Flood Relief: Statements.

Today's debate is opportune and I wish for a constructive debate on this most serious issue. The Government's primary concern is with the families and individuals who are suffering the effects of flooding of their homes and property and businesses whose viability and whose workers' livelihoods are put in jeopardy.

I wish to record, and I am sure all Members of the House will agree, our appreciation for all the personnel of the various authorities and agencies, both public and voluntary, individuals and communities for their outstanding work in assisting in the rescue of people and the protection, where possible, of homes and premises from the effects of flooding.

The response to the flooding has been multi-faceted and impacted on the responsibilities of a number of Departments, authorities and agencies. We will work to move from an emergency response footing to one of recovery. In this context, other Departments and agencies come into the picture. Many areas of the country have been affected to a greater or lesser degree by the cumulative volume of rain that has fallen over the past four weeks. In addition to what I saw during my visit to affected areas in Cork, Clare and Galway on Saturday, we have all seen the media reports on the widespread damage caused and the disruption to road and rail transport by these floods.

Regrettably, weather conditions remain threatening, and last night we saw flooding extend to several additional communities. It is generally accepted by all the bodies concerned that the volume of rainfall last week, coming on top of the rainfall in various river catchments over recent weeks, was unprecedented and resulted in the major flooding we saw in many parts of the country especially in Cork, Clare, Galway and in the towns of Ballinasloe, Carlow and Clonmel and other areas.

I take this opportunity to outline the measures that are in place to respond to, and co-ordinate, the efforts of all involved in dealing with such serious and widespread flooding. I witnessed these inter-agency co-ordination arrangements in action myself last Saturday in the four local authority areas I visited. I saw the same structures in use, and the same generic mechanisms deployed to gather and share information, to identify key issues and quickly agree priorities, and to direct the staff and resources of the various agencies to the points of greatest risk. This is as it should be — locally co-ordinated emergency management meeting the greatest needs of local communities.

This flooding has been the first real test of a new inter-agency co-ordination system that my Department, working closely with the Departments of Health and Children, and Justice, Equality and Law Reform, developed in 2005. I refer to the Framework for Major Emergency Management that was created to enable the Garda Síochána, the HSE and local authorities to prepare for and make a co-ordinated response to a variety of major emergencies scenarios, including flooding. The Government approved the new system in May 2006 and it was introduced successfully across the entire local government sector, the Garda Síochána and the HSE over the years 2006-08.

The widespread and successfully co-ordinated local response we have seen did not occur by accident. The purpose of the new framework was to put in place arrangements that enabled the three principal response agencies, the local authorities, the Garda Síochána and the HSE, to prepare for and then co-ordinate their efforts when a major emergency occurs. The year-long process of developing the new framework in 2005 was overseen by an international expert to add assurance that what we did in Ireland was up to current international best practice. Each of the principal response agencies now has a new format major emergency plan, based on this framework, which was formally commenced on 30 September 2008.

The evidence and benefits of this inter-agency response have been clear for all to see over the past few days. The various authorities, agencies and voluntary bodies used the preparedness steps of a carefully sequenced major emergency development programme over the two years from September 2006 to September 2008 to underpin their response to this flooding. These steps included writing the new local major emergency plans, which include severe weather plans as a subset, the procedures to carry out their task, the fitting out of selected co-ordination facilities, mostly located in local authority headquarters and which I saw, the inter-agency training for key roles, and the exercises they ran and participated in.

The flood response aspect is supported by two further specifically flood related documents which were produced as part of the major emergency development programme — A Guide to Flood Emergencies and Protocol for Multi-Agency Response to Flood Emergencies. These documents were produced in conjunction with the Office of Public Works, drawing on lessons learned from previous flooding experience, in particular in Dublin, and they compare well to any similar literature.

Part of the local authorities' severe weather emergency plan preparation includes ensuring that arrangements are in place to receive early warnings from Met Éireann. The Met Éireann forecasting arrangements entail a single system known as public service severe weather warning and cover meteorological conditions and elements such as wind, rain, thunderstorm and coastal storm surge. The emphasis is on warning of weather events that will cause significant disruption or constitute a significant risk for people. Met Éireann issues a severe weather warning to local authorities where conditions are forecast in accordance with criteria set down by the authority.

In general, it is possible to have a degree of forewarning where flood events are concerned. However, while the forecasting tools available enable an assessment of the likelihood of a particular meteorological occurrence to be made, it is not always possible to predict the hydrological impacts that will result in a significant flood event. All the experts have emphasised the cumulative effects of a succession of very wet weeks in causing these floods.

My Department's further role, following on from the work we have done over the past four years in developing and strengthening our major emergency management system at local level, is to co-ordinate the national level response, where there is such serious and widespread flooding. Deputies will be aware that I formed a new national directorate for fire and emergency management in my Department in June of this year. The staff of the directorate, led by the designated national director, Mr. Seán Hogan, have been very active also in this case. They have convened all the relevant Departments and agencies each day since last Friday. This national emergency response co-ordination committee have used the new national emergency co-ordination centre, which was developed for this specific purpose. Their work has included assembling the daily reports, identifying and addressing national level issues arising, briefing both the Taoiseach and myself and other members of the Government on a daily basis on the situation and on the response effort.

It is most distressing to see the impact which these floods are having on so many people, and I recall most vividly the distress which my constituents suffered some years ago in the floods in Dublin. The Government is not responsible for the rain that has fallen or the resulting floods, but we are responsible for the fact that our services prepared carefully, diligently and consistently and made a properly co-ordinated multi-agency response at both local and national level. Most important of all, there has been no loss of life associated with these floods.

The risks to water supply in flooding incidents arise either from direct flooding of water supply facilities which render operation impossible, or from a deterioration of the raw water quality which compromises the effectiveness of the treatment process. Both issues have arisen in some areas as a consequence of the flooding in the south and west.

Cork City Council's water treatment plant at Lee Road, which supplies most of the city, was closed as a result of the flooding of the plant. I understand that substantial additional supply to the city has been made available by Cork County Council, which has increased production at the Inniscarra and Glashaboy treatment plants to the maximum. However, there are no facilities to pump this additional water to the reservoirs which supply the 18,000 households affected. The city council has arranged for tankered water, stand pipes and bottled water to be delivered to the households in the city without mains supply in accordance with the drinking water incident response plan guidance. The city council is working to replace or repair the affected pumping equipment as quickly as possible.

In the Cork County Council area, the flooding has led to deterioration in raw water quality and precautionary boil notices have been put in place on four water supply schemes, namely, Inchigeela, Innishannon, Ballineen and Clondrohid. Flood damage to part of the treatment plant in Ballinasloe, while not requiring the closure of the plant has meant that a precautionary boil notice has been put in place on this supply. A precautionary boil notice is now in place for similar reasons on the Mount Talbot Four Roads water supply scheme in County Roscommon. These are the main boil notice situations arising from current flooding instances. Local authorities are required to liaise with the HSE before issuing or removing a boil water notice and they must also notify the Environmental Protection Agency of such notices.

I want to discuss the new elements of the planning system.

Is there anything about drainage?

Yes, there is plenty about it.

Good, that is what we want to hear.

As we address the disruption caused by the flooding, we must intensify our actions to mitigate the effects for the future. The current flooding and other recent flooding events sharply illustrate the questionable nature of some development decisions in the past and underline the necessity for action to avoid such developments in locations in which future flooding is predictable.

Part of that process will be the implementation of new guidelines for planning authorities on the planning system and flood risk management. These will be published shortly in conjunction with the Office of Public Works. The guidelines are aimed at ensuring a more consistent, rigorous and systematic approach to incorporate fully flood risk assessment and management into future regional plans, county and city development plans, local area plans and in determining future applications for planning permission in line with the principles of proper planning and sustainable development. Pending the publication of formal guidelines, planners are advised that the draft guidelines represent current best practice, and are requested to take them into account in making decisions on relevant planning issues.

As we move, hopefully, into a recovery mode, I am conscious that in addition to the trauma caused by the flooding, people also suffered financial loss arising from the damage caused to their property. The Government will act to address the most serious problems. We will use the necessary channels to explore the scope for assistance from the EU. Looking at national schemes, the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive on behalf of the Department of Social and Family Affairs, is designed to provide immediate and flexible assistance for those in need who do not qualify for payment under other State schemes.

That is ridiculous. That is only filibustering.

Allow the Minister to conclude.

He is five minutes over time.

Other Deputies will have an opportunity.

My colleague, the Minister, Deputy Mary Hanafin, can address this in more detail.

We will learn from the current flooding experience and will develop measures to mitigate the severe impact caused and take measures to reduce impacts of future flooding arising from inclement weather and physical development.

Where is the plan?

I am very pleased with the way the response agencies have worked together on the ground using the framework for major emergency management. We will work quickly to alleviate distress and hardship.

Let me once again record my appreciation of the efforts of all those involved in dealing with the flooding crisis. I would also like to again express my sympathy with all those who are tonight dealing with flooding and its aftermath in their homes and businesses.

That is a classic case of not knowing what the issue is about.

I wish to share time with Deputy Dan Neville.

The Dáil meets this evening as many thousands of homeowners, business owners and farmers are counting the cost of severe flooding and damage that has destroyed their livelihoods. I wish to offer the sympathies of the House to those who face continuing hardship as more bad weather approaches. I also acknowledge and welcome the fact that the Government joins in extending this sympathy. I was disappointed that the Minister amended the Fine Gael motion and that we could not have united the House in Private Members' time.

This is not Private Members' time.

I am aware of that, the Government decided to divide the House earlier.

I do not want to interrupt Deputy Hogan and I hope I will not have to interrupt anybody else but time is very tight. A large number of Deputies wish to speak and I ask that Members do not interrupt contributions.

My colleagues will outline some examples of experiences they have had in their constituencies in dealing with these matters. This crisis began last Wednesday, when gales, torrential rain and thunderstorms caused flooding in the west, with the River Corrib and its tributaries bursting banks in several parts of Galway city and county. Continued torrential rain throughout Thursday day and evening caused some of the worst flooding in living memory throughout the country but specifically in Cork city and county, Tipperary, Galway, Clare, Kilkenny, Carlow and Kerry. In Carlow, it could have been avoided if the implementation of the flood relief scheme had gone ahead when it was third on the list in 1995.

The flooding in Cork city, which I visited last Saturday, was made worse when the ESB released water from the Inniscarra dam on Thursday, which caused the River Lee to burst its banks. By 11.30 p.m. the western suburbs were under several feet of water; all bridges from Inniscarra to the city were closed and extensive damage had been caused to UCC, with all lectures cancelled and valuable paintings being threatened. During the course of my visit, I saw businesses and households still under water and quays and bridges structurally threatened. Motor cars which had been parked in areas not normally flooded were still there. If sufficient warning had been given, I doubt they would have been parked there.

I checked the rainfall pattern to establish whether this was an 800-year event and I discovered that the cumulative rainfall to 20 November at Cork Airport station was 190 mm. The entire rainfall for the month of October at the same station was 205 mm. The greatest ever monthly figure recorded at that station was 790 mm in October 2006. There is no 800-year event. This is an event that no weather could explain. The dam was overloaded in Inniscarra and the question must be asked as to why.

