Seanad Éireann - Volume 88 - 26 April, 1978
River Shannon Drainage: Motion.
Mr. Cooney Mr. Cooney
Mr. Cooney: I move:
That Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to commission an up-dating of the Rydell report on the drainage of the River Shannon so that a proper policy can be devised for the development of the river taking into consideration (i) the vast number of agricultural holdings which suffer from severe handicap of occasional and sometimes continuous flooding (ii) the long-term planning for use of the river as a tourist amenity and (iii) the requirements of the State for the use of the river as a source of energy.
I want to express my gratitude to the House and particularly to the Leader of the House for agreeing that this motion be taken and to thank the Minister for coming here to listen to this debate.
The river Shannon affects a vast area of Ireland and, consequently, a substantial number of people. I should like at the outset to outline to the House and to those who might not be familiar with the Shannon and its problems the nature of those problems and to paint a picture of what life along the Shannon is like for those  people. The Minister is geographically removed from the Shannon and he may find it useful and helpful to hear what life is like for those affected by it. I am speaking from personal knowledge, living as I do on the banks of the Shannon and knowing intimately many people affected by the Shannon.
The Shannon begins to flood—and I am speaking of the Shannon roughly from Rooskey down to Portumna— taking one year with another, about October. The water continues to creep up for October and reaches its highest point sometime about November and may continue to flood into December. It remains at this high level until mid-April. It is only in the past week that the Shannon level has dropped this year. For people living on the banks of the Shannon, the sight of the water creeping in on their land is something to which they have become used but not reconciled. One can imagine the feelings of a farmer, and, generally, the farmers on the banks of the Shannon are small holders, when he sees his livelihood disappearing under water in October knowing that he will not be able to use whatever area or portion of his holding that remains covered by the flood until the following late Spring. Sometimes the water leaves so late that it is too late to commence any tillage. Sometimes the flood has come up more rapidly than expected and crops of hay have been washed away on the flood. That land is subject to rates and it is aggravating, to say the least, for that farmer to get his rates Bill from the county council and have to pay that bill when the land in respect of which he is paying his hard-earned money is covered by water and is literally useless to him for half the year.
South of Athlone from October to April, if one is driving to the west and looks left while driving across the bridge in Athlone, one can see a huge lake while in the summer one just sees a reasonably sized river. There, visible to the casual passer-by in graphic terms is the actual sight of what this problem means. From that one point literally thousands of acres can be seen covered and from Rooskey right down to Portumna the position is the same.  The water comes up, as surely as day follows night, every October and remains until the following April. A vast amount of land is covered and is rendered useless for that critical period.
In addition to the amount of land that is flooded by the main Shannon itself, there are consequences for the various tributaries because the tributaries flood back and vast amounts of land along the tributaries, particularly along the banks of the river Suck are flooded for much the same length of time. The river, therefore, is out of control for the whole winter and a good part of the spring. It has taken over the whole midland area of the country with tremendous adverse consequences to the people living in the area.
In addition, when the river is out of control during that time it is useless as a navigation channel. In recent years the use of the Shannon for recreational navigational purposes has increased vastly, but the volume of water and the fact that the navigation marks are covered by the flood renders it dangerous and unusable. This important tourist activity has to be curtailed. Normally it is a summer activity and the bulk of the use of the Shannon in that regard takes place during the summer months and early autumn. In recent years there has been a tendency for people to hire boats earlier; indeed, at Christmas there is a certain amount of activity on the water but it must be limited because of the flooding.
The uncontrolled volume of water presents problems to the Electricity Supply Board. They have to try to control the volume of water and the volume of flow and this renders their job extremely difficult. The problem is immense and it causes real hardship to a very great number of people. It causes them personal hardship in their individual affairs. Their farming operations can only proceed at half measure and individually they suffer a substantial loss. Nationally, when those individual losses are accumulated the loss is also great. An immense amount of land is out of production for half the year, and because of the  effects of flooding and the impossibility of proper farming being conducted on it, the loss nationally is very great.
