I wish to share time with Deputy McManus.
Severe Weather Emergencies: Motion (Resumed).
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I commend Fine Gael on tabling this timely and relevant motion given the events of recent months which saw the entire country come to a standstill. How can the public be guaranteed that when they turn on their taps, water will flow and be of sufficient quality to be safe enough to drink? Environmental Protection Agency reports published last September and the year before consistently highlighted serious problems with water quality and serious deficiencies in how most local authorities monitor and manage it. Water systems have been allowed to deteriorate to crisis point.
The Fine Gael motion claimed 43% of water between the reservoir and the household is lost while the Minister stated in a reply to a parliamentary question it was 45%. A review of the national development plan by Fitzpatrick Associates, instigated by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, put the figure higher at 50%. In his reply to my parliamentary question, the Minister sees this as a matter of responsibility for local authorities. He does not see it as a national problem and, conveniently, he feels he does not have to show any leadership on the matter.
However, the time has come for Ireland to have a national water programme that will guarantee national standards. Such a programme will require significant investment. Last July during Question Time with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, it emerged up to €1.2 billion was held on account by local authorities arising from development levies. Local authorities may have expected to spend these moneys eventually. However, a circular issued last year by the Minister informed them these moneys were to be ring-fenced and only spent against income in 2009.
Using the Maastricht criteria, the Government has, through a bookkeeping exercise, locked this money into an account as a means of showing the Exchequer has money to hand. Unfortunately, in excess of €1 billion is locked into an account indefinitely and cannot be spent to deal with some of the problems caused by the recent severe weather.
Yesterday in a reply to a parliamentary question the Minister also disclosed to me there is potentially €800 million outstanding in development levies yet to be collected. While it is hard to quantify how much of these funds will be raised because many construction companies have gone to the wall, there is potentially a total of €2 billion in development levies. Why has this not been invested into building a proper infrastructure, particularly when it is estimated it will cost €1 billion? It was interesting to hear the Minister criticise Fine Gael's proposal to establish a national utility company given the Fitzpatrick report suggested an agency along the lines of the NRA to implement water policy nationally. If there were ever a quango, it would have to be the NRA. Every Member knows it is entirely impossible to bring the authority to account in the House. I question the Minister's approach, given his criticisms in this regard last night.
I would share his concern, however, with any proposal that would lead to the privatisation of water supply, which must remain in public ownership. In the UK, when water supply was privatised, infrastructure and supply got worse while costs went up.
We had an emergency in recent months but no national emergency was declared. When the chairperson of the national emergency committee attended an Oireachtas committee several weeks ago, he admitted there is no mechanism by which a national emergency can be declared. This is an issue that must be addressed.
I thank Deputy Ciarán Lynch for sharing his time. This motion covers much of the impact of the recent severe weather. I regret I have so few minutes to describe the devastation of roads in south Wicklow as a consequence of this weather. Last year the roads budget for Wicklow County Council was slashed by €3 million. For the electoral area of south Wicklow alone, the damage caused to local roads by the recent weather is estimated at €3 million. This does not include the N11 because the larger the road the less damage done. For local communities and people living in rural areas, the impact has been truly devastating. There are roads in Wicklow where trenches have opened up and others which look as if they have been bombed in a war. I do not know whether we should be looking for reparation or restoration moneys. However, funding must be secured fast because we cannot leave rural communities with Third World standard or impassable roads. The cost of just patch-up jobs on the roads in my constituency will turn out to be greater in the long term. I want the Government to take action in dealing with this serious problem.
Council workers were out day and night during the snow ensuring certain roads were kept open. I welcome that they have been given credit for this in the motion. The only thanks those men have received so far, however, is less money in their pay packets. With all this stuff we have had to endure about public sector workers, anyone who starts to abuse them should remember we depended on those workers coming out while the rest of us enjoyed our holidays. Wicklow County Council also has a shortfall of €500,000 due to the additional costs for gritting the roads.
I estimate that bringing Wicklow's roads up to a decent standard will cost €8 million. The Government did not meet the challenge when the snow came. Its response was disastrous. There must be a response from Government that meets the needs of my county and others, including County Wexford as represented by the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. The only way this can be done is by way of additional funding. While I accept the economic situation is not propitious, we must ensure people in our communities are not living with substandard roads which are a danger and obstruction to normal life.
I wish to share time with Deputies Ciarán Cuffe, Michael Kitt, Timmy Dooley, Mary O'Rourke, Beverley Flynn, Seán Fleming, Charlie O'Connor and Mattie McGrath.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I wish to make a few brief points. The ambiguity in respect of the cleaning of footpaths outside people's homes and retail premises in commercial centres needs to be clarified. I suggest that if laws need to be changed the onus and responsibility in this regard must be on local authorities and that this should be done now. It was ridiculous that during the past few weeks people were afraid to clear ice and snow from their footpaths and business premises. Broadly speaking, retailers were looking out at the snow when they could have been doing something constructive such as clearing the paths. The law in this regard needs to be clarified and, if necessary, changed to ensure there is no ambiguity in this area.
As regards roads in estates which have not been taken in charge, again county councils have up to now stated these are not their responsibility and, as such, they are not required to do anything about them. Clearly, this issue also needs to be clarified to ensure local authorities have responsibility during extreme weather conditions such as we experienced in recent weeks for gritting roads which meet roundabouts and so on. On flooding, I remind the House of a proposal some years ago which emanated from a politician in Dublin in regard to the taking of water from the River Shannon and piping it to Dublin. While this proposal was frowned upon at the time and considered to be robbery of water from people in the west and mid-west and so on, given current circumstances in terms of the Shannon frequently flooding and the water shortage in Dublin it is now realistic to re-examine this it. The Shannon, when it floods, could be drained in a proper fashion thus providing water for the greater Dublin region during times of water shortage. While this proposal may sound a little strange it is worthy of realistic consideration at this time. I am certain some of my colleagues will be against such a proposal. However, when one considers the severe flooding caused this year by the River Shannon and its tributaries, it is realistic to suggest that this water be piped to Dublin where it is needed.
It is regrettable that Fine Gael omitted in its motion to commend the voluntary organisations and many volunteers throughout the country who did fantastic work on behalf of their fellow citizens.
The Deputy has one minute remaining.
We should put on record our thanks to all the council staff and staff of other authorities, including volunteers, who went out of their way to make life tolerable for their fellow citizens. In terms of water leakage, county councils that are currently experiencing approximately 50% leakage must be more proactive in drawing up programmes to detect and replace burst pipes. Water is a valuable commodity, as we have all learned recently. I welcome that the Minister is providing a great deal of funding in this area during the current year.
There is a myth that there are no farmers in the constituency of Dún Laoghaire. However, I would like to put on record a tale from some 28 years ago. Close to where I grew up in the foothills of the Dublin mountains in Dún Laoghaire lived a wise old farmer named Paddy Whelan. In 1982-1983, as I walked through the snow towards him I asked: "Is it as bad as '47?" to which he replied " '47?, '17." He put his finger on it, namely, we get cold snowy weather in Ireland and although we do not get it that often when we do, it can be quite severe and we need to be prepared for it.