An independent assessment should be carried out between the ESB and the local authorities to find out what happened. There were no flood monitoring stations in the Lee valley. There are no physical markers to show where the flood levels are in the Lee valley. The people working at and in charge of the Inniscarra dam had no idea of how high the water level would rise because of the absence of these markers. These issues must be examined and I hope we will have an opportunity to do so, perhaps through the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I would prefer to see the Minister appointing an officer to independently examine these matters rather than relying on reports from local authorities and the ESB.

The situation is further complicated by media reports today that the ESB was warned in three separate reports that the two strategic reservoirs in Cork might not be able to cope with extreme water volumes.

According to the media, the ESB was warned in three separate reports that the two strategic reservoirs in Cork might not be able to cope with extreme water volumes. Media sources claim that over the past eight years the reports raised issues about water management along the Lee valley in an extreme weather event, including the capacity of the two lakes above the dam to cope with a large inflow of water. We had a false sense of security. Is the Government in possession of these reports and can we see copies of them?

My preference is for the Minister of State to appoint an authorised officer to examine these matters on an independent basis and I will be asking the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to ask those involved for an explanation. Cork's local authorities had no stocks of water or sandbags when the flood occurred. Culpability can be assigned in respect of these matters.

In response to severe flooding in September 2006, the OPW admitted that it did not have a national co-ordination plan and that the precautions in response to flooding risks were up to individual authorities. Since then, the Government has concentrated on developing flood risk maps for the benefit of planning authorities in response to an EU floods directive adopted in 2007. However, it has been deficient in providing an early warning system for floods. Damage amounting to millions of euro could have been avoided if a proper alert system had been put in place. Businesses have lost their Christmas stock, thousands of cars are on their way to the scrap heap, sentimental valuables have been destroyed and farming communities face enormous problems in terms of feeding their stock.

The Government lacks an advanced monitoring system and cannot provide flood warnings to home owners and businesses. The Government's flood website, www.flooding.ie, states: “Checking to see if water levels in the nearby river, lake or estuary are rising or starting to flood can show if a flood might happen, but be careful not to go into the water, as it may be deeper than you think.” We can do better than that. The environmental agencies in England and Wales operate a warning system in areas at risk of flooding from rivers or the sea. Staff use the latest available technology to monitor rainfall, river levels and sea conditions 24 hours a day in order to forecast the possibility of flooding. Warnings are issued using a set of four easily recognisable codes. Alerts are made through a variety of methods, including the agencies’ websites and the media. They do not exclusively rely on websites. In areas which are particularly at risk warning messages can be sent directly to people by telephone, text, e-mail or pager. Several hundred messages can be sent simultaneously. They aim to give two hours notice of flooding, day or night, so that people can take the necessary preventative measures.

We are in a unique situation in that the volume of rainfall has surpassed by far anything experienced in the past. Ireland would be better served by a new alert system and I hope the Government can give us a commitment in that regard.

This is not the first time we have experienced this sort of flooding. On 31 July and 1 August 2008, Newcastle West was flooded by 6 ft. of water. The Taoiseach did not visit and while the Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh, came to observe the damage, the promises he made have not yet been fulfilled. Once the water recedes, the promises made by the Government tonight will be forgotten. The people of Newcastle West continue to suffer the effects of last year's flooding and they must be included in any compensation scheme. Up to 200 properties, including businesses, were damaged at a cost estimated at €40 million. Many houses were uninsured because they were owned by elderly people or for other reasons. The Government did not raise a finger to help these people, however. The idea of community welfare officers is a laugh in such circumstances. The people of Newcastle West continue to suffer.

I propose to share my speaking time with Deputy Kathleen Lynch.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This evening's debate offers the Government an opportunity to outline the measures it will take to deal with the consequences of the disastrous floods in Cork city and other areas. In Cork city alone, 18,000 homes are without drinking water this evening. I ask the Government what steps are being taken to restore water supplies, particularly in light of the implications for health and hygiene, and to identify the cause of the severe flooding in the Cork region.

I commend local authority employees, emergency services, Civil Defence and communities on the work they have done over the past several days. However, I wish to speak about the systems management of the crisis. While the management of emergency services has been effective in many regions, shortcomings can be identified in communication and information provision. Cork City Council did not set up a freefone number until last night. Previously, people were advised to consult the council's website or ring several different telephone numbers. If somebody uses a pre-pay mobile telephone, he or she will quickly run out of credit while calling these numbers. Emergency numbers should be part of the response protocol and immediately advertised over the broadcast media. A ticker tape system on television programmes could have provided local information.

During the early days of the flooding, we saw plenty of footage of flooded areas but little information about how people could seek help. People in Cork city had to rely on a chap called P. J. Coogan to find out what was happening because the council did not establish a press unit until long after the floods had started. Mr. Coogan provided information to the people of Cork until 10.30 p.m. on Friday night and was out again at 6 a.m. the following day. His television colleagues, such as Paul Byrne from TV3 and Paschal Sheehy from RTE, did likewise. However, they were not briefed on a regular basis.

The Pitt review produced in the aftermath of similar flooding in Britain in 2007 stated that the floods were a wake-up call and that flood risks are here to stay. The Minister of State referred to two documents. There is a very simple difficulty with both of the documents. We did not have assistance management in place but, more importantly, Cork County Council is charged with this document, along with the Department. Given that the council is advising other agencies and those applying for planning as to how to proceed with flood risk management, it beggars belief as to how the council was itself closed because of flooding.

A hotel across from Cork County Council's building, which was only renovated three or four years ago — with planning permission from the council — was flooded. It was built on a flood plain. If one could believe it, the hotel has an underground car park that is now an underground swimming pool because of the flood. Questions must be asked by the Minister and his Department.

The flooding in Cork city has been the worst in living memory. Most of us living in Blackpool would realise that approximately four or five years ago there was a significant flood. It had exactly the same consequences, and the memory of being washed out of businesses and homes and having a contaminated water supply still resonates with people. They rarely forget it entirely.

The floods in Cork have ruined both houses and businesses, which we should remember. There are entire streets of homes — where people are living — now looking like a scene of devastation. Businesses throughout the city have also been devastated. One of the most awful results was the damage to the Glucksman Gallery and its paintings. This astonished me because it is not really in the basin of the valley and is on fairly high ground. That indicates how high the floods were.

The Kingsley Hotel had a €13 million renovation recently but has been completely destroyed, with people having to be evacuated in the middle of the night. In the Mercy Hospital, the river knocked a wall in rather than out. The damage occurred at 4 a.m. I met Mr. Paddy Madden, the CEO of the Mercy Hospital, the following night and he had been up all night trying to ensure that patients and equipment were saved, which they were. We should be eternally grateful that nobody was seriously injured or died, unlike in England.

We must be very grateful for the public services which have rallied in Cork and other areas of the country, going above and beyond the call of duty. They do not at all resemble the sort of people who are being vilified in the press as we speak. The Army and Naval Service were out, as well as the fire service and local county council workers who were filling drums of water. When people could not get there themselves, these public servants carried them to their cars. It was above and beyond the call of duty.

Some 18,000 households in Cork city are still without water, including mine. People here will be grateful to know that I had a shower when I got to Dublin, which is in everyone's interest. There are many people in Cork who do not have such a facility but those who still have running water and shower facilities are asking their neighbours to their house. They may not know these people or even have met them but that is the type of community spirit that has always existed in Ireland. Unfortunately, it has been lost in the past few years.

We have been told by climatologists time and again that this will not be the only time this will occur and that it will become more frequent. Once in a century flooding will now occur every five years. What precautions are we taking and what will we do about it only very little? We need to start putting in place the type of measures which will ensure we do not come back here next year — or in two or three years — and have to talk about this again. Maybe we will not be so lucky next time.

There are people in Cork who will suffer a horrendous night tonight. The weather has been terrible and that only adds to the type of discomfort which people are suffering. Their homes and businesses have been destroyed, and it has quite an impact on people when they do not have what we have come to accept as normal facilities.

We must consider communications. The only public announcements were from the local broadcasters, such as P. J. Coogan, Paul Byrne and Paschal Sheehy. We need to take serious consideration of where communications failed.

With the permission of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I will make copies of my speech available to Deputies.

The Minister of State is to share three minutes of his time with Deputy Kelleher.

That is correct. I express my own deep sympathy to all those who have been affected by the devastating flooding of recent days. Having visited a number of the worst-hit locations in Galway, Clare and Tipperary, I have seen at first hand some of the damage and hardship wreaked. The emotional impact on individuals and their health can be devastating. The flooding has impacted on homes, commercial premises and infrastructure. It has forced people from their houses and temporarily isolated and desolated whole communities. It will recede more quickly from some areas than others.

The impact of the flooding would have been even more severe had it not been for the tremendous efforts of emergency teams, which have worked tirelessly. Thanks to them, so far no lives have been lost. All of us would warmly thank all those involved. We have witnessed a co-ordinated and dedicated response from all the emergency services, including local authorities, the Defence Forces, Civil Defence, the Garda and local volunteers. OPW engineering staff have provided technical and additional material backup. The media have also been an invaluable source of communication. The response has been a magnificent combined effort, and I also welcome the unions' decision to exempt from today's action those providing emergency services in the worst affected areas. The OPW's regional offices in Limerick and Headford remained open today.

Recent flooding has been caused by record bad weather. Many areas hit have not experienced this scale of flooding in living memory. There is a growing realisation that such severe weather events are, if anything, likely to increase in frequency and intensity in coming years. Proper and timely warnings are vital.

Flood forecasting and warnings can reduce the damage but of themselves will not prevent flooding. By providing adequate warning of an impending flood, residents and local authorities can take action to reduce the impact, such as moving valuables, erecting protection measures, including demountables, distributing sand bags, and closing off at-risk areas to prevent vehicle damage or risk to life.

The effectiveness of an early warning system depends on many factors, including the reliability of rainfall and flood forecasts, the warning time achievable, the effectiveness and reliability of warning dissemination systems to the public, the awareness and preparedness of the affected population and the preparedness of the emergency response services. A response plan must have been previously developed, tested and rehearsed. The OPW will shortly go to tender for consultants to carry out a strategic review to assess operational structures, costs and benefits of a national flood warning system.

In late 2004, the Government decided that future flood management policy in Ireland would "minimise the national level of exposure to flood damage through the identification and management of existing, and particularly potential, flood risks in an integrated, proactive and river basin-based manner". Since 1 January this year, the OPW has had extended to it responsibility for management of coastal erosion and coastal flood risk.

As an interim measure, a flood hazard maps website, www.floodmaps.ie, was created. This website carries valuable historical data which will be useful for planners as well as the public. We also have another website, www.flooding.ie, which gives practical help and advice to homes and businesses that have flooded or are at risk of flooding. It contains detailed information on how to prepare for flooding, minimise effects, and safety advice in the event of flooding.

The Minister of State is overshadowing the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

We will be commissioning flood risk assessments and management studies, CFRAMs, for all of the river catchments. The effects of climate change will be considered at every stage. A Lee catchment area study is currently under way and there have also been pilot studies for the Rivers Dodder and Suir and the Fingal-east Meath area.

All studies and no action.

The planning and development process is critical in avoiding the creation of further flood risk. As the Minister mentioned, we have issued a draft guidance document on planning which is almost ready. Development on flood plains should be avoided where possible. Undoubtedly, in some previous developments flood plains were not always recognised as such and increased urbanisation and the reduction of open ground for water absorption have added to the problems we face. No doubt planners had to take account of other polices but the bottom line today is that development should mitigate existing risk, not add to it.