The amount of land that is involved is in the region of 150,000 to 175,000 acres, between the main Shannon itself and the area of land affected by the tributaries. At the time of the Rydell Report in 1954, the agricultural economist who was advising Dr. Walsh estimated that curing the flooding would increase income from the land in question by approximately £10 per acre per annum. We can increase that sum tenfold nowadays having regard to the differences in money value and to the more sophisticated and better methods of farming that are now available. It might not be an exaggeration, therefore, to say that the loss is in the region of £100 per acre. If we multiply that by the number of acres involved, 150,000 to 175,000, it can be seen that the loss to the national economy is indeed immense. We cannot afford this loss any longer. The immensity of this loss, the size of the problem, the handicap it represents to the national economy and the immense handicap it represents to individual farmers, demands that urgent action be taken to cure this problem once and for all.
Shannon flooding in the past has been regarded as something that was with us and something we could never do anything about. It became a half joke, the joke being that every time there was a by-election somewhere along the Shannon, the promise was that the Shannon was to be drained. Of course, nothing ever happened. In 1954 there were floods of an unprecedented level. Many homes were affected. Families had to be evacuated. Livestock were lost and, in addition to the normal yearly damage, immense extra damage was done. As a consequence of that unprecedented level of flooding, the Government of the day commissioned a report by Colonel Rydell of the United States Army Corps of Engineers and experts in the field of flooding of this magnitude. He prepared his report and recommended certain steps to be taken and certain  other studies to be carried out. He conceded the problem was so immense that his investigation was not conclusive and could not be the final word on it. He concluded clearly from his investigation that the problem was soluble but that many extra studies were necessary.
Since then, the use of the river has changed somewhat. At the time he carried out his report the Shannon was used in a very small way for commercial navigation. There were still some barges on it, but the amount of activity and traffic was insignificant. There was no tourist traffic at all as we know it nowadays. There were a number of private boat owners along the Shannon, but there were no hire cruisers as such, and the Shannon as a recreational facility was not used at all. In those days, too, the importance of Ardnacrusha to the national grid was much greater than nowadays when it contributes a comparatively insignificant amount of the total national power requirement.
There have been two significant changes in relation to the Shannon since the Rydell Report was prepared: the greater volume of tourist traffic on it and the changing place of Ardnacrusha in the national power supply. The agricultural position has not changed, and it is my opinion that the prime consideration in any work to be done on the Shannon must have regard to the agricultural implication. When an area of potentially productive land as great as 175,000 acres is involved there is a matter of grave national importance to be attended to. Nevertheless, the other uses made of the river have to be taken into account in any final solution. Happily it would appear from the Rydell Report that a solution of the agricultural problem is not incompatible with leaving the Shannon suitable for navigation by tourist boats, and is not incompatible with the requirements of the Electricity Supply Board to carry out their statutory functions.
What we are asking for in this motion is an up-dating of the Rydell Report particularly taking into account these three uses. The primary use of  course, is use as agricultural land. It is quite clear that, if fertile agricultural land is flooded for part of the year, it cannot be used during that time. It is also clear that when the flood has gone from it the farmer cannot operate in the normal manner in which men on high ground can operate. He is limited by his inability to fertilise it. He is limited by his inability to use his flooded land with the rest of his farm and plan his farming operation as a whole coherent operation. It is suggested that flooding brings a certain amount of fertiliser on to the land by reason of the siltation which occurs, but this was rejected by the Rydell Report as being insignificant and would not have anything nearly like the benefit for the land that a proper application of modern scientific fertilisers would have.
We have to consider the effects on the tributaries, mainly the Suck and the Brosna. The river Inny tributary was the subject of an arterial drainage scheme some years ago, and the beneficial effects of that are visible to anyone familiar with that area. They were quite dramatic in raising the standard of livelihood for the farmers living along the river Inny and quite dramatic in improving the quality of the land. It was possible to have that large scheme carried out without doing anything with the main Shannon stem itself. This is one of the puzzling features that farmers in the area cannot understand. When it is suggested, for example, that the Suck and the Brosna should be the subject of arterial drainage schemes and, indeed, the Camlin in County Longford, the answer is sometimes given that we cannot take these in isolation from the main Shannon itself. The Inny is there as an example that, in fact, it can be done. Possibly there are engineering reasons why the other tributaries cannot be done. It may have been a geographic accident that it was possible to do the Inny but not the others. Again, these are the questions which have to be answered to the satisfaction of those living in the area.
The modern farmer is a highly technical person. He is highly organised  and he is highly vocal in looking for his rights. The farmers along the banks of the Shannon are highly organised in their own farmers' organisations, and they have now let it be known in no uncertain fashion that they want an answer to this perennial problem. They do not want to be second-class citizens any longer in their own country, having to scrape subsistence living by reason of the geographic location of their farms, when their brothers, living in more fortunate areas, can have a higher standard of living. They ask —and they are entitled to ask—the State now at this stage in 1978, with all the resources and modern technology available, with the increased prosperity of the State available to fund work in this regard, for urgent attention to their problem.
