Politicians standing in Water looking for Media attention must be hard to take if your premises are Flooded…
Dáil Diary no 1 – 15th January 2016
The Fine Gael / Labour Government is not serious about Climate Change, as we saw with their pitiful Climate Change Bill, which has been described as the worst in Europe. Neither are they serious about dealing with the increasing frequency of floods in Ireland. No doubt, the floods did present some good photo opportunities for our shameless politicians, who clearly wouldn’t like to see any good crisis going to waste. Here’s my short Dáil contribution on the issue. -
“The Government is not directly responsible for the rain, but it does have responsibilities in dealing with it. There have been many calls for the dredging of rivers and there have been statements from the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government about the provision of the greatest response ever seen to the flooding crisis.
There has been something of a panic attack about dredging. Like many others, I do not believe that dredging necessarily acts as a flood prevention mechanism. A study by Britain's Environment Agency states that a river channel is not large enough to contain extreme floods, even after dredging, and that the dredging of river channels does not prevent flooding during extreme flows. Only a fraction of the water ever occupies the channel. Also, if one embarks on a policy of dredging, every time there is a serious flood one will have to re-dredge. It will be an endless task.
With regard to ‘the greatest response ever seen’ that was mentioned by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, that might have seen this and previous Governments fulfilling promises to put flooding defences in place years ago. There has been a huge lack of interest in this area. One could argue that the lack of investment in infrastructure in general over the last number of years is a serious concern - I tried to get some finance for coastal erosion on Bannow Island in Wexford a while ago, but I was told there was zero money available for it, at either local or central government level .It was not entertained. There is no interest in dealing with long-term projects like this, because they do not see past the next election. Flood defences were designed for Enniscorthy in 2009 - It is reckoned now that they might be in place in 2019. As such, forward planning is seriously lacking.
The real cause of flooding relates, aside from climate change issues, which were not as relevant in the past, to the loss of flood lands and tree planting, like willows. Lands where willows were sown were very good at holding water whereas the huge move to drain every square inch of available land has meant doing away with the practical use of certain lands for tanking water. Under that system, the water did not arrive at the channel quite so quickly. That works. If we want to deal with flooding in the long term, aside from building flood defences in the towns that are most badly affected, we must also look at recreating flood lands. If that means providing grants to farmers to allow land in certain areas to hold water, so be it. It needs to be done. For as long as I can remember, the EU has only wanted land free from unwanted vegetation. The subsidy industry it runs is geared in that direction. Anyone who was prepared to keep land that would hold water would never get a subsidy from the EU. This has to change. It is a very short-sighted policy on the part of the EU.
Just before Christmas, we debated the climate change legislation. It beggars belief how little interest there was in it. The Taoiseach stood up on a world stage last year and said countries needed to show leadership and courage in addressing the climate change crisis. The Government then put forward some of the most meaningless and toothless climate change legislation on the planet. Deputy Clare Daly and I submitted 33 amendments, none of which was accepted and the debate was guillotined. There has been little long-term interest in dealing with climate change in Ireland as if it is a problem for the rest of the world and something that happens out in the Pacific. It happens here too. We have seen it over the last month. Unless the Government takes a more long-term view and starts to look past the next election, we will continue to have problems like this.
Dealing with floods and water, I raise again a point I have raised with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly. I never received much of a response but I always found it interesting that Irish Water was taking over water supply and sewerage but did not want to know about surface water and flooding. Local authorities had been dealing with all four up to now but Irish Water has taken over the two that are most attractive, measurable and easily charged for. Flooding and surface water are unpredictable and Irish Water did not want to know about them. It is an indication that the whole idea behind designing Irish Water was always geared towards making it an entity which could eventually be sold. That is one of the main reasons Irish Water does not want to know anything about surface water or flooding. They are too unpredictable and hard to measure and no private industry on the planet would want to be involved with them.”