Heritage Council highlights urgency of clear strategy and lead agency in management of Ireland's waterways to help minimise flooding incidents
Press Release : Tuesday 9th March 2010
The Heritage Council drew attention on a number of occasions to the crucial importance of a strategic plan, and the need for a lead, co-ordinating agency, to manage the country’s waterways. This was spelled out by the Council’s chief executive, Michael Starrett, and the Head of Policy and Research, Ms. Beatrice Kelly, in a presentation to the Oireachtas Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government inquiry into the management of severe weather events in Ireland.
The Heritage Council (HC) has a statutory function to propose policies and priorities for Ireland’s inland waterways, that is navigable rivers, canals and lakes. For instance in a 2005 policy paper called “Integrating Policies for Ireland’s Inland Waterways”, the Council stated it was concerned that “there is no agency charged with co-ordinating all the bodies involved in the management of the waterways and their corridors to ensure coherent overall management.”
Mr. Starrett told the Committee that the Flood Policy Review Group, set up by the then Minister of State, Tom Parlon, in the OPW in 2003, also recommended an integrated, river-basin based approach, and that a Protocol on flood emergencies was drawn up in 2008 by DEHLG and OPW.
“Following the adoption of the Flood Policy Review Group’s report in 2004, the OPW was charged with the major responsibility of coordinating flood risk management, which is not the same as co-ordinating the response to flood events. From the April 2008 ‘A guide to flood emergencies’ (DEHLG website), this appears to be a role given to individual local authorities with advice from OPW”, he said.
He said the Heritage Council has extensive experience of bringing various organisations and groups together to tackle complex and conflicting issues. “We have put this into practice in many projects, including the Waterway Corridor Studies (2002-2007), and other examples include the development of the Wicklow Uplands Council, the Bere Island Conservation Plan, the Burren Life Initiative, the Beara Breifne Way, the Village Design Programme, and the Tara-Skryne landscape project”.
In all those situations, the Heritage Council facilitated the coming together of community groups, individual landowners, Government Departments and agencies, local authorities and NGOs to work together on agreed aims. “We also have practical experience of bringing parties together to work on our waterways, and the River Shannon in particular. Since 2002 ,Shannon waterway corridor studies (WCS) covering the entire length of the Shannon have been led by the Heritage Council in partnership with the relevant local authorities, Waterways Ireland and Shannon Development. Consultation with individuals, organisations, and state agencies in the area was also a key component of the studies. Each study resulted in a series of recommendations”.
He said the River Shannon, like all rivers, needs to be managed as a single entity, rather than as a series of detached administrative units if communities and their heritage are to benefit.
Referring to the debate around the role of the ESB in controlling water levels on the Shannon lakes, Mr. Starrett said: “simply transferring the control of lake water levels to another body is not going to solve the problem of the Shannon flooding. This is caused by a topographical inability to cope with the volume of water when it reaches abnormal levels, as happens in severe weather conditions. As stated in the 2003 Floods Review Report, ’flooding is a natural phenomenon and we must learn to live with flood events’ ”, he said.
“An important part of learning to live with flood events means that we have to ensure new houses are not built in areas at risk from flooding, and that we ensure there is sufficient space for excess water to go – in other words, by protecting our wetlands and flood plains. The guidance on the planning system and flood risk management from DEHLG and OPW gives clear direction on this”.
Mr. Starrett also told the Committee: “We know too from our recent joint report with Fáilte Ireland (Climate Change, Heritage And Tourism: Implications For Ireland’s Coasts And Inland Waterways) that extreme weather events like that of November last may become more frequent. It is essential therefore that we provide an administrative structure that can react coherently, rapidly and effectively to such events for the benefit of the people living and working along our waterways”.
The Heritage Council is the statutory body charged with identifying, protecting, preserving and enhancing Ireland’s national heritage. National heritage includes Monuments, Archaeological objects, Heritage objects, Architectural heritage, Flora, Fauna, Wildlife habitats, Landscapes, Seascapes, Wrecks, Geology, Heritage gardens and parks, and Inland waterways.
Established under the Heritage Act 1995, and operating under the aegis of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Heritage Council provides advice to the Minister, and partners and networks with Local Authorities and a wide range of other organisations and individuals to promote Ireland’s heritage.
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