A contribution, though it is not a panacea, could be made also by granting the same attention to maintaining drains and waterways as to repairing potholes. Except where necessary to avoid pollution, we should stop tarmacking everything including yards, drives and gardens. We should do this much more selectively.

The outcomes from the flood mapping and flood risk assessment management study programmes will satisfy the requirements of the EU floods directive which will be transposed into Irish law before the end of this year. I have given the highest priority to progressing the OPW's programme of major structural flood relief schemes to reduce the flood risk in areas that already have a long history of flooding. There have been several successful schemes, including Kilkenny, Carrick-on-Suir, the River Tolka and a number of others. Construction work on flood relief schemes such as Mallow North, Clonmel West and Ennis Upper are substantially complete. I draw attention to the success of the defence scheme in Mallow on Thursday night——

What about the Ennis one?

——when the demountable defences were completely erected by the local authority for the first time——

It did not work too well in Ennis.

It is a first phase. It prevented a substantial flood from entering the north of the town where, on previous occasions, havoc was caused to homes and businesses. Work has just commenced in Fermoy and work in Carlow is expected to commence in early 2010. Further details of schemes are in my full speech.

I wish to make the point that all OPW localised flood relief projects are intended to ensure that works do not cause flooding problems upstream or downstream of the location being protected. We introduced a small flood works scheme covering both inland and coastal areas. This has been activated and no doubt will be under great demand in the future.

I reiterate my deep sympathy for people who suffered loss or hardship as a result of recent flooding. As I had the opportunity to observe working extremely well in Clonmel last January, the community welfare officer is empowered to provide assistance to the worst affected residents with insufficient means or to whom insurance against flooding has been refused. The Government has also announced a scheme of emergency and humanitarian assistance and farm relief measures and has made application to the EU. I assure all citizens of the Government's continued determination to address, as an absolute priority, the threat of widespread flooding. This will include stepping up whatever we can do in connection with fresh vulnerabilities that have emerged in recent days.

I express my deepest sympathies to the people of Cork not only for the damage done to homes, but to businesses, public buildings and utilities, and also for the emotional trauma caused to individuals and the collective community. I wish to record my appreciation of the emergency services, the Garda, the Army, Civil Defence, community groups, fire brigades and public officials who implemented the emergency plan. They gave substantial time and made themselves available despite the public service dispute. A strong civic spirit was evident in the people of Cork who rallied around and tried to deal with a very difficult issue.

I do not wish to point fingers of blame but we must address some fundamental issues. There must be an independent investigation of the management of the water in the Lee area. An outside body with experience in hydraulics, meteorology and other areas must come together and try to find a solution to this difficulty. This is not about blaming but about ensuring that it does not happen again. I urge the Minister of State to consider appointing an outside individual with experience to look at the whole area of water management upstream and downstream of the dam, and the information flow between the ESB and the local authorities, in particular, Cork City Council.

The other area of major concern to me is that a city should be fully dependent on a single pumping station on its north side. This beggars belief. Its location may have been an oversight in the first place but now we are fully dependent on one pumping station and there is no link between the various local authorities. If one pumping station is out of commission or flooded, as was the case here, there should be some system of interconnectivity with local authority water coming from Cork County Council. It is not acceptable that an entire city——

The Minister of State did not do his job when he was on the council.

——finds itself without water. It is bad enough to be dealing with the floods but now there is non-availability of water to the homes of 80,000 people. The emergency services are doing their best but if there had been some forward planning and foresight many of these issues might have been avoided.

More fundamentally, water supply must be examined. An outside organisation should be brought in to analyse the situation clearly, without fear or favour——

——to see whether the location was correct in the first place but also, equally important, why a city, particularly its most affected north side, should be entirely dependent on one pumping station. I urge all retailers not to profiteer with regard to the supply of drinking water. Most are not doing this but some are.

I call Deputy Deirdre Clune. A number of Deputies wish to speak and I ask everybody to confine themselves to speaking for two minutes only.

I wish to focus on the situation in Cork which was referred to by the previous speaker. There are two issues, drinking water and severe flooding. On flooding, I support the call made for an independent inquiry. We need to know what was responsible for it. Those people who were washed out of their homes and businesses and public institutions, who suffered damage to property, want answers. They want to know what went wrong, what might have been done to prevent the situation and, in particular, why they were not given advance warning.

Many theories and scenarios have been put forward in recent days. The only solution is to have an independent inquiry that will provide answers for these people. On one hand, it appears the local authority did not have enough notice. Today, the ESB issued a release stating that last Thursday, 19 November, at 10.50 a.m., it informed Cork County Council, Cork City Council and the emergency services of the emerging situation and the imminent flooding. It issued a media alert warning of the danger of severe flooding in the Lee valley, between the Inniscarra dam and Cork city, a distance of approximately eight miles. That is the ESB's story. We do not seem to have the recognition that people in Cork were told of the danger of severe and imminent flooding.

We need to have emergency alerts. Residents must be informed. Systems such as websites do not seem to work and are not enough. There are many questions and people need answers if we are to move forward. There is also the fact that Cork city was dependent on one pumping station. That does not make any sense in this day and age. There was not the facility to tap into any other resource in a neighbouring authority which leads to other questions. We need a national water authority. Today, however, people are suffering. We need answers as to how this happened and how we can ensure that it will not happen again in the future.

In recent days I visited a number of areas throughout my constituency that were directly affected by the severe flooding damage. I saw the devastation caused to householders and businesses that have seen their properties damaged. I wish record my acknowledgement of the tremendous work that has been done by local authority staff, the Garda Síochána, the Army, the emergency services and sub-aqua clubs. I acknowledge also the volunteers who offered to assist with the recovery measures.

Concerning the €10 million EU hardship fund, I hope it will be used to provide for people who do not have adequate insurance cover and that no geographic restriction will be put on it as was put on the last fund tabled in this House. There is also a need to look at the management of the waters in both the Shannon and Suck valleys because little has been done to maintain the channels or rivers in that catchment area in recent years, including the actual Shannon and Suck rivers. Due to this lack of maintenance they do not have the capacity to cater for increased rainfall.

Will the Minister and the Department consider the proposal put to him and his officials in July 2005 to develop a national wetlands park in the north midlands with a capacity of 18,000 acres that could be flooded up to 4.5 metres and which could provide some protection for the towns of Carrick-on-Shannon and Athlone and provide some relief in this area? It is appalling that the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is not prepared to provide funding in respect of augmentation in the case of the Ballinasloe and the Four Roads Mount Talbot water supplies. In the past, Roscommon Country Council sought to connect these water supplies with the town of Athlone but was refused the funding by the Department. There is access to a clean supply of ground water but it has been ignored by the Department throughout the country and it has failed to provide the necessary augmentation. Funding must be provided to alleviate the problems of rising flooding on the roads as well.

I will cut to the chase. I echo the sense of admiration and team work of the emergency services. I acknowledge the fact that the Ministers and the Taoiseach have visited the affected areas. I was concerned when the Taoiseach remarked earlier on inquires made in Europe. The Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh, has indicated an application has been made to Europe. I spoke with Mr. Jim Higgins, MEP, this evening and I understand he, Ms Marian Harkan, MEP, and Pat The Cope Gallagher, MEP, met with EU Commissioner with responsibility for regional development in Strasbourg. I call on the Minister to confirm this is taking place now or will take place later, to confirm whether senior officials will come here to see the areas affected and if they are willing to work with the Government to alleviate the problems.

In the mid-1990s there was help from Europe on a localised scale for Gort. A European solution is very important in this case. I concur with the remarks of Deputy Neville. We have said this must never happen again but there have been floods in my constituency, including south Mayo, Crossmolina, Mulrany and Westport, as recently as this summer. The people there still await measures for flood protection and await hope of compensation or for studies to be done on what needs to be done. We must not make these mistakes again. I call on the Minister to confirm in his concluding remarks whether Europe will help. We voted "Yes" for the Lisbon treaty, we need help from Europe now and we need a signal from the Government that we will get the required help.

I intend to focus on the southern part of the constituency of Galway East which has been afflicted by severe flooding on numerous occasions. The Taoiseach and the Ministers present seem to have avoided the anger of the people of south Galway on their visits in the past week. The people there have been let down on many occasions in the past with regard to drainage and flooding and have no confidence in any promises from visiting Ministers. At present, 65 major routeways, 40 secondary routes and numerous county roads have been blocked in County Galway, isolating communities and individual farmsteads.

The idea that the Government will now provide a €12 million humanitarian effort and €2 million for farming is derisory. Every penny of that €14 million could be spent in the parish and area between Peterswell to Kiltartan and down to Craughwell to compensate adequately the people who have lost property and farming income as a result of the floods. As we speak, a five metre high flood streams down the main routeway and has pushed aside a retaining wall on the main routeway and it is not finished yet. The Minister should recall the events of 1995 when this money is being allocated. At the time the Red Cross provided relief and it was fair and efficient in the administration. I call on the Minister to consider the Red Cross as the appropriate agency through which relief is made. The Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh, stated the OPW will shortly engage consultants but I remind him of what took place in 1995. Some £1.2 million was spent on the Peach report, the outcome of which was nothing but a cost-benefit analysis suggesting no work should be undertaken. A shovel or spade was never put into the ground in south Galway to alleviate flooding. I trust this will not happen again.

I put on record and praise the bravery, professionalism and effort of the many people in the public sector in Cork who have worked night and day beyond the call of duty during the past week, including those in the Garda, fire service, Civil Defence, Army, Naval Service and local authorities as well as community leaders working on a voluntary basis. They have worked among communities in Cork and elsewhere in a spirit upon which we should collectively build.

I appeal to the Government and the Minister to ensure that the hardship payments available through community welfare officers and the humanitarian assistance announced today can be accessed quickly and without excessive bureaucracy. There should not be a lengthy application process with means tests and so on. We must get money to people quickly while they are in distress and while they need it in the build up to Christmas. As the floods abate there must be an honest assessment of the lessons we can learn from the successes and failures and of the way in which we performed in the past week, especially in my city of Cork. An independent inquiry would help that process.

I defend the management by the ESB of the dams at Inniscarra and Carrigadrohid. I spent more than one and a half hours at Inniscarra dam yesterday speaking to the management there. Given the infrastructure available last Thursday, the options at their disposal were very limited. Some 90 mm of rain fell in 14 hours. They sent out two emergency flood warnings on Thursday. The reality is no one anticipated the level of water flow that evening. Some 800 tonnes of water was coming into the catchment area above the dams per second. At its peak, when the floods were at their worst in Cork city, some 535 tonnes or cubic metres had to be released through the dam into the city to avoid water spilling over the top of the dam. Having examined the graphs of the water levels on the dam, the management made a significant attempt to reduce the level of the lakes in anticipation of the heavy rainfall on Thursday evening. However, in spite of that they were forced to allow through the volume of water they believed necessary.

There was a communications problem between the ESB and the local authorities which trigger the emergency response. Communications broke down and did not work as they should. People were not informed as they should have been and if they had been, they could have availed of the opportunity to take things off the floor, move computers from the ground flood upstairs and so on in their businesses and homes. We could have done some things differently and we must ensure that the next time a proper communications stream between the ESB, local authorities, businesses and the public is in place such that there can be a realistic expectation of what is, literally, coming down the river. Let us learn the lessons and hold an honest, independent assessment of the performance. Let us not simply blame people but put in place a new management structure such that we cope better the next time.

