Shannon Flooding Interim Report: Statements.

I thank the House for affording me the opportunity to acknowledge the achievement of the Joint Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport in producing an interim report on flooding on the River Shannon within such a short time span. Members will be aware that I referred the issues of the management of the River Shannon to the joint committee for investigation in response to a motion from Deputy Connaughton requesting the establishment of a River Shannon statutory authority and I congratulate the committee on the production of this interim report.

The issues relating to the River Shannon, whether flooding, water quality, navigation or the overall management of the river, have been the subject of debate and discussion in this House and in Dáil Éireann for many years without anybody finding the perfect solution to all the problems. This interim report confirms what we have all believed.

Does the Minister have copies of his script?

They should be here; they will be made available. I apologise.

The problems of the River Shannon are very complex, involving many bodies with varying responsibilities, each supported by various aspects of Irish and EU legislation. Before looking at the report let us remind ourselves again of the history of the river about which we speak.

The Shannon is the largest and longest river in Great Britain and Ireland. The main stem of the river is 210 miles long. The total length of the river and its tributaries is 1,130 miles. The drainage area of the system is about 6,400 square miles or the equivalent of 20% of the whole island. The Shannon system has many and sometimes conflicting facets – tourism, recreation, fishing and water based sports, water resources for industrial development and agriculture, for tours and for regional and group water supplies, effluent and waste disposal, electricity generation, flooding, drainage and water level control. Consequently there are a number of bodies both public and private involved in the development and use of the river.

While many problems have been identified and associated with the River Shannon over the years, the one which constantly comes to the fore is flooding. The flooding of last winter in the Shannon catchment is the principal reason we are reviewing the interim report of the joint committee today.

Flooding of the Shannon is not a recent phenomenon. History shows that it has been the subject of complaints and appeals by local inhabitants and of concern to successive Governments and responsible authorities. This is shown in reports, surveys and investigations relating to the problem extending over the last two centuries. These reports concerned the major works on the Shannon undertaken in the 1840s. The works were primarily for the purposes of navigation but also had the effect of improving drainage conditions. The John F. Bateman report of 1863, following the great flood of 1861, recommended the use of storage, which was Lough Allen, channel improvements and provision of services in fixed weirs. The report of the Allport Commission of 1887 recommended a 92 foot reduction in navigation depth between Killaloe and Athlone. The report of the Drainage Commission, 1938-40, reviewed the problems along the Shannon and recommended certain limited works in conjunction with its "comprehensive scheme of arterial drainage".

All these earlier investigations had a common characteristic in that they recommended only partial solutions and concluded that any overall solution would require large and costly engineering works outside the bounds of physical and economic feasibility. Such a comprehensive approach had to await the report of Mr. Rydell in 1956 which was again commissioned after a major flood event in the Shannon in 1954. Its conclusions and those of subsequent reports are dealt with in the interim report before us this evening.

During that debate I also referred to the Water Framework Directive and water quality in the River Shannon in particular. Progress in that area has moved forward substantially and I would like to update the House as to the present position.

The proposed Water Framework Directive was agreed by the European Parliament and Council in September 2000 and is now undergoing final drafting. It will be formally adopted shortly and will enter into force on its publication in the Official Journal of the European Communities. The WFD will require member states to identify river basin districts, RBDs, for the purposes of water management, and to ensure the co-ordination of measures by all relevant authorities in relation to the whole RBD. The directive does not require the establishment on a new statutory authority to co-ordinate measures in an RBD. It is a matter for each member state to determine the appropriate co-ordination arrangements.

The current Lough Derg and Lough Ree catchment project will conclude at end December 2000. Publication of a final report of the project is expected in February 2001. The project aims to establish a water quality monitoring and management system in relation to rivers and lakes in the Lough Derg and Lough Ree catchments. Proposals are being developed by local authorities for river basin management projects in relation to, for example, the whole Shannon catchment, the western lakes and the south east region, for example, the Barrow, Nore, Suir and Slaney catchments. Discussions are ongoing with authorities in Northern Ireland in the context of the North-South Ministerial Council, regarding the identification of RBDs in relation to cross-Border waters.

