South Galway has been abandoned and the incompetence of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS ) is denying homeowners and farmers their constitutional rights, that is according to a county councillor who is yet to return to her Ardrahan home since being evacuated during recent flooding.
Fine Gael councillor Bridie Willers outlined the grim reality facing those affected by flooding in south Galway during a meeting of the Galway County Council on Monday. Having been evacuated from her home at Grannagh by members of the Loughrea Fire Brigade on Friday February 14, due to rising water levels, Cllr Willers spoke with conviction when she told the chamber “the will to find a solution is not there and 20 years under the threat of flooding proves this”.
“I believe that we all have a constitutional right to remain in our own homes and farmers have a constitutional right to farm their lands without the constant threat of flooding. The NWPS by their incompetence are denying us our rights. Government past and present have chosen to ignore this incompetence. Cost benefit analysis and the unique terrain of south Galway is the catch phrase used and we will continue to suffer. South Galway has been abandoned.”
Describing her situation, and the situation of so many others in south Galway, Cllr Willers described how for the second time in five years she has had to leave her home, and said there are still “vast tracts of farmland” flooded. She further explained that since 1990/1991 many families have been threatened by rising water levels in nearby turloughs, and that time and time again they were offered, and many accepted, relocation when disastrous floods hit in 1990/1991, again in 1995, and in 2009/2010.
“Now in February 2014, homes and farmlands have been devastated by flooding. It is also obvious that the more people who accept relocation the less effort is made to find a solution. Twenty five roads were closed at one point in the last two weeks in south Galway. Kiltiernan school is under threat of closure because of the threat of flood water to its septic tank. A local business man has had to close his business temporarily because of flooding. Our lives are totally disrupted. Farmers and home owners are at breaking point, struggling to survive.”
Cllr Willers noted that the 2000 European Habitats Directive assigned priority habitat status to turloughs, but it also stated that management of sites must allow for maintenance. “There is no management of our turloughs and there is no maintenance of our rivers,” said Cllr Willers, who accused the NPWS of interpreting this directive “as they see fit”.
“I do not accept that Europe want to see family after family relocated from their homes. I do not accept Europe want to see acres and acres of good land destroyed for 12 months after an episode of flooding. I do not accept Europe will be happy to know that the septic tanks and the effluent from slatted sheds is floating around the flood waters in south Galway. The NPWS has failed to manage the levels of the turloughs throughout the area. Yet these same faceless people veto any proposal or scheme made by Galway County Council and the OPW which might solve our problem,” said Cllr Willers.
Once the applause died down in the chamber, councillor after councillor sympathised with the plight of Cllr Willers and all those affected by flooding. Fine Gael councillor Peter Feeney suggested the Dunkellin/Aggard scheme as the way to address the issue as it would take a metre of water away. “We’ve never seen concrete proposals to solve the problem. It’s the overflow that is causing it. I don’t see why the NPWS has a problem. We are interpreting EU directives like gospel while other countries interpret it more loosely,” said Cllr Feeney, before proposing a motion calling for the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to interpret the relevant EU environment directives in the same way as other countries, which is to allow relief of flooding in south Galway. Fianna Fáil councillor Gerry Finnerty also proposed a motion calling for Galway County Council, in conjunction with the OPW and the local community of Cahermore, Kinvara, to investigate the possibility of putting in a channel from Cahermore to Dunguaire to alleviate flooding to roads and farms. He noted this is “only a distance of approximately two miles to the sea” and if it worked “it could become a template for flood relief measures in south Galway”.