Like my colleague, Deputy Kitt, I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate this afternoon. This time last week the raging storm Darwin had just passed through the country and wreaked devastation all over the place. Like Deputy Kitt, I sympathise with all those who have been affected. Television screens have been dominated over the past month by pictures of communities hit hard by the devastation of storms Christine, Brigid and Darwin. Deputy Kitt and I live very close to each other and I know the south Galway area really well, so I have tremendous sympathy for the communities affected by the flooding there. Flooding is something we cannot control and is unbelievable when flood waters rise so quickly. This issue affects all communities but particularly the people whose houses are flooded, as well as the livelihoods of farmers.
I pay tribute to the emergency workers in my county who have toiled so hard over the past number of months. I include in this tribute the workers on the ground and the management of Clare County Council, as well as ESB crews which have worked night and day to restore electricity. Eircom crews and local volunteers have also worked tirelessly to help people in affected areas. There is a great human dimension out there with our community spirit, which is important.
The ferocity of these storms had not been witnessed by most people, particularly last week’s storm Darwin. Everybody was affected by the weather, as householders saw slates come from roofs, trees were knocked on roads and land and various other aspects of damage were done as well. The human cost is something we must consider and I am thankful that only one man lost his life during the storms. Mr. Michael O’Riordan from Cork lost his life restoring telephone services to an area, and his work and dedication should never be forgotten. We sympathise with his family.
I will not go through all the areas in County Clare that have been affected as various Deputies have done that over the weeks since the debate began. I spoke in the first debate about the devastated areas on the west and north Clare coast, as well as the Fergus estuary. I will highlight the plight of four families at O’Callaghan’s Mills in County Clare. There is an elderly woman there and these people have been cut off since Christmas. It is a real problem but there is nothing that can be done at the moment because the water levels are too high and the local authority can only tackle the problem when the water levels decrease. There are children living there and some people have had to move from the area. Flooding on the L30262 has been ongoing, although the road was raised in 2009. However, further flood prevention measures are required and funding must be provided for those works. The council is due to survey the road when the water abates and it will submit an application for a minor works scheme to the Office of Public Works. Whatever is required to alleviate the problem must be done so that these people will never again face the problem they have over the past two months.
Mobile telephone and broadband coverage has also been affected in many areas throughout the country. In my area my mobile phone coverage with O2 is intermittent. Obviously, the storm had an effect in this regard also. In Kildysart, a town near my home, an issue has arisen regarding an eircom mast at Woodcock Hill, Cratloe. Trees need to be felled in the area to alleviate the problem.
With the storms last week, the country suffered terrible devastation. Hurricane winds battered County Clare. In all, approximately 250 homes and businesses are still without electricity in the county as a result of trees falling on electricity lines. ESB workers are working extremely hard to address this problem. We have all seen pictures on the television and in the newspapers of the damage done to cars and the scene left by the devastating hurricane winds. Forty communities across the country have been hit as a result of the two storms. I have mentioned some of them. Places such as White Strand in Miltown Malbay and Kilbaha and Carrigaholt have been affected. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, visited the area some weeks ago to see at first hand the devastation caused by the storms. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, visited County Clare two weeks ago to see the farmland under water. The River Fergus embankments in the Kildysart–Ballynacally area and all along the Fergus Estuary were affected.
I took time to visit other areas affected last weekend in order to see the devastation caused along the coastline. I visited Farrihy in Doonbeg to see where the water had breached the coastline. Some 300 acres are still under floodwater. It is good land on which farmers cut silage during the summer and the water cannot get out. While it is escaping through a sluice, it is doing so at a very slow pace. The whole landscape of the region was changed. I never saw anything like it in all my life. The bunch of stones had been moved back, perhaps 20 m, from their original position, and the beach had also moved - such is the power of water. This affected many communities along the coastline, including Rhynagonnaught which is located beside the famous Doonbeg golf course which has recently been named Trump International Golf Links. The devastation was unbelievable. It is estimated that damage worth over €1 million has been done to the golf course. Two greens were literally washed away by the force of the tide. Some 20 m or 30 m of land was literally taken away from the coastline. This must not continue; otherwise the complex will be destroyed, in addition to the famous golf course. There is a need to carry out works to ensure the golf course is protected. Doonbeg Golf Club employs over 240 people in the summer and is very important to the tourism industry in the region.
I wish to talk about the longer term project. There are obviously short-term works to be prioritised in addition to it. The Minister has stated that if the local authorities send their bills to the Department, they will receive their cheques in seven to ten days. However, we need to examine the longer term prospects. We need to face up to the challenges presented by climate change and claims that our weather patterns are changing and that storms and flooding are becoming a feature of the country. I hope we can examine this in the coming years to ensure we will be protected to a certain degree. I acknowledge that we cannot be protected all the time because the power of water is unbelievable. We have seen the success of the flood prevention measures in Ennis and other areas, the defences of which held up extremely well. The OPW needs to be very proactive, given the recent developments and the potential for flooding. It is now time for a national approach to be taken to climate change and coastal erosion. We must invest more in coastal defences and need to review the national development plan to be ready for adverse events. A national study should be commissioned of the impact of the change in weather patterns and what it will mean for Ireland. The report would guide action in this area. We need to review our biodiversity obligations in conjunction with the European Union. We need to relax the rules that the National Parks and Wildlife Service applies. There are some strict rules that are prohibitive in regard to farmers carrying out works on embankments and along the coast. A hands-on approach needs to be taken. Some of the works proposed by the local authorities could be carried out more cheaply than has been estimated. Officials need to work with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to ensure necessary works will be prioritised and future trends studied.