They can see that the problem is a large one but, in recognising that, they also take into account that the resources to deal with it have advanced considerably in the past 20 years. The technology and the cash are now available to a greater degree than they were then. In addition, we have whatever help can become available to us from our membership of the European Community. I note that in recent times there have been reports of substantial funds being made available for certain drainage works in the west. It is getting priorities wrong to consider the west in isolation from the Shannon. The Shannon and the west are part and parcel of the one area.
A substantial effort should be made by the Government in the councils in Brussels to bring home to those people the extent of this problem. The extent of the human problem may not impress people as far away as Brussels, but they might be impressed by the extent of the economic problem when they are told that 175,000 acres of potentially arable land are out of production and out of use, not just for the time the land is flooded but for the entire year as a consequence of the flooding over the winter, early spring and late autumn. If that argument were pushed hard in Brussels it should be possible to get assistance towards doing what admittedly will be a very big task.
 In 1978 this is a task which must now be tackled. If all citizens are to have equal opportunities it is now high time that citizens living along the banks of the Shannon, adversely affected by the flooding, had this problem attended to and rectified. The first step towards curing the problem is an updated study of it. Colonel Rydell admitted in his report that further studies were necessary. He indicated the line these studies could take. He also indicated certain solutions he thought feasible on the basis of his study. Incidentally, his solutions took into account the three parties affected by the river: the farmers, the tourists and the requirements of the ESB.
Indeed, he said in his report that, in his opinion, no comparable system can be found anywhere else in the world. He said that in the paragraph in his report on page 18 dealing with the inter-relation between flood control and recreational use. He said its potential for recreational use was immense. That is a tremendous tribute to the river. Undoubtedly, it is true and its truth is now beginning to become known to greater numbers of people. He felt its use for that purpose was not at all incompatible with curing flooding from the point of view of the flooded farmer.
It is essential that there should be an updating of his report and that the various suggestions made by him should be considered. He made suggestions regarding the controlling of the river at various levels: the building of levies, the building of dams, diversions in certain parts, and greater storage in some parts. All these things now deserve and require to be investigated in a thorough manner. As I say, it is something that requires to be done urgently. We cannot continue any longer to have what is a national scandal, a vast amount of arable land out of production, and a vast number of people prejudiced as a result of it. The problem is too big for them to tackle it individually. That goes without saying. They are entitled to look to the community and to the State to solve their problem.
 In this motion we are asking the Government to commission an up-dating of the Rydell Report. The amount of dissatisfaction felt in the area is socially undesirable. There is tremendous hostility in the area to the ESB. Many farmers blame the ESB for their predicament, for making the problem worse than nature has made it already. For example, they blame the ESB by alleging that they control the weirs at Athlone and Meelick— in consideration of one factor only, their requirements for Ardnacrusha— without giving any consideration whatever to the effect of that control on the waters behind those weirs on the land upstream.
The ESB say they control them in such a way as to minimise the flooding but, from time to time, there is evidence to suggest that with certain other types of control of the weirs, the problem could be considerably diminished. No satisfactory explanation has been given by the ESB to the farmers in question and naturally, I suppose, they are driven to the conclusion that the ESB are considering their brief first and the farmers second. There should be more openness and frankness on the part of the various authorities as to what their requirements are, and whether their requirements are in any way contributing to or compounding the flooding problem at the moment.
It is suggested that, in order to maintain navigational levels at certain times of the year, the water is being kept unduly high. This is something about which there is a certain vagueness or lack of information. It is very important that these points should be cleared up. There is grave dissatisfaction. There is an amount of social unrest and this is beginning to manifest itself. Quite recently farmers living in the Clondra area in County Longford indicated that they will not permit the ESB to bring high-power lines across their land to serve a new industry being established there by Burlington Industries.
This industry is badly needed in the area to provide employment, but the farmers along the banks of the Shannon, when they see this opportunity to take what appears to  them to be industrial action, and when they see every other section of the community taking industrial action, have decided to make their protest in practical terms. If that opportunity presents itself there, it is only a matter of time until similar opportunities occur elsewhere, and social unrest becomes generated as a result. Social unrest is something that we should at all times strive to avoid, because it is not good for the morale or the fabric of the country. In this case it can be avoided, and it should be avoided, because the grievance which inspired it is a very real and serious grievance. It is important that it should be removed.
