Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 10 Nov 2010

Vol. 205 No. 10

Flood Relief

Gabhaim buíochas don Chathaoirleach mar gur thug sé cead dom an rún seo a chur roimh an Teach, agus cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Áine Brady. The motion calls on the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, whom I know is unable to be here tonight, to make an immediate announcement regarding the contract for the Lower Lee flood risk management scheme. The Minister of State and the Government have a duty to the people of Cork to outline whether funding is in place and, if so, when the flood protection measures will be commenced and completed.

The recent revelations by the ESB that the flooding of Cork is no longer considered a once in 800 year occurrence is of extreme concern to the people of Cork. Almost 12 months on from the eve of the flooding, procrastination by Government and the Departments has resulted in the ESB refusing to implement changes to operating procedures despite the recommendations of Lee Flood Risk Management Plan that the ESB and OPW co-ordinate their working schedule. Of concern is that no timeframe has been given in regard to when these works will commence. This is despite the fact that an internal ESB report on the flooding found that the inflow to the reservoirs during the flooding was two and a half times what is considered normal. This should serve as a warning to Government that we need action and to have the necessary works carried out immediately. Immediately does not mean in 12 months time. This work must commence soon. The ESB has stated that once OPW completes its downstream works on the River Lee it can allow increased discharges from Inniscarra, which in turn will improve its ability to lower reservoir levels in advance of bad weather and heavy rain.

It is important the Minister of State, Deputy Brady, makes a statement tonight in regard to the contract for the Lower Lee flood risk management scheme. The response received will provide us with a timeframe in regard to the appointment of a contractor, an indication of when the OPW can expect to receive the completed feasibility study and when the flood protection measures are likely to be completed. These are critical questions that need to be answered by Government on behalf of the people of Cork. When in February the Taoiseach visited Cork he stated he was thankful the flooding that had occurred was a once in a century event. According to the ESB, this is not the case.

It is now winter and we are approaching the first anniversary of the flooding and the people of Cork need and deserve better than what occurred last year when almost 40% of its water supply was disrupted. Some 12 months on, there is still no early warning system in place and the quay walls of Grenville Place have not been restored. Is funding for this work in place for the OPW? Is the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, confident such funding will be provided and that the works will be commenced in 2010 or will we have to wait until 2011 for work to commence? I am hoping the Government will not sit back in the hope that the people of Cork have a Mediterranean-type winter. Cork people are by nature of sunny disposition. However, the long range weather forecast indicates a severe winter ahead. The Government can no longer put this work on the longer finger. The people of Cork deserve a timeframe within which there will be a call to action and greater co-ordination between the different strands involved. I hope the Minister of State's reply to this important motion will be positive.

I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh.

At national level, the need for a proactive approach to the management of flood risk was recognised by the report of the flood policy review group. As the lead agency for flood risk management, the OPW's strategy for the management of flood risks is founded on that report which was approved by Government in September 2004. The main work programme to deliver on that strategy is the catchment flood risk management and assessment, CFRAM, programme. This programme has been piloted on the River Lee. This work was well advanced before the coming into effect in 2007 of the EU floods directive requiring the State to develop by 2015 flood risk management plans aimed at best managing flood risk in areas where risk is potentially significant. The objective of the plans is to define existing and foreseeable flood hazards and risks within a catchment and the methods, mechanisms, policies and proposals for managing the hazards and risks in a sustainable, integrated, proactive and holistic manner.

In February this year, the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, launched the first of these plans, the River Lee flood risk management plan, which is the result of three years work by OPW and its partners, Cork city and county councils, and sets out a range of measures to manage effectively and efficiently the flood risk for the whole Lee catchment, which when implemented should significantly reduce the likelihood of the severe flooding witnessed in Cork city and elsewhere in the catchment in November of last year. The OPW, in association with Cork city and county councils, is currently taking forward the Lower Lee flood risk management scheme, which was a key recommendation of the Lee catchment flood risk management plan. This scheme seeks to manage the flood risk from the River Lee and has been developed to protect against river and tidal flooding in and around Cork city. The scheme will involve works downstream of Inniscarra and through Cork city permitting greater discharges to be made from the ESB reservoirs without causing flooding of properties and will provide protection against flooding from the river and during periods of high tide or storm surge. Based on extensive analysis, undertaken between 2006 and 2009, of river flows and tidal-surge levels, this scheme is considered the most cost effective means of managing these flood risks in Cork city.

The concept of this scheme was originally devised in the course of the Lee CFRAM study but the events of November 2009 demonstrated the urgent need for this work to be progressed and the overall validity of what the scheme proposes to achieve. While the concept has been developed within the scope of the Lee CFRAM study, a scheme now needs to be taken forward to public exhibition and, if approved by the relevant stakeholders and the general public, will then be progressed to detailed design. This work will include developing localised defences upstream of, and through, Cork city. It will also include the carrying out of further investigations of how revised management of the water levels in the Inniscarra and Carrigadrohid reservoirs could further contribute to reducing the flood risk in the lower Lee and Cork city. Also, it will involve a full and detailed assessment of the likely environmental impact of the proposed works through an environmental impact assessment.

The OPW commenced the procurement process for consultants to undertake this work in September of this year and expects to issue tender documents to short-listed tenderers before the end of the year. The current programme is for the consultant to commence this work early in 2011 and for it to be completed before the end of next year. This would be followed by formal public exhibition of the proposals. Subject to public acceptance of these proposals, the procurement of a works contractor would then be undertaken. Based on past experience of similar flood relief projects, it would likely be some time into 2012 before construction works could commence on the scheme. However, should interim measures be identified to reduce the existing level of risk in the course of the consultant's work, these will be considered by OPW and its partners on the steering group.

OPW has sanctioned €900,000 for Cork City Council to undertake the repair of quay walls breached last November and contract works for this are currently at tender stage by Cork City Council. I can confirm that the cost of undertaking the development work and the eventual construction works has been included in OPW's budget profiles for flood relief activities for the coming years. The Minister of State is confident that the scheme to be developed will be warmly welcomed by the public and will lead to a significant reduction in the risk of flooding as experienced last November.

It is extraordinary that the flooding concerned occurred in 2009 and that the Minister of State has stated in her reply to the motion that "it would likely be some time in 2012 before construction works could commence". That is a sad indictment of the processes and procedures we have in place. It is of little consolation to the people of Cork who were affected by the flooding. I ask that the Minister of State convey to the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, my view that the reply given is not good enough.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.40 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 11 November 2010.