Seanad Éireann - Volume 136 - 10 June, 1993

Adjournment Matters. - Bray (County Wicklow) Flood Relief Scheme.

Mr. Ross: I thank the Minister for coming to the House for the second time in a week. I am grateful for his interest in the problems of Bray, County Wicklow, which is shown by his consistent attendance on these issues.

I wish to share my time with Senator Roche, with the consent of the House.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Ross: The Dargle is possibly Bray's greatest asset but is also its greatest potential liability. There is an accident waiting to happen once again. As the [1317] Minister will be aware, in 1986 “Hurricane Charlie', as it was known, caused an appalling amount of damage and devastation in Bray, especially in the Little Bray area. People were forced to leave their homes. The estimated cost of the destruction was £5 million. It was debated at the time whether to call a national emergency. It was staggering how much damage was caused by this storm, as it was categorised by the Met Office, although everyone else called it a hurricane. Trees came down over a large area and rivers burst their banks for miles along their course. These disasters cannot be allowed happen again. I raise the issue today because there is a danger of a similar occurrence.

Phase 1 of the flood relief scheme was introduced because of that emergency and phase 2 was promised. That was in 1986. Unfortunately the second phase has never been implemented, despite pledges given at that time. It is vital for the people of the Little Bray area that phase 2 be implemented, particularly in the light of what happened in the past week. There were floods in various parts of Ireland during May. Four inches of rain fell in Cornwall yesterday. If that were to happen in Bray there would be flooding in the Dargle area. Because of the freak weather of recent weeks there is a real chance of this.

The Minister should be aware of the special problem of the six to eight hour run-off period in the Dargle. The granite in the area means it fills up extremely quickly and becomes dangerous. Two weeks ago when there were heavy rains representations were made to me about the danger in the Dargle area. People rightly asked what the Government intended doing about implementing the second phase of the scheme to fulfil its pledge.

It would be interesting if the Minister could tell us not just what his intentions are but what the cost would be. I gather in 1986 the estimated cost was £1.25 million pounds.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. M. Smith): I wish that were true.

[1318] Mr. Ross: I suppose now the cost would be greatly in excess of that but it would be interesting to know the precise figure. The people in the area are in a vulnerable position. Many of them are repaying the loans which they took out in 1986 to reinstate their houses. Some of them are unable to afford the necessary insurance premiums against the possibility of another flood of this kind. Therefore, will the Minister consider putting forward proposals to implement this scheme to safeguard the River Dargle and the people of the Little Bray area from the real threat of flooding in the future?

Mr. Roche: I thank Senator Ross for sharing his time with me on this issue. I well recall the night in August 1986 — it is indelibly etched on my mind — when the hurricane and the floods struck the area of Little Bray. I have a small personal interest in this in that my house backs onto the bank of the River Dargle although, luckily, it is approximately 40 feet above the flood plain.

On that particular night, 563 houses were inundated in Bray, many of them filled with water to the height of the first floor. It was miraculous that there was no loss of life. There are approximately 40 to 50 businesses in the area, it is the nucleus of the old town of Bray.

It would be disingenuous not to recognise what has been undertaken, especially during the period when Mr. Pádraig Flynn was Minister for the Environment. Mr. Flynn appreciated at an early stage that this was a critical matter. Money was provided for initial works and then for the first phase of this scheme, as Senator Ross recognised. The river bed of the Dargle has been returned to its pre-flood condition. In addition, the paddock lakes were removed in 1986 which were a major issue in the floods of that year.

It was clear in 1986, 1987 and 1988 that if there was to be long term peace of mind in the Little Bray area it was necessary to go beyond the first phase of the scheme and the wall reinforcement works undertaken at that time.

Senator Ross is correct in stating that [1319] the people in Little Bray live with the threat of flooding. The River Dargle reached frightening levels recently and is still running high. It is of the nature of the Dargle to flood. It flooded extensively in 1965 and in 1986 and there were other floods earlier this century. The purpose of the phase 2 scheme is to give in excess of 100 years' protection, that is to make the river's capacity greater than the highest anticipated flood level within that period.

In addition to the hardship suffered by people in 1986 there is an ongoing problem of obtaining insurance in the area. Insurance premiums take account of the fact that the area is in a flood basin. However, despite these difficulties, remarkably, approximately 150 new houses have been or are being built in that area. There is a new scheme underway at present to build in excess of 100 houses and Bray Urban District Council has built two lots of special houses, largely for elderly people, in the flood basin. The area is a very attractive part of Bray in which to live. However, there is a high cost attached if a house is flooded.

In the last five to six years Bray received a generous input of capital from the Government in the form of a series of necessary schemes. This followed a recognition by Government that virtually since the foundation of the State, Bray had been ignored in regard to this type of investment.

I am unsure as to what the final cost of this scheme will be. However, the scheme is necessary to protect the lives of people in the area, their property and an area in which there is an extensive amount of indigenous enterprise and industry.

Perhaps the Minister will advise the House when this scheme will commence so that people in the area will have some relief from the continuous threat of flooding.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. M. Smith): I am always pleased to attend the Seanad. I am particularly pleased to address a question from Senator Ross and Senator Roche about Bray.

[1320] I should be pleased to read an article in the paper some Sunday by Senator Ross asking the Government to spend more public funds and defending the Minister for the Environment in his efforts to spend more money on sanitary services.

Mr. Ross: I will attend a briefing tomorrow.

Mr. M. Smith: I read instead that the Government does not have the courage to cut public expenditure in the way that it should. I wish to remind the Senator——

Mr. Ross: If the Government cut public service pay there would be no difficulty——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Minister without interruption.

Mr. M. Smith: The Senator should write that defence and then the next time I answer a question I will know that he is not only interested in his own constituency, but that he has a national profile and an interest in other areas. In that way I will believe what the Senator says and that what he says is consistent.

Mr. Ross: Could we get back to the subject a Leas-Chathaoirligh? Will you call the Minister to order please?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Minister without interruption.

Mr. M. Smith: I thought that the request by the Senator, who has access to the national media every Sunday, to seek more money for sanitary services would not hurt him, yet it has. Therefore, I address the issue of £14.86 million which has already been dedicated to Bray for this purpose. By any stretch of the imagination, this is an astronomical sum.

Notwithstanding this, the Government has endeavoured this year to increase the funds for sanitary services. This has enabled me to designate a provisional £1.75 million for the esplanade. The [1321] Senator appears to have overlooked that this work was proceeding this year and that approximately 75 per cent of the River Dargle flood protection scheme has been completed.

I respect the point that it is now necessary to proceed with the final phase of this scheme. The first phase of the flood relief, which involved the improvement of the flood defences, has been completed and the cost at this stage is £1.25 million with £4 million being the remaining cost.

The Senator will, therefore, appreciate the importance of my opening request in asking him to support me nationally to obtain the additional funding to enable me to make a case for additional public funds to complete such schemes.

Mr. Ross: I thank the Minister for possibly the least relevant speech I have heard on the Adjournment. If the Minister believes that it will relieve him from being asked to appear before this House again I can assure him that he is incorrect.