Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Táim an-bhuíoch de as teacht isteach chun an cheist seo a phlé.
Climate change is one of the hot topics this week. In 2013 and 2014 we experienced particularly bad winters during which there were many storms and a great deal of damage was caused in the context of coastal erosion. Counties Galway and Mayo were particularly hard hit in terms of the amount of damage done. Senators will recall the scenes of roads being washed away that were shown on television. A friend of mine who had no access to her home for weeks because the access road had been washed away had to have a new roadway constructed. Many graveyards were damaged and fields were either damaged or washed away. I know from contact with the local authorities concerned that they were under severe pressure at that time in terms of the amount of maintenance and other work they had to do. There were some great projects undertaken in my own local area, including at Spiddal. While the local authorities and their staff are to be commended on their efforts during that time and their ongoing work in this area, a great deal of work remains to be done in places such as the Aran Islands where, as I am sure the Minister of State is aware, roads were washed away or left impassable as a result of the damage caused by storms.
Coastal erosion is not a phenomenon that is going to go away. While 2013 and 2014 were unprecedented in terms of severe weather conditions, storms are occurring with greater frequency. I know from research in this regard that similar phenomena occurred in 1974, 1983, 1989, 2004 and 2008 and that pattern is expected to continue.
There will be rising sea levels and increasing frequency and intensity of storms. There is a real threat to coastal infrastructure but in other countries they have longer term monitoring programmes and they map changes on their coastlines to enable them to plan in advance. It was strange that, in 2013-14, the Government did not seek funding from the European Union for work on coastal erosion issues and to combat coastal erosion and potential storm damage. A number of people felt an attempt should have been made to access funding from the European Union as it related to a natural disaster. It was unprecedented and something over which people had no control. Local authorities told us their hands were tied as regards resources and that these resources were limited, although the Government told them it was giving them the resources that were available.
It is frustrating that people who see roadways or infrastructure damaged close to their homes, but not on land owned by the local authority, get absolutely no support unless locals help them to repair damage. I have been contacted recently by people around Tawin Island and Oranmore who asked me to raise this issue with the Minister as theirs is a low-lying area. There has been severe coastal erosion in recent times and the foreshore is of a particularly delicate nature. As Oranmore is very close to the city, a large number of people live there and they are concerned that if there are other severe storms, their houses and lands will be in danger. I am grateful to the Minister of State for coming in and hope he can elucidate where we stand, particularly in counties Galway and Mayo and in Tawin and Oranmore, in particular. Will he say what is being done, what can be done and what will be done by the Government?