On the whole the local authority in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown was prepared for the snow. It had maps on its website where one could see at a glance which roads would be gritted. It did well. The main routes were kept clear. At a time of scarce resources it ensured there was enough grit left over to put on the footpaths in the main towns and to ensure common areas in senior citizen dwelling areas were well gritted. If anything is to be learned from it, as the county manager, Mr. Owen Keegan, said to me the other day, there may be a case for gritting the roads of smaller estates which are hilly. I believe this can be done. When it came to breaks in water supply the tankers were out. We had Guinness tankers out dispensing not Guinness but clean water to residents in Killiney and elsewhere who have and continue to suffer breaks in water supply.
There is a certain irony in Fine Gael this week proposing a single water semi-State utility agency when last week it was complaining, during our discussions on the planning Bill, about the so-called command and control model proposed by Government. One cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds on this one. It is crucial that powers at the lowest effective level are used. In most cases, the local authorities were effective in how they dealt with the snow crisis. I would be reluctant to jump in with a new tier of control in terms of how we deal with severe weather conditions.
An argument can be made for more control at regional level. The European water directive strongly states we should be looking at river basins in how we manage these areas.
The Deputy has one minute remaining.
The issue of metropolitan and regional government, in particular in Dublin, works well on a river basin level. The Liffey catchment should be considered as a unified entity. More can be done in this regard. The European Union is driving that agenda.
Ultimately, when it comes to our water supply we have had decades if not a century of under-investment. I am proud that the Green Party has in each of the three years since it entered Government in 2007 increased investment in our water supply services from €480 million to €510 million annually. The move towards residential water metering is to be welcomed. Those who use water excessively for washing their cars or filling swimming pools must pay significantly for it.
I welcome Fine Gael's interest in this area. The weather crisis was tough but we got through it. If it recurs we will be better prepared.
I welcome this debate. The devastation experienced in Galway was similar to that experienced in other parts of the country. I was somewhat surprised to hear Fine Gael propose the establishment of a new State agency given its criticism of the number of State agencies already in existence. We hear much of there being too many quangos. I recently read a newspaper article which stated that one company would achieve economies of scale. I heard that before when the HSE was being set up.
It is called the Government.
It is hypocrisy to criticise local authorities, blame the Government, suggest setting up a new agency and then, as Deputy Ciarán Lynch stated, perhaps privatise water, with which we on this side of the House would not agree.
I want to know how, for example, group water schemes would fair under a new State agency. Group water schemes are important to the west. People pay sometimes over €2,000 per house for a water supply and such schemes would not fair well under a new agency.
Galway County Council, like other local authorities, has had serious issues to deal with following the cold weather. Lists of the costs involved are being drawn up. There were broken pipes and water had to be rationed in the county, and Galway County Council is still repairing leaks. There are serious issues in that regard for which we want funding in our county council area because of the extra costs involved.
There have been serious flooding problems in the county — there is still flooding around Gort in south Galway — and, certainly, there is a need for major repairs to roads. I would press for a generous response from the Department of Transport and the NRA. There should be flexibility in the spending of the funding provided. I understand local authorities will be able to revise the 2010 restoration improvement programme.
There has been good investment in roads in my county, most notably in the new motorway from Ballinasloe to Galway as part of the Dublin-Galway motorway. That motorway, which was opened ahead of time, was the only link we had from east Galway to Galway city and it was a good example of investing in infrastructure. It was officially opened eventually on 18 December, but it was so important when flooding prevented people from using the normal regional or county roads.
I fully support the conservation measures of which the Minister spoke. I particularly welcome the water harvesting measures. As part of pilot programmes in County Mayo, there is a school involved. In County Meath, I think there is a farm involved. It is important that we not only pursue, for example, the water harvesting measures but also tackle the high level of leakage in the water supplies of both the local authority and the private group water schemes of which I spoke.
I welcome this debate. I hope there can be more investment. The great work done by the local authorities and the voluntary work has not been recognised by the proposers of this motion in Fine Gael and that should be put on the record. There was great voluntary work done by the Civil Defence, by gardaí and by all the emergency services who worked so well during those difficult times, and particularly by the local authorities.
I welcome the opportunity——
Here is the first of the three minutes.
——to contribute to this debate, albeit briefly. Unfortunately, there is not more time available.
The Minister concluded his remarks last night by stating the arrangements put in place did work, but there is some room for reflection and review of lessons learned which can be built upon and which may be of assistance in responding to future such events. That is true. As Deputy Cuffe identified earlier, these events, whilst not one-off, certainly do not happen too frequently. Fortunately, we have not had such an event for a considerable period of time. We are in a different world in terms of the number of vehicles on the road and road usage. Clearly, we are in a position to learn and we need to do that.
I want to address the extent of the road network that was gritted. I will not suggest in this House that we should try to cover the 96,000 km of roadway in the country, but there is room for considerable improvement. We are only covering 14% at present and we need to look at some of the more strategic routes that were not covered. In the first instance, this must be a matter for the local authorities on an area by area basis in consultation with councillors. Many councils are carrying out reviews, and I welcome that.
Rural populated areas were severely affected and we must ensure that where possible, and within reason, a better effort is made to facilitate the needs of people in these areas. In my area, there are villages such as Feakle, Flagmount, Broadford, O'Callaghan's Mills in east Clare, Kilmealy and Connolly in west Clare and villages in north Clare that were affected. That is unacceptable.
I believe in local democracy and much of the work and planning must be done by the local authorities. They need assistance, not diktat. They need assistance with sourcing of salt, grit and equipment, and that must be given. It is somewhat disingenuous of the Opposition, which in an effort to blame the Government for the weather, have lost what I consider as its historical rhetoric of empowering local government.
With Deputy Dooley's hot air, all the water will be dried up.
Now that they have control of many local authorities they want to pass the buck.
They do not have the grit.
That is hardly a score card that would see them promoted to the premiership of Government. We have seen where they want to create various authorities for water and roads to take away the responsibility of which they now have control. They have criticised the HSE in this House on many occasions——
Is Deputy Dooley happy with it in Ennis? Does he praise them in Ennis?
——but yet it is a different agenda when they have control and are failing. I think Deputy O'Dowd would recognise that they are failing.
I pay considerable credit to the work of the staff in the local authorities who worked right throughout Christmas, many of them throughout the night and again during the day, together and in concert with local community groups in an effort to ensure these areas were gritted. We need more co-ordination. We also need to involve the rural social scheme and various different CE schemes under the auspices of the local authority in a co-ordinated way that gives effective management of the gritting.
Unfortunately, I do not have time to deal with the water issue. I hope we can come back to that because it is a serious issue in my constituency and I want to address it again.