Water quality in Loughs Derg and Ree has generally been improving. The lakes were classified in the early 1990s as strongly eutrophic. Monitoring in 1999 indicated that the water quality in both lakes is now classified as mesotrophic indicating compliance with the improvement requirements of the phosphorus regulations. Lough Derg was oligotrophic in 1998 and mesotrophic in 1999.

Other lakes in the Shannon system were classified in 1999 as either mesotrophic or oligotrophic. For example, Loughs Allen, Boderg, Bofin, Drumharlow, Forbes and Oakport were classified in 1999 as oligotrophic. Lough Key was classified as mesotrophic in 1999.

Facilities for the pumping out of sewage from boats have been provided by local authorities at 11 locations on the Shannon system with the primary objective of protecting water quality. The Department of the Environment and Local Government provided 100% grant assistance towards capital expenditure by local authorities.

The locations of the pumping out facilities were selected and in some cases the sites were provided by the Office of Public Works in the context of its responsibilities, at the time, in relation to inland waterways. All such facilities can be operated by smartcard which facilitates weekend and after hours use.

A major programme of expenditure on the provision and improvement of waste water treatment facilities is underway in the Shannon catchment under the water and sewerage services investment programme of the Department of the Environment and Local Government. Waste water treatment plants are under construction or planned at 43 locations at an estimated cost of £275 million.

When I referred the question of the River Shannon to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport for examination and report in April I expressed my concern about a range of issues which had been raised in the course of the debate. I stated that my desire was to find a mechanism and a way to move forward. I also expressed a desire that the matter would be expedited by the committee and I am delighted to say that this has happened. The committee did a splendid job given the complexity of the subject.

The report, even though it is an interim document, has dealt comprehensively with the various and diverse bodies involved in the Shannon River catchment. The Government welcomes the conclusions and recommendations contained in this document and looks forward to receiving the final document when some of these will be expanded further.

I will now refer to some of the sections of the interim report. Section 7.1 is a statement of fact and agreed. In section 7.2 the summer relief scheme is suggested as the best practicable. Section 7.3 refers to the option of a reasonable alleviation of the worst flooding on the Shannon and its tributaries which has been suggested on many occasions before. The problems associated with this scheme are very well chronicled where you say a more detailed stage of surveys and investigations would be essential, particularly in light of the lengthy intervening period, the changed circumstances within the catchment and the current climate of critical environmental appraisal of such a major drainage scheme. The updated cost of such a scheme would most likely make it economically unacceptable given the changes in agriculture and agricultural land use and value over the past 20 years.

With regard to sections 7.4 and 7.5, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government will announce the allocation of funding for non-national roads at the end of January 2001. These allocations will be made in the context of the existing ten year restoration programme. The aim of the programme is to bring the network of regional and local roads in county council areas to a reasonable standard and is on target for completion by 2005. The recommendations in the report will be considered in determining these allocations.

With regard to section 7.6, the Government has introduced a humanitarian aid package to alleviate hardship whenever necessary. This is being implemented through the Irish Red Cross Society. It is difficult to see how a once-off compensation package could be implemented fairly and equitably.

With regard to sections 7.7 and 7.8, it is my intention to reconvene the interdepartmental committee set up originally in 1996 to review the effects of bad weather. One of the items I will ask it to look at, apart from reviewing the recent flooding, is the question of flood risk mapping. I am satisfied that this course of action is essential and the information will be invaluable, particularly for local authorities in dealing with planning applications and the preparation of development plans.

With regard to section 7.9, this question has been dealt with in many previous reports. In view of the time lapse since the last examination perhaps it is due a review again and the Government will take this on board.

With regard to section 7.10, this recommendation will be passed to Waterways Ireland to discuss directly with the ESB and provide details of the outcome. The recommendation in section 7.11 needs to be revisited again in the final report having regard to the various interests involved in the Shannon, to which I have already referred. No scheme of works has been undertaken on the Shannon under the Arterial Drainage Acts and there is no standard to which the river must be maintained. Any suggested or proposed works would certainly be subject to an environmental impact assessment and also probably planning permission. The consequential impacts of any maintenance works, particularly downstream, would also need to be determined and there are other factors which would also need to be considered. For these reasons I ask the committee to revisit this recommendation and perhaps to elaborate on what it intended together with outlining how it might be achieved.