The first step towards removing it is to update the Rydell Report or, if the people who know best in this technical area decide upon it, to have an entirely new study. What I plead for is speed. Let it be done immediately. From the point at which the brief on the study can be compiled until the study gets under way will obviously take some time. There will be quite a fair lapse of time until the finances are required for it. The point I am making is that there will be no immediate financial demand. All that will be required immediately is the deployment of the technical resources towards making this study.
I would plead with the Minister to deploy those resources immediately. The arguments for doing so are unassailable. They are unassailable on the economic grounds of this vast area of land—between 150,000 and 175,000 acres—practically idle with a potential in money return of an immense size. From a social point of view the arguments are unassailable. A vast number of people are trying to make their livelihood along the river, frustrated in their wish to do so, and condemned to an inferior standard of life to which they are not entitled and which they have done nothing to deserve. This handicapped and prejudiced position in which they find themselves is producing a certain amount of social unrest. When signs of social unrest are beginning to show themselves, the Government of the day have a duty to remove the cause when it is a genuine and reasonable case. It must  be common case between all parties that the grievance is genuine and reasonable. That reason, itself, if there were no economic considerations, would justify this motion and would justify us in asking the Government for urgent and thorough action on this problem.
The size of the tourist industry now being generated by the Shannon makes it imperative that the study be undertaken so that the place of tourism on the Shannon can be finally settled. I would not be surprised to see some of this unrest transpose itself into hostility towards some of the tour operators or, even worse, towards the tourists. Nothing like that has happened, and I do not expect it to happen. But if the problem is not solved, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that some persons more extreme than others may feel some development on those lines is the best way of making their grievance known and of getting action on foot of it.
It is a bad thing that a community should be led to believe that action or a cure for a grievance can come only as a result of activities which are barely legal or, indeed, extra-legal. That is bad for the community. I urge the Minister to avoid any situation in which this agitation and this unrest might grow. As I say, the means are now available in terms of technology and in terms of financial resources to deal with this problem of the Shannon. The arguments for doing it are unassailable. I would put the various interests affected by the Shannon in this order of priority: The farmer first and clearly in the lead; secondly, the tourist interest; and lastly the interest of the Electricity Supply Board. All these interests deserve to have their problems examined and dealt with as speedily as possible. I commend the motion to the House.
Mr. Lyons Mr. Lyons
Mr. Lyons: I formally second the motion and reserve the right to speak.
Mr. Brennan Mr. Brennan
Mr. Brennan: We on this side of the House share the concern of Senator Cooney and the other proposers of the motion about the Shannon and its catchment area. As most Senators know, there are something of the order  of 6,000 square miles in the catchment area of the Shannon which is our major river. That comprises something close to one-fifth of the total area of this country. As Senator Cooney pointed out, that gives us an indication of the great size of this problem. Because of that, it is important that this matter should be looked at afresh. I am convinced that, with the new Minister for State in charge of the problem in this area, we will have a fresh look taken at the whole situation now. As we know, of course, agriculture is the predominant industry in that area and, as Senator Cooney rightly pointed out, production has been and is being endangered by winter and summer floods. Peat production is an important activity in the area. Hydro-electric power production is also considerable. The 1939 Navigation Act gave every citizen a right to navigate the Shannon and down the years that has led to a fairly substantial increase in pleasure boats. I estimate that there are something of the order of 600 pleasure boats on the Shannon at present. In the context of a policy towards draining the Shannon, the increase in the number of pleasure boats, the way they develop in the future, is a serious matter which would need to be looked at and perhaps regulated and watched carefully.
This is an old political problem and I am sure people much older than I in this House remember a number of general elections when this was a hot potato.
Mr. Cooney Mr. Cooney
Mr. Cooney: By-elections.
Mr. Brennan Mr. Brennan
Mr. Brennan: Yes, by-elections. The members of the 1938 Drainage Commission were the first people to grapple seriously with the Shannon flooding problem. They undertook survey work and technical investigations generally. This, of course, led on to the Arterial Drainage Act of 1945, from which a number of improvements came, but obviously nothing close to the kind of solution they were looking for.
