During the recent public meeting in Gort (23rd Feb 2016), a number of questions were put to the Galway-East prospective election candidates. This is a transcript of the discussions around flooding and we’ve focused on the response to key question from our elected candidates. A video of the overall session will be produced soon.
[Thanks to Dermot Flaherty for providing me a copy of the audio]
What have you done to date to resolve flooding in South Galway?
Ciaran Cannon : My involvement to date has been two-fold – recent and long-term. Long-term I’ll deal with first. If you go into the records of the dail and put in the words ‘Dunkellin’ and ‘flood relief’ you’ll see discussions and debates going back to the 1950s. No commitment was every made to solve that problem until just about 18 months ago when €6 Million was allocated to the project. It’s happening – that money is ring-fenced. Solving the Dunkellin is key to solving a huge part of the flooding in South Galway. We also have Mattie Hanlon, we saw him down here earlier on, he has worked on a project Kilternan-Ballindereen – there is €430,000 allocated for that. That’s long term. Near-term – I along with Councillor Joe Byrne and many of the members of the local community, the whole way from Kiltartan, out to the sea worked our <you know whats off> over the Christmas to try and save people’s homes and try and solve a problem that’s been plaguing this region for decades. We managed to convince Galway County Council and OPW to dig a release channel at Cahermore (and i want to thank the Glynn’s for facilitating that behind their home.) That solved that problem immediately in that region and we need… to work upstream from that.
Sean Canney : First of all a a county Councillor I have visited the sites where the major flooding has taken place. I was in Kilternan with Mattie Hanlon, I visited Bridie Willers and her situation there, I was in Kiltartan with PJ Baldwin, I was up here with Michael Fitzmorris TD, to inspect the damage, the whole scene of it. I’ve prepared a list of place where flooding has taken place and submitted it to Galway County council, in assistance to them to prepare their list to send to the OPW. I’m sure you’ll be asking questions because I could go on all night on this. Needless to say we will get to the bottom of it but what I saw was what Bridie Willers had, was a big folder with reports, report, reports more reports and more reports … and nothing done, her house flooded again and that’s an indictment of what we’ve been at.
Anne Rabbitte : Thank you for the question. What have I done in South Galway, I’d like to think that in a few months as a County Councillor that I’ve done a lot. In relation to Storm Desmond arriving on the 6th December, I’ve worked tirelessly on the banks of the Shannon and Portumna. On the 28th December, I arrived in Gort and Peterswell. From there I came down to Labane where I worked with the Army – That’s called putting on the wellingtons and getting involved. What else do I want to do? I would love to see the channel dug from Cahermore all the way back to Coole – That I believe is one of them. The solutions are here, they are in the palms of your hands. What ye need to do is to elect a TD in South Galway who stand with the people, who will deliver the projects – That’s what I want to do. I would love to be part of the solution – if you decide to vote with me. Thank you.
What are you going to do to solve the flooding in South Galway?
Cannon : The question was very specific – ‘What am I going to do to solve the flooding issue in South Galway?’ I don’t really care about the flooding in the rest of the county [to be frank] and here is what I’m going to do and to tell you this in a minute is very difficult to do. Coole to Kinvara, we’ve started the work in Kinvara, in Cahermore there. We want to continue to make that channel permanent. It’s going to need to engagement and support of a number of land owners and we are working to secure that at the moment. We’re working with Galway County Council and OPW to put in an application for funding top make that channel because that is the uncorking of the bottle for a huge amount of work upstream. You also need to link Coole to Caherglassaun, Caherglassaun to Cahermore and ultimately to the sea. That’s the problem to be solved in that area. If you go out to Ballyglass and Ballyboy, we had a school cut off from a huge part of the school community, the Dunkellin is a solution there, the Aggard, there was a small channel submitted at one point as part of the overall project and it was withdrawn, because the OPW over-engineered it. I could start and I could talk for the night.. what I’m saying to you is, I know intimately, the details of every single problem to be solved in South Galway and I give you my commitment I will not rest until that is done.