We are those with three minutes — there have been four minutes and three minutes. Anyway, I am glad to contribute to the debate. I note, and cannot understand how, there is not a word in the Fine Gael motion about the Department of Defence, the role of the Civil Defence and the role of the Garda Síochána. They played a significant role in this, from the time of the floods. In Athlone, without them we could not have pulled through. To think that there could be a motion tabled in which there is not a word about the Army and Civil Defence, which both worked day and night for us——
They are praised in it.
The Government did not work for the roads for next year. It lost €1 million last year for strategic, regional and local roads. Deputy O'Rourke is talking bull.
There is not a word about them. All we can hear is yelping. I do not know what it is about, but it is certainly not good debate. However, I am happy to be part of it and to pay tribute to those bodies of which I spoke and which came out in the most awful weather, put out their trucks and brought us all up around Clonown, Golden Island and Clonbunny where nobody else could go but in a high Army truck. Of course we never had weather like that. On top of the floods, we had snow and the frost and then we had water shortages.
It is a marvellous tribute to the bodies of which I spoke. Local authorities, which practically in every county, most amazingly, are chaired by Fine Gael or Labour, think they can put all the blame onto central Government.
We have learnt a deal through those four deluges — the real deluge, the snow, the frost and the water shortages.
What about the Government deluge?
We have learned from experience. There is now a most definite body of information built up, upon which we can draw and which no doubt will add to the body of information which will be of great value — I did not get three minutes at all — in 100 years' time whenever there will be Deputies here debating equally miserable periods of weather.
They never spoke of meitheal and co-operation and people who suddenly got to know their neighbours who went and helped them. Of course there were some terrible experiences, but there were also some good heartening co-operative experiences where people just got out and did it, helped their neighbours, cleared their paths and got going.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute. I commend the role played by my local authority in County Mayo during the recent bad weather because it had a strong co-ordinated approach that started in December and carried right through the Christmas period. The local authority did an excellent job, certainly in maintaining the national road network. We have an extremely long secondary, regional and county road network in County Mayo. In fact, when I met with the council over the Christmas period it highlighted to me that in Ireland there are 24 km of road per 1,000 of population. Comparing that with other countries in Europe, in Italy, for example, there is are 6 km of road per 1,000 of population. It is clear that people's expectations that every county, regional or local road would be gritted were unreasonable. That was never to be the case. Certainly, they were successful in County Mayo in keeping the national primary routes open. Most strategic roads in the county were kept open, as was, I am happy to say, Knock airport, one of the only airports in the country to do so. It closed for a few hours, but apart from that it was business as usual. I commend the local authorities, the Civil Defence, the Garda Siochána, the Army and everyone who played a part. I was pleased with the local response. Also, the local authorities provided an emergency response number and throughout the Christmas period people could contact the local authority. For example, if transport was required for a hospital appointment, the Civil Defence were on hand to enable people to get to wherever they had to go, especially where some people were cut off.
However, I am critical of the national response. It seems it is only when the snow hits Dublin that there is a national emergency. There could be snow and ice in every other part of the country and there would be no national emergency, but the minute the taxis cannot get around the city of Dublin, everything requires a national response all of a sudden. I am critical of this because the issue did not begin on the first week in January; it started in the middle of December or on 18 December. It is important that the powers that be recognise that we live in this country and pay our taxes as does everyone else and we expect this to be recognised.
I refer to the supply of salt. Last year, my local county council used 2,500 tonnes of salt during the Christmas period. This year, it had to use 5,000 tonnes of salt but it had only 1,000 tonnes in storage. That is the full extent of its capacity to store salt. Even if the bad weather had been expected because of weather reports, it did not have the capacity to store more.
I advise the Deputy that her time has concluded.
It could not possibly be expired. I had three minutes to speak.
There is now only——
The Deputy has even less time now. This has taken 30 seconds.
There are nine minutes remaining and three more speakers, one of whom is supposed to be allocated five minutes. That will not happen either.
Did I get my three minutes?
The Deputy has six seconds left.
I have an issue in respect of the refunding of money to local authorities for expenditure on salt. There are serious issues, especially in my county where the roads are now in a bad state. I realise the local authority intends to assess the additional costs involved. This might be considered sympathetically by the Department in terms of providing additional money.
I refer to water. There are very serious problems in County Mayo and many people were without water during the Christmas period. I call for additional resources to be provided.
Some eight and a half minutes remain for Deputies Seán Fleming, Charlie O'Connor and Mattie McGrath. The Deputies may divide time as they please.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter because I am interested in this motion. I put on record my thanks to those in my local authority, including the workers and employees in County Laois for the excellent job they did. There are several major national primary routes throughout the county, including the Dublin to Cork and Dublin to Limerick routes, along with many national secondary routes. These were kept open at all stages. The idea of people coming here and stating the country was closed down is insupportable. That did not happen. All national primary routes were open at all stages. Most secondary routes were open at all stages. Most local roads were passable if people drove very slowly and it is important that people say as much. I thank the council in Laois for putting deposits of grit in key locations where local people could come and take a trailer load of grit and spread it on the roads near their houses, something that has not been done before.
I refer to the motion before the House. It is the cheapest political motion tabled for a long time and it deserves a political response. The motion calls on the Government to establish a single, semi-State water utility company to take over the responsibility of water investment and management on a national basis. Some weeks ago after the flooding, other people in Fine Gael stated there should be a national rivers authority to deal with drainage and flooding and that such matters should be done on a national basis. It seems every second week other members of the Fine Gael party come here and state that we should abolish quangos or that they should not be established. Let us go through the record. Every second week in the House a Fine Gael motion seeks a new authority, but the following week it wishes to dismantle the authorities in place.
I refer to the real point because it is a very political motion. The leader of Fine Gael has lost all confidence in his party members in Seanad Éireann and he stated he would single-handedly abolish the Seanad were he in a position to do so. He forgot to mention during that interview on television that it is a matter for the people to decide. Now, there is a situation whereby almost all local authorities are managed, run or chaired by Fine Gael cathaoirligh. However, the national party of Fine Gael comes to the House demanding to take power from the local authorities
The Deputy did not introduce insurance.
We asked for money.
Next week, Fine Gael will be here demanding more power for local authorities.
The Deputy should go back and start again.
The party comes here and demands to take power from local authorities by way of dealing with the flooding and drainage of rivers and it wishes to set up a national semi-State company to handle and deliver water to our houses in County Laois. It is prepared to make a show of its local authority members. Perhaps it has lost confidence in its own local authority members' ability to run their business. This is an attempt to undermine local authorities and I am shocked that the Fine Gael Party would do so.
There were potholes as big as a lake outside.
I thank Deputy Fleming for stirring it up in the Fine Gael benches because I am not as experienced as other Government Deputies in dealing with the Opposition.
Deputy O'Connor is on our side.
