Letters to the Editor: OPW cannot act freely on flooding

Letters to the Editor: OPW cannot act freely on flooding

Flood waters on Rutland Street, Cork City, during Storm Babet. Picture: Larry Cummins

I am writing in response to Anja Murray’s insightful article titled ‘We cannot continue to ignore natural flood management in Ireland,’ published on October 30.

Ms Murray correctly identifies natural flood management as a “viable and cost-effective approach to reduce peak flows during flood events and thus help protect settlements from flood damage”.

There is, however, a crucial aspect of flood control legislation that requires urgent attention.

Under Section 37 of the Arterial Drainage Act 1945 the Office of Public Works (OPW) is statutorily obliged to maintain all rivers, embankments and urban flood defences on which it has executed works since the 1945 act in “proper repair and effective condition”.

While the act was passed in the aftermath of the devastating floods of the early 1940s which were particularly challenging for rural communities heavily reliant on agriculture and resulted in the deaths of 25 people, the result is that the flow of the 11,500km of rivers listed must today be maintained at the rate they were when Douglas Hyde signed that act.

Aside from flood control, in 1975 the Inland Fisheries Commission raised concerns about the environmental impact of the legislation, noting complaints from anglers.

They highlighted that drainage operations had “eliminated desirable natural meanders in rivers, removed holding pools, destroyed spawning beds, and produced canal-type watercourses characterised by long stretches of steep banks piled high with rubble and spoil”.

As long as this legal roadblock is in place, the hands of the OPW are tied and it cannot implement natural flood management techniques as this would decrease the volume of water in the rivers that they must legally maintain.

Prominent environmental NGOs such as the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) have highlighted this issue for many years, referring to it as the “War on Rivers”.

They cite an ESRI Report from as early as 1982 by Richard Bruton (later a TD) and Frank Convery (later lifetime president of the European Association of Environmental Economists) querying “adverse impacts on the environment” of the 1945 act.

The IWT is also strongly critical of the OPW’s procedures in meeting its legal obligations. They write that “the arterial drainage programme has torn the heart out of rivers by undermining their basic ecological function”.

The OPW “schedules and designs its own works, writes its own impact assessment reports, gives itself permission to fire on and, when things go wrong, reviews themselves and implements their own corrective actions”.

On July 13, 2021, the IWT handed into the Dáil a petition entitled ‘Reform The Arterial Drainage Act’ after Minister O’Donovan was ‘unavailable’ to accept it.

This initiative garnered widespread support, including signatures from An Taisce and more than 5,000 others, demonstrating the public’s concern about this issue.

Regardless of the political outcome of the next election, we urge all parties to commit to revising this legislation to accommodate natural flood management practices.

This revision is essential for the future of Ireland’s flood control plans, and we hope to see the support of your esteemed publication in championing this cause.

As the IWT aptly states: “We want a new piece of legislation that works for people and nature, one that is fit for the biodiversity and climate emergency.”

Tony Lowes

Friends of the Irish Environment

Netanyahu, Hamas are both to blame

It is possible and important to be able to distinguish between the head of state or government of a country on the one hand, and the citizens of that country on the other.

Netanyahu has undermined the independence of the Israeli judiciary. He has allied himself with his country’s most right-wing forces. He faces criminal charges that could land him in jail.

Results of a recent poll found that four out of five Jewish Israelis believe the government and Netanyahu are to blame for the Hamas invasion and the killings that followed. Some 86% of respondents, including 79% of coalition supporters, said the surprise attack from Gaza is a failure of the country’s leadership.

A total of 94% believe the government must bear some responsibility for the lack of security preparedness before the assault, with more than 75% saying the government holds most of the responsibility. There have been mass protests against his government.

Obviously, this is a nonsense.

One can distinguish between the Israeli government and the people of Israel.

One can express solidarity with the people of Israel without expressing solidarity with Netanyahu and the Israeli regime as it engages in murderous collective punishment and commits war crimes and breaches international humanitarian law.

Likewise, one can distinguish between Hamas terrorists and the people of Gaza. One can express solidarity with the people of Gaza without expressing solidarity with Hamas, which has committed unspeakable atrocities against innocent civilians.

Neither Hamas nor the Israeli government will be on the right side of history.

Rob Sadlier

Rathfarnham, Dublin 16

Defence Forces could be stranded

With the continuing deteriorating security situation in the Middle East, the evacuation of Irish citizens and possibly members of the Defence Forces deployed in the region is becoming more of a probability as the days go by. 

Unfortunately, with no capability to airlift our citizens or Defence Forces, we are once again undoubtedly dependent on the kindness of others to assist us. With the delivery of the new Casa transport aircraft sometime in 2025 we will have a very limited capability, but insufficient to cover events such as this.

The much-vaunted but still not ordered multi-role vessel for the naval service would also give us options in circumstances such as this. If the Government is prepared to deploy Defence Force personnel overseas, often into high-risk areas, then they should provide the means to extract them if necessary.

Simply depending on the kindness of others to extract your citizens or defence personnel is hardly a robust or strategically credible solution. Hopefully, should it become necessary, Minister Martin and the Department of Defence have robust plans in place to extract our citizens and Defence personnel.

Conor Hogarty

Blackrock, Co Dublin

Varadkar fails on Irish neutrality

Following the EU summit in Brussels recently, Leo Varadkar remarked of Ireland’s role following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: “We need to double down on our support for Ukraine — political, military, financial and other supports.” Military? Where stands Irish ‘military neutrality’?

It seems that this government remains determined to silently erode an anti-war foreign policy supported by most Irish people.

Fintan Lane

Lucan, Co Dublin

Techno-creep benefits the few

The current fret and flux flourishing around the burgeoning development of AI capability and its upsides/downsides are sadly typical of so many cybertech innovations these days.

Who sat down decades ago and lamented, “why are there no mobile phones/iPads/iPhones?, why can’t we have a virtual system of enquiry and exploration, where is cyberspace when we urgently need it?”.

Simple answer — no one!

Such elaborations were simply and successfully foisted on an unsuspecting world, and subliminally geared to attract and ensnare, with remarkable rapidity, a level of global dependence and addictive capture. For what? Corporate greed, aggrandisement and competitive advantage.

With so many grotesque global disparities and dearths in just about every aspect of basic human existence and fundamental civil rights, the so-called ‘brains’ of the world concentrate their energies on superfluous techno-paraphernalia to draw the big profits, as ‘cyber-everything’ erodes authenticity, communality, and decency, while providing openings for all sorts of manipulative machination, across the spectrum, including crime, pornography, espionage, etc.

Our drift into mindless acceptance of all such cyber-virtualities exposes our very questionable powers of scrutiny and caution. The world has now become ultra-vulnerable in all sorts of ways due to the infestation of contra-human ‘devices’ cooked up by agents of greed and control.

Meanwhile, tiny pockets of the populace become really wealthy, as the rest of us are content with pseudo-access to ‘everything-we-ever-wanted’ and yet wholesome humanity suffers woefully in the round.

To paraphrase Dylan: “We’re tangled up in blue-chip”, and there’s “Blood on the Tracks”, metaphorically and literally.

Jim Cosgrove

Lismore, Co Waterford

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