Seanad Éireann - Volume 149 - 30 January, 1997
Adjournment Matters. - Clare Coastal Erosion.
Mr. Daly Mr. Daly
Mr. Daly: I welcome the Minister and thank him for taking this matter. While he does not have direct responsibility for this area, he comes from a county with a large coastline and will be aware of the extreme difficulties experienced by people in coastal areas due to coastal erosion. The west coast has received a severe battering from the sea over the last few years. Areas which were hitherto undamaged have suffered severe coastal damage due to the changes in tides and the movement of sand. It has been difficult to explain but weather conditions, storms especially, have played a part. There seems to be a movement in western coastal areas which has caused  undue hardship to and concerned many people who live there.
In my constituency over the past number of years serious damage has been caused by the sea. I am specifically referring to areas adjacent to Quilty, where there is a nice fishing harbour and resort. There have been dramatic movements of sand and tides in the past few years. The road to the pier at Seafield, near Quilty village, is threatened and the pier may be under severe strain unless some remedial action is taken. The local authority is concerned about it but does not have the financial resources needed to undertake the comprehensive and expensive works to remedy the situation. It was hoped a few years ago, with the availability of European Union funding, that it would be possible to conduct joint operations. It has been depressing to see other areas receiving substantial grant aid and EU funding to tackle coastal erosion problems while the problems in Clare have not been dealt with.
I do not want to enter into a litany of areas which have suffered severe damage, but adjacent to Kilrush and near Kilrush marina, where the Minister launched an excellent marine leisure project, the road into Cappagh village has been undermined by erosion caused by the Shannon. It would now take major investment by the county council, money it does not have, to carry out remedial works and replace the walls which would ensure the road would not be washed away.
In the inlets adjacent to the mouth of the Shannon, whole areas of embankments have been washed away, thousands of acres of land flooded and stones and seaweed scattered over a wide area. We gave photographic evidence of this to the Minister of State at the Department of the Marine, the Commissioners of Public Works and others. Since the flooding of a year or two ago, the damage caused to the foundations of some of the coastal protection walls has not been remedied. The sea is making inroads into land there, especially into land occupied by small farmers with small holdings who are dependent on this land to survive.
The other aspect of this which has caused hardship for people is the undermining of many old culverts laid down in a joint scheme between local farmers and the Office of Public Works 30, 40 and 50 years ago. Many have been undermined and some have collapsed with the result that flooding has built up behind them. The problem was difficult to resolve as it was not clear until recently who was responsible for repairing and maintaining these culverts. The county council did not want to know because it did not have any money. The Commissioners of Public Works did not want to know because they felt it should be done by someone else. The result is that many farmers are severely inconvenienced, cattle have been put at risk and lives put in danger in one area near Seafield, where houses were flooded and people evacuated in the middle of the night.  The situation is unsatisfactory and people are seeking financial support to deal with it.
I ask the Minister to impress upon his colleague the desirability and urgency of finding some EU or departmental funding to supplement the work done by local communities and the county council. I also ask that some remedial efforts be made this year before any further permanent damage is caused which will further damage the livelihoods of people involved, threaten some of the local communities, raise the prospect of people losing their lives and allow a deteriorating situation to worsen. It needs urgent and remedial action now. The longer this is left — the Minister will be aware of this from his constituency — the more expensive it will be. Small schemes which would not cost much now will be hugely expensive in four or five years' time. I refer especially to Seafield and its pier and fishing harbour. If the road to it is washed away, the cost of remedial works will run into millions whereas a small amount now might deal with the situation.
Minister for Tourism and Trade (Mr. E. Kenny) Enda Kenny
Minister for Tourism and Trade (Mr. E. Kenny): A Chathaoirligh, gabhaim comghairdeachas leat as ucht do phost nua le déanaí.
I thank Senator Daly for raising this matter and apologise for the absence of the Minister for the Marine, Deputy Barrett. As a former Deputy and Minister, Senator Daly will know the mechanics of politics and how it operates. I was disappointed to hear that Clare people were somewhat depressed.
Mr. Daly Mr. Daly
Mr. Daly: Some of them.
Mr. E. Kenny Mr. E. Kenny
Mr. E. Kenny: You could have fooled me 18 months ago when they won their first All Ireland in a long time and showed the personality of Ireland at its best.