This is an important motion and I thank Fine Gael for tabling it. Reference has been made to Dublin, which is the capital city and it is only right that it should be kept open. I heard other comments to the effect that there are no farmers in parts of Dublin. People often believe there are no rural communities in Tallaght, but there are several. I received the same types of calls from such areas as Bothernabreena, Brittas and Ballinascorney that many of my country cousins received regarding the need for the council to be responsive. In fairness to the council, it did respond, although it needed a little prompting. By the way, South Dublin County Council is not controlled by Fine Gael; it is controlled by Labour and Sinn Féin, which is okay because they are nice people. It is very important that people like me are not afraid to speak up and not take this anti-Government stuff.
The fact is people should be able to cope. I do not get away very often but before Christmas I was in Stockholm for one day. The weather was worse than anything I observed during our weather crisis but they coped. Perhaps there is a lesson for us as a society.
The Deputy should tell that to the Minister.
In the case of the Government and all local authorities, especially my local authority, more preparation should be done. Local authorities should be ready for the weather because it seems because of climate change this will be the situation every year. I do not wish to be negative — it is not my nature to do so — but I received a letter from the office of the Ceann Comhairle, presumably on the advice of someone in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which informs me that effectively the Minister has no responsibility for water supplies. That will not put Deputy Charlie O'Connor off. As far as I am concerned, people are entitled to their water supply. If there are difficulties, people are entitled to know what is going on. I call on all local authorities to recognise this and I have said as much to my local authority. I pay tribute to the workers on the ground, especially in South Dublin County Council, for their efforts. There were communications difficulties. People should know what is going on. On Sunday, one radio station in Dublin stated that the only areas in Dublin where water was being cut were local authority areas, which is an absolute disgrace if it was the case. It was not the case but it is important that we raise these issues at the level of the national Parliament. I wish the Leas-Cheann Comhairle well for the remainder of the evening.
I am very pleased to be able to speak to this motion. As others have done, I wish to praise the efforts of local county council outdoor staff, the Garda, the Civil Defence, fire brigades, families and communities. There was an emergency although it was not declared a national emergency but I have seen worse and I am not so old. There was a good deal of over-reaction. I take it on the chin at a national level. If not enough was done, I lay the blame at the door of the Minister for Transport. I have stated so publically and I state as much again this evening. There was not much point in his coming back from holidays, to which he is entitled. Some people made a joke about the matter, stating he could not do it or whatever. Leadership was needed and the public was willing, ready and able to the best of their ability to carry out the necessary work, but they could not get access to the tools of the trade.
I am delighted to hear previous speakers remark that some councils provided grit at certain stations. I am aware this was the case in Wexford and Laois. However, the director of services in South Tipperary County Council, Mr. Billy McEvoy, refused to engage. The IFA and FÁS offered to help as did ordinary people. I sourced thousands of tonnes of ordinary grit, not salt. Molasses are sometimes put on the roads now. They were first used on the roads in this country some ten years ago and it is possible to see the damage to the roads now. Ordinary common grit, run-off from a quarry, can be procured for €7 per tonne and collected from any quarry. This could have be acquired and made available for communities. I was able to get some for my village but I was informed it was a privileged village and this was the reason it received the material from the county council.
A good deal of blame may be placed here or there. Muintir na Tíre was one national organisation that set up manned help lines, but there were several others. I manned a local help line myself for several hours one Sunday. I was delighted to hear some of the calls. What was striking was not the number of people looking for help and assistance, but the number of people who offered assistance, including ordinary people from throughout the country who offered help in many ways. All that was needed was a structured system and for people to be able to help each other and our elderly.
Given the flooding in recent years a committee was established in Clonmel town. This provided a very good, quick response following the recent flooding. That template could be used elsewhere because, sadly, we have experienced several floods and have perfected it. I have asked our director of services, although he has not yet responded, to put that type of emergency response committee in place throughout the county. It could be copied in many other counties as well. We can learn lessons from what happened and be ready for the next time it will undoubtedly occur.
I wish to share time with Deputies O'Mahony, Burke, McHugh, Mitchell, D'Arcy, Creighton, McGinley and Sheahan.
The time will be very tight. I urge speakers to confine themselves to the time allocation.
I thank Deputy O'Dowd and Deputy Hogan for bringing forward this motion. It basically holds the Government to account for its poor response to the weather and water crisis, and calls on it to accept Fine Gael's proposal to set up a single water utility company which will be responsible for water supply and investment in this country.
The Government was clearly negligent in its extremely slow response to the weather crisis. No Minister came forward to take responsibility and speak to the media and the people or to reassure them that the situation was under control. There was, and still is, no national co-ordination plan for severe weather emergencies. This is clearly the reason the Minister's initial response was so weak. We were informed that a national plan was to be designed by the national emergency planning office several years ago to deal specifically with a severe weather crisis. However, it has been confirmed by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government that there is no such plan. To make matters worse, the Minister for Transport was away on holidays. He did not take the issue seriously and, as a result, people are very angry and disappointed with the Government.
Local authorities were unable to cope. Cities were crippled by snow and ice and the economy ground to a halt. Grit and salt were in very short supply. The Government sourced such material from outside the country rather than from quarries in this country. That bemuses me. We needed a co-ordinated response to the weather crisis but, sadly, we did not get it. The Defence Forces should have been deployed immediately, although they were in some local authorities, to help people to get out and go about their normal business. Military trucks could have been used to move people and supplies around, particularly in mountainous areas.
What Fine Gael seeks in a national plan is that it specify which routes take priority to be cleared and gritted. We need to ensure that our ports and major hospitals remain fully accessible and that transport routes are taken care of as a priority. Although we had a Government without a plan, we also had the local authorities who worked steadily on the ground. I commend the local staff of Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council in my constituency who worked extremely hard.
There is now a crisis with the water supply, which is worse for many people than the weather crisis. Some people in my constituency have their water turned off every day, without notice, explanation or warning through either the radio or the Internet. They do not know what is happening. For that reason it is crucial that the Government, as a priority, establish a single utility company to take responsibility for providing clean and safe drinking water to all residents in the State.
I am delighted to contribute to the debate and commend Fine Gael and Deputies O'Dowd and Hogan on bringing forward this motion. I noted Deputy Fleming's comment that it is a cheap political stunt by Fine Gael. I invite him and other Deputies on that side of the House to meet some of his party's supporters in my constituency. They would soon tell him whether it is a cheap political stunt.
We experienced the flooding followed by the freeze. Now, we have the problem of the roads. The only consistency on the part of the Government throughout this period has been the pedestrian way it tried to deal or not deal with the problems. It was a pathetic response. As the country experienced temperatures of -10°C and below over the Christmas, I heard on the radio one evening that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government had allocated some millions of euro. My immediate response was that it was great, but he had allocated it to deal with the flooding which had occurred two months previously. I read in a newspaper yesterday that the country is now being flooded with the salt that was needed a month ago. Now we are trying to get something done about the roads but we are told no money is available. That is unacceptable.