I have given a fair summary of the interim report at present but I look forward to seeing a more detailed final report.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss this report. I compliment the members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport on submitting this interim report at such an early date. I appreciate that they were somewhat restricted, their powers were limited and that they were under a certain amount of pressure to produce a report quickly.

I am very disappointed with the report. The Shannon River Council Bill was before this House and the Government agreed to take it. We spent over 12 hours of Seanad time debating it. After a lot of manoeuvring behind the scenes the Government decided that it was impractical to accept the Bill and voted it down on Second Stage having wasted 12 hours of debating time in this House. The Government, in order to cover its political back, so to speak, decided to refer the matter to a committee. In view of the circumstances the committee has done the best it could.

I am disappointed with the Minister of State's response to a variety of the recommendations made in this report when the committee concluded its business. One stark fact has emerged clearly from the report. In subsection 8, on page 4 of the report, the committee concludes:

We have been struck by the fragmented situation regarding responsibility for maintenance and control of the Shannon. Accordingly, we are of the opinion that we can do no more than recommend that Government nominate an agency for the immediate task. We will return to this issue of fragmented responsibility and any legislative implications in our final report.

Fundamental to the concept of a Shannon river council, which is central to the Shannon River Council Bill and a matter we attempted to address in that Bill, was the issue of fragmentation.

It still is.

By proposing a council we sought to introduce a body that would unify and take overall control of the fragmented elements. This report – I appreciate it is an interim one – does not address that fundamental issue. It makes a number of recommendations and addresses a number of substantial issues.

Page 43 of the report outlines very specific recommendations. It recommends that budgetary provision be made by the Minister for Finance. The Minister of State did not satisfactorily respond to that recommendation in his response; he did not deal with it at all. He addressed it in a negative manner, saying:

The updated cost of such a scheme would most likely make it economically unacceptable given the changes in agriculture and agricultural land use and value over the past 20 years.

His response is most disappointing. I am sure the people who suffer very serious effects on an annual basis will find his response most unacceptable.

The report also recognises that a number of local authorities along the Shannon river from counties Leitrim to Clare, Kerry and Limerick have submitted costings in relation to essential works that need to be done within their areas. The aggregate of those costings is £8,132,882. That is a conservative estimate. The report states the committee recommends that the Minister for Finance should make budgetary provision for this expenditure. Unfortunately, the Minister of State did not deal specifically with that recommendation in his speech, other than to say that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government will announce the allocation of funding for non-national roads at the end of January 2001 and that this allocation will be made in the context of the existing ten year restoration programme.

I would have liked the Minister of State to say that, in view of the specific recommendations in this report and the submissions made by the local authorities, this funding will be provided over and above any other allocations. I hope the Minister of State will find himself in a position to give that sort of clear and positive response to the recommendations in his reply.

The report suggests that comprehensive information is not available on the extent of past flooding, which means the committee is not in a position to deem who should be compensated and the level of equitable compensation that should be provided to people who have recently been flooded and those who have been continually flooded since time immemorial.

The report recommends that the Government nominate an appropriate body to obtain this information in co-operation with the relevant local authorities. I had hoped the Minister of State would have suggested which appropriate body the Government has in mind to perform the task of collecting and collating that information, but he did not do so.

The report contains a very specific recommendation in relation to the data on flooding which needs to be gathered. The committee sug gests this task should be specifically assigned to the local authorities in the Shannon catchment area. That should be done, but local authorities will need additional personnel to collate that information. I hope the Government will provide the local authorities with the necessary resources to undertake that task.

A very important issue which arose during the committee's hearings and discussions was that of siltation, particularly the contribution of Bord na Móna to peat siltation along Lough Ree and Lough Derg. The report recommends that an agency should be established to undertake an immediate survey of the extent of the siltation problem along the River Shannon. It suggests Bord na Móna should bear some of the cost of that. It also recommends that the EPA should continue to survey the sedimentation ponds for siltation within the Bord na Móna properties, and that this should be done on a much more frequent and regular basis. I understand it is done only twice a year and that Bord na Móna has quite a lot of control over that. The committee specifically recommended that there should be far more regular examination and surveying of this by the EPA.

