Local TD Denis Naughten has told the Dáil that unless a State taskforce is established to address the barriers blocking the completion of flood relief works at Lough Funshinagh, Co Roscommon, then many more communities across the country will face a similar crisis in the coming years.
“Because of the legal challenges associated with the emergency flood relief works at Lough Funshinagh, we are now left in a situation where the only option that may be open to families facing the threat of flooding, where works impact on a designated habitat, is to have the homes demolished and the families relocated,” stated Denis Naughten.
“In the middle of a housing and climate emergency this is not an acceptable solution.”
Deputy Naughten has called on Government to establish a cross-departmental and cross-agency task force as a matter of urgency to address emergency climate adaptation measures to protect homes.
“The first item on the agenda of this new task force should be the authorisation of flood alleviation works at Lough Funshinagh in County Roscommon as a case study,” stated Denis Naughten.
He went on to point out the reason the Lough Funshinagh works should be used as a case study is because the legal barriers which have been highlighted through two court injunctions have serious implications for many communities throughout the country.
“These are communities that will sadly, over the coming years, find themselves in a similar situation to that of the community in Ballagh, where its very survival is threatened by our changing climate,” added Denis Naughten.
The issues that need to be addressed are clearly set out in a letter sent to the Minister of State, Deputy O’Donovan, dated 19 May, by the Cathaoirleach and Chief Executive of Roscommon County Council which sets out five very clear asks.
Concluding Denis Naughten pointed out: “We need action on these now, not just for the families in County Roscommon but for other families who will face similar climate-related crises in the years to come.”
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Editor’s Note: Copy of Dail debate below.
Dáil Éireann debate –
Thursday, 16 Jun 2022
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla – Topical Issue Debate
Flood Risk Management
I will raise a point of order before I speak to this. I will place on the record my very strong objection to the removal of three of the six minutes allocated to me for this vitally important debate, which was scheduled to be taken on 1 June. As I tried to facilitate the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy O’Donovan, in being present for the debate, my opportunity to put the case forward on behalf of the local community has been significantly curtailed. I want the record to show that.
I am seeking the establishment of a co-ordinated cross-government, cross-departmental and cross-agency task force as a matter of urgency to address emergency climate adaptation measures to protect homes. The first item on the agenda of this new task force should be the authorisation of flood alleviation works at Lough Funshinagh in County Roscommon as a case study. The reason the Lough Funshinagh works should be used as a case study is that the legal barriers which have been highlighted through two court injunctions have very serious implications for many communities throughout this country. These are communities that will sadly, over the coming years, find themselves in a similar situation to that of the community in Ballagh, where its very survival is threatened by our changing climate.
It is questionable whether Lough Funshinagh should have been designated as a turlough under the EU habitats directive. What is in no doubt today, however, is that the lake is not being principally filled by subterranean waters, a key requirement in defining a turlough, and is instead being exclusively filled by surface waters from rainfall, which is falling far more intensively, leading to an accumulation in Lough Funshinagh far quicker than has been the case historically. Therefore, this task force must consider how the EU habitats designation can be repealed.
These legal challenges have also brought into serious question the transposition of EU law and its implications for actions by a council to carry out emergency works under the Planning and Development Act 2000 and the Local Authority (Works) Act 1949 to protect families and homes. The task force must set out how EU environmental laws are expressed in our national laws, and draft amendments to the present Acts of the Oireachtas to allow county councils to take emergency actions to save homes from being permanently flooded.
The work programme of this task force is clearly set out in a letter sent to the Minister of State, Deputy O’Donovan, dated 19 May, by the cathaoirleach and chief executive of Roscommon County Council with five very clear asks. We need action on these now, not just for the families in County Roscommon but for other families who will face similar climate-related crises in the years to come.
I thank the Deputies for raising a very important issue. I have had engagement with people who live in Lough Funshinagh and the surrounding areas. I know the stress and strain that is on all the families in that local community. I am taking this Topical Issue matter on behalf of the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, OPW, Deputy O’Donovan. He sends his apologies that due to prior engagements he is unfortunately not able to be here today.