My colleagues and I met officials from Mayo County Council for a briefing on the situation. The county manager outlined the difficulties the council had and made it very clear that it does not have sufficient resources. A few kilometres of the Ballyhaunis to Claremorris road must be totally restored, but that will cost €2 million. Estimates of the cost of dealing with the roads in the entire county, even through mere repairs, range from €7 million to €8 million. In spite of this, local authorities have been told there is no extra funding. There must be extra funding. I accept that primary and secondary roads must be a priority. However, rural counties have the highest number of local roads in Europe and the people who were marooned on those roads are now being told the roads will not be repaired because there are no resources. The people living in those areas pay their taxes and deserve some consideration.
The initial response of the Minister to the three crises — the flooding, the freeze and the roads — has been to say that no money is available or to blame the local authorities. In other words, it is not the Government's fault. I received figures yesterday regarding reports commissioned by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Transport over the last three years. Overall, the reports cost over €6 million. The reports were commissioned in many cases to delay action that needed to be taken. Many of them have never been implemented. The people who are angry about the roads, the flooding and the freeze are the same people who see these figures showing the waste within the Government, yet they are told there is no money for a response.
I commend the motion. It deserves support. It offers a clear, concise plan, which is more than one can say about the response from the Government in the past three or four months.
I welcome the opportunity to make a short contribution on this important motion. In the aftermath of what were considered to be the most difficult climatic conditions this country has experienced for the past 40 years it is important to keep the Government's attention on the reality of what is happening on the ground. People continue to suffer, despite the fact that it is no longer on the television or on the front pages of the newspapers.
I wish to focus on two issues. I must be fair and point out that the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, came to County Galway as a result of the flooding and subsequently attended a mass meeting of people in the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran's, constituency and in the constituencies adjoining the Shannon. The only thing he could say on the day was that he would take the lead role in organising the other agencies that had a contribution to make towards the regulation of the water in the Shannon, namely, the ESB, Waterways Ireland, inland fisheries and other agencies. These floods will recur for as long as the Minister of State or some other Minister does not take responsibility for a single authority for the Shannon. On the other side of my constituency, in south Galway from Gort to Craughwell and on towards Kinvara, a huge area is still flooded as we speak tonight, not to the same depths as it was before Christmas, but the reality is that €1.6 million was spent eight years ago on a study to alleviate flooding in that area. Not one shovel of clay has been taken from the ground to relieve the flooding there.
I contend, based on what I heard from various Ministers on the ground, that some Ministers in the past contributed to the fact that work was prevented from being done. The National Parks and Wildlife Service — Dúchas formerly had responsibility for this area — is lurking on the edge of the floods to move in and tell people they cannot do something because of the fauna and flora. I invited and challenged them to come to south Galway and see what was left behind and the damage which was done to wildlife, fish, birds and all the rest, and it did not have a word to say. No farming community would ever have had such a dramatic influence and killed off so many of the precious areas it had cleared.
People's livelihoods are far more important than other items. It is a disgrace that the Tánaiste, the Minister and the Government have not called in the insurance companies and told them they will have to provide quotes for re-insuring the houses in Ballinasloe and south Galway which they will not cover under any previous insurance policy. I can furnish the Minister with the names of the companies. She will have to take action, despite the fact that she refused to do and said she cannot do so, even through legislation, to provide additional cover for those who are now being denied it by the companies concerned.
Listening to the talking heads over the past two weeks on radio and television giving advice about what should happen next in Haiti, one could not help but think how singularly ill-qualified we are in Ireland to advise anybody, even on a minor crisis and not a disaster such as happened in Haiti. As I only have two minutes I will make two basic points, the first on what should happen now so that what has become an annual breakdown of public services does not become the norm when we have some extreme weather conditions.
I wish to pay tribute to the workers in my local authorities which cover my constituency, that is, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and South Dublin County Council. There have been criticisms across the country that local authorities were too late or their responses were inadequate but the reality is the personnel in my constituency, given the conditions in which they were working and the constraints they were under, were nothing short of heroic and still are because we still have a major problem with water. They were working throughout this period with their hands tied behind their backs, largely in isolation from what was going on in other local authorities, lacking national direction and without resources and information. In a crisis the gathering and communication of information across the country is vital but that was lacking. Inevitably, the local authority response was fragmented.
The flooding, snow and water were national crises and needed a national response. The water and snow does not observe county boundaries and the reality is that no one county council could possibly see or deal with the full picture. We have a national Government to deal with a national crisis because only it is in a position of oversight. It can see the overall picture and the local weaknesses, communicate with the public, gather information and generally co-ordinate the response. The bottom line is that extreme weather conditions will now be the norm. That is what we are being told. We should prepare now and not wait until next winter to provide a template as to how the Government will respond in emergencies such as this and how it can ensure co-ordination of all the other agencies providing services on the ground.
My second point is more strategic and concerns how we ensure extreme weather conditions do not become an emergency, but rather that they will become the norm and we can deal with and anticipate these events. My colleagues have spoken about Fine Gael's proposal to create a national utility company to provide a massive investment in water infrastructure, not just to meet current demand but to drive the economic recovery. I heard the Minister refer to a 1% replacement of pipes every year. We might as well throw our hat at the problem if it will take 100 years to replace the pipe system. In Dublin the water network is Victorian and is already haemorrhaging water, so we will not get anywhere if have such a low level of replacement. The Minster cannot divert vital capital spending which is needed for the roads in order to replace water pipes.
All of the large building projects which started during the Celtic tiger are finishing this year, including the building of terminal 2, the inter-urban routes, the conference centre and the stadium, so this is the time to put a huge capital investment injection into the economy, provide the kind of stimulus package and vital infrastructure which is needed, and at the same time ensure we have water and roads for the recovery of the economy.
I compliment the local authority staff who did such good work in the difficult weather conditions we had in the past number of weeks. However, there were enormous failings and the primary source of that failing was at governmental level. I am not criticising the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, for being on holidays but I am criticising him sternly for there being nobody in his stead while he was away. I telephoned the Department of Transport and was unable to speak to anybody. Nobody was in charge. I also telephoned the Minister, Deputy Gormley, but nobody was in charge. I did so because there was a difficulty in Wexford regarding the spreading of grit by private individuals.
The local authority was prepared to make grit available for the county roads which were not going to be gritted and were not part of the winter maintenance programme. As a result, the roads concerned would be left in a dangerous state. A decision needed to be made by the director of services with no guidance from any Minister or Department. I compliment the director of services in Wexford, Mr. Adrian Doyle, who took the decision to make 600 tonnes of grit available for the farmers of the county to spread. Many farmers spread it with large agricultural machinery and lime spreaders. I described it on local radio as like putting a suitcase into the boot of a car. Some 600 tonnes were spread on the 3,400 miles of county roads in Wexford. The five gritting machines owned by the local authority in Wexford were spreading some 30 tonnes per night, and 600 tonnes were spread by the farming community within three days.