The Minister of State did not address the report's very specific recommendations or show an openness to put in place the framework to carry out the recommendations. I know he had to come to the House at short notice and that he might not have had time to examine this report, which was recently published. However, the recommendations in it are fairly basic and are not very dramatic or unexpected. I hope he will respond positively to them.

The very fundamental issue of fragmentation has also not been addressed. We look forward to the final report of the committee which will provide details of its recommendations in regard to fragmentation. I have no doubt they will include bringing legislation before this House to put in place a framework to deal specifically with that issue.

I compliment the committee's members, who heard quite a number of bodies with an interest in the Shannon which they questioned in fine detail. They have chronicled in detail, as the Minister of State has today, what has occurred in relation to the River Shannon since almost the foundation of the State.

However, the bottom line is that quite a number of people continue to suffer their properties being flooded. Certain people have had their properties flooded for years, but they have been joined by many more people in recent years. Senator Connor, who comes from Roscommon, knows the full extent of that and how it has impacted on constituents of his. The river goes as far as Clare and the tributaries of the River Fergus. Lands around Ennis, Corofin and Dysart have been flooded as a result of difficulties on the Shannon.

This is an interim report and the Minister of State has a responsibility to make a positive response to it. Stating what we already know about what is happening in Government is not adequate. I would have expected the Minister of State to come forward with specific and positive responses to the concrete recommendations in the report. There are a number of observations and conclusions in the report, but only five recommendations.

The five recommendations relate to budgetary provision, nominating an appropriate body to gather data on previous flooding, the allocation of that task to the local authorities, appointing an agency to survey siltation and more frequent and assiduous monitoring by the EPA of sedimentation around Bord na Móna plants. I invite the Minister of State to give specific responses to these recommendations in his reply. The people who are being damaged, harmed and inconvenienced by this and who are suffering great hardship every year are looking for a specific response.

The Government chose in this House last April to dismiss the Bill which had been proposed and covered its back by referring the matter to a committee. That committee has now reported and made specific recommendations. If the Government were serious about this – although, unfortunately, I do not believe it is – it would respond positively to the very straightforward recommendations in the report. I am disappointed that has not happened. I hope that when the committee publishes its final report it will recommend the enactment of legislation to deal with the issue of fragmentation.

In the meantime, many farmers and other people will suffer much hardship, which is unacceptable. The Government stands accused of a failure to react positively to these people. It is unfortunate that I have to put that on record, but I hope to be able to respond more positively to the Minister of State's reply.

I welcome the Minister of State, who has come to the House at very short notice. As a member of the sub-committee which dealt with this matter, I am fairly familiar with what has occurred over the past months. In a very short period, the sub-committee met with many individuals and groups, both statutory and private, with interests along the Shannon. We went to the Shannon region where flooding has been very apparent, over the past couple of years in particular.

Rather than looking back and criticising the fact that legislation did not get through this or the other House, we should collectively look forward. If we are sympathetic towards and feel pity for the people involved in the flooded regions we should look forward collectively and make a serious and genuine attempt to address these problems in the hope that the Government will produce the necessary funding.

Fragmentation is the most fundamental issue. It was never the intention of the sub-committee to deal with it in this interim report. We had a twofold mission: first, to introduce an interim report as speedily as possible with the resources available to us, limited though they may have been in some instances, and we have succeeded in doing that; second, to examine the overall picture with a view to putting a framework, statutory body or other such facility in place to take total responsibility for the various different interests and groups along the river. The Minister of State has taken a positive approach to most of the conclusions and recommendations in the interim report, which I welcome.

In the course of our deliberations we met with many groups and took into account the many previous reports and submissions that were made to our committee and to previous ones. We examined the final report on the River Shannon flood problem by Mr. Rydell, which has been referred to by the Minister of State. We also considered the IFA report on technical aspects of the Shannon flooding problem, prepared by Delap & Waller, the report of the Office of Public Works in April 1998 on an investigation of flooding problems, especially in the County Galway area, and submissions to meetings of the Joint Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport by Dúchas, the Heritage Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, the ESB and the Office of Public Works. More recently in the course of our deliberations, both at the site of the problem in the River Shannon area and in committee, we met with many other groups, including the Heritage Council, Roscommon County Council, An Taisce, Birdwatch Ireland, Bord na Móna and, on numerous occasions, the IFA, both here and in the Shannon region. From our meetings we concluded that while everybody had limited responsibility, nobody either had or wished to have overall responsibility for the River Shannon. That is the kernel of this problem.