I commend all those who responded so quickly at a local and national level to the terrible devastation caused by the flooding and rain in recent days. We have all witnessed the way in which Government agencies, community groups and volunteers have worked together to try to alleviate the problems experienced by people. Today, I met the emergency co-ordinating team which draws on everyone from Met Éireann to the Army and others. They are working around the clock to ensure we can anticipate where further difficulties may arise and to examine the impact of everything from the rainfall to the control of the water at ESB and other co-ordination issues.

The response is being seen and people on the ground appreciate it. One can talk about walls and bridges and dams, etc., but this is a human story. It has an impact on individuals and their families who have lost their belongings and whose homes have been affected. My Department, through the community welfare officers, is conscious of that. I acknowledge the fact that the community welfare officers in the affected areas did not go on strike today. They were available and set up special clinics to give people assistance.

The emergency needs payments and the urgent needs payments have existed for some time but in a case like this, one sees the demand and the response. People were immediately able to get financial assistance for things such as food and bedding and receive accommodation. We saw examples of the community welfare officers being able to provide temporary accommodation for up to 50 families in Cork, 74 families in Limerick and 120 families in Clonmel. The response was very swift without any form filling or bureaucracy. People say that is the last thing one needs when one is hit with such a crisis.

Other practical support was available, for example, families received dehumidifiers to try to dry out their houses. Our community welfare officers are there and able to give out this money. The fund is not confined nor is it a determined amount of money, but it is available to meet the needs of families and their homes. We recognise that only when the floods abate and the rain stops will we see the real extent of the devastation when people go back into their homes and start rebuilding their lives. Then they will realise what needs to be replaced. There will be some who do not have insurance and we want to reach them. That is why the Government announced the humanitarian fund today to provide assistance. It starts at €10 million.

How does one access it?

This will support people by providing the essentials they will need to rebuild their lives and homes whether furniture, carpets or the replacement of goods. We will start immediately setting out who might qualify for it and how and why.

How does one apply for it?

It is not the first time that we have had such a fund. We had one in 2004 to respond to the flooding in Clonakilty and Clonmel and in 2002 to respond to the flooding around the Tolka in Dublin. We have established a framework. We are anxious to draw on local knowledge, not just on the community welfare officers but the local authorities, whether the engineer, the town clerk depending on which was most appropriate, the local gardaí and the local social welfare office. There may be instances where those people could say that a whole estate was not insured because it was flooded before. That type of local knowledge is vital for us in distributing the fund.

We must give priority to those most in need, those who are homeless, who have children, who are elderly——

How do people apply for it?

Our intention is to distribute it through the community welfare officers. We have met today and will meet again tomorrow to set out exactly how to notify people about applying for this fund. People will only realise the real impact on their homes over the next few days and then they can fall back on this humanitarian assistance. Meanwhile, the exceptional needs and urgent needs funding is available immediately to provide the basics that people need.

We cannot, unfortunately, compensate in full or replace in full but we can support people in these difficult times. That is what we aim to do.

No one was injured or worse last weekend in Cork or in any other part of the country, thank God. I commend the way the people of Cork have managed in this difficult time without water and will continue to manage until Cork City Council restores supply. I do not recall ever in my life seeing rain such as fell last Thursday and Friday. It was unprecedented in the history of the city and the country and in Cork county as well. I recall flooding in Parnell Place, Oliver Plunkett Street and lower lying parts of Cork city, but never to the extent that we saw last weekend.

When the waters were released from the dam at Iniscarra, they completely submerged the waterworks at the Lee Road. I agree with Deputy Simon Coveney that the ESB had no option but to release those waters as they were about to go over the dam. If they had gone over the dam, they would have been uncontrolled whereas in the way that they were released they were controlled. The waterworks in Cork city have been in place for 250 years and have never been flooded or caused any difficulty. This event was a first in 250 years and I hope that we will not see something like it again.

I am afraid we will.

Six hours after the flooding Cork City Council and Cork County Council had tankers on the ground, thanks to Dairygold, Kerry Co-op and other private owners, to make water available and have it in place when the pipes in the city ran dry. The water shortage affected 2,000 homes on the south side of the city and 16,000 homes and businesses on the north side. Cork City Council and Cork County Council and the emergency services, the fire service, Civil Defence and the ambulance services, the Garda, the Army and the Naval Service all played, and are playing, a very significant role in dealing with this crisis. The community, volunteers, the members of the council and Deputies are all helping in this crisis.

I commend the gardaí and in particular Superintendent Con Carrigan of Gurranabraher who has received water supplies from Cork City Council and has organised runs to the vulnerable and older people in the community over the past few days. The emergency services and the people are looking after the vulnerable in Cork city. I welcome the visit of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Taoiseach to see the damage at first hand. I welcome what the Minister and Government have done today in making funding available. I commend all in the emergency services for the role they are playing. I hope that the water supply in Cork city will be restored by this weekend.

I rise in solidarity with my constituents in Galway east in the most devastating flood we have ever experienced. The flood levels are at their highest ever, higher than those in 1954. The people of Ballinasloe all the way into Beithe into Gort and north Galway, Abbeyknockmoy, Ballymoe, Williamstown and through Craughwell and Athenry are in a very serious state. Tonight, the flood levels have risen by seven feet at Kiltartan Roman Catholic Church in south Galway, famed in history and in literature. Animals are drowning in sheds. Water in the Rahasane Turlough, one of the foremost wildlife sanctuaries in the world, is rising rapidly and the people living on that stretch are very worried that they may not be able to survive tonight because the situation is so serious and tragic. I empathise and sympathise with all of the people. I thank the Taoiseach and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works for their huge commitment and for the hours they have come, early in the morning, late at night and during the day to stand with us in solidarity. It is critical that we address this situation now.

The Deputy said he would do it years ago.

I propose that the Government establish an inter-agency flood diversion commission at national, regional and local levels to deal once and for all with this situation. I am very pleased that the Government today allocated €10 million in humanitarian aid to deal with this situation.

The Deputy never did a thing.

I also propose the €3 million the Government sanctioned at my request in 2000, when we could not get agreement and some people sitting in this House led opposition to projects to deal with flooding——

The Deputy did nothing.

If the Deputy had spent the money, there would be no flooding.

We now have unity of purpose and I hope that money will be reallocated so that we can go ahead with the Dunkellin and Lavalley scheme which I initiated in 2000.

I also propose that a major national application be made to the European Commission for access to the European solidarity fund——

——in order to deal with humanitarian aid, research projects and a national diversion programme that is critical to our survival.

I will have to come back to Deputy Collins. He will have to be patient because I am trying to keep some order here.

Can the acting Chairman tell me if I am on in this slot?

I will take Deputies Pádraic McCormack, Jim O'Keeffe, Paul Connaughton, Tom Hayes and Pat Breen. They have two minutes each.

I acknowledge the great efforts of the emergency services and the volunteers who have been working so hard. People have had to leave their houses in my constituency, in areas such as Turloughmore and in Frenchfort.

The flooding in Galway has happened in three phases. In the 1990s, there was flooding but nothing was done in the aftermath, except a geographical survey at a cost of IR£400,000. In 1995, there was even worse flooding and afterwards the Government commissioned the Peach report, an English company that spent nine months in Ireland before producing a report for IR£1.2 million with no further action being taken. I blame the Government, particularly the Office of Public Works wildlife section. It has resisted every attempt by local communities to solve the problem.

In 1990, Kiltiernan national school, on the Galway to Gort road, between Kilcolgan and Ardrahan, was flooded. It was closed for six weeks and the children had to go to the hall in Labane. The village of Caheradoo was cut off for nine weeks with 6 ft. of water on the road, yet nothing was done about it. In desperation at the time, the local community, helped by me, set up an unofficial drainage scheme that drained the water to the sea at Killeenaran via Ballinderrin five miles away. I happened to be there yesterday and despite the fact that the flood level is 8 ft. higher than in 1995, the school was free of floods, the Caheradoo road was free and the system was working perfectly.

I invite the Minister to come down and see what the local community did on that occasion. I am disgusted and fed up with reports that we hear no more about once the water subsides. Action should be taken by the Government. When the local community did that scheme, it was resisted in every possible way by the Office of Public Works. The OPW even wrote to the manager and advised him that if he gave us a road opening licence, it would stop all grants for the next two years. That was the intimidation that went on but we continued and I invite anyone to see how well it works today. The OPW should allow more action so people can alleviate their own problems instead of finding excuses to stop it.

After a pothole burst a tyre on my way home to Bandon, I eventually got home on Thursday. It was the worst I have ever seen, Bandon town was like Venice, with the river in full flow through the main streets of the town. Other towns in west Cork, Skibbereen and Clonakilty, in particular, were similarly badly affected. There were some silver linings in that there were no deaths or serious injuries, there was unstinting work by the emergency services, and there was a wonderful spirit and neighbourly approach in local communities, where people came out to help people, giving out tea and soup and helping to clean out the muck and mess from the shops. All the rest, however, was dark clouds, smashed hopes, ruined aspirations, destroyed homes, broken and bankrupted businesses and a pall of desolation over large areas of south-west Cork, including many farms.

What can be done? I would like to see an advance on infrastructural projects that can assist with flooding, along the lines of the sewerage scheme in Bandon, that is ready to go to tender. Engineers tell me that will assist because of the separation of flood waters from sewerage waters. I am thinking of flood relief schemes like those in Mallow, which was effective. Could the similar scheme for Bandon be bumped up the list?

We should squeeze the EU solidarity fund. In 2002, when there were serious floods in Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic and France, the EU reacted immediately. Also, we must establish a decent disaster fund. When I heard about the €10 million fund today, I thought it was for Bandon alone, or possibly Bandon, Skibbereen and Clonakilty. It is not enough, despite the state of the Exchequer, and we should make a decent fund available.

County Galway tonight resembles a big, wet sock. It is dripping all over the place and we have 100 roads blocked across the county. This has never happened before. The one thing that is vital, be it €10 million, €20 million or €30 million, the people who need it most must get that help quickly. I agree with Deputy Ulick Burke that the Red Cross did an outstanding job ten years ago and I see no reason not to pull it into the equation.

I cannot understand where the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was. We saw the Taoiseach, we saw the Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh, and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, but there was no sign of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. As far as the farming community is concerned, it is time to stop farm inspections so these people can get out to evaluate how bad the fodder situation is so those who need to get fodder to keep their cattle going can apply to some scheme or other.

For those people in Ballinasloe who have never seen anything like the flooding tonight, the Government must ensure that those householders without insurance are given immediate access to whatever fund is set up.

We have seen at first hand in Clonmel the devastation. Carrick-on-Suir was a great success because of the work done there. It is a pity the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is gone because the fact of the matter is that the rivers, streams and water courses in the country have not been cleaned for 40 years. The problem lies on the beds of every river in the country. The Taoiseach spoke about it today but it has never been dealt with and that is the kernel of the matter as far as I am concerned. I live in the country beside the Suir and it is blocked up for miles.

Earlier today, I spoke to Seán Kelly, MEP. He has been in touch with the Commissioner for Regional Development who wants to come here if an application is made. We want clarification so we would know what the application would be for.

I will start with the words of a ten year old child rescued from the waters in Ennis on Thursday: "It was scary, it was really scary, all the water was everywhere. It was like our house was in a big puddle and all the water was going into the house, just going in and in and would not stop." Those are the words of Clodagh, a ten year old child who was rescued along with her mother and brother. There were 37 other families rescued along with them.