To come to the motion, from what I can gather the Rydell Report is not conclusive. It would be no harm to  finish off what was left unfinished, or to start again with a fresh report. The Rydell Report was not very conclusive in my view and it needs to be completed particularly in regard to a cost analysis of the whole operation having regard to present-day costs. The Rydell Report gave rise to a subsequent report. In 1961 the Office of Public Works and the ESB felt the best solution was a summer relief scheme and came up with a figure of the order of £15 million or £16 million to put that scheme through. At the time, of course, that was prohibitive but now I imagine the figure would be something between £60 million and £80 million. It would be something of that magnitude.
I have my doubts whether the Government of the day or, indeed, any Government could so alter the present budget for arterial drainage as to make that kind of expenditure a reality. Looking at the Rydell Report, it is obviously very complex and apart from not being conclusive, it seemed to make the point that a piecemeal approach was not the answer, that an overall solution was needed, that an overall solution should be found.
The European Communities have a crucial role to play in this problem. I am aware that the Council of Ministers have been approached on this matter and there is some mention in the newspapers and at meetings generally of EEC funds coming. One figure I saw mentioned recently was of the order of £15 million which would drain only something like half the lands which require drainage in the counties west of the Shannon. That is my own figure. I really rise to say quite bluntly I believe the European Communities have a major responsibility in this matter. We went into the EEC full of hope, fervour and commitment to the whole ideal of Europe and the idea of developing Europe. This is a real opportunity for the European Communities to show to the people of Ireland what they are made of. It is a real opportunity for them by signing the appropriate cheques to say to the Irish people: “We fully understand the basic problems which affect your country”. As I pointed out  at the beginning, the problem affects one-fifth of the total land of Ireland and because it does it is a serious problem.
I agree entirely with Senator Cooney who spoke of the number of people and the type of people affected. These are very real problems for the people concerned. I do not believe that the Government, whichever Government are in power, could alter the arterial drainage budget to cater for the kind of figure we are talking about now. Therefore, I believe in this instance the buck stops with our colleagues in the European Communities. It is a real problem and I appeal to them from this House to take the matter seriously. It would greatly enhance the image of and the feeling the Irish people have for the EEC. At this time it might be very useful for the EEC to look at this problem.
I say, therefore, let us by all means up-date the report. Let us have new reports. Let us have a cost analysis. Let us have committees if we wish. It seems to me, when you put all these reports aside, and put all these cost analyses aside, you are left with one large bill on your desk which has to be met by the Government of the day. If it is not met by the Government of the day, then we must look to our colleagues in Europe to help us. My main reason for speaking here today is to make the point that the European Communities have a major responsibility in this matter and I sincerely hope they will live up to it.
Mr. Lyons Mr. Lyons
Mr. Lyons: The sooner we have the Rydell Report brought up to date the better it will be for everybody living within 50 miles of the Shannon basin. I was delighted Senator Brennan did not make the kind of political football of this matter which was made by members of his party in the past, from the level of Deputy to the very top. I do not know how many times in my lifetime as a politician the Shannon was drained. I remember an old man saying the Rosary for a certain politician who achieved the highest honour of the State who had come down and promised to drain it and he said “Now, thanks be to God, at last we will have the drain”. That was long before the  Rydell Report. The Shannon has been flooding for longer than that and drainage of it had been promised long before Rydell came over and made the incomplete report, as we know it was, at that time.
We know that flooding along the Shannon has been aggravated to an extraordinary extent since 1954-55 because of the simple fact that the tributaries have become choked with mud and debris of all kinds. It has been felt by local authorities that it would be foolish and pay no dividends to drain upstream when the Shannon was not able to take the main body of water. For this reason, drainage in the Mayo area, which I know particularly well, and the Roscommon area has been held up. The farmers there cannot understand the position because it has never been properly explained to them. If you drain upstream and you have not an outfall you will cause flooding in some particular areas and if the local authorities carry it out they are liable to pay damages to the farmers or others whose land will be flooded as a result of the drainage. This is something of which we are all aware.
The reason it is imperative that this be done at present is that it might be possible to extract some money from the EEC for doing it. We need a complete picture of what the Shannon means to this nation, not only with regard to the flooding of agricultural land but its importance as a tourist amenity and also the fact that may be responsible for energy which has not yet been developed but which modern technology is capable of developing.
There are problems for fish life associated with pollution caused by turf mould. Everybody who has been reading reports about the Shannon Estuary knows that pollution is seeping right through to the estuary from industry, farms and bogs. This will cause major problems in the future.