“I know intimately, the details of every single problem to be solved in South Galway and I give you my commitment I will not rest until that is done”. Ciaran Cannon
Canney : First of all there needs to be one single authority to look after flooding – that’s a priority for me if I get elected to the dail. The second thing is [the other thing I would look for is] to see how we can slow down the water coming from Derrybrien by putting in attenuation tanks on the way down to control the water coming down. Again, we would work with people who have local knowledge of that. We’ve had all the reports, so the only thing and I said it to the minister Simon Harris when I met him in Kiltartan that we need to look at how we do the cost-benefit analysis and we need to factor in a lot more of the human disturbances when you have flooding and a lot of projects don’t get going because they don’t qualify – I think it’s a way of saving money. One thing I disagree with is that we don’t have to go over to Europe to get any work done. We were told that, Michael Fitzmorris went over to Europe to get the answer and he was told that – we don’t have to go over to Europe – It’s in our own hands to do it. Marion Harkin told us the same thing.
We don’t have to go over to Europe to get any work done”- Sean Canney
Anne Rabbitte ; Thank you. I actually believe myself personally that its a common sense approach that’s required at this stage. How long would it take to get all the people together, all the different agencies, to form one agency… I think what we need to do is to put all the agencies sitting down together at the one table. We have the solutions and we know what they are. There is a three-prong approach required in South Galway. The first is to sort out the Dunkellin and hopefully on the 29th February that planning will come through. The second one is to look at the dig from Cahermore back to Coole and the third one is to deal with the swallow holes. That’s what is required in South Galway. It’s more action and less talking. In actual fact they have the capacity to do this – you saw the will, the political will that was there for the 3 days when we were allowed to do it under the emergency works – we just need that to continue. Also we’re 6 inches from the flood height – the emergency is still there and the dig could continue as the levels regress and if that was to happen it would prevent our next emergency which we’re about 10 months from.
“What ye need to do is to elect a TD in South Galway who stand with the people, who will deliver the projects – That’s what I want to do. I would love to be part of the solution – if you decide to vote with me”. Anne Rabbitte
Joe Byrne : I’m Councillor Joe Byrne, I’m from Kinvara. I’m a councilor for a year and a half. If I could just make a couple of observations on the flooding issue because I think that it is a very important matter and I know that [..] has said that for the 35 years as a Councillor he wasn’t able to influence much constructive stuff regarding flooding – well actually I’m a Councillor for a year and a half and I believe fundamentally that I’ve influenced very positively in South Galway a lot of positivety towards solving the problem of flooding in South Galway by dealing with local public representatives and I think you’ve seen that with Ciaran Cannon over the last 2-3 months. There is a solution, I do fundamentally not believe it’s about setting up a joint agency at this stage because we know the solution, we have the reports done, there is a commitment to continue with it and I for certainly one, as a County Councillor will be working very hard to make sure this work happens. We have the answers, we have the technical solutions, we have the funding commitment from Government and irrespective of who the Government is next week, that commitment has to be maintained because this isfar more important than politics.
Brendan Slevin. I was intimately involved in the Dunkellin flood relief scheme and one of the disappointing things was over 2 days in the Oranmore lodge, there was very little political representation at the oral hearing. Was any of ye at the oral hearing […], not one of ye. The opening statement from Galway County Council, was there was €6 Million being spent on this scheme. It wasn’t Galway County Councils fault, it wasn’t Tobin Engineers fault. There is one agency in this state handcuffing all the other agencies and that’s the NPWS. And we as the good citizens of Europe have not implemented the habitat’s directive correctly, we’ve put ourselves at the bottom of the list and put everything else above us. The opening statement from Galway County Council, was there was €6 Million being spent on this scheme but there was nothing that could be done about 6 houses that could flood again. There was nothing done with the Aggard despite what’s been said. There was an opportunity to do it. It was missed. It’s not being done. These is this cost-benefit analysis [That Sean Canney mentioned] , you were talking about peoples houses being flooded, peoples farms being flooded. That model is based on something in the UK and everything the OPW decided to do or not is based on this Cost Benefit analysis. If we look at Ballyglass school, if we look at Gort, for the last 2 months, all these people [..] there is no Cost-Benefit analysis, when I need to go to Kinvara, I need to go to Ardrahan first, that is not factored in at all. I’m only one business, there is merchants, doctors, all types of businesses. We are suffering [not as much as the people who have flooded] but until the Government tackles, the NPWS who are a statutory agency dictating to the Government what they should and shouldn’t do and how they should and shouldn’t implement the EIA directives from Europe – we’re going nowhere. Claregalway flooded in 2009, Ballinasloe flooded in 2009. The flood relief schemes are finished. They are done and dusted and they worked. We have nothing done in South Galway. We have a lot of minor flood relief schemes, yes and they are working, some of them have been under designed but the Dunkellin Scheme is a flood-relief scheme, it’s not a drainage scheme. There was an opportunity to drain the water from Ardrahan and Grannagh down via the Aggard and on through Kilcolgan but Tobin’s, OPW and Galway County Council’s hands were tied – by one agency – the NPWS.
