Seanad Éireann - Volume 152 - 15 October, 1997
Adjournment Matters. - Flood Relief Funding.
Mr. T. Hayes Mr. T. Hayes
Mr. T. Hayes: I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this matter. I also thank the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, for being in the House this evening to respond. When I mentioned Annacarty, Cappawhite, Donohill, Hollyford and Clonoulty in the House this morning they were unknown to many. However, I am sure the Minister of State is aware of the great Tipperary hurlers who came from these towns.
On Sunday, 31 August, a severe downpour occurred in this rural area. In the region of £1 million damage was done. South Tipperary County Council, through the efforts of its staff, helped alleviate some of the problems. Great hardship has been caused in the area as a result of the flooding. This is an agricultural area and people badly need good roads to go about their daily work. The area was developing its tourism potential. Two handicapped people live with their families in Rossmore and they are experiencing great hardship.
 The county council has put a proposal to the Minister and made submissions for grant aid towards the restoration work on the roads. To date we have been disappointed. I hope to hear good news from the Minister of State tonight. South Tipperary County Council has carried out £200,000 worth of work and there is a shortfall of about £800,000. The people of the area will remain in severe hardship unless funds are made available to the county council. Immediate repairs need to be carried out because, to quote a proverb, a stitch in time saves nine. The roads will deteriorate further unless repairs are effected now. I urge the Minister of State to come to the rescue of the county council. I cannot express adequately the hardship being experienced. It has to be seen to be understood.
A report from the county council on the damage includes photographs which indicate its extent. The conditions could almost be described as third world. I am sure the Minister of State does not wish to preside over such a situation. The people of the area feel hard done by. They are in a rural area and have very little support. If such damage occurred in a built up area it would have been highlighted in the media long ago. I urge the Minister of State to take action.
I wish to share my time with Senator O'Meara.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Ms O'Meara Ms O'Meara
Ms O'Meara: I thank Senator Hayes for sharing his time and allowing me to speak on behalf of the people of Hollyford and Cappawhite. It is appropriate that we should do so because our role is to speak for those whose voice would not otherwise be heard and to raise issues that would not otherwise be considered. Senator Hayes referred to the county council's report on the effects of the storm. In only 45 minutes an horrific level of destruction was wreaked on the area. The report refers to the need to reconstruct entirely a number of roads.
I have been unfortunate enough to have experienced house flooding. Its effects last for months and it puts severe pressure on a house; indeed, permanent damage can be caused. The initial damage done in that 45 minutes may affect people for many years.
It is disgraceful that the Minister will not meet with a delegation to hear the concerns of the people involved. He should see the state of the roads. This issue is very important to the relationship between central and local government and between Government and the communities in Hollyford and Cappawhite. The powerlessness of these communities is summed up by the knowledge that £1 million would make a huge difference to the quality of their lives but it is not forthcoming although we are told the country is awash with money. A 45 minute downpour has left this community feeling more isolated and downtrodden. The flood is an act of God and the Department may argue that it cannot respond to every such event. However, a Department should be  able to respond. Why can a Department not have sufficient budgetary flexibility to provide for such events and to respond to the needs of a community? That is not too much to ask.
As I said, the country is awash with money. We hear of “payback time”. When will it be payback time for the people of Cappawhite, Rossmore and Hollyford? All that is required is £1 million. I look forward to the budget because I want to see who will be paid back. I urge the Minister of State to appeal to the Government to listen to the needs of this isolated community and to respond to them. The Minister should at least meet a delegation and treat the matter with the urgency it deserves.
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. D. Wallace) Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. D. Wallace)
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. D. Wallace): I thank the Senator for raising this important issue. My colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Noel Dempsey, regrets that he is unable to be present in the Seanad this evening to reply and he has asked me to do so on his behalf. The subject of this motion has already been raised by Minister Dempsey with the Minister for Defence, Deputy Smith, and the Minister of State, Deputy Davern. The Minister has also discussed the matter with the chairman of Tipperary South Riding County Council. The Minister indicated he would be willing to address a meeting of the county council on Friday, 24 October, and in this context would address the subject of this motion.
Responsibility for the maintenance and improvement of non-national roads is a matter for local authorities, to be funded from their own resources, supplemented by State grants provided by the Department of Environment and Local Government. Furthermore, local authorities are regularly reminded that the cost of remedial works arising as a result of flooding and storm damage must be met from the combined annual State grant and own resources provision and that they should provide a contingency sum from these sources to finance road and bridge restoration works which may be necessitated by severe weather conditions.
In this regard, Tipperary South Riding County Council was allocated a total sum of over £4.21 million by the Department of Environment and Local Government in 1997. This allocation represents an increase of 24 per cent on the 1996 payment figure. Taken with an estimated own resources figure of £1.4 million, this means that the council has over £5.6 million to expend on its non-national road works programme in 1997. While this is a considerable sum, I must point out that it would have been higher if the council had maintained or increased its own resources input. The £1.4 million to be provided by them this year is, in fact, 13 per cent less than the amount they provided in 1996. While it is appreciated that there are many financial demands being made on councils, this decrease is disappointing, especially when State grants have been increasing so  dramatically and at a time when local authorities themselves are identifying the unsatisfactory state of many of our non-national roads as a major priority at local level.
As the House will be aware, State grants for non-national roads in 1997, including grants for the local improvements scheme, will amount to £177.815 million, an increase of £30.953 million or 21 per cent on the 1996 payments of £146.862 million. The 1996 payments were in turn up 17 per cent on the 1995 outturn of £125.948 million. State grants for non-national roads have increased, therefore, by 41 per cent since 1995. All local authorities have been asked to increase their own resources input at least in line with inflation. This is absolutely essential if we are to tackle the problem of restoring non-national roads.
The House will be aware of the Government's commitment as set out in the Action Programme for the Millennium to ensure increased funding for regional and county roads. The Minister intends to honour this commitment in full. In doing so, he does not want State grants to be used as a substitute for own resources. This would simply subvert the efforts being made by the Government to restore the network to an acceptable level. All local authorities, therefore, are expected to play their part and to do so in a realistic manner in the area of funding.
It can be confirmed to the House that a request has been received from Tipperary South Riding County Council seeking a sum of £704,600 to repair damaged roads. Further recent correspondence from the council now suggests that the total sum required is well in excess of this figure as additional bridge works are necessary. Notwithstanding the position outlined earlier, namely, that the council is responsible for dealing with these emergency works, and the disappointing position about the reduced own resources provision by Tipperary South Riding County Council in 1997, the House will be aware from questions answered in the Dáil — the latest just yesterday afternoon — that the Minister is prepared to have his Department examine requests from local authorities for assistance in cases of demonstrated emergency need. The request from the council is being examined in this context. I might add here that similar requests have also been received from a number of other local authorities.
However, apart from any limited funds which might become available for reallocation, all grant moneys for 1997 have now been allocated and there are no other funds available from which further grants could be made available to the council. As examination of the various requests is ongoing in the Department, I am not in a position tonight to indicate the outcome. However, I can assure the Senator that the request from the council will be considered and the council will be notified of the position in the near future.
Seanad Éireann 152 Adjournment Matters. Flood Relief Funding.