Lough Funshinagh should be the first item on the agenda of a proposed cross-agency taskforce that would address emergency climate adaptation measures to protect homes.

Independent TD for Roscommon-Galway, Denis Naughten, told the Dáil recently that he is seeking the establishment of a “coordinated cross-government, cross-departmental, and cross-agency task force as a matter of urgency” to address this issue.

And, the first item on the agenda should be the authorisation of flood-alleviation works at Lough Funshinagh in Co. Roscommon, as a case study, he said.

The deputy was speaking on a topical issue in the Dáil relating to flood-risk management.

Explaining why Lough Funshinagh should be used as a case study, he said the legal barriers highlighted by two court injunctions have very serious implications for many communities throughout this country.

“These are communities that will, sadly, over the coming years, find themselves in a similar situation to that of the community in Ballagh, where its very survival is threatened by our changing climate.”

Lough Funshinagh is deemed a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and is classified as a turlough under the EU Habitats Directive because it fluctuates to a significant extent every year. Flood alleviation works here have been at the centre of controversy, and legal challenges, for several years.

But, Deputy Naughten said it was questionable whether Lough Funshinagh should have been designated as a turlough.

“What is in no doubt today, however, is that the lake is not being principally filled by subterranean waters, a key requirement in defining a turlough.”

It is, he said, being exclusively filled by surface waters from rainfall and this is leading to an accumulation in Lough Funshinagh far quicker than has been the case historically.

Since 2016, Lough Funshinagh has not been draining in a normal manner, as a turlough should and in 2021, its water level was 2-2.5m higher than in 2017. In early 2021, water levels significantly threatened eight properties, eight businesses, and some 300ha of farmland.

“Therefore, this task force must consider how the EU habitats designation can be repealed,” he said.

Such a taskforce, he said, would also set out how EU environmental laws are expressed in our national laws.

Deputy Naughten said the suggested remit of this proposed task force is set out in a letter sent on May 19, to Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW), Deputy Patrick O’Donovan.

Representing Deputy O’Donovan in the Dáil was Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), Martin Heydon.

Current status
Minister Heydon explained that a High Court order in March 2022 found that a legal challenge prohibited the use of the pipeline and associated manholes – some 60% of the total works – already constructed on site. The order confirmed that the pipeline laid could remain in situ and that the council was to complete remediation, or reinstatement, works at the site. These remediation works have commenced and will take some three months to complete.

He said Roscommon County Council’s cathaoirleach and CEO have written to the Minister O’Donovan, setting out a range of policy and legislative issues that they believe need to be addressed before the council can proceed with any further works at Lough Funshinagh.

However, these are matters for the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, so these policy and legislative concerns have been forwarded to him for his consideration.

In the meantime, he confirmed that a further meeting between the OPW and Roscommon County Council is to take place this week.