I met the Taoiseach yesterday when he travelled to see the devastation at first hand. I commend the work of the gardaí, the Civil Defence, the fire service, voluntary workers and groups who have helped out. In Ennis on Thursday, there were 42 millimetres of rain, with 36 millimetres in Shannon, compared to a norm of 6 millimetres in heavy rain. I never thought I would see waves over St. Flannan's College, which I saw on Thursday night when I assisted the emergency services.

Tonight we are on high alert again. The community of Sixmilebridge is divided in two, with the bridge cracked, which will cause huge problems for the area. There are huge problems in south-east Clare with the flooding and I appeal to ESB to be honest and let the authorities know when it is releasing water. It should do it early in the morning so the emergency services can see the devastation when Springfield and Clonlara are flooded.

This is the worst crisis ever seen in Clare and I hope the Government will offer some assistance. I have been told there is more to come.

Deputies Mattie McGrath, Booby Aylward and John Browne will share ten minutes.

I will be brief. I join with my colleagues in acknowledging and thanking the emergency services in Cork City and county, the gardaí, the Army, local authority workers, Civil Defence, the Ambulance Service, the HSE, the fire service and community leaders for their tremendous efforts. The emergency response team in the city under the leadership of Mr. Joe Gavin and the director of services, Ms Valerie O'Sullivan, and in the county under the leadership of Mr. Martin Riordan, the county manager, are doing an exceptionally good job under extremely difficult circumstances. The first priority must be to restore the water supply for up to 18,000 people in Cork city, including Deputy Kathleen Lynch, and to assess the damage to homes in order that people can return to them as quickly as possible and also to assess damage to businesses.

Very soon the focus will shift to the cost of the damage which has been caused. In August 2008, flood damage amounted to €100 million in terms of insurance claims but it will be a multiple of that amount on this occasion. The response and behaviour of the insurance companies must be closely monitored in terms of dealing with claims promptly and that they do not use it as an excuse for hiking up insurance premia next year and that they do not refuse insurance cover to people next year who have been affected by floods this year. The focus will shift very quickly on to those key issues and we have to ensure that is dealt with and that people have the right to report any anomalies in terms of the processing of insurance claims to the financial services ombudsman.

I join in the welcome in Galway to the Taoiseach, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, and the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Martin Mansergh, where great work was done by the emergency services and the voluntary sector. I propose that the Office of Public Works take the lead role in these situations with due respect to the parks and wildlife service and the fisheries bodies. I suggest the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, look at the work that has just been finished on the River Nanny in north Galway which was overseen by the Office of Public Works. There is a need to manage our rivers, hence the reason for setting up the sub-drainage boards, including the River Fergus drainage board. I would like to see more such work. I have seen what has happened in Abbeyknockmoy, Ballymoe in north Galway, where the River Shiven burst its banks in Newbridge in Ballinamorebridge, and the town of Ballinasloe where there was tremendous hardship. Effectively, people were cut off from Galway city were it not for the fact that the new motorway was opened ahead of time for which great credit is due.

I met members of the IFA who made clear to me the need to widen to Dunkellin River and put in place new bridges and the need to finish off the work on the Kiltiernan-Ballinderreen scheme which started in 1994. I hope the funding in place will help individual families, business people and particularly the farming community who suffered major losses. I welcome the debate today and I hope we get some answers so that we can say to our constituents what the Office of Public Works will do in the future and what funding will be provided by the Government.

I join with my colleagues and thank God nobody was badly injured or killed. However, I have some serious issues to raise about the situation in my constituency. I thank the statutory authorities, the gardaí, Civil Defence, the Army in the barracks in Clonmel, the fire service, local authority staff and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for the huge effort they have put in from Thursday night last, following a meeting which I attended, when a major plan was put in place under the guidance of Supt. Eunan Dolan. Thankfully everybody concerned was rescued and brought to safety and food and other essential items provided. There was flooding not only in Clonmel but in Ardfinnan upstream and in Knockavilla which resulted from bad planning. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, alluded to that during the weekend. I commend him, the Taoiseach and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, on their visits to different areas and empathising with the people. There are many issues that have to be dealt with.

As Deputy Tom Hayes said, it is futile that the rivers are not being drained and the basins cleaned. Many people objected to such work in Clonmel when the scheme was under way. These objections will have to be overruled in future because people's properties and homes that have been flooded seven or eight times are far more important to me as a public representative than some other issues about what might be at the bottom of the river. Older and wiser people always did that work when they had only the horse and cart and shovels. If we cannot be done now with earth moving equipment, we must re-evaluate and change our attitudes on some of these situations.

I am glad of the opportunity to add my voice to the concerns in regard to the devastation that has taken place in the past week due to the bad weather conditions. I am pleased to welcome the two Ministers with responsibility in this area, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, and the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh. In my constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny there was much devastation, particularly in Carlow town and in many other small towns in Carlow and Thomastown in south Kilkenny.

On Friday last, I had to visit five families with young children in rural areas who were flooded. If and when funding becomes available, I hope these rural areas will not be forgotten. I realise that Carlow and cities such as Cork and Galway have suffered enormously. People whose houses were never flooded previously had to move out of their houses. I ask that all local authorities carry out a survey to ascertain why the flooding took place and that any funding that becomes available would be directed towards those areas.

I wish to put on record the constant fear of the people of Enniscorthy every time the River Slaney overflows which has happened on a regular basis in recent years. Again last weekend, the River Slaney overflowed and both quays were flooded, causing severe damage to business property and houses. The Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, visited Enniscorthy last year and announced a new scheme for the town and I ask him to move it on. There is a need for a public meeting between the local authority, the Office of Public Works and the local people to agree on the best way forward. The OPW announced the plan without any consultation or dialogue with the local people and as a result nothing has happened.

I ask the Minister, in conjunction with the Wexford county manager, Mr. Eddie Breen, to agree a plan for the future. I pay tribute to the great work done by Wexford County Council and Enniscorthy Town Council last weekend. There is a serious need to progress with the plan to ensure that people particularly on the island road in Enniscorthy, where many elderly people live, are not barricaded in their houses every time there is a heavy rainfall in the south east. This is not good enough. I ask the Minister to look at the issue of compensation for shopkeepers and those whose premises were severely damaged last weekend.

I thank the Chair for affording me this opportunity to speak. I express my sympathy to all those who have been displaced as a result of the recent flooding. During the August bank holiday weekend in 2008, the town of Newcastlewest was completely swamped by a flood and hundreds of thousands of euro worth of damage was caused to businesses and residents alike. In the aftermath of the event, it was described as a one in 650 year event and the likelihood of a recurrence was in about 650 years' time.

I wish to make two points. First, constituents of mine were denied humanitarian aid and assistance by the authorities at the time. I ask that the people of Newcastlewest who are still out of pocket be afforded the opportunity to apply to the fund which is being established today. The second point concerns the response of the local authorities. Limerick County Council, in partnership with the emergency service, did not implement the major emergency plan, the definition of which is "beyond the normal capacity of the emergency services", in August 2008 and no answers were given. In the aftermath of the current event, I ask that a full review be undertaken of the performance of all the major emergency plans which have kicked in up and down the country and to include the reason the major emergency plan was not put into effect in Newcastlecast, County Limerick, in August 2008 and that those who are still out of pocket be afforded the opportunity to apply for humanitarian assistance which is still outstanding.

I call Deputy Seán Sherlock.

I understand I have five minutes and that I am sharing time with——

The Deputy has five minutes. I understand he is sharing time with Deputy Tuffy, who has another five minutes.

I refer to the praise meted out to the Fourth Estate. My colleagues may have inadvertently forgotten to mention Jonathan Healy of Newstalk, Ralph Riegel of the Irish Independent, Barry Roche of The Irish Times, and all the staff in the Evening Echo.

(Interruptions).

Paschal Sheehy may have been on holidays but I understand he was here with us in spirit.

I hail from the town of Mallow, which is in the flood plain. Mallow has been flooding since Adam was a boy but the events of recent days have proven that the flood alleviation works have worked very well for the town. The flood defences for the first phase worked extremely well. It is important to acknowledge when work is carried out successfully.

Deputy Sherlock must be going for the Presidency.

I humbly give praise to the members of Mallow Town Council and its staff. I refer to George O'Malley and the lads who put on the oilskins and go out year after year when flooding occurs. There is no fuss. They just get on with the job because that is what they do. They do not want praise for it but that work is worthy of acknowledgement because they do it year in, year out. This year they were out with the demountable walls, working with the area and town engineers, and had those defences up in no time. That must be acknowledged also.

I acknowledge the Minister's statement on the start of phase one in Fermoy but issues remain concerning the clean-up there. At the risk of being parochial, both sides of the river, particularly at Rathealy Road, Francis Street, Thomas Street, Greenhill and Brian Boru Square on the north side, are all badly affected. If some form of aid is to be made available, I ask that those residents be eligible for it, as should the people on the south side, particularly at Ashe Quay, the mart road, O'Neill Crowley Quay, Elbow Lane and Tallow Road, which were all badly hit. It has been said to me that the Fermoy flood was the worst in the past 25 years. That should be on the record because while we agree the works will commence shortly in Fermoy, some damage remains arising from the flood works in that area. I ask the Department to examine the damage that has been done and look favourably on the residents and the businesses in that area.

There is a stoicism among people who are born in the flood, so to speak. They get on with life and do the business, but what seems to have characterised the flood events throughout the rest of the country is that they would not normally occur in those areas. While we will deal with the problems in Fermoy and Mallow, and I visited south Galway at the weekend to see the damage done, it is vital that other parts of the country are examined in the same way as Mallow and Fermoy.

It is important that the flood alleviation works due to be carried out in Fermoy do not compromise the amenity that is the rowing club. There are proposals to carry out works on the weir on the Blackwater in Fermoy but we are concerned they will have a negative impact on the rowing club. I am aware the Minister made some public statements about that in recent days and I hope he will look favourably on the fact that there is a rowing club in the area and that this amenity cannot be compromised in any way.

It is particularly ironic that some members of the Fianna Fáil Party blame the flooding events on bad planning in certain parts of the country. They might revisit some of their statements in that sense.

Flooding is not a new phenomenon. People might say that is obvious but sometimes we need to remind ourselves of it. It happens as a consequence of the weather which, particularly in Ireland, is predictable in its unpredictability. Many factors cause flooding. In recent years, we hear much mention of the issue of climate change but there is no proven link between our recent floods and climate change. It may become a factor in the future and is obviously something we must prepare for and adapt to, but there are other factors including development and rainfall amounts. In November 2000, flooding occurred in Lucan. Rain had fallen throughout the month followed by even heavier rain. The ground became saturated and the water had nowhere to go. My understanding is that the current flooding throughout the country has been caused by similar conditions in that a lot of rain fell this month and the water had nowhere to go.

Flooding is a fact of life. It happens every year in different areas and at different times. Last August, very severe flooding occurred in parts of the country. Our approach has tended to be reactive. The flood policy review group said our policy was reactive and that we needed to manage the risk of flood, be prepared, minimise the damage and, where possible, avoid flood risk.

Bad planning decisions were made in the past but it would be difficult to build without creating some flood risk. Populations increase. We have families and therefore houses must be built, but we must implement measures to minimise the flood risk that comes with development, which is a problem with which we must deal.

The flood policy review group, which is under the auspices of the Office of Public Works, reported in 2004. That is Government policy and we should implement it. It is good policy. To be fair, good work has been done including the flood mapping and the other aspects the Minister mentioned, but it has been slow. For example, Goodbody did a report for the OPW in 2008 and it has highlighted the fact that the implementation of that report has been slow and that there had been inadequate resourcing of it.