There will have to be controlled drainage of the Shannon. There is no point in saying that you will start at the head or the mouth of the river and dig with dredges and take all the levels you can and allow the water to flow into the sea. That is not feasible. I remember at the time the  Rydell Report was published an American engineer was discussing it one night in a hotel here and he said you could not carry out major drainage of the Shannon unless you blew up Ardnacrusha. He said that in a short length of time Ardnacrusha would be obsolete and would have to go anyhow. Ardnacrusha is not yet obsolete and, indeed, some of our turf burning stations that had a life of only 20 years are still going on merrily and we hope they will do so for some time to come. That engineer's point of view was that the main holdup of drainage along the Shannon was the electricity supply scheme at Ardnacrusha. I am no engineer and I do not know whether or not that is fact or fancy.
In any scheme to drain the Shannon cognisance must be taken of its importance to tourists who have boats along the river and have the best holiday in Europe. There is nothing in Europe to compare with the Shannon for a boating holiday. In England the Norfolk Broads are so choked with boating traffic that nobody can get around them. A lot of work could be done to improve boating facilities on the Shannon by the provision of marinas. There is no time to discuss that now. These things will have to be taken into consideration.
Competent engineers should be employed to examine the Shannon from its source to its mouth and back again to see by what means the river can be drained to suit the farmers and at the same time preserve its worth as a tourist amenity and its clear, clean water. Let us not forget that clear, clean water will be one of the most important industrial adjuncts we will have in the future. The scarcity of clean water in Europe will be one of its biggest problems. The Shannon, situated as it is in the centre of the country, can supply an immense amount of clear water provided that we all do our best to see that it is not polluted. That is why I emphasise this and I ask the Minister of State to bring it back to the chief. The Government, who have the strength to do many things but possibly not the money, should let their voices be  heard loud and clear in Europe to ensure that money expended on a survey of the Shannon will be money well spent. I do not think it could be better spent in this country.
I have spoken about the importance of the Shannon to industry, to the farming community, to tourists and as a source of energy. I understand from engineers that we do not need the mighty falls we thought were necessary in the past in order to drive turbines. Modern turbines can be driven by the impact of a water flow in a far better way than they were at the time Ardnacrusha was put into operation. As far as drainage is concerned, modern drainage machines and dredgers can do the kind of work at a cost which was unheard of in the days when the Rydell Report was prepared. There is no problem in getting machines to do the job.
We hear at local authority and regional development group meetings about the terrible problems created by Bord na Móna turf mould getting into the water and what it does to fish life. When drainage is carried out this problem will have to be taken care of. Before we have drainage at all it should be possible for Bord na Móna to prevent fine silt and turf mould getting into the river to the detriment of fish life. This should not present any insurmountable difficulties. The Department should see that this kind of thing is prevented as far as possible.
We need an appeal, a programme and a plan for EEC funds to ensure that we have a new survey based on the knowledge we have gained over the years, based on where we are going and what the Shannon has to do and what it means to the people. This would be far better than bringing the Rydell plan up to date.
Mr. Kilbride Mr. Kilbride
Mr. Kilbride: As a Senator coming from a county adjoining the Shannon I have first-hand knowledge of how flooding in the Shannon affects the people in the catchment area, at least the areas of Longford, Leitrim, Roscommon and that stretch of Galway that comes in, as well as part of Westmeath. I am referring to what is generally regarded as the upper reaches  of the Shannon and I refer to this simply because it is the area with which I am best acquainted in the context to which I have referred initially. The Shannon drainage problem is one of vast extent and of great importance. The Shannon is not only a waterway as such: it is a source of drainage for a very wide area of the country. There are nine counties touching the Shannon and there are two other counties that it flows through. The greater portion of the drainage of Ireland is through the Shannon. There is not any other river nearly as important as the Shannon in volume and length.
Because of its location and the natural set-up with regard to elevation in part and consequent suitability of technical application to harness it for energy, we have certain problems associated with the drainage of the Shannon. The problems here I might mention are, on one hand, man-made and, on the other hand, consequential on the lack of the application of technical knowledge to abate flooding and stoppages in the river. When I say that these problems are man-made, I refer to problems arising from the harnessing of the Shannon and the level at which it has to be maintained in order to provide enough energy to operate turbines at all times of the year at Ardnacrusha.