The Shannon is a majestic river. It is the longest and largest in the British Isles and, at a time when we are trying to increase tourism numbers, it has huge tourism potential. By concentrating our minds to address this issue we can attract more tourists to the River Shannon region, where there are many opportunities for them to enjoy their holidays in Ireland.

The provision of access, especially to property and to basic needs, is essential when dealing with the consequences of flooding. We tried to encourage the local authorities in the counties in question to provide funding for access to all the areas in question. A further difficulty arose in trying to identify the number of farms and families that would be isolated at any one time. Various vested interest groups submitted figures to us. The cost of paying compensation or removing people from their farms on a once-off basis could not be considered until we have statistics on the numbers involved and how often their properties are flooded.

We arrived at a figure of between £8.1 and £8.2 million, which is modest by today's standards, to ensure that access can be provided in the following counties that have acknowledged they have a problem, taken time to examine the situation and put a figure on the amount they required: Athlone UDC – £780,000; Clare County Council – £636,000; Galway County Council – £172,000; Leitrim County Council – £1.9 million; Longford County Council – £1.5 million; Offaly County Council – £290,000; Roscommon County Council – £2.5 million; Tipperary North Riding – £190,000; and Westmeath County Council – £193, 000. I agree with Senator Taylor-Quinn that the figure is modest and will probably have to increase. On three occasions we asked the local authorities in question to ensure that as well as raising the roads to give access to the places concerned, other ancillary works would be taken into account. We have been assured this will happen, but it means that in most cases if and when this work is tackled there will be a slight upward adjustment of the money involved.

I agree with Senator Taylor-Quinn that the conclusions and recommendations of the sub-committee are basic in many ways. They are couched in layman's language to ensure they will be addressed. Given the resources at our disposal and the short period of time, we have produced a high quality report. It has less than 50 pages, but it spells out clearly and precisely what we were asked to do, how we approached our task and how we prepared the report and placed it before both Houses of the Oireachtas.

This report will give much greater solace to the people directly affected by flooding than any legislation passed by this House, including legislation passed with cross party support. The Government was wise to ask the Joint Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport to examine this matter in detail. Our mission was twofold: first, to examine how flooding along the River Shannon and flood relief could be addressed, and, second, to consider the fragmentation of responsibility. We look forward to the submission of a full report to the House some time next year. In my short time as a Member of this House this very important issue has been raised on many occasions. I hope those Members who have done so will contribute to this debate.

According to the report, flooding along the River Shannon occurs ever winter and, on average, in one of every two summers. It is primarily due to natural causes, the extremely flat basin of the River Shannon, its inadequate depths and widths in critical areas, apparent increases in rainfall amounts and the possible effects of siltation of the river's channels. All this results in great hardship and considerable financial loss to those affected. When we visited the families involved we saw the tremendous hardship they must endure at times of flooding, including financial loss.

Senator Taylor-Quinn criticised some of the Minister of State's responses to the report's recommendations. I welcome them, especially with regard to sections 7.7 and 7.8 where the Minister of State indicated his intention to reconvene the inter-departmental committee established originally in 1996 to review the effects of bad weather. Apart from reviewing the recent flooding, he will ask the committee to look at flood risk mapping. He indicated that this course of action is essential and that the information will be invaluable, especially for local authorities in dealing with planning applications and their development plans. I agree with that, because whatever about trying to remove people from impossible situations, we should not place them there. If we can map the flood risk areas nobody will be foolish enough to suggest that people be granted planning permission to build there. When the mapping is complete we can perhaps look at lands that are continually under water with a view to making once-off compensation payments.