Those roads, as the Leas-Cheann Comhairle knows, would not have been gritted. The director of services had to choose between leaving roads unsafe and dangerous because of health and safety. It was a farce and the fact the offices of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, were not available left much to be desired.
When I was elected to this House two and a half years ago I never expected to find myself participating in a debate to discuss a bit of snow, a drop of rain and a few frozen pipes. It is extraordinary that we have reached this magnitude of a crisis on the basis of something which should be simple. It is an indictment not only of our national Government but of our local government structures in this country. It also speaks volumes about the lack of accountability in local authorities at a local level.
How have we arrived at this point? We have seen 14 or 15 years of a so-called boom, the Celtic tiger, where we know money was squandered and in which there was no investment in vital infrastructure. It is interesting to listen to Ministers talk a big game about broadband infrastructure, building highways across the country and becoming the most competitive economy in Europe when we cannot even manage to invest in the most basic infrastructure for human needs, that is, water, sewerage systems and so on. This came to the fore during the recent fiasco, the handling of which was extraordinary. I will speak of my experience in the Dublin City Council area. That parts of my constituency have not had water for up to four weeks is an indictment of the political system at all levels but especially of the Government's failure to provide the resources required to invest in vital infrastructure. To cite one example of the impact of the crisis, a well respected and world renowned chain of hotels based in my constituency almost had to close down and relocate hundreds of guests visiting for an international conference because it was not notified in advance by Dublin City Council that its water was to be turned off. We managed to have the water supply restored for a period, thus avoiding such a scenario. To describe this incident as unprofessional or a national embarrassment is to put it mildly.
Families in my constituency still do not have water and have no idea when it will be restored. It is clear that a number of measures must be taken. First, meaningful Government investment, as opposed to token gestures by the Minister, must be made in an effective and adequate water piping system in Dublin and other counties. Second, a national response unit must be established, which can step up to the plate in the event of crises of this nature recurring in future. The recent crisis caused major economic destruction for businesses, small and large, across the country, not to speak of the inconvenience and damage it caused families.
It is right and proper that the House debate the recent big freeze, the worst since 1963, which paralysed the country. That so little was done and Ministers were nowhere to be seen throughout the period illustrates the lack of leadership in Government. Like Deputy D'Arcy, I do not blame anyone for going on holidays. However, there was no one to take the place of Ministers until the crisis was almost over. In addition, salt and grit were not available to make our roads safe and an overall plan was lacking. If we are to learn one lesson from the 30 days the freeze lasted, it is that we should be prepared in future.
County Donegal was brought to its knees and its road infrastructure ruined by the big freeze. Of the 6,300 km of road in the county, the local authority succeeded in gritting 1,200 km or 20% of the network. As a result, 80% of the county's roads were left untreated and communities throughout the county were left isolated and exposed to the elements.
I acknowledge the work done by the Defence Forces, Civil Defence and, in particular, the mountain rescue teams who delivered food parcels to those living in mountainous areas and helped them survive the crisis. I also compliment communities on their response. I would have been marooned in my townland for weeks if my neighbours had not spread sand deposited on the roadside by the council shortly before Christmas. While I acknowledge the work done by the local authorities, the resources at their disposal were inadequate.
Travelling through most of County Donegal in the past week or two, I found that the county's roads are devastated. An engineer informed me that the damage is known as frost heel. Perhaps the Minister of State is aware of it. The "Back of Errigal" road, which was not gritted, is almost impassable in parts. Last Friday, I travelled from Lifford to Porthall to St. Johnston on a road which can only be described as Third World. These damaged roads must be repaired. I hope the Government will refund local authorities for the work they have carried out. The Donegal county manager stated last Friday that the big freeze has so far cost €4 million.
At the best of times, 42% of water in County Donegal is unaccounted for. During the freeze, water consumption increased by 35%, which is a story in its own right. County council staff dealt with leaks night and day but large tracts of the county were left without water during the crisis. Major investment is required to ensure almost half of our water is not lost and guarantee an adequate supply of water. Substantial resources will also be required to fix the roads. The neglect of the past must be put right as soon as possible.
I speak tonight to represent the people of west Cork, in particular, the people of Bandon, Skibbereen and Clonakilty who were badly affected by flooding in recent months. While I will concentrate on Bandon and the Bandon river to highlight the issues that need immediate attention, similar problems arise with regard to the Ilen river which flows through Skibbereen and as a result of flooding in Clonakilty town.
The Government needs to immediately remove all obstructions from the river beds and banks, including trees, rocks and debris, from five miles north of Dunmanway to Innishannon in the Bandon river and from Caheragh to Skibbereen rowing club on the Ilen river estuary. It must provide emergency dredging along the length of both rivers and ensure the cleaning of all drains and road shores in the affected areas. It must also provide the necessary funding for proposed sewerage schemes in order that construction can start immediately, particularly where the scheme would separate storm water from sewage. All breached flood walls must be replaced immediately and investigations must be carried out in areas where drainage problems occurred.
With the abolition of the arterial drainage scheme 30 years ago, the national programme for dredging or clearance of shrubbery on our rivers ceased. I spoke on this issue only last November when I proposed local emergency plans. The national emergency committee was slow to react in the case of the flooding and, more recently, during the period of sub-zero temperatures. I call on the Minister to create local emergency co-ordinating committees on a pilot basis in different parts of the country. These should, in the first instance, investigate the cause of the flooding, propose remedies to prevent or limit the recurrence of flooding and draw up plans to cope with the consequences of a recurrence. They should be able to establish local centres for emergency services.
As the Fianna Fáil-led Government has failed at national level to cope with these problems, we need to make greater use of local organisations to build a co-ordinated network to provide local volunteers. Temporary flood barriers should be available at short notice. We need to ensure comprehensive plans are in place to provide clean drinking water, emergency lighting systems and the restoration of power.
The Green Party promoted grants for the insulation of homes on energy efficiency, environmental, economic and employment grounds. I propose that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and member of the Green Party, Deputy John Gormley, create a similar scheme to allow those living in flood risk areas to install flood protection measures in their homes. I also ask him to introduce clear legislation regarding the legal implications of clearing footpaths of snow and ice by residents and business owners.
The Maltese snowman, also known as the Minister for Transport, is reported to have said he could not think of one other action that could have been taken if he had been in the country in the four or five days prior to his return to the country. If that is the case, perhaps he should reflect on his position, melt away and make way for someone else with one clue about how to do things better.
Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Our Minister for Transport sunbathed while his constituents and the people of Ireland froze and shivered at home.
Go raibh maith agat.
Look at the disaster that took place in Cork when millions of gallons of water were released from an ESB dam——
I call the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Finneran.
——on the night of the flooding. The Kingsley Hotel was destroyed, one of the finest hotels in the south.
Please, Deputy. The Deputy got a bonus minute and I shall take an extra one.
It was a Malteser.
I feel aggrieved to have stopped that fine representative from west Cork in full flow. I compliment him. He made some positive suggestions which many others did not.