I raise the issue of humanitarian assistance. When flooding occurred in Lucan some years ago, money was provided through the Irish Red Cross. The flood policy review group recommended that the Government use the community welfare officers network to provide that funding for hardship but I am not sure that is a good idea. Many people experiencing hardship as a result of the flooding have never been to a community welfare officer and might believe there is a stigma attached to going to these officers. In terms of this issue, I do not believe community welfare officers are sufficiently experienced or trained to make a judgment on whether someone should get funding.

Under the Commissioners of Public Works (Functions and Powers) Act 1996, the OPW has the power to make schemes or other arrangements for the provision of assistance whether in the form of money, accommodation and so on to those who have suffered by reason of flooding. There is much to be said for having an agency like that or the Irish Red Cross administering the humanitarian scheme, and it should not be something that is announced a few days after an event. There should be a standing hardship scheme for people who experience flooding and it should be topped up by the Government when extreme flooding occurs.

On the issue of staffing, the Goodbody report for the OPW found that a major problem in terms of the delay of delivery of flood relief schemes, which, as Deputy Sherlock said, work and are a necessary part of Government policy, is manpower deficiencies. It took a long time for the OPW to get the 30 extra staff it was promised to help it with its work on flood management. A total of 4,000 jobs have been lost in local authorities throughout the country. A total of 500 people were let go in Cork County Council. Those are the conditions in which the council has had to work. As other speakers said, the work on flood relief by the various agencies has been sterling, but they have been doing it under pressure and with far fewer staff than they had a year ago. That issue must be addressed. There must be flexibility. The Government should provide extra funding to the local authorities that need them and they should be allowed to employ additional personnel if it is necessary to do so.

Both the flood policy review group and the Goodbody reports found there has been under-spend on flood relief over the years. We need sustained, adequate and strategic funding for flood relief schemes because they work.

Without realising it, we have brought about a change in Dáil procedures. We talk about innovation, but we are being innovative in what we are doing now. Members have travelled here from where they live, having observed the conditions in their home areas. They will speak in the Chamber for two or three minutes and telling it as it is. That is a remarkable change. I travelled up to the House today and, therefore, I do not know how this has come about.

(Interruptions).

I listened to all the Opposition speakers' woes and I want my chance to speak.

The Deputy has literally a minute and half remaining. Allow her to continue without interruption.

I commend whoever proposed the taking of this business because it makes a change.

We have all been used to floods. The people in Athlone have experienced them for many years and 1954 is the year against which all subsequent floods in Athlone are benchmarked. As a result of the flooding that has taken place in Athlone on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and today, the water is now 3 ft. above the high water mark of the 1954 floods. I was out today with a friend of mine who spoke to me of the sheer terror that has gripped the town. The flooding has spread from Parnell Square into The Park, Deerpark Road, Wolfe Tone Terrace, Clonown Road, The Strand, Carrick O'Brien Road, Golden Island and numerous other areas, and the River Shannon is still rising.

Deputy Joanna Tuffy correctly pointed out that floods are a natural phenomenon, if one wants to take that perspective, but they are not natural where they subsume houses and leave people terror stricken. I saw the abject misery and sadness on people's faces today as they were washed out of their homes. Their Christmas cards and Christmas boxes for their children were all floating in the water. They cannot get in or out of their houses. The sheds in which their central heating boilers are located in the back of older houses are completely flooded and those central heating systems are now useless. I do not know how people will cope.

I welcome the humanitarian assistance. It is a good initiative. Community welfare officers are good at their jobs. The Red Cross, on the last occasion, made a great input and distributed relief in a very professional fashion. Perhaps there could be a marriage of community welfare officers and the Red Cross to distribute relief.

I ask that the Minister, Deputy John Gormley, and Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh, visit Athlone on Friday. I would welcome them and bring them around the town and show them how it has been affected by the floods.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. An unprecedented weather event has taken place. It has had a devastating effect on many parts of County Clare and, in particular, on our county town. Those of us who have had an opportunity to visit the sites that have been flooded — I believe all the Oireachtas Members in the House have done that during the past few days — have seen the trauma many families are going through. Thankfully, counselling is being given to some people and, without a doubt, it is necessary. To see middle-aged and elderly men crying at the devastation that has befallen their families is very difficult to witness. Unfortunately, we have had to witness that and we must now work with those families to try to help them not only to rebuild their houses, but their homes and their lives. I am thankful that the Government has moved today with the introduction of what I believe is the first phase of relief, through the provision of humanitarian aid, to take people immediately out of the crisis they face. Further funding will be required to ensure that a similar event will not recur or at least that we will work to prevent, in so far as is possible, such an event recurring.

I am thankful to the Minister, Deputy John Gormley, the Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh, and the Taoiseach who visited Ennis and other sites where there is flooding in County Clare over the weekend to see at first hand the crisis citizens and constituents have faced. I am thankful for that.

It would be remiss of me not to recognise the tremendous effort made by the pre-arranged emergency services through the co-ordination of the county council. The local county council manager, Mr. Tom Coughlan, has done a fantastic job in conjunction with superintendent John Scanlon and captain Mick Hickey and officer Adrian Kelly from the fire service. Collectively, they have co-ordinated, through the multi-agency approach, an exceptionally well-designed and well-executed emergency plan. I have seen it at first hand in many of the sites that have been flooded over the weekend. I have seen people being evacuated in a very careful and controlled way, with efforts made to limit the difficulties they have encountered.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, who has responsibility for the OPW, for the work the OPW has done, but I appeal to him to recognise there will be an ongoing need to build defences in the areas that have been identified this time, the lack of which contributed to much of the flooding. I hope we will have an opportunity to discuss this matter in the House again and that I will have an opportunity to lead a delegation along with Deputies Pat Breen and Joe Carey and the Minister of State, Deputy Tony Killeen, to the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, to put forward what is needed in County Clare to prevent further flooding.

I join colleagues in expressing sympathy to all those who have suffered as a result of the flooding and from the very serious disruptions to their homes, businesses and to life in general throughout the country, particularly in Cork city and county, which has experienced unprecedented flooding of a kind never experienced before. That is the key point. People have asked what happened. One fundamental thing happened — more rain fell that Thursday afternoon in a short timeframe than ever fell before. That is fundamental to the impact of the rainfall on the dam, the release of water and the subsequent flooding.

Cork is a low lying area. I recall that during my childhood areas of city island were always flooded when there was a high tide and so on, but the area where there is flooding on this occasion is one that has never experienced flooding. I have been told that shops in that area for more than 50 years have not experienced flooding. There was a breach of the quay wall in Grenville Place, which was unprecedented such was the force of the water. The flow of the water cascaded down through businesses and inner city housing. The conditions were so grave at 3 a.m. on Friday that consideration was given to the evacuation of the entire Mercy Hospital. Only for the sandbagging which held the wall at that location, that was a real possibility. The accident and emergency department and the lower floor had to be evacuated and equipment had to be moved to the upper floor. That raises other fundamental question down the line.

Only for the intervention of the front line services a greater catastrophe would have unfolded. We must remember that the front line services have to prioritise. People will have concerns and will complain, but the bottom line is that no life was lost. That is something for which we must be thankful and for which we need to pay tribute to the front line services. The loss of life was a very real possibility, given the enormous volume of water released into the city. Up to 800 tonnes of water per second was flowing at one stage. It was unprecedented. The ESB has described it to the city manager as a one in 800 year event. There has been incredible damage to houses. The county library was open that Friday. It is a €20 million building and everything in it was destroyed, the library archives and so on. UCC is facing damage of between €15 million to €20 million. It has lost one fifth of its space in terms of provision for lecture theatres and 2,000 students have been left without accommodation. These are very severe impacts that we have to take on board.

My main concern is to try to restore water as quickly as possible to the approximately 18,000 houses that do not have water, predominately on the north side of the city. There is a public health concern in that respect and we have to be mindful and attentive to that. The communications issue Deputy Ciarán Lynch raised is a valid one. There needs to be mass communication to the people in terms of the next steps to be taken, what is happening and the steps we should take in terms of safeguarding public health.

I appreciate the contributions by the Minister, Deputy John Gormley, and the Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh. The major initiative on the Lee catchment area, the draft flood risk management plan, needs to accelerated and the necessary steps taken. The overarching issue is that climate change is with us. It is a here and now issue, and not something that will happen in future. That has a dramatic impact on mindsets within local authorities. I do not believe it has sunk through yet, excuse the pun. In terms of thinking, I would ask what is the priority of any council. The priority of the city council in Cork should be the protection of the city from here on in terms of quay walls and bridges because there will be many more such events. Irish Aid has examined the global incidents of major weather catastrophes. The number of such incidents has increased by more than 160% in more than a decade. That is the type of incident of which we will see more. Therefore, we have to change the prioritisation of issues for the future to protect against flooding. I appreciate the humanitarian aid that is being made available. The Lee treatment works have been there for 250 years. Hindsight is a great virtue, but we are all claiming hindsight of 250 years with regard to it. However, its location beneath the dam is an issue for the future.

Thank you. I call Deputy Joe Carey.

That was a very fast four and a half minutes.

The rest of the speakers have one or two minutes each.

I wish to record my thanks to the emergency services in County Clare and compliment the inter-agency approach that was taken in setting up a telephone number to deal with all queries in Ennis and the rest of the county. Undoubtedly, this has been the worst flooding in living memory. Parts of Ennis which are flooded now were never flooded previously. I acknowledge the fact that the Taoiseach, the Minister, Deputy John Gormley, and the Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh, visited Ennis.

Huge mistakes have been made in Ennis. The flood relief scheme which is under construction nearly pushed the water further up to Francis Street and Abbey Street. The water caused utter devastation for businesses and the residents who were evacuated. I compliment the 20 Army personnel and five vehicles that were made available. Probably more should have been provided because the emergency personnel were under huge pressure. Sandbags were in short supply and there are no pumps in the town of Ennis or throughout County Clare to pump water out. Tonight, a woman from Elm Park told me on the telephone that her house is surrounded by water. She does not know what to do. There is sewage in the water and she fears it will get into her house.

The Minister must make himself available to the people of County Clare and hold an urgent meeting to decide what can be done. He must give some assurance to them that this will never happen again.

It has been harrowing to see the damage to houses, businesses and farms and how upset people are in the areas affected. I compliment the staff of the local authorities and emergency services on their work. My home town of Boyle, Carrick-on-Shannon, which is virtually under water, and Rooskey have been dealing with this for the last four or five days. The Minister visited all parts of the country but the people of the towns I mentioned were hurt and upset that he did not visit that area to see the damage that has been done. I hope he and the Taoiseach will visit the area at the earliest opportunity. The people genuinely felt let down that the Minister did not come further north of the Shannon.

Many people have said that locks should have been opened. They want an independent investigation of what happened, and I hope that will take place. A flood management system must be provided in the area. People are very concerned that there will be no compensation. I hope that something similar to what was organised with the Irish Red Cross in 1995 will be put in place to provide compensation to the people affected. They need hope and help. Deputies and councillors travelling through the area tried to give them hope in this desperate situation. I urge the Minister to come to the area at the earliest opportunity to see the damage.

