Around 200 farms in south west Offaly, and many more in areas such as east Galway and Westmeath, are under water since July according to Laois-Offaly TD Barry Cowen.

The Fianna Fáil deputy raised the issue in the Dáil yesterday (September 17) stating that it’s not an ad hoc situation once every few years anymore but has become an annual occurrence.

Deputy Cowen said: “These lands, in the main of course; some of them are designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) [and] restricted agricultural practices in the best weather and circumstances would prevail ordinarily.

But unfortunately…as evidenced only last week and again last year, this is something that is not being resolved through minimalist clearance of pinch points on the Shannon as evidenced by minor works to date.

Cowen added that there is disagreement between many different stakeholders including the Office of Public Works (OPW), Waterways Ireland, ESB and local authorities.

He has suggested the establishment of one entity to ensure agreement between all the relevant parties in a bid to resolve the issue.

“If there was an agency that brought all these together. If there was agreement with local farming communities and organisations to maintain levels at one which meets the requirements of all concerned,” he added.

“If gates were adhered to and the levels associated with gates such as Meelick were adjusted with agreement with those parties, particularly whom are dependent on these lands for their agricultural practice; for their livelihoods.”

Office of Public Works

The deputy added: “It may well be that there’s another unspoken practice in OPW that hasn’t been alluded to in public; that being that it is appropriate for these lands to be flooded to safeguard other areas along the path of the Shannon towards the sea and towards Ardnacrusha.

If that is the case, I think it should be stated openly. I think it should be brought to the attention of those affected by it and there should be discussions around adequate compensation.

The causes of the flooding were also called into question by the former Minister for Agriculture.

He said: “It’s not as if the weather has been that detrimental to cause this so it is an issue around the maintenance, the management and the delivery of adequate resources.”

Minister for the OPW Patrick O’ Donovan replied that “local authorities are designated as the lead agency to respond to events within their administrative areas so that effective arrangements can be put in place”.

In relation to water levels, specifically in the Shannon, the ESB manages them; the weirs, sluices and other works that are part of the Shannon scheme and the water levels on Lough Allen, Ree and Lough Derg.

“The levels in between these lakes are managed by Waterways Ireland,” he said.

Deputy Cowen continued: “That protocol that was referred to that would seem to direct us towards the ESB and Waterways Ireland in relation to levels and in relation to the maintenance…is not working. If they were sufficient we wouldn’t have the flooding.”

The OPW minister concluded by saying that the river Shannon is a “very complicated body of water from Cavan down to Kerry” and acknowledged that there have been seven major flood events over a nine-week period recently.

He said that the rapid growth of climate change has perhaps not been met with a rapid enough change in policy and legislation and he intends to visit the flood-affected regions in the coming weeks.