In the ESB Act it is provided that Lough Allen, Lough Rea and Lough Derg are to be maintained at certain levels. When the Government of the day decided on these levels, they did so in the light of the major effort needed to electrify the country nationally for the first time. It was hailed as a great innovation and the beginning of a new era, which indeed it was. As I have already stated, there have issued consequences to that. The level at which these three great lakes have to be maintained has been set at a height appropriate to provide a volume of water for the purpose for which I stated but also to ensure that that volume is contained or retained over the dry periods of the year. I believe that if we are to retain the amount of water to provide the necessary energy to the generating station at Ardnacrusha,  we will have to do something by way of retaining that water other than allowing a backflow, an excess flow in the winter to almost three times the necessary volume that is there and is suitable in the summer. Technical examination has shown that there is more than three times the amount of water in the winter time in the Shannon and passing on through Lough Allen to Ardnacrusha than is necessary to provide the energy required, three times as much as in a normal summer, not a very dry or very wet summer. In other words, we could safely say that we could reduce that overflow by one-third and we could create a situation where industry would continue to have the benefit of this great national resource. Agriculture would benefit from a lesser level in the winter appropriate and commensurate with a proper arterial drainage system in the country.
These are not suppositions on my part. I have in front of me evidence from technicians which sets out their position in regard to the variation of the water level in the Shannon. What has to be considered here is how far we can go in regard to the Shannon drainage, recognising that the interests of navigation have to be represented. I do not think that the points I have made so far imply any curtailment of navigation facilities on the Shannon. There are boat hire services and people who utilise the Shannon for pleasure boat use, for the haulage of goods and for commercial purposes. Their interests will have to be considered and recognised.
If the Rydell Report is to be updated it must take into account a legitimate recognition of these people, including Bord Fáilte, and also midland tourism, inland fisheries, inland waterways, local authorities adjoining the Shannon, the Industrial Development Authority and many others. The interests of all these will have to be taken into account. At the same time the paramount and vital interest must be to enable the people who live on the land in the catchment area to have the opportunity of utilising their God-given rights, the land that God gave  them, in the best interests of themselves and the nation.
The Department of Agriculture have an interest here and I am sure that when a report is being up-graded their interests will be watched very closely. The Department of the Environment are also involved and there is a matter of bridges, harbours and facilities. The Department of Industry, Commerce and Energy are involved in regard to energy and the matters associated with the generation of electricity. A technical analysis has shown that what is required in regard to the Shannon bears a relation to what has been done in the Netherlands when the sea was walled out, so to speak. What is required and suggested by technicians is that Lough Allen, Lough Rea and Lough Derg should have embankments on the outside that will retain water at a higher level and allow the water that normally runs into the Shannon at that point to enter further downstream, so that the land would still be drained and water would be retained and the energy required would be available. Looking at it in that light, it is very convincing and is very much a possibility. In 1978 an Irish Government should at least be in a position to do in regard to the controlling of the waters of the Shannon what the Dutch did hundreds of years ago when they put out the sea, which was a vastly greater effort in the context of the facilities and technical ability at that time.
Particular organisations have already indicated that they have an interest here. Bord na Móna have an interest. They are an industrial arm of the Government. They are a semi-State institution, as are CIE and various other State institutions which have a vested interest in the Shannon. Bord na Móna have, in consequence of the development of the bogs of this country, created problems.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Senator may speak for another two minutes. He may not go back to the subject. A Senator may only speak once.
Mr. Kilbride Mr. Kilbride
 Mr. Kilbride: I am going on too wide a survey. It is reasonable to conclude that this is a vital, immediate and urgent matter. It is the big problem of our time and it is the one which directly and immediately and in a very serious way affects the people in the catchment areas. It is a matter which requires very careful technical examination. The sooner the better that this up-to-date report is completed. The sooner that is done the better for the country agriculturally, industrially or otherwise.
Professor Conroy Professor Conroy
Professor Conroy: I should like to give a general welcome to the motion put forward and to the points made on both sides of the Houses, particularly by Senator Cooney. I cannot help feeling that it is to some extent, though, one segment of a more general problem and it is interesting to note that No. 13 on the Order Paper is a motion by Senators O'Brien and Reynolds that Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to proceed with the drainage on the River Erne.