I represent the people of west Cork, particularly the people of Bandon, Skibbereen and Clonakilty, who have been so badly affected by flooding since last Thursday. In Bandon, one could have sailed a boat up and down the town. The same was true of Skibbereen. This is due to the lack of dredging and clearing of the River Bandon and the River Ilen in Skibbereen. Fifteen years ago, Cork County Council made an application to the Department for funding to carry out that work, but nothing has been done about it since then. In fact, I ploughed into 4.5 ft. of water on the main Ballineen-Dunmanway road last Thursday night on my journey home. Fortunately, I was able to reverse and take a detour. I arrived in Skibbereen to find the Irish Red Cross, the fire brigade and other services with all roads into the town blocked. It took me three and a half hours to get from Cork city to Goleen, a journey I usually complete in one and a half hours.

An early warning system is needed, especially for the rivers that have dams, the Inniscarra and Parteen. They must be monitored every 24 hours and the water let down to a level to prevent flooding. If that had been done, there would not have been the catastrophe that befell the County Hall and the Kingsley Hotel in Cork. They are beyond redemption.

I commend the emergency services who responded to the flooding in Enniscorthy on Thursday and Friday last week. There are ways to alleviate the problem of flooding. The former Minister of State, Deputy John Browne, referred earlier to the dredging of the River Slaney in Enniscorthy and what the Office of Public Works proposes to do in building flood barrier walls without any consultation with the general public or local business people. It just rolled over the general public in Enniscorthy.

There are many organisations involved if one wishes to get rivers dredged — the parks and wildlife service, the Office of Public Works, the county council, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the fisheries boards. These are mind-boggling organisations. A critical infrastructure Bill was introduced in this House a number of years ago. A similar Bill should be introduced to provide for dredging rivers, which would alleviate the problems that occurred in Enniscorthy, and to stop all these do-gooder organisations who have been trying to prevent the dredging of rivers. Dredging rivers throughout the country, including the river in my constituency, would alleviate many of the problems, rather than erecting flood barrier walls to drive the river waters further down onto landowners.

I sympathise with my constituents in Shannon Banks, Castleconnell and Montpelier who had their homes and lands flooded. I also sympathise with those who will not sleep tonight, especially in Westbury, as the Shannon continues to rise. It is a very serious issue.

The ESB controls the level of the water in the Shannon from Parteen to Limerick city and beyond. The protocols that govern its behaviour must be re-examined with regard to how it co-ordinates with the local authorities and particularly how it communicates with local residents. The interchange of information with local authorities is good, but the information does not always reach the residents in sufficient time to allay their fears or allow them to make arrangements to move out. Perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh, would restore the programmes that existed in the past for carrying out small works on rivers, such as removing fallen trees, cutting overhanging branches which frequently impede the flow of water by 30% to 35%, taking the silt from river beds, repairing broken levees, clearing culverts and the other small works that were habitually carried out 30 and 40 years ago but which do not appear to be carried out anymore. That has a huge effect.

Finally, I hope that whoever administers the financial package will do it equitably in all areas and among all victims. This did not always happen in the past. It must be seen to be fair, whatever the smallness or largesse of the package.

I thank my colleagues, Deputy Enda Kenny and Deputy Phil Hogan, for forcing this important debate. I am disappointed and angry that the Taoiseach and the Green Party did not see fit to recall the Dáil over the weekend to deal with this issue. I sympathise with the people throughout the country whose farms, homes and businesses have been flooded.

My constituents are victims of the Government's failure to deal effectively with the management of the River Shannon. I have advocated better management of the River Shannon in both this House and the Seanad and have outlined my proposals for the establishment of a River Shannon authority. Such legislation is essential for the protection of those who live in proximity to the river, which divides the east from the west of the country. It is urgent that a River Shannon authority be established by statute. Such an authority was promised by some Members of the House as long ago as 1981, but it has not happened.

(Interruptions).

I would like the Deputy to recall what she promised 800 people at a public meeting in Athlone back in 1991. This is something that has not happened. It is why so many people are victims of serious flooding today. The key to alleviating flooding for those in rural areas is to maintain waterways. Several Members have spoken about cleaning and dredging rivers, but this has not happened since the arterial drainage scheme of the 1960s. It is shameful for the Government to have neglected the people of this country. Ministers come in here and shed crocodile tears and pretend that they are doing something, but they are doing nothing.

Deputy Bannon never got to Athlone.

We must move on to questions.

We would have had no debate here this evening but for the intervention of our party leader, Deputy Enda Kenny. I am disappointed that four Deputies from my constituency have not come here this evening.

Why did Deputy Bannon not come to Athlone?

I ask Deputy O'Rourke not to interrupt. Members should recall the seriousness of the matters we are discussing.

We now have some time for questions. I would ask Members to be concise in putting their questions. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, or any other Minister, may respond on behalf of the Government. I call Deputy Phil Hogan to put the first question.

I have a number of questions. I welcome the fact that the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works has said he agrees with Fine Gael's view that an early-warning system is required.

When will the consultants be appointed and what timescale does he have in mind for implementing that scheme? Early intervention is critical for people at this stage. The Minister for Social and Family Affairs should recognise that community welfare officers are already overburdened with work. Perhaps another mechanism could be used, such as the Red Cross or other organisations, to implement humanitarian assistance.

Will the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government agree with our suggestion to assess independently the protocols on communication or other matters that obviously fell down in some places in respect of the heavy rainfall? Will he put in place the necessary protocols to ensure that this does not happen again?

I believe that the consultants will be appointed in the next couple of months. It is a vital priority. The events of the last five days mean that we will have to reassess everything we do in two ways — first, to see what matters we can accelerate and, second, to see what gaps are appearing in the system and which we have not fully taken account of. What has happened is by far the worst flooding incident in the country that I can remember, so we must act quickly. In fairness, it should be mentioned that public representatives — including Deputies and Senators, as well as town and county councillors — are among those who have rendered assistance throughout the country.

Deputy Hogan raised the question of communication. I am glad his colleague, Deputy Coveney, put on record the situation regarding the ESB's Inniscarra station, which was clearly unprecedented. Deputy Coveney had a 90-minute meeting with the ESB representatives. Deputy Hogan will understand at this stage that his colleague's version is correct.

I do not accept that any version is correct until it is independently assessed.

The Deputy is correct. There will be an assessment. The national director for fire and emergency management, Mr. Seán Hogan, will revert to me with his assessment of the situation. We will look at all aspects of this matter. Clearly, we must learn lessons every time such a situation arises, even though we have not experienced this sort of rainfall in the past. I do not agree with Deputy Tuffy who said that this has nothing to do with climate change. Her own colleague, Deputy Lynch, had a different view on that.

The Minister should provide a brief reply as I have a long list of Members who wish to put questions.

The fact is that while one cannot actually prove a causal link, it is clear that this is entirely consistent with all the scientific evidence we are now getting. I have produced report after report on that.

There will be some kind of investigation into exactly what occurred and we will wait to see what the fallout from that is. I want to ask the Minister about the hardship fund. Can we take it that the criteria for means testing money from community welfare officers will not apply in this case? Can we ensure that they will not apply? People are at a huge loss through flood damage to their homes, furniture and clothing. In the run up to Christmas, it would be grossly unfair to place the type of restrictions that normally apply to funds provided by community welfare officers.

It is a hardship fund so some element of means testing must be involved. Nonetheless, I accept what previous speakers said about having too much bureaucracy. We will try to avoid that. In answer to Deputy Hogan's point, I believe that community welfare officers are the right people to do this work because they have local knowledge. Good and all as the Red Cross is, it is not locally based. It is intended that community welfare officers, in conjunction with local authorities and local gardaí, will be able to identify real needs. They will be able to assist us in that regard. We intend to set up that system quickly so that we can respond immediately. In that context, we will have to prioritise older people, parents with young children and those who have been made homeless as a result of the floods. Those are our priorities.

The last time we had a flood like this in Cork, we got relief.

It is not fair for the Deputy to intervene twice because other Deputies want to contribute. I call Deputy Denis Naughten.

I have a couple of brief questions. First, I am surprised that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food did not make a contribution during the debate, given the impact the floods are having on the agricultural sector.

He was here earlier.

He was here but he did not make a contribution. Can someone explain the criteria that apply to the €2 million fund for agriculture, given that the Minister was not prepared to make any comment regarding it?

My second question is for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Law Reform. Will an immediate capital budget be made available to replace embankments and raise road surfaces for marooned communities?

Can the Minister for Social and Family Affairs say whether the hardship fund will include, or exclude, businesses that may not have insurance cover because of serious flooding in the past? Will there be geographic restrictions on the hardship fund, as was the case in the past? There have been some serious hardship cases in my constituency of Roscommon-South Leitrim.

I cannot allow multiple questions. It is not fair to other Deputies.

I have two final questions.

The Deputy should not ignore the Chair. Deputies should prioritise their questions before they are called. I call the Minister.

In the past, that fund has not supported businesses because they normally have insurance cover.

We will have to assess those to see what the need is, but it is intended as a humanitarian fund for individuals and families. It is not our intention that the fund would be restricted geographically, but we will be doing an immediate assessment of the requirements. It is only when the floods abate that we will see the genuine need for replacement of goods and furniture. Urgent needs are being met now by community welfare officers. People can get exceptional and urgent needs payments to cover food, bedding and accommodation. The humanitarian fund will be able to help people in the longer term. In a few months time that fund will still be there for people.

The Deputy asked about the €2 million agricultural fund. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food intends to target that fund as a support for fodder where particular difficulties arise.

Flood defence work falls to the OPW. We are expecting applications to be made before the end of the year.

With regard to other infrastructure, it is difficult to provide answers in the abstract. We will be working with the local authorities and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on a case-by-case basis in order to establish who should assume responsibility.

The Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, stated that development on flood plains should be avoided, where possible, and that development should mitigate, not add to, existing risk. Mallow Town Park is located on a flood plain. It was owned by the Jephson family, which also owned Mallow Castle. A descendant of that family sought to have the Mallow town development plan materially contravened in order that the land within the flood plain might be developed. There has been a constant battle on Mallow Town Council in respect of this matter. The people of Mallow want to ensure that the park will be held by them in perpetuity for the common good. In light of the Minister of State's comments, will the Government entertain the possibility of compulsorily purchasing the land in question in order that it might be held for the people?

That is a question in respect of which the Deputy would be obliged to provide proper notice. Does the Minister of State wish to reply or does he wish to take note of the Deputy's question and respond in due course?

I am familiar with the matter to which the Deputy refers. We will be obliged to take a more rigorous attitude in respect of issues such as this. People appear to be of the view that if they own land, then they must be allowed to pursue any development opportunities relating to it. The flood guidelines will allow us to take a more rigorous approach. I hope these guidelines will be applied not only by local authorities, but also by An Bord Pleanála.

Will the Minister and Minister of State make a commitment that the two rivers in my constituency, namely, the River Ilen, which runs through Skibbereen, and the River Bandon, which runs from Dunmanway to Bandon town, will be dredged? The banks of the River Bandon are completely overgrown with brambles, etc., and have collapsed at certain points.

The Deputy has already contributed to the debate. He should ask a question.

The rivers to which I refer no longer flow through their natural channels.

There is money available for minor works. Cork County Council will need to apply to the OPW in order to obtain funding to facilitate the carrying out of such works.

The Minister of State will be receiving that application any day now.

Will the Minister for Social and Family Affairs——

(Interruptions).

Deputy Burke is being prevented from asking a question by members of his own party.