Given the short time available for the completion of his report, Mr. Rydell did not conduct site investigations, carry out detailed surveys or collect extensive field data. His proposals were of a preliminary nature, especially with regard to his estimated cost of £15 million. He recommended that further site research was necessary before the summer relief scheme could be advanced. If this scheme were to be implemented now, this detailed stage of surveys and investigations would be essential, particularly in light of the lengthy intervening period, the changed circumstances within the catchment and the current climate of critical environmental appraisal of such major drainage schemes. An essential element of the summer relief scheme investigations would be an assessment of its updated estimate of cost and the availability of funding for the proposal.

All the preparatory work and investigations would be likely to extend over a number of years before being completed. Such a protracted period of time before initiation of any flood relief scheme would be unlikely to be acceptable to the population of those flooded areas who suffer regular hardship, inconvenience and financial loss. An earlier solution to their difficulties would result in the raising of regularly flooded roads above flood level, possible resiting of flooded farms and payment of compensation to property owners on a once-off basis for financial loss, provided it is possible to determine the number of farms continually under water.

It has been confirmed by local authorities, which have prepared estimates of cost, that the elevation of roads would cost £8.1 million. The committee strongly recommends that the Minister for Finance should make budgetary provision for this expenditure. I do not mind which Minister makes such provision. I am sure it is the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and I hope he is sympathetic to the cause. When announcing further allocations for multi-annual road plans, I hope he takes cognisance of the fact that this finance is badly needed to provide access to people's property in times of flooding.

Comprehensive information is not available on the extent of past flooding, particularly its geographical limits, numbers of houses, buildings and farm holdings affected and details of roads submerged, together with information on depth and duration of submersion. This information would be essential in the determination of any equitable scales of monetary compensation to property owners. The committee recommends that the Government should nominate an appropriate body to obtain this information in co-operation with the relevant local authorities. The Government should then determine criteria for a once-off compensation scheme based on data obtained after consultation with the insurance industry. An independent body should administer the scheme. It is important to involve local authorities because they know where flooding occurs in their areas on an annual basis and the duration of such flooding.

If it is known that land is prone to flooding or susceptible to extreme weather conditions, the planning authorities must take cognisance of that when making development plans. It is important that more people are not put in the same situation. Although people would like to build houses along the River Shannon or the Shannon basin, we must ensure that people's properties are not prone to flooding when considering planning applications.

Claims that appreciable siltation has occurred over stretches of the river and that repair work is required on some hydraulic controls should be examined and appropriate corrective action taken, if warranted. As regards siltation, the Government should appoint one agency to undertake an immediate survey of the extent of the problem and take early action. Bord na Móna should be invited to assist with this work. The report also recommends that more frequent and assiduous monitoring of the operation of the sedimentation ponds should be undertaken, using currently acceptable best practice procedures, to ensure that the siltation problem on the Shannon is controlled.

Discussions should be initiated with the ESB to maximise storage on Lough Allen and Lough Ree with a view to providing a greater buffer against autumn and winter flooding. There appeared to be constant contradictions in deliberations, particularly with the IFA and the ESB. Many people living in that region were of the opinion that the ESB had a certain amount of flexibility in controlling flood waters and that it had not handled them properly at times. The ESB is obliged to maintain certain levels, which were agreed many years ago. Perhaps it is time to re-examine those levels to help alleviate the flooding.

The committee also recommended that a dedicated annual budget, which should be augmented, if necessary, with a Supplementary Estimate, should be provided to ensure that regular and necessary maintenance work is carried out on an ongoing basis on the channel of the main stream, the tributaries of the river and on all associated hydraulic control structures and installations. It has been brought home to us on many occasions that lack of maintenance work is a contributory factor. Professional bodies may say it is not a major contributory factor but people who live along the river know it causes a considerable problem.

It is a crying shame to see parts of such a majestic river closing in. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to realise that if more room is made in the river by removing siltation or small obstacles along the channel, it will help to alleviate flooding. This would not require legislation or large-scale funding. An annual budgetary sum will be required to provide necessary maintenance on the River Shannon. This will benefit the people living along the river by alleviating flooding and it will help tourism. When Bord Fáilte made a submission to the committee it stated there was a potential to increase the tourism figures for the River Shannon if we had overall responsibility.

