By Peter O’Connell
A FORMER Clare IFA chairman said “nothing has been achieved” to date, with regard to the installation of flood defences along the banks of the Shannon Estuary and on to Doonbeg.
At a meeting of Clare County Council’s Environmental and Water Services Strategic Policy Committee on Wednesday, Seamus Murphy claimed Clare farmers have been “abandoned and let down by the State”. He also revealed that Clare IFA-generated professional assessments of flood damage was deemed not acceptable by the Office of Public Works (OPW), who had been forwarded the reports by Clare County Council.
“The county council staff in this section were overwhelmed with other storm damage work of a higher priority and could not undertake further work. They suggested farmers hire private engineers to undertake the assessment work,” Mr Murphy explained. “Officials from the OPW met with the IFA last week and, in the course of discussions, it was revealed that they would not act on the submissions sent through the council, as they were not undertaken by the council officials,” he said.
Contacted by The Clare Champion on Wednesday, the OPW confirmed it will only accept applications that have been put together by local authorities.
“The position is that the Government decided to allocate funding for the repair of storm damage to public infrastructure and the OPW will only consider applications for funding for such repairs that have been prepared and submitted by local authorities, in accordance with their assessments of prioritised requirements,” the statement read.
“The OPW does not consider funding applications from private individuals, either submitted directly by individuals or where these private applications are simply forwarded via a local authority. This position was explained to the IFA at the meeting referred to,” the OPW statement added.
Mr Murphy noted that when Brian Hayes, the minister with responsibility for the OPW, visited Clare, he was very positive as to the possibility of some funding from his department towards the flood defences. The route to funding was to be through the county council structures. However, Mr Murphy made it clear that farmers are now unhappy with the lack of action.
“Farmers are very disappointed with the progress to date. Following the initial high-profile visits of the Minister of Agriculture, Simon Coveney and Minister Brian Hayes, nothing has been achieved. Farmers feel let down and abandoned by the State and all the early concerns have come to nothing,” he said. “Most of the damage from winter storms has still not been repaired and efforts by farmers to get national support have been frustrated by a lack of leadership on the part of various departments to take responsibility and apply tolerances to the procedures needed to start the vital repair to flood defences. The Minister for Agriculture came and viewed the destruction and he clarified the position that no penalties to single payment would be applied to the flooded areas. He understood the difficulties farmers faced but said no supports for repair would come from his department,” Mr Murphy pointed out.
He says that EU flood defence designations have had a “negative effect” on some flood defences. “Maintenance work that was traditionally carried out in the dry summer period by farmers no longer takes place because of environmental designations. National Parks and Wild Service (NPWS) have responsibility under the Habitats Directive to balance environmental benefits with the social and economic requirements of the local community,” he said, adding that, despite saying he would visit, Minister Jimmy Deenihan, who is responsible for the NPWS, has yet to visit the flooded areas in Clare.
“The present situation is that some farmers have spent large amounts repairing the embankments temporarily, where this was possible, and are at present trying to get the grass established again. Other farmers, where temporary works on flood defences were beyond their capabilities, are still being flooded with continuing losses in grass and fodder production. May and June is the peak time of year for grass growth. It is also the best time of year to start repair work on flood defences, as the weather and tidal conditions will be more favourable over the following months for this kind of work,” Mr Murphy noted.
He said farmers are aware that national finances make it difficult to provide sufficient aid but insisted that more should be done to help those affected by flooding.
“Farmers are willing to co-operate with the relevant departments to find a solution to the damaged flood defences, as can be seen from the commissioning of the survey work. The State has also to accept that farmers have gone through a number of difficult wet years and, with the present depressed state of the beef trade, profitability on many farms is limited. A cost-effective solution has to be found and all departments with an interest in the flood defences have to get involved. The future of many farm families is dependent on a positive outcome,” Mr Murphy warned.