——reconsider involving the Red Cross in Mayo and Galway, which has such a proven record in the context of carrying out assessments and delivering funding? Community welfare officers are already dealing with major backlogs. People in Loughrea were obliged to queue in the rain in order to see their local officer. Will the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government provide assurances that those assessing claims are properly trained and familiar with the task required of them?

I accept that community welfare officers are under a great deal of pressure and I recognise that they will require further resources in order to be in a position to administer the fund. My Department, in conjunction with the groups to which I referred earlier, will consider the level of resources required and the mechanisms best suited to delivering the money.

The training of insurance assessors has nothing to do with my Department. It is quite a separate matter.

Will the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government prevent officers of his Department sneaking around and checking whether farms, marts, etc., are disposing of surplus water from their slatted sheds? This water must be disposed of because cattle cannot lie down. Why is there such resistance on the part of the OPW to local groups which have put forward obvious solutions in the context of draining their areas through suitable outfalls? I am aware, from personal experience, that every possible obstacle is placed in people's way in this regard. The groups to which I refer possess the knowledge and know-how to allow them to solve problems in their areas.

On the first point, I attended a Council meeting last week at which the European Court of Auditors presented a report which shows that there has been an improvement in the level of transparency and accountability relating to the spending of agricultural funding. This should, perhaps, contribute to lessening the need that exists in the context of the matter to which the Deputy refers.

What does that mean?

We are always ready to meet and listen to local groups. The National Parks and Wildlife Service has not been part of the OPW for some time.

Thanks be to God for that.

We must be realistic with regard to this matter. As various contributors to the debate indicated, there are different interests involved, such as boat clubs, fishermen and environmentalists. We must consider what is the correct balance in respect of these. In light of the disaster by which we have been affected, an element of rebalancing may be required.

What was the answer to the first question I posed?

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government referred to the major emergency management plan and protocols relating thereto. I accept in advance that he may not be in immediate possession of the information I am about to request and I am prepared to have it sent to me at a later date. What consideration was given to managing the flow of water through the Inniscarra dam when formulating the risk assessment in respect of Cork city and its environs? What risks were identified in the relevant document and, given that Cork has always been susceptible to flooding, what plans were put in place in this regard? In the context of the major emergency management plan, what equipment was recommended to the local authority and fire service in the context of managing the anticipated flooding of the Cork area?

These type of specific questions are not appropriate.

They are appropriate.

They are not appropriate in the absence of sufficient notice.

Is the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in a position to confirm that in response to a request from members of the fire service regarding the provision of heavy-volume pumps to deal with emergencies such as that which occurred at the flooded pumping station in Cork city, he advised that this equipment could be borrowed from either the OPW or the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service? Can he confirm that the OPW possesses such equipment?

I am trying to procure the information requested by the Deputy. The OPW does possess the pumps to which he refers. I will obtain for him a full assessment in respect of the other equipment that was requested. I have no knowledge of some of the claims the Deputy is making.

I did not make claims, I asked questions.

There is a certain implication in the Deputy's questions. I will be happy to procure for him the information he has requested. We will be carrying out an assessment in the coming days. Mr. Seán Hogan from the national directorate for fire and emergency management, who is present in the Chamber, will assist me in compiling the relevant information and forwarding it to the Deputy.

I have a list of speakers which includes Deputies Joe Carey, Pat Breen, Tom Hayes, Seymour Crawford, James Bannon, Mary O'Rourke, Frank Feighan and Dan Neville.

What about Deputy Joanna Tuffy?

I will add her name to the list. I intend to call on Deputies in the order in which their names appear on the list. In such circumstances, I call Deputy Joe Carey.

I visited the West County Hotel in Ennis on Sunday last and I met people who had been evacuated from their homes. The major concern expressed by those of them who live in local authority housing is that, in the aftermath of the floods, the Government will not provide funding to the councils in order that their homes might be refurbished. Their concerns are well founded because Ennis Town Council has been cash starved by the Government. If one is looking for a door or a window, one must make a contribution. Will the Minister make a commitment to provide the money required to bring the local authority housing in Ennis up to standard for people who have been affected by the flooding?

The Deputy has asked for a commitment to upgrade local authority housing.

No, he has not.

There is sewage in the flood waters.

I am not in a position to give commitments such as this on the floor of the House without making a proper assessment.

The Minister referred to the ESB and Inniscarra. Has he had discussions with the company regarding the release of water at Ardnacrusha? Is he satisfied everything was handled properly there? Will he comment on the IFA president's statement at the weekend that there are too many bodies in charge of our rivers? Is that a contributing factor to what happened in our rivers? They are all blocked and no agency has full responsibility for them.

I visited the West County Hotel in Ennis last Saturday and I met a number of evacuees. I received word informally about a problem relating to Ardnacrusha and I informed the Taoiseach before he went into the interdepartmental meeting. I suggested questions needed to be raised and I am sure they have been asked. The Deputy stated too many agencies have responsibility. We live in a democracy and there are many interests involved. Deputy Sherlock referred to the boat club in Fermoy and so on. One cannot impose. The OPW tries to achieve a sufficient consensus among the different interests about what it will do. We do not go ahead in opposition to all the interests in a town.

Someone must be in charge.

On the climate change issue, Met Éireann stated such events have happened before and are within the realms of natural variability. Housing development is a major factor in flooding throughout the world. When will the climate change adaptation strategy be ready? A warning system will be part of that. In 2004, some €1 million was supposed to be provided to Met Éireann for such a system. Why has it taken so long to implement that recommendation of the flood review group report?

We have worked well with Met Éireann. Its staff are part of the emergency team and any resources required for emergency services have been provided and they will be provided in the future. The adaptation strategy will be published in 2010.

Warning systems are in operation on the Rivers Suir and Blackwater. They give several hours notice of flooding.

Will the Minister consider giving funds to local authorities to deal with rural roads that have been washed away? Piping is also badly needed on housing estates. The Minister of State knows Lagganstown well. Four houses in the middle of the countryside were under three feet of water. Planning permission was granted by the county council, yet 200 yards of piping are needed. Has the Minister plans to give local authorities funds to carry out emergency works between now and the end of the year?

The provision of those funds is a matter for the Minister for Transport. Much of that money is provided from motor taxation.

Was it discussed at Cabinet earlier?

When the flooding recedes, will the Minister of State seriously examine how rivers and streams are maintained? Nothing has been done in my county since 1985. Climate change is blamed and while I do not doubt it is a factor, we cannot ignore the maintenance of our rivers and streams. Much of the damage done to roads and so on in my county is a direct result of the lack of maintenance.

A number of local authorities have done this over the past few years. They are intensifying the cleaning of drains and waterways and the OPW is trying to do that as well. It is unrealistic to think that any amount of cleaning of rivers and streams would have prevented the flooding we have witnessed over the past few days.

It would have helped.

Has the Minister plans to establish a River Shannon authority to co-ordinate the development and management of the waterway? It stretches 242 miles from County Cavan to the Shannon Estuary. Do I take it from the response to Deputy McCormack's question that the Minister is contemplating easing the regulations and marking provision for farmers to empty waterlogged slatted sheds in the interest of animal welfare. When will the OPW embark on taking the filth and vegetation out of the River Shannon?

A water framework directive is in place and the river basin district management plans will be published soon. We have onerous targets to achieve by 2015.

On the matter of the slatted sheds, Deputy McCormack referred to officials from my Department snooping around. I have no knowledge of that. I am afraid it is another urban myth.

This is refreshing. Will someone get a grip on the insurance companies? They are engaged in a massive move away from all responsibility and they are hiking their rates enormously. Will the three Ministers visit Athlone on Friday please?

Deputy Bannon will be there.

My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, will visit Athlone. I do not know what my commitments are yet, but I would like to go. I have been in the town with the Deputy discussing the issue of the River Shannon and how the local authority would take water from the river. Ironically, there is too much water in it now. I will speak to the Deputy later about this.

I may not visit on Friday but it will be some time over the weekend.

The issue raised by Deputy O'Rourke about insurance companies is important. It is critical that they face up to their responsibilities because the humanitarian aid and exceptional needs payments, etc., are generally given to people who do not have insurance. The insurance companies need not think that the State will step in and relieve them of their responsibilities. We will get that message across to them.

If an agreed emergency plan was in operation, why was there a distinct lack of sandbags in every local authority area? When I asked for sandbags, why was I told to go to a supplier and pay €3 per sandbag? That is wrong.

The emergency services did not attend various floods because of a lack of funding. If the Minister is in the area, will he please visit north Roscommon and south Leitrim because Boyle and Carrick-on-Shannon have been badly hit?

The Minister will be on a permanent tour.

The Deputy's questions have a number of implications. His assessment differs from the one I received. We will get a thorough assessment, which will be conducted in the context of a successful operation carried out by all the emergency services. When I visited Ennis, for example, the Defence Forces were filling 200 sandbags an hour. It was a successful operation. If there were deficiencies elsewhere, we will hear about them and those deficiencies will become part of the assessment.

I have just one question. The Government announced today that it has a humanitarian assistance budget, but I believe the assistance of €10 million is inadequate. By what criteria will that money be distributed?

Exceptional and urgent needs payments are being paid out immediately by community welfare officers for people who need immediate basics such as food, shelter, accommodation, bedding and furniture. The welfare officers have been paying that and will continue to pay it. Those payments are not a cash limited fund because they are made on a one-to-one basis based on the needs of the person. We expect welfare officers to continue paying these over the next few weeks.

The humanitarian assistance will be a means tested payment, but we will aim to ensure that we do not have huge bureaucracy attached to it. It will largely cover people who do not have insurance. The assistance will kick in when the clean-up starts, which will be over the next few days when people start to identify what they need to replace in their homes in order to facilitate them going back into their homes. Humanitarian assistance is targeted at that area.

We will also try to identify those in most need of assistance within the groups, such as those who have been made homeless, elderly people, people with young children and people with disabilities, and try to prioritise their needs.

Does the Government plan to put a fund aside for infrastructure that has been destroyed as a result of increased water flow? I know, for example, that at least two bridges in County Cork have been entirely destroyed. Will the local authority have to find the funding to pay for those or will national funding be provided? In light of the volume of rainfall we had recently, will the Department work with the ESB to re-evaluate the flood risk from the two dams at Inniscarra? Will the Minister work towards trying to achieve infrastructure that will ensure that we have two sources for all drinking water supplies? Our electricity grid has two sources so that if electricity is cut from one source, the power will come from the other. We should apply the same principle to water supply so that if water is cut off because of an emergency such as the one we had in Cork, we will have an alternative supply.

With regard to water infrastructure, I spoke directly to the managers in Cork on Friday evening and Saturday morning on the issue of the plant on Lee Road. I confirm that any damage that must be repaired will be dealt with and we will work with the local authorities in that regard. The Deputy's suggestion to have two sources of supply is constructive. However, these issues must be addressed in the context of the forthcoming adaptation plan we hope to publish in 2010.

Both I and the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, must consider the question of the ESB and flood risk from dams. This is something we will have to consider in the assessment. The Deputy was out of the Chamber earlier when I complimented him on how he put on record the situation with regard to the ESB-Inniscarra station. In any assessment we do, we will have to look at the situation there and find out how we can avoid any further situations such as we have currently. Sometimes, no matter how well we plan and try to prepare for all contingencies, events such as we have had and the kind of rainfall we experienced make this difficult.

I just want to add that the issue of managing water levels in the Inniscarra dam will be examined.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 25 November 2009.