be given priority because of the severity of the flooding and because of the fact that this catchment area was next in line under the old Act. This should also be done as a matter of convenience and economy given that the Office of Public Works is now completing works in the nearby Boyle catchment area and has fully equipped headquarters in Ballaghaderreen. The next logical step would be to move the dredgers into the Owenmore and Arrow catchment area. All the survey and engineering work has been done and the main blockages have been identified. The funding required to remove the first blockage would not be excessive. I look forward to an allocation being made available for the Owenmore and Arrow catchment area at an early date for the reasons I have stated.

I acknowledge the work done in the Office of Public Works by the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Higgins, by Deputies Hogan, Dempsey and Treacy and many others before them. Much work on the Bill was done before this Government entered office. In a previous debate I gave a promise that the Minister of State who provided for the drainage of the Owenmore and Arrow would have this statue erected above high water level near Temple House Bridge. I repeat that promise now to the Minister of State, Deputy Coveney.

In welcoming the Bill I take the opportunity to thank the Minister of State for acknowledging the work I did when Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works. I am delighted that it has been brought forward. There is a great desire on all sides of the House that the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945 should be amended to tackle the problems outlined by Deputies. When I was Minister of State Deputies Nealon and Brennan ensured that the problem to which Deputy Nealon referred was raised at least once a week.

This is a serious issue which affects practically every part of the country. I am glad it is addressed in the Bill.

Debate adjourned.