Members of the Save Our Shannon organisation (SOSO) Michael Silke, Emily Young and Liam Broderick pictured at a recent public meeting

“Too many agencies” in control of the Shannon, Dáil committee is told

Members of the Save Our Shannon Organisation (SOSO) who came before a Dail Committee were told that “too many agencies” are in control of the river Shannon.

The remarks were made by Independent TD for Laois/Offaly Carol Nolan, who asked why the heads of the Bill for the creation of a single Shannon Authority have still not been moved. She added that the recurring flooding issues being experienced by farmers living along the Shannon Callows will not be solved until a single agency is appointed to take control of the river.

Three members of SOSO, Michael Silke, Liam Broderick and John Ryan, outlined to the Dáil Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine the many difficulties being experienced by farmers as a result of flooding on the Shannon, with politicians pledging to take action to address the issues raised.

Shannonbridge dairy farmer John Ryan, whose lands are located along the Shannon Callows, told the Dail Committee of the hardships he and his family have faced as a result of summer and autumn flooding along the Callows this year, which has resulted in “over 40 hectares” of his lands being under water, with fodder lost and ground covered in water. He said many of his neighbours have been experiencing similar problems.

Mr Ryan expressed the view that the farmer along the Shannon Callows are being “picked on” with their lands being “constantly flooded and no attempt to deal with the problem.”

Michael Silke, who also farms along the Shannon Callows, spoke of a river along the Callows “not being drained since British times” and of a river being “choked with silt, trees, bushes, silt islands and vegetation” due to lack of maintenance. He also told the committee members of a river “filled with silt from Bord na Móna bogs” and said the lands along the Shannon Callows are “the very essence of organic farming” due to the manner in which local farmers work to protect nesting birds and wildlife.

As well as raising the issue of flooding, members of SOSO also brought their concerns about the Fodder Relief Scheme before the Dail Committee last week, and said that “considerably more than 230 farmers” living along the Callows are entitled to compensation from the scheme which was recently announced by Agriculture Minister, Charlie McConalogue.

The Fodder Relief Scheme entitles 230 farmers living between Athlone and Meelick Weir to €325 per hectare for fodder which was lost as a result of flooding.

“It is the contention of SOSO that considerably more than 230 Shannon Callows farmers should be eligible for this funding,” said Liam Broderick this week, and while they have welcomed the overall Fodder Relief Scheme, they have sought clarification on a number of its aspects.

“Every bit of help is needed,” said Mr Broderick, “as this has been the worst year ever for hay, silage and haylage being lost.” He pointed out that the fodder scheme, as currently designed, caters only for farmers who have lost fodder. “Farmers have also lost their grazing lands and now have to sell off stock, and we want to know if these farmers can be included, and we want to know if grazing land comes under the scheme.”

The Dáil Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine includes a number of local representatives including Independent TD for Laois/Offaly Carol Nolan and Fianna Fail TD Barry Cowen, both of whom pledged to assist the flood-stricken farmers in any way they could.

Deputy Cowen said he and members of his party would consult with the Department of Agriculture and seek clarification on the issues raised in relation to the Fodder Scheme. He