The Minister of State is very aware of the significant impact, distress and anxiety that flooding, and the continued threat of flooding, has on communities. His thoughts and sympathies are with all in the area that are being affected by the flooding and the risk of flooding from Lough Funshinagh. He would like to pay tribute to the community for its resilience and strength. I assure all those affected that the Government is fully committed to finding an effective and sustainable solution to address flooding on Lough Funshinagh.
As Deputies will be aware, Roscommon County Council is leading the response to the situation at Lough Funshinagh and is being supported by relevant Departments and agencies. In May 2021, the CEO of Roscommon County Council wrote to the OPW highlighting that he had exercised his powers under the Local Government (Works) Act 1949 to undertake urgent works at Lough Funshinagh, which involved a 3 km overflow pipe to the River Shannon. The decision to proceed with the works was based on an analysis that Roscommon County Council had commissioned, which indicated Lough Funshinagh was not draining as expected. As a turlough, the lake is expected to, and I understand typically did, fill and drain on a cyclical and seasonal basis.
Since 2016, the lake has not been draining in a normal manner and was 2 m to 2.5 m higher in 2021 than it was in 2017. By early 2021, the lake levels posed a significant threat to eight properties, eight businesses and some 300 ha of farmland.
The OPW agreed to a request from the CEO of Roscommon County Council for funding and for the Office of Public Works to act as the contractor for these urgent works on the clear understanding that the council was responsible for meeting all of the regulatory and environmental requirements required for the completion of these works.
A number of legal challenges submitted by Friends of the Irish Environment halted the works in 2021. The High Court order of 23 March 2022 that concluded the legal challenge prohibited the use of the pipeline and associated manholes – some 60% of the total works – already constructed on site. The order confirmed that the pipeline laid could remain in situ and that the council was to complete remediation, or reinstatement, works at the site. These remediation works have commenced and will take some three months to complete.
Roscommon County Council’s cathaoirleach and CEO have written to the Minister of State, Deputy O’Donovan, setting out a range of policy and legislative issues that they believe need to be addressed before the council can proceed with any further works at Lough Funshinagh. As these are matters for the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, the Minister of State has referred these policy and legislative concerns to him for his consideration.
As the Deputies know, the Minister of State and his officials have met Roscommon County Council’s management and its elected members and has assured them of the OPW’s continued support. A further meeting between the OPW and Roscommon County Council is due to take place next week.
The Minister of State referenced two Departments, agencies and the local authority. Unless we establish a multi-agency task force and use the families around Lough Funshinagh as test cases, we will be setting in stone that the only climate mitigation measure that can be taken in any part of the country and has an impact of any kind on a European designated site is to have families relocated and the existing homes demolished. This has major implications across the country and has been highlighted in the correspondence from Roscommon County Council to the Department and the Minister.
In the midst of housing and climate emergencies, such a singular approach to climate adaptation compounds the already monumental challenge that this country faces. The State cannot turn its back on the families involved and must devise a co-ordinated national strategy.
I thank the Deputies for raising those specific points, which I will bring to the Minister of State, Deputy O’Donovan, and our colleagues in government. Be it a multi-agency task force or a co-ordinated national strategy, I will take the Deputies’ suggestions on board.
This Topical Issue matter was directed to the OPW and the Minister of State, Deputy O’Donovan’s office. As I outlined, the OPW is effectively the contractor that physically gets the work done after other agencies, for example, local authorities or Departments, agree on how best to do so. We need everyone to work together. I assure the Deputies that we are working across the Government to find a solution for the people of Lough Funshinagh.
The OPW continues to work with Roscommon County Council, and is available to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, in assisting the council in any way it can to find a viable solution to managing the flood risk at Lough Funshinagh. When the Minister of State last visited Roscommon, he called to the home of one of the affected residents to reassure him on behalf of the community of the OPW’s continued support for the council. We hope that we will be able to find an effective resolution to the ongoing issues at Lough Funshinagh. I am mindful of the Deputies’ comments that this situation has wider implications than for that community alone, which is why we are so determined to find a long-term solution. We will continue working on that across the Government.