Strong winds and heavy rain have caused extensive flood damage to homes, business premises, and farmland across Ireland in recent years.
Many people living in high-risk areas fear the hardship and disruption that flooding brings. They follow the Met Éireann weather alerts, prepare as best they can, and remain on alert for what might come.
Some communities can be cut off for extended periods. Farm work is often interrupted. Power cuts, road closures, and traffic diversions follow.
Families in some places are marooned in their homes for weeks and depend on neighbours using tractors to bring them groceries.
Traders in high-risk cities and towns also wait anxiously for flood alert warnings issued by local authorities so that they can move stock from ground levels to upper floors.
Farmers take animals to more secure places and householders ensure they have sufficient sandbags to prevent the water entering their homes.
It is sometimes difficult for people to fully appreciate the distress that even the fear of flooding can cause, especially during the winter months.
The largest study of flood risk ever undertaken by the State was launched in 2018 by the then minister of state Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran. It assessed 300 communities including 90 coastal areas that are home to some three million citizens.
A €1bn investment in flood relief measures over the lifetime of the National Development Plan 2018-2027 was later launched.
A total of 29 flood risk management plans provided the Government with the evidence to progress some 150 flood relief schemes in addition to 46 completed major works.
The number of schemes being brought through to planning, designing and construction by the Office of Public Works was increased from 33 to 92. Staffing levels were also increased by 22% since 2017.
But some flood risk communities and politicians, while welcoming the long-awaited projects, have complained about time frame delays and other issues.
Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan told the Dáil he had visited areas affected by recent storms and flooding, including Kilmallock, Kenmare, Clifden, Bantry, Bandon, Dunmanway, and Cork City.
He said he and the OPW are actively engaged with the key departments to ensure required flood relief measures are delivered to communities in the shortest possible timeframe.
Growing concern about the frequency, scale, and intensity of flooding was also reflected in recent Dáil debates as members sought progress reports on schemes countrywide and focused on issues including insurance cover.
The Group of Independent Rural Deputies called on the Government to fast-track the delivery of the planned schemes and address a range of other flood related issues.
Cork South West TD Michael Collins moved the private members motion, which described the existing flood alleviation measures in rural Ireland as “grossly inadequate and ineffective”.
Mr O’Donovan said delivering flood relief schemes takes time. They must be designed to ensure they meet regulatory requirements and do not cause flooding elsewhere.
Schemes in the Shannon Basin where generations of people have been suffering from the impact of severe flooding were the focus of much debate.
The 360km (224m) long river touches 11 counties on its journey from Cavan to Limerick. It has a catchment area of 17,800 sq km with a population of 670,000 people living in 17 local authority areas.
Managing the water levels on the river, a valuable natural resource, is an ongoing major challenge. Given its importance, the Government has provided flood risk management plans for 67 areas along the route.
To date, 11 of these locations have a flood relief scheme providing protection against a one in 100-year flood event. In May 2018, the Government announced 34 new projects for Shannon river communities.
That followed the setting up in 2016 of the Shannon Flood Risk Working Group to enhance the ongoing co-operation of all State agencies involved including the OPW, the ESB, Waterways Ireland and local authorities.
Irish Farmers Association president Tim Cullinan recently called on the OPW to manage the Shannon water levels from the end of summer while ensuring that this does not cause problems further downstream.
He said key pinch points along the river need to be addressed. Silt which has built up on the riverbed has to be removed by dredging.
IFA Connacht regional chairman Pat Murphy said there is a huge flooding problem in south Galway with water rising in turloughs.
Yards and wintering facilities of a small number of farmers get flooded. The proposed drainage will not rectify this issue. Relocation support for these farmers is needed, he said.
Meanwhile, a bill to set up a single statutory body for the Shannon is currently before the Dail, sponsored by Sinn Féin, which noted that 20 State agencies are currently involved in managing the river.
The party’s Tipperary TD Martin Browne said the flooding being witnessed on lands adjacent to the River Shannon has been devastating for households, farms, and businesses.
“Large areas of farmland are submerged every year, with both long-term impacts and an immediate loss of earnings for farmers as the plans they have made for the year to come are set back,” he said..
Mr O’Donovan, replying to the debate, said the Shannon Working Group is carrying out functions envisaged in the bill, albeit on a non-statutory basis.
He asked for the Dáil’s co-operation to take the bill, together with his own reflections and a memorandum he intends to take to Government and come back later to the House.
Mr O’Donovan said he proposed not to oppose the bill and that it be read in about nine months, allowing time to introduce legislation, if appropriate, on the matter.
He said the Government is working extremely hard to ensure that the greatest possible progress is being made to deliver on an ambitious programme of investment in flood defence along the Shannon and nationally.