Dáil Éireann - Volume 508 - 30 September, 1999
Adjournment Debate. - Remedial Works.
Mr. Stanton Mr. Stanton
Mr. Stanton: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this issue and I am grateful to the Minister for coming into the House to debate the very real danger to the people of certain parts of Cobh from the threat of landslides.
The Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, recently visited Cobh to view the situation. However, another landslide occurred two days ago. Large rocks and boulders narrowly missed destroying a back kitchen just below where a retaining wall collapsed. There are five children in a nearby house and the family is afraid to use the rear of the house as there is a danger that more of the wall will collapse. Shortly before the landslide a little girl was standing on the ground that fell away.
The Minister is aware and concerned about this situation but I raised this issue in the House eight  months ago. Only now is there any sign that work might occur. The family involved was very lucky this time and I implore the Minister to ensure that all possible efforts will be made to ensure that the necessary work is carried out in all the at risk areas in Cobh as soon as possible.
Fort Villas is of particular concern. A rock fall occurred there a number of years ago and this could happen again at any time. This fall resulted in the access road to a number of houses being closed to traffic – the road just fell away. Vehicle owners cannot access their houses. What if there is a fire? Emergency services cannot access a number of houses. Some people, including elderly people have to climb more than 70 steps. In addition to the dangers posed by landslides, these people are deprived of access to their homes using vehicular traffic.
Last February the Minister told me that he was concerned about money and cost. I understand this concern and I know that permission has been given to carry out some work. However, a rock fall in any of the at risk areas could occur at any time. Urgent remedial work is needed in all the at risk areas to safeguard life and property. Neither the Minster nor I wants to have to stand in the House and express sympathy and regret for a tragedy that might occur, God forbid, if remedial works are not carried out.
Will the Minister ensure that short cuts are not taken and that cost cutting or skimping does not occur to save money? This is a serious issue. I ask the Minister to ensure that the job is done properly, comprehensively and where it is needed so that the people of Cobh can go about their business without the threat of death or injury and that we can sleep easily in our beds.
Dr. Moffatt Dr. Moffatt
Dr. Moffatt: The urban area of Cobh is unique in terms of the geological and structural problems which exist there. The geology of the area is limestone shale which following excavation and weathering has become unstable in certain areas, and this instability has been exacerbated by the manner in which Cobh has developed, especially in the last century.
As a result of the construction of the naval dockyard and supply port at Haulbowline the population of the town grew from a few hundred at the beginning of the 1800s to 7,000 by 1837. Demand for accommodation meant that hillsides were excavated to create building space and access roads. This activity resulted in very steep slope faces, and rock faces of up to 90 degrees behind houses. The excavated stone was used to construct the houses, roads and retaining walls, and the retaining walls were generally substandard.
Following a fatality caused by a landslide in 1980, the Department has given considerable financial assistance towards remedial works undertaken by Cobh UDC to strengthen areas susceptible to landslides. The assistance takes the form of 100 per cent grants, subject to prior approval of the remedial works by the Department. Since  1980, grants of almost £1.5 million have been paid to the UDC.
Cobh UDC has identified the following projects requiring remedial works: Harbour View Slope, Connolly Street, East Hill, Fort Villas, High Road west of museum, Harbour View Slope and Harbour View. In January 1999 the Department of Finance, on foot of a submission from the Department, sanctioned an increased overall limit of expenditure of £3.775 million to cover the above projects. In April 1999 approval issued to the local authority to accept the recommended tender for works at Harbour View Slope and Connolly Street, estimated to cost £378,000. With regard to those works next prioritised by the local authority, East Hill and Fort Villas, the position is as follows. In 1999 approval to prepare contract documents in respect of works at Fort Villas issued to the UDC. These have not yet been received in my Department. In the case of East Hill approval to contract documents in respect of works at this area issued in June 1999 and the council was advised to seek tenders for the work. It is understood from the council that the tender process for these works has not yet been finalised.
Following a rockfall at East Hill on Tuesday, 28 September, the local authority sought the Department of the Environment and Local Government's approval to arrange for emergency works to be carried out in order to avoid a risk to public safety. The Department issued approval to the local authority on 29 September 1999 to immediately carry out the works necessary to make the location safe.
The Minister has asked me to reassure the Deputy that he shares his concern about the situation in Cobh and while works undertaken from public funds must be cost effective and properly prioritised, the Minister is satisfied that his Department has made the resources available to enable the council carry out the remedial works which have been identified and prioritised.
Dáil Éireann 508 Adjournment Debate. Remedial Works.