I hope the House adopts the report. We should encourage the Government in whatever way we can to ensure the recommendations which can be implemented immediately are done so and that the others will be implemented at the earliest possible date. I look forward to working on the sub-committee with my colleagues from the other House to ensure that we publish a substantial report some time in 2001.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I live in a part of the country where agriculture, etc., are affected by the behaviour of the River Shannon. Some months ago we had a debate on the Shannon River Council Bill. I call again for the reintroduction of that Bill in this House. I congratulate the people who drew up this comprehensive interim report which outlines the behaviour and history of flooding on the River Shannon. It broadly recommends that an inter-agency body should be established to control the river and to ensure that all interests are represented, whether in navigation, power generation, agriculture or tourism.

One of the conclusions of the Rydell report of 1955 was that an inter-agency body should be set up. The Office of Public Works and the ESB conducted another survey which commenced in 1957 and was completed and published in 1961. One of its conclusions was that an inter-agency committee should be established to represent all the people with an interest in the River Shannon. The Delap & Waller report which was commissioned privately by the Irish Farmers' Association and was published in 1988 came to the same conclusion. Those three major reports reached the same conclusion on the problems of flooding on the River Shannon over a period of 40 years or more.

All these reports recognised the difficulties of draining the River Shannon because of the poor gradient. It has one of the worst gradients of any major river in the world and that gives rise to problems. That issue is dealt with in the interim report. There was a common recommendation that there should be a summer relief scheme on the river in areas where the channel of the river is deficient and could be deepened, which would help greatly. There are indications as to the degree by which water levels could be reduced by summer relief schemes, such as channel improvement and making the channel more efficient in areas where that may be done reasonably economically. This was recommended in the reports of 1955 and 1961 and also in the Delap & Waller report. It is also reflected in this interim report, yet steps have never been taken in this regard.

There is an great amount of local flooding in the River Shannon basin which is related to a deficient channel in the main stem and in the main tributaries. I have seen the benefits of an arterial drainage scheme in the case of the River Boyle scheme. The River Boyle is a major tributary of the Shannon flowing into the upper Shannon and eventually into Lough Ree. There were great local improvements as a result of this scheme. However, it may be approaching the problem at the wrong end. That particular catchment lets its flood water into the River Shannon at a much more rapid rate than used to be the case, which can cause greater flooding in the major stem or down stream.

I have lived by a tributary of the River Shannon for a long time and have seen this happen. I live alongside the Boyle river and its catchment area or within its basin. While the scheme was very welcome and brought many improvements to agricultural land in that it lowered the water level in areas that had been bedeviled by local flooding, nevertheless, there is the great difficulty that it has all discharged into the main system which is inadequate to deal with it.

All great rivers in the world – the Shannon is one of the bigger rivers in Europe – have interventions. The Danube is one of the greatest rivers in Europe and most countries through which the river flows take certain measures to build embankments, do dredging work and so on. These countries work in co-operation with each other. The war in the former Yugoslavia has given rise to great difficulties in the operation of the Danube forum, nevertheless, this national and international body controls this great river. The same is true of the River Rhine in how it affects Germany and some of the Benelux countries. These countries co-operate at an international level and there is also national intervention.

The Missouri-Mississippi system in the United States of America has had its channel developed over 200 years. A great flood in the River Mississippi system a few years ago washed away many of the embankments and other interventions put in place to control the flood plain of the river.

The River Shannon has a huge flood plain and very little has been done to control it. Most farmers who live on it have always been subject to flooding and there has been very little intervention to control the flood plain.

Another problem is that the evidence, which is both anecdotal and scientifically arrived at, clearly shows that there is an increased level of flooding on the Shannon. In the past perhaps there was a very bad flood every ten years. Now there is very bad flooding every second year. At this stage of the winter levels are critically high on the Shannon, to which high rainfall is a major contributory factor. If there is high rainfall in December and January there may be another major Shannon flood.

There was a huge Shannon flood last year which led to a great deal of local anger and angst. Senator Moylan and I were at a meeting in Athlone which was attended by in excess of 1,000 people. The problem was that everyone mistrusted each other. Everyone who had a role to play in the Shannon did not seem to know what the others were doing – I refer to the statutory bodies such as the Office of Public Works, the ESB, Dúchas and so on. They never seemed to consult with each other in relation to intervention on the river. The ESB which generates electricity from the River Shannon makes a major intervention in the way it operates locks. The Office of Public Works has control over certain locks, yet it does not seem to consult with the ESB.