MC: Are the NPWS a mighty power that we have no control over?
Ciaran Cannon : No they are not : They are a statutory agency that, as Brendan has pointed out, are obliged, under legislation passed by this Government, …well not this Governments, previous Governments, … passed by this state, to protect habitats across this country – that’s their role, that’s their function. But the NPWS are at pains, and I got a call, from the head of the NPWS here in the western region, during Christmas, when we were up to our ….. knees. … in water down in Cahermore, in particular in relation to the work that happened at Dunguaire and Cahermore to say that they had no issue with it whatsoever. That the legislation that underpins their establishment allows for a derogation, called IROPI [imperative reasons of overriding public interest] , where people’s homes and livelihoods, and land is threatened to a huge extent, you can invoke that and just go ahead and do it and that’s what Galway County Council did.
Brendan, one thing I’ll disagree with you on and I agree with the vast majority of what you’ve said, in 2009 the people in Crowe st, Gort, were up their necks in water, every one of those businesses were shut down for weeks – That didn’t happen this time because OPW and the County Council did a very good engineering job in solving that problem. You might argue David that it moved it downstream and it probaby did to a certain extent, but it worked for Crowe St and that what needs to happen with the rest.
Brendan Slevin : I’ll acknowledge that Ciaran.
Ciaran Cannon : What I’m saying to you is that there is a cultural (driven a lot by the Taoiseach, who spent 8 hours here, visiting all of this area a couple of weeks ago) – there is a diktat being issued to the NPWS – ‘Pull in your horns – this is a major major problem’ and I feel that that call that I received was prompted by that and they are going to have to say when people livelihoods, farms, …
MC: Are you getting a reaction from the NPWS ?
Ciaran Cannon : They rang me up, the guy’s name is Denis Stone, he rang me and said, we are not going to stop anything you are doing down there. If it needs to be done, go ahead and do it and I do feel, that the extent of the anguish and the strive, suffered by people not only here but across the county has prompted a major mind change in that organization. – That’s my own personal opinion.
Lorraine Higgins : It shouldn’t take a disaster of unmitigated proportions, like what we have seen over the course of the last few months for the NPWS to pull in their horns in the first place. We have this legislation in Europe foisted upon us, there is not debate in the Oireachtas. I think it’s time that one of the chambers would be used in order to debate this legislation to get input from communities and give them a chance to have their say. [Democracy]. It shouldn’t be a case of the Taoiseach having to direct the NPWS to pull in their horns.
Anne Rabbitte ; We are talking about something that has happened for the very first time in 2015. This has been going on for a long number of years.1995,1996,2009, 2013, so its not like this has happened for the very first time. In actual fact I can’t understand why we don;’t have the will to continue the work we had started over the new year. In actual fact the Finn river in Donegal, the work had started and is still continuing, and they are still continuing to dig, as the river is receding so I don’t understand why we are not exercising that work itself in Cahermore. In fact that’s where we need to be seen ourselves going. – that the project has just started. it might be stopped but we need to have that same will and that will has to be delivered through the council.I do know that that a the last meeting that was put down and the council are talking about going back in again for planning – we can’t see ourselves in that stage – we have to see ourselves continuing the dig. That’s wants needed. We shouldn’t be talking about this happening for the very first time .
Sean Canney : I just want to, in conclusion say that we blame the NPWS, we talk about them pulling in their horns, – that’s all wrong. They can be taken out of it, if there is a will – we seem to be afraid of it – or else we are using it as a shield. We are afraid that if we do anything against the NPWS that they will prosecute a County Council and the directors of services are afraid that they will be prosecuted by another arm of the state. Its pandemonium what’s going on. And there is money on reports and whatever else being done, but when you come back to it and I repeat this – the solutions are within our own power – we don’t have to blame Europe or go out to Europe – we can do what we want ourselves, with our own laws to make sure all these emergencies are sorted out.
The full video of the discussions will be published soon.