This debate has been timely following the severe weather which we experienced recently. Like other contributors, I wish to record the Government's appreciation of all the people who responded to the ice and snow conditions and the assistance they provided to their fellow citizens. I hope the community spirit which we witnessed will continue and grow in strength. Rather than being negative about the experience, we should look at what went well, as well as those areas on which we can reflect, with a view to making improvements regarding response to future severe weather events.
As regards the response of local authorities, they used the co-ordination and inter-agency arrangements set out in the framework for major emergency management. Initial reports indicate that the arrangements worked satisfactorily, having regard to the emerging issues. Let us not forget that one of the major issues was maintaining the accessibility of the transport network. The local authorities kept the key strategic roads and public transport routes open for use and deserve to be commended for their work, which was carried out throughout the Christmas period. In addition, the majority of bus services continued to operate, albeit with some cancellation or curtailments during the worst of the snow. Airports were closed for short periods.
Another area which gave rise to concern was the supply of salt for the roads and the ice on footpaths. Local authorities generally maintain ten days' supply of salt for gritting the priority roads and this is more than adequate for most years. The extent of the extremely low temperature resulted in rapid depletion of supplies. Due to demand throughout much of Europe, difficulties were experienced in sourcing new supplies but additional shipments were received. As was clear from television reports, the position in other continental countries was more severe than in this country.
We can learn from the experience. The Department of Transport will examine matters connected with the supply, use and distribution of salt for roads and footpaths. Extra stocks of salt and the necessary storage facilities will need extra funding and this has to be measured against the anticipated requirements. Another area to be considered is the situation of householders and businesses in urban areas clearing snow and ice from footpaths outside their premises without incurring any liability for negligence. Such clearance led to many personal injuries which impacted severely on individuals as well as increasing the demand on the health service.
A second major issue related to a number of weaknesses in our water services infrastructure. The problems experienced included the standard of installation of water piping both outside and inside premises, leakage from the water distribution system and conservation in the use of water. The initial difficulties arose mainly from frozen supplies, but as the thaw set in further damage was caused by moving ground. Typically, over a fortnight period, demand was up to 25% greater than the maximum water treatment capacity in most authorities. This was as a result of both leakage and some consumer usage to avoid frozen domestic pipes. Demand has been progressively reduced through the efforts by local authorities to find and fix leaks and manage supplies, and through conservation by consumers. I commend the many local authority workers who responded to these events, working long hours, often in difficult conditions, to restore supplies, and to find and fix leaks.
Targeting of investment on water conservation to reduce the loss due to leakage in the distribution system will be included in the water services investment programme for 2010 to 2012, which will be launched next month. Record levels of investment has been made in recent years and this year some €508 million has been allocated, an increase over the 2009 provision for water services. The priority projects required will be reflected in the next water services investment programme. Local authorities will highlight the need for water conservation in their publicity campaigns and the Department will contact local authorities concerning the adequacy of water supply installations for coping with freezing conditions.
From my perspective as Minister of State with responsibility for housing, I compliment the agencies which deal with homeless people and the members of my Department and outreach workers who successfully looked after homeless people in our cities, towns and villages. We are glad to say that during the entire period no weather-related death was recorded in this country. We look across the water where 30 deaths were recorded. Hundreds of deaths were recorded across Europe. It is important that we reflect on the good work of such people who deal with those who find themselves in a very difficult situation. They were in a position to say that nobody needed to sleep rough during that period.
The severe weather period tested the public bodies' response capabilities. In so far as we cannot control weather events, we must review the adequacy of our responses to ensure they are fit for purpose to respond to severe weather events and, in so far as possible, to minimise disruption to normal daily activity. The measures to be taken by the Department of Transport and my Department will improve the future response to a recurrence of severe weather from snow and ice.
I take it that Deputy Bannon proposes to share his time.
I am sharing my time with Deputy O'Dowd and I thank my colleagues, Deputies O'Dowd and Hogan, for bringing this very important motion before the House.
Fine Gael is the only party that has formulated plans to restructure Ireland's water supply through the establishment of a single water semi-State utility company. The recent extreme weather conditions of flooding, snow and ice highlighted the fact that the Government was in no way prepared to roll out a rapid and effective response to unusually severe conditions, as judged by this country's normal standards. By international standards the weather that brought this country to a standstill was relatively unremarkable, as visitors who saw us struggling to cope were quick to point out.
I am disappointed in the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, who, although a County Roscommon-based Deputy, has not worked to establish a River Shannon authority to manage water levels and bring them under control in severe weather conditions and excessive flooding. This call comes loud and clear from all the people of the midland counties. If the Minister of State had been present at a meeting two weeks ago he would have heard that single message coming from the people on the night. We had geography and history lessons from the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, that night, but no action. I expect Deputy Finneran to deliver on the promises made by a number of Fianna Fáil Deputies and councillors with regard to the establishment of a River Shannon authority. This has been called for by Fine Gael for a great number of years.
However, lacking a Government response to the climatic conditions, the fall-out was far worse than it should have been. Services ground to a halt and chaos and hardship ensued. In the midlands, recent bad weather brought major incidents. There were burst mains in counties Longford and Westmeath, in the towns of Mullingar, Granard and Longford town. Reservoirs in both counties——
A Private Members' motion in the Seanad addressed that.
I did not interrupt the Minister of State. Reservoirs in both counties, which urgently need upgrading——
The Deputy should read the record.
——ran low, leading to a major shortage of water for domestic and business uses. Many of the water schemes in Longford and Westmeath and across Ireland date back to the 1960s and 1970s. They still have asbestos piping which urgently need upgrading. None of this has been done, nor is likely to be unless urgently needed extra funding is provided. Such inefficient, outdated water networks have contributed to the recent problems as has the failure of some developers to comply fully with planning permissions.
The residents of the Drumlish area of County Longford lost their domestic water supply before the Christmas break, on 21 December, and an unreliable supply continued well into the new year. On complaining to the water services section of the council, they were told it must be a local problem because there had been no shut-downs. On 26 December some water was restored but at a very low pressure. Services were withdrawn totally again on 31 December and it was well into January before they were restored. Christmas was completely spoiled for these people and, ultimately, no one took responsibility.
As everyone is aware, water supplies were not the only casualty of the weather. Roads throughout the country were severely damaged and now pose a serious health and safety hazard. The road between Ballinacarrig and Mullingar was closed for long periods last week as a result of the craters people encountered on it as they travelled towards Mullingar. Our roads must be restored as a matter of urgency and additional funding must be provided in this regard. Six months after the completion of any water scheme, a local authority should be obliged to return in order to deal with any subsidence that has been caused. If additional funding were provided to repair any such deterioration, considerable financial savings could be made.
In light of cutbacks of 32% imposed by the Department of Transport in respect of budgets relating to regional and local roads, the problem caused by weather damage has been exacerbated. The Government is out of control and its incompetence knows no bounds. In the coming months, its members will be given a lesson by the people.
