Dáil Éireann - Volume 491 - 03 June, 1998

South Galway Flooding.

Mr. U. Burke: I wish to share time with Deputy McCormack.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. U. Burke: Thank you, Sir, for selecting this item and the Minister of State for coming to reply. I commend Deputy McCormack on his work in this area to date. It gives an indication of what could be done to alleviate the flooding [1210] problem in south Galway if the determination existed to do so.

The report into the flooding in south Galway has already been dubbed the £1 million failure. Volumes of technical data and Office of Public Works jargon proved that nothing can or will be done by this Government. A figure of £40 million as the final price tag indicates that nothing will be done during the lifetime of the Government. Will the Minister of State justify the costings that have been put on the suggested works to alleviate the flooding? In so doing, he should bear in mind that the report puts a price tag of £350,000 on remedial works from Tarmon to Rathope. These works were costed locally at £20,000. The Minister of State may think that figure is not realistic. The Office of Public Works costed flood alleviation works from Kiltiernan to the sea at more than £2.5 million whereas the works were successfully carried out at a cost of £220,000. That indicates the difference between Office of Public Works costings and the actual costs necessary to carry out these works.

I deplore the Minister's failure to honour his commitment to provide the local action committee with the report prior to its publication. He then added insult to injury by publishing the report by the unusual means of a press release. I call on him tonight to name the date on which he will hold the public meeting in Gort to discuss with the local committee his proposals for the drainage works. Furthermore, I call on him to declare that he will reintroduce the farmyard and farm house relocation grant scheme to assist the people of south Galway who have waited a long time for the publication of this report. The Government must commit funding urgently, as promised in the run-up to the election last year, to provide remedial schemes to alleviate flooding and not condemn the people of south Galway to the fear of flooding for the remainder of their lives.

Mr. McCormack: I am disappointed, but not surprised, at the findings in the report. This study failed to find a solution to the flooding problem in south Galway. It took two and a half years to compile a report at a cost of £1 million that represents the worst value for money spent in County Galway in my lifetime as a public representative. The only element of value in this huge report is the paper on which it is written because that can be recycled. The report will not alleviate the flooding problem in south Galway.

If that £1 million had been made available to competent contractors, a flood relief scheme to solve the problem could have been undertaken. The English consultants, Southern Water Global Limited from West Sussex, will rest easily in their beds while the people of south Galway are condemned to ongoing flooding. The report acknowledges that flooding will recur. It makes only six recommendations, two of which are positive. It proposes the implementation of planning controls within the 1995 flooded area and the protection [1211] of essential vehicle or access routes to the 1995 flood levels. A ten year old child could have come up with those two positive recommendations.

The report was deliberately negative and the cost of solutions greatly inflated to ensure nothing could be done. It costed works from Caherglissane to Kinvara at £22.5 million and suggested another £1 million for a cost benefit study. That is similar in length to a scheme from Kiltiernan to Ballindereen and on to the sea at Killeen Aran which was completed at a cost of £225,000. That scheme involved five road crossings, 22 bridges and a channel taking the excess flood water five miles to the sea. It relieved flooding from a number of roads, a national school, nine houses, a nursing home and the main Galway to Gort road. It did not damage the environment because ecological control levels were maintained which ensured that only excess flood water was drained off and the winter turloughs were maintained.

The scheme will prevent future flooding in the area and I challenge anybody from Southern Water Global or the Office of Public Works to find fault with it, but its success was not referred to in the £1 million report. It is time we had action instead of costly excessive reports.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Cullen): I thank Deputies McCormack and Burke for giving me the opportunity to explain to the House the exact details on the release of the report into the flooding in south Galway.

The report was first commissioned in August 1995 and was expected to take approximately 20 months to complete. Because the winter of 1996 was particularly dry, hydrological-hydrogeological monitoring had to be extended to May 1997 and the study was correspondingly prolonged. The objectives of the study were to quantitatively define the current flooding problem; to define the hydrological-hydrogeological processes; to assess the effects of climate change; to quantify and rank the environmental importance and economic value of the various turloughs, streams, land areas, wetlands etc; to propose engineering and other possible solutions and evaluate their economic costs, social, environmental and archaeological implications.

The report has now been finalised and a copy is available for inspection in the Oireachtas Library and the branch library in Gort. It is an extremely complex and extensive publication containing an enormous amount of technical data. This is thought to be the largest interdisciplinary research study of a karstic environment undertaken anywhere in the world. I reject the Deputies' comments about the report's value. It will be of great benefit to future generations.

Mr. U. Burke: They will not be living there.

Mr. Cullen: It is an extraordinary document.

Mr. McCormack: It certainly is.

[1212] Mr. Cullen: If the Deputies have not taken the time to read it, they should do so.

An executive summary of the report has also been produced and this document has been widely circulated. Further copies are available if anybody is interested in acquiring them. This document explains the principal conclusions of the main report.

The commitment to hold a public meeting to discuss the report still stands, if that is what the people of south Galway want. Rather than try to get everybody connected with the production of the report together — which would be very difficult as many of them are now working in different areas — I decided to issue the report and hold the public meeting when everybody was aware of its contents. Officials from the Office of Public Works are currently trying to arrange a date that is acceptable to the consultants and all concerned. The earliest date on which most of the relevant people are available appears to be Thursday, 16 July and we are aiming to arrange a public meeting for that date.

This is an independent report prepared by the consultants and all its findings, including the various costings, have been prepared by people with competence in the various fields. The figure of £40 million is an estimated figure of the order of costs prepared by the engineering consultants for those civil engineering works identified by them and described in the text and drawings contained in the final report. Without the benefit of further more detailed examination and preparation of separate designs for each solution proposed, it is not possible to give more definitive costings for these works.

During the preparation of the report the consultants consulted widely with all relevant local interests, including the drainage committee and, indeed, have expressed their gratitude for the help and assistance received during the study. The information and data gathered in the report is likely to be of major benefit to many bodies. The wetlands of the study area consist of a range of turloughs, marshes and lakes unmatched anywhere else in Ireland or the world. They include a remarkable selection of plant species and communities, many of them specialised to the habitat and rare elsewhere in Ireland.

From the data collected it is also possible to take steps to minimise future flood damage costs. The worst affected properties have already been abandoned under the home relocation scheme. Road flooding can be greatly reduced by limited road protection works. Any future applications for planning permission in the study area can be referred by the relevant planning authority to the Office of Public Works so that their proposed locations can be checked against the wealth of flooding data which has been accumulated as a result of the study. This will ensure future dwellings and other buildings are not located in areas susceptible to flooding.

This report is a very complex document containing an enormous amount of technical data. [1213] Regarding its launch, I am satisfied the best course of action was to release it, allow people to digest its contents and then hold a public meeting where all the experts from the consultants can explain their respective aspects of the report. I wish to acknowledge the extensive amount of good work which went into the various elements of the South Galway Flood Study. This knowledge has not been lost, but has led to a greater understanding and appreciation of the complex geological, hydrogeological, and environmental nature of the area which comprises south Galway.

There was a reference to the Kiltiernan-Ballaghaderreen flood relief schemes. The £225,000 scheme is a local flood scheme. The Office of Public Works estimate of £2.5 million was for a more extensive arterial drainage scheme.

Mr. U. Burke: And probably less effective.

Mr. Cullen: There is no comparison between them. The Office of Public Works has not seen or had made available to it a post project appraisal of the scheme to which the Deputies referred.

Mr. McCormack: The Office of Public Works is welcome any time.

Mr. Cullen: The farmyard scheme referred to by Deputy Burke is a matter for the Department of Agriculture and Food.