I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. I agree with his initial comments and have said a number of times in the past week or ten days that politicians, regardless of political persuasion, donning wellies and standing around looking sympathetic will not serve much purpose. I visited Bandon and Skibbereen yesterday because the county council had passed a motion calling on me to do so. I also visited Ballinasloe and Crossmolina for similar reasons. Where I have been asked to visit, I have done so, but I have no desire to travel the country visiting people when my time could be more practically spent to come up with solutions, as the Deputy correctly pointed out. That said, where people want me to visit to hear the views of the community, I will do so.
I am very much aware of the devastating impact flooding can have on people's lives and livelihoods. I convey my deepest sympathy and that of all Members of the House to those who have been affected by recent flooding, including in County Clare, particularly in areas such as Springfield, Clonlara and wider rural communities. I pay tribute to the resilience of local communities who have been responding for days to the flood alert issued by the local authority. Community efforts are critical to preparing for and managing any flood event or other adverse event. I understand approximately 20,000 sandbags have been distributed throughout County Clare to help to prevent and mitigate flood damage. I also pay tribute to local authority staff, the almost 900 defence personnel - members of Civil Defence, An Garda Síochána and the HSE - and all those who are working day and night to protect life and property and now also engaged in the recovery work.
Obviously, people must continue to heed safety messages until this flood event and flood risk have passed. The Department of Social Protection has a €10 million fund available for households, while the Irish Red Cross is administering a €5 million fund for businesses that have been affected. The Government has asked the Irish Red Cross to make every effort to have this €5 million fund disbursed to businesses before Christmas and I know that it is doing so.
As the Deputy suggested, the core strategy for addressing the significant flood risk in County Clare is the Office of Public Work's CFRAM programme. There are 11 areas identified for further assessment in the county, namely, Bunratty, Ennis, Kilkee, Kilrush, Quin, Shannon, Sixmilebridge, Springfield Clonlara, Shannon Airport, O'Brien's Bridge and Killaloe. These are being assessed within the Shannon CFRAM study. The study is focused on assessing and putting in place solutions to manage areas at greatest risk and the impact of flooding along the River Shannon. It is the only CFRAM study that is focusing on an entire river catchment. The other five studies are focusing on geographic areas. The River Shannon study covers some 17,800 sq. km or 20% of the island of Ireland. It includes 17 counties, including the Deputy's own county of Clare.
The CFRAM programme which is being undertaken by engineering consultants on behalf of the OPW, working in partnership with the local authorities, involves the production of predictive flood maps for each location, the development of preliminary flood risk management options and the production of flood risk management plans. The programme has and will continue to rely on extensive public engagement and consultation. To date, it has included a public consultation to inform the designation of the 300 areas across Ireland at greatest risk from flooding and meet, in person, each of the 300 communities to explain the flood risks for and the impact on them and to obtain their local knowledge and insight. One cannot beat local knowledge.
In County Clare the flood map meetings were held between November 2014 and March 2015. In addition, the OPW is running a national public consultation until 23 December on the draft flood maps which will provide a further opportunity to share information and obtain as much local knowledge as possible. Details are available at Clare County Council's offices in Ennis, Killaloe and Kilrush and on the OPW's website. We are actively examining the options for feasible flood risk solutions for each of the areas and discussing, in person, with each community the possible options. Of the 66 areas that are part of the Shannon CFRAM study, we have discussed options to manage the flood risk with 48 of the communities and the remainder will be done in early 2016. The options for the areas in County Clare were discussed with the communities between October and early December this year.
By the middle of next year I expect to have the draft plans with feasible solutions for each of the 300 areas, including those in County Clare. The recent flooding event and the possible impact of climate change will inform the flood risk management plan for each area. There will be a further round of public consultations in the second half of 2016, again involving each of the communities to obtain their insight which will inform the final flood risk management plans. I must stress that they will not just be empty plans or glossy reports but will come up with real solutions.
I will reflect on the points made by the Deputy, many of which were reasonable. The issue of relocation may have to be considered in some areas where we are not able to come up with a viable solution. I look forward to responding to further points the Deputy may raise.