The Deputy should not hold his breath in that regard.
On my behalf and that of Deputy Hogan, I wish to thank all those who contributed to the debate on this matter. The first matter we must address is what actually happened during the Christmas period. We must also examine what is the public perception in that regard. Regardless of whether the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, was in the country, it did not appear that anyone else was in charge. The cold snap had been ongoing for almost two weeks before the national emergency response committee was convened. A fundamental charge relating to a lack of interest, concern, authority and leadership can be levelled at the Government in respect of this matter. There is no doubt that this charge has proven to be true. The response of the Government was completely inadequate and came too late.
There is a reason Government's response, particularly as it related to the road network, was not good enough. In budget 2009, an allocation of €607 million was made in respect of the road network. However, in April of last year the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, imposed a cut of €200 million. As a result, local authorities did not have the funding necessary to carry out repairs to scores of country roads that were damaged as a result of the recent freezing weather.
The local and regional network plays an important economic role and fulfils valuable social and community functions. Some 94% of all roads are either regional or local roads. They carry approximately 60% of all traffic and 43% of all goods traffic. Let us examine the cuts the Minister introduced in April of last year.
First, he made a cut of over €80 million in the restoration improvement programme for regional and local roads. Over a year ago, the local authorities, the Minister and his Department recognised that there was a significant problem with regard to our local and regional roads. However, funding for the restoration improvement programme was cut by one third or over €80 million. The second cut was one of €18 million in respect of strategic regional and local roads. In total, the budget relating to regional and local roads was cut by €173 million. In light of this reduction in the level of funding, it is no wonder that the roads could not be maintained and that the position relating to them has reached crisis point.
Reference was made to Third World countries. Roads in many rural areas have completely disintegrated and that has a significant and adverse impact on local economies. There are a number of issues which obviously cannot be addressed this evening but they must be dealt with in the future. Questions arise with regard to land use planning, rural development and planning general. If local economies are closed down because it is not possible to negotiate the roads, if people's properties have been flooded, if farmers cannot get around their farms or if workers cannot travel to their places of employment without being obliged to make massive detours, then it is obvious that the Government has not shown leadership in dealing with this issue.
The Minister for Transport was obliged to make the appalling cuts to which I refer last year and to cut the budget again this year as a result of the structural deficit that exists on foot of Fianna Fáil's mismanagement of the economy over many years. In recent years it has been joined in that mismanagement by the Green Party. It is time we changed the way things are done. A new planning system must be put in place. Notwithstanding what the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Finneran, stated earlier, I was not aware that the Government had any proposals to tackle the crisis relating to our country roads.
More of the same.
As many speakers indicated, €300 million will be needed to repair our disintegrating road network in order that local economies might function. There is also the issue of road safety. Potholes are extremely dangerous, particularly newer ones which people do not expect to come across while driving.
An application has been made to the European Union in respect of this matter.
I am glad to hear it. However, the Minister of State did not point that out during his contribution.
We can do more ourselves without being obliged to rely on Europe. Many of the works that need to be done locally are, in effect, shovel-ready in nature. In other words, they require intensive labour and the provision of some materials. The use of massive earth movers, engineers or consultants would not be required in respect of such projects.
The Government should reconsider the position with regard to the National Roads Authority's budget for next year. Some of the money contained therein may not yet have been contractually committed and there is a case to be made to reallocate it in respect of the works that need to be carried out immediately. Priority should be given to regional and local roads at this time rather than to commencing projects relating to new national roads. This is a constructive method by which the Government could reallocate the money to which I refer in order to deal with this crisis. It could also provide the type of leadership it has to date refused to give.
In our motion we commend the work of local authority workers, gardaí and members of the ambulance service. I do not wish to denigrate what the Minister of State said in respect of there being no deaths during the recent cold snap. If that is the case, I welcome it. However, hundreds, if not thousands, of people ended up in hospital with fractured bones during the cold snap. These injuries came about as a result of their falling on footpaths and roads which, due to a lack of resources, could not be gritted by local authorities.
Clarity is required in respect of people clearing the footpaths outside their homes of snow and ice. Several Ministers commented on this matter but it is time a definitive statement was issued by the Government in respect of it. If the law needs to be changed, then so be it. If people act in good faith in clearing a footpath or roadway, then they should not be liable for injuries caused to others.
I wish to praise the National Roads Authority, particularly with regard to the information it provided on its website in respect of road surface and air temperatures on critical national transport routes. Such information is extremely important and useful. Heretofore, no one other than local authorities were aware of the existence of such information but now everybody can check it. The authority provides a very good service in this regard but perhaps the number of temperature measuring points could be increased so that even more information might be provided. I commend those who worked day and night to keep our airports open and, by extension, to keep our economy going.
Fine Gael is of the view that the roads fell into such disrepair as a result of the cuts that were administered in last year's budget. The restoration work which should have been carried out did not take place and the recent cold weather only exacerbated the position. Money must be provided now in order to repair regional and local roads. The rural economy, particularly that of the west, has suffered greatly as a result of the flooding which occurred before Christmas and the fact that road surfaces are in such a desperate state.
Road safety is central to road improvement programmes and maintenance work. It is supposed to be a key plank of the Government's road investment programme yet this deep freeze has left scores of roads pot-marked with potholes the size of craters or disintegrating completely. Fine Gael calls on the Ministers for Transport, and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to immediately release emergency funding through the National Roads Authority to restore these roads. The Government's ongoing refusal to acknowledge its role and its willingness to allow roads to deteriorate further will cost taxpayers more in the long run and place drivers at even greater risk. Investing in repairs now is the answer. It will cost a hell of a lot more if it is not done now and it will destroy the local economy.
- Ahern, Bertie.
- Ahern, Dermot.
- Ahern, Noel.
- Andrews, Barry.
- Andrews, Chris.
- Ardagh, Seán.
- Aylward, Bobby.
- Behan, Joe.
- Blaney, Niall.
- Brady, Áine.
- Brady, Cyprian.
- Brady, Johnny.
- Browne, John.
- Byrne, Thomas.
- Calleary, Dara.
- Carey, Pat.
- Collins, Niall.
- Connick, Seán.
- Coughlan, Mary.
- Cregan, John.
- Cuffe, Ciarán.
- Curran, John.
- Devins, Jimmy.
- Dooley, Timmy.
- Finneran, Michael.
- Fitzpatrick, Michael.
- Fleming, Seán.
- Flynn, Beverley.
- Gogarty, Paul.
- Gormley, John.
- Grealish, Noel.
- Hanafin, Mary.
- Harney, Mary.
- Haughey, Seán.
- Healy-Rae, Jackie.
- Hoctor, Máire.
- Kelleher, Billy.
- Kenneally, Brendan.
- Kennedy, Michael.
- Kitt, Michael P.
- Kitt, Tom.
- Lenihan, Brian.
- Lenihan, Conor.
- McEllistrim, Thomas.
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