We have no responsibility for locks.

Perhaps the Minister of State now wishes to pass on the responsibility to Waterways Ireland.

No, that is a statement of fact. I agree with what the Senator is saying but the Office of Public Works is not one of the bodies involved in the Shannon. That may well be part of the problem.

The problem is that it is not only the ESB which operates locks on the River Shannon. There is also a perception that the operation of the locks is not satisfactory. Floods may take place in September which do not follow heavy rainfall. The flood plain of the river spreads because of the operation of the locks. That hap pens in the southern part of County Roscommon which is within the basin of the river where the gradient is at its most inefficient. However, people have great difficulty comprehending huge economic losses as a result of the spread of the river outside the winter months. This relates to the operation of the locks on the river.

The official bodies who have statutory functions in the area never explain satisfactorily why this is happening and that is not fair. This is why it was recommended and supported on all sides of the House – it was a Government decision to stymie the proposal – that we should have a statutory Shannon river council on which all those with financial and economic interests could be involved. If one does not get all of one's way, at least one is part of the decision-making in relation to the most efficient use of the river.

If one suffers financial loss as a result of the interventions on a river, whether for navigational or electricity generating purposes, or if a farmer's home is flooded, there should be a statutory right to compensation. In the past there was compensation for flooding. However, no compensation was paid last year, even though there were huge fodder losses, damage to land and so on. The same thing happened a few years earlier. Compensation was granted in 1996 but there was no compensation in 1999-2000. People see this as grossly unfair, given that when some people are in office they accept that people are entitled to compensation for hardship and loss, and last year was a good example of this at a time when the country can afford it. Compensation packages were put in place for people who suffered as a result of flooding in times when the country could less well afford it.

We must accept that there will be further flooding. I hope this debate and the final report which will be published soon will give rise to legislation to establish a statutory right to compensation for those adversely affected financially or economically as a result of major flooding and man-made interventions for economic reasons. I look forward to this outcome. However, one must look at these issues with little confidence.

I grew up listening to political debates about draining the River Shannon. This issue has been a major political football in my county, in that of Senator Moylan and in all counties adjacent to the River Shannon for many years. Some people are much more guilty than others in terms of broken promises, etc. on this matter, which has proven to be a major influence on many people's political psyches.

After 60 or 70 years of promises, there has been little or no intervention. The intervention which has taken place has had a deleterious effect on the people who live beside the river. More people are suffering damage and loss from flooding on the River Shannon than at any previous time. The greatest recorded flood on the Shannon took place in 1915 and there was another serious flood in 1925. Both of these floods occurred prior to the implementation of the Ardnacrusha scheme.

In so far as records show, floods on the Shannon were far less frequent in the past than they are at present. It is clear that climate change is a factor. There is speculation that we are undergoing the part of our climate cycle during which there are periods of dry and wet weather. However, if one considers the situation which has obtained during the past 20 years, it is obvious that we are experiencing an ever-increasing level of flooding, as a result of which huge tracts of land and many houses are being inundated on a regular basis.

The problem with regard to flooding is the patchy response to it. After a flood some people will be compensated while after another, which may be worse than its predecessor, they will receive no compensation. There are no guarantees on whether people will receive compensation, regardless of the degree of damage caused to their property or the hardship they have endured. That is simply not fair. Decisions on compensation depend on the prevailing political climate and the level of pressure which can be exerted on the Government of the day. I want to see an end to this and I ask the Minister of State to give serious consideration to bringing that about.

My final point relates to Bord na Móna and the problem of siltation in the River Shannon. There should be a summer relief scheme for the river. This has been recommended by three major reports carried out over a period of 40 years. However, not a shovelful of silt has been removed from the river. Samples taken from the Shannon show that the silt is, by and large, of a peaty nature. This is clearly a result of the operations of Bord na Móna. I accept that these operations have been beneficial to the midlands in terms of employment and economic growth, but they have given rise to certain consequences for which the company, in conjunction with the Government, must bear responsibility.