I have a personal interest in and knowledge of this question of flooding of lands. My mother's farm was on the upper reaches of Upper Lough Erne and I know how each year there was this appalling flooding of the land, the direct damage done by it and the general inconvience, awkwardness and loss which resulted to all farmers involved. This is now a situation which has considerably improved but it is a very grave and onerous problem for those people who have farms and find that they are subject to flooding, which can be predicted in the sense that it always occurs but one is never sure just how bad it is going to be in any given year.
The particular motion or idea that there should be a specific report on the drainage of the Shannon and that the river Shannon should be drained has, of course, rather a long history, as certain Senators have indicated. In the library I have seen a report of 1890 of the Inspectors of Irish Fisheries on the Shannon and there have been many reports since then. I would like to think that if the Minister of State considers it appropriate at this  stage that there should be a further investigation of the matter the report or inquiry would be somewhat widened and that it would be taken in the general context of drainage of our rivers. The Shannon obviously is the largest one, but it is a problem elsewhere as well and the people in the other areas are also entitled to consideration.
There is one further aspect I would particularly like to see included in any such inquiry and that is that there should be some degree of co-operation or rapport with the North of Ireland in this matter and with the proper authorities there. One cannot really consider the Shannon in isolation from the Erne area. They are still connected and navigation was at one time possible and should be possible again between these two enormous water regions. They are enormous by Enropean standards. We do not fully appreciate the tremendous potential that we have in our rivers and lakes. Perhaps it is only when we have visitors from abroad, or from other parts of these islands, that we begin to realise just what an amenity we possess, despite the terrible disadvantages of flooding and so on which are involved.
In regard to the tourist amenity aspect of this, the Midland Region Tourism Development Plan of 1976 points out that cruising on the Shannon and to a lesser extent on the Erne and Grand Canal is an important revenue earner for the general midland region and this is despite the very poor infrastructural development in these areas. The report suggests quite rightly that the cruising potential of the waterways is still largely untapped. It has been mentioned that there are something in the region of 300 cruisers now available for hire on the Shannon and yet this is a river of 230 miles in length, quite apart from the enormous lakes on it. This really means that there are virtually no cruisers on the Shannon as compared with such an area as the Broads in England. There is absolutely enormous potential there. As the report points out, many of the lakes of the Shannon  are particularly well suited for such water sports as canoeing, skiing and so on and the available facilities are as yet largely not present. There is very little self-catering accommodation, camping accommodation or anything of this nature, although steps are being taken in this direction which we must welcome. Certainly one of the aspects of this motion which I like is that fact that it brings together the question of flooding and the question of the use of the river as a tourist amenity. It is a comprehensive motion in this sense.
It is complicated by the energy requirements. All of us in this House and in Ireland generally are very proud of the Shannon scheme. Let us give credit where it is due. Yet the Shannon Scheme does have problems which were a little bit overlooked at the time or until recent years. We have to have appropriate energy. There is a lot of talk at present about various other types of water energy that could be provided and I think we must keep very much in mind the sort of problems which have been mentioned on the far side of the House in relation to those who are not necessarily going to benefit directly all that much and may be put to very considerable inconvenience and, indeed, loss.
An aspect which has been mentioned but is not specifically in the motion is the question of water pollution and the Midland Regional Development Plan mentioned this quite specifically. It refers to water pollution as one of the major problems facing tourism and unless effectively controlled it is going to damage seriously our future prospects of developing amenities both for our tourists and also for ourselves. It is very sad to see the way so many lakes and rivers are now suffering from a severe degree of pollution. I think this certainly needs fairly urgent attention.
An aspect which we hardly think of at all—if one has travelled in the Middle East or in certain other countries it is perhaps worth noting—is the very fact that the possession of water is an enormous asset. We do not  think of paying on water meters and so on. In the future the presence of water, not only from the point of view of the tourist's amenity, not only from the point of view of providing energy, or the means whereby energy can be obtained, but just as a sheer resource in itself will begin to be appreciated a great deal more than at present.
I would like very much to welcome this motion. I would point out that there is already on one aspect at least a study being carried out by Brady, Shipman and Monk, planning consultants,  who I understand are working for Bord Fáilte and the Office of Public Works. If the Minister considers looking favourably on this motion I hope that he will take into account the possibility of the report extending to all areas where there are problems relating to flooding and also that he will take into account this possibility of cross-Border co-operation.
The Seanad adjourned at 7 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 3 May 1978.
Seanad Éireann 88 River Shannon Drainage: Motion.