In recent years everyone has come to recognise that the Irish coastline is a resource of immense value in economic, environmental, ecological and social terms. It is recognised that coastal erosion is a major threat to the coastal resource. This resource is fragile and in many instances nonrenewable, and the systems operating within the coastal zone will significantly depend on the preservation of the coast.
This country has one of the longest coastlines in Europe, stretching to 5,800 kilometres. In 1992 the County and City Engineer's Association carried out a needs study which showed that 1,500 kilometres of our coastline is at risk and approximately 500 kilometres requires immediate attention at a cost of over £120 million. Many of the areas under threat from erosion, such as Bray promenade, County Wicklow; Rosslare Strand, County Wexford; Laytown, County Meath; and Enniscrone Strand, County Sligo, are major tourist amenities. The erosion and possible loss of such amenities will pose serious economic difficulties for local communities, which to a large extent depend on these tourism amenities for their economic survival. This is in addition to the  economic loss of State owned property incurred due to erosion.
Coastal erosion also impacts on the local ecological environment. Loss, for example, of sand dunes or other shore areas can disrupt flora and fauna and the natural habitats of a number of birds and animals. Erosion in certain instances poses a social threat to isolated coastal communities. Apart from the economic disruption, erosion is threatening the communication and transport links for these communities. Being cut off from the mainland will have serious and potentially catastrophic consequences for them.
It is worth pointing out that the line cannot and should not be held against the sea. This view is supported by three distinct arguments. The first is geomorphological—erosion provides the sediment that builds up the natural coastal defences of other areas of coastline by forming beaches, shingle bars, etc. The second is environmental— the natural mud flats, marshes and dunes are home to a wide variety of birds, animals and fauna. The third is economic—protection works can be costly and as the funding available for protection works, whether that be Government, local authority or private is limited, it is essential to ensure that investing in any protection scheme represents value for money. In other words, a scheme must be justified.
The Government is conscious of the threat posed by erosion and the need for coastal protection. EU Structural Funds are being made available for the first time to help address the serious erosion problem. Under the Operational Programme for Environmental Services £5.1 million is being made available over the 1994-9 period to undertake priority protection works. The primary objective of the funding is the protection of State owned foreshore, local authority owned property, tourism amenities, including beach and dune systems and natural habitats-ecology. Preservation is the objective where this can be undertaken at economic cost.
In order to draw up a targeted programme of priority coastal locations, consultations have been held with and submissions have been sought from the various coastal local authorities. The local authorities have submitted details of their top priority proposals for consideration. They have also been advised that given the cost of the proposals received, which is in excess of £25 million, and the level of resources available, it will not be possible to undertake any or all of the proposals received. Considerable progress has been made in the last two years in tackling priority projects. In 1996 alone 15 projects were aided at a cost of almost £1 million. Included among these projects are protection works at Tawin Island, County Galway; Laytown, County Meath; Ardgroom, County Cork; and Enniscrone, County Sligo.
Clare County Council has identified a number or priority proposals for consideration. These include Lahinch — rock armouring and new sea  walls with a cost estimate of £500,000; Kilkee — renewal of sea walls and promenade and the provision of new sea walls with a cost estimate of £1 million; Seafield Beach and Pier — rock armouring, gabions and sea walls with a cost estimate of £1.1 million and Cloghanes — rock armouring and new sea walls with a cost estimate of £650,000.
To date it has not been possible to grant aid any of the projects identified by Clare County Council. However, subject to funding, which will be in the region of £1 million per annum over the next few years, Clare County Council's proposals will be considered, along with proposals from the other coastal local authorities, over the remaining years of the Environmental Services Operational Programme. I assure this House, on behalf of the Minister, that there is no question of County Clare being forgotten about or ignored. In the context of available funds, it is impossible to undertake works in every priority location at any one time. I will convey Senator Daly's message to the Minister and I hope he is lucky this time. Obviously, Clare County Council must identify which of these priority areas it would like to be attended to first.
The Government is aware of the need for increased funding for this area and it will make every effort in this regard. The £5.1 million, apart from being the first time that Structural Funds were made available for coastal protection works, is a significant increase in funding provided in the early 1990s when only £100,000 per annum was made available for capital works on coastal protection.
Seanad Éireann 149 Adjournment Matters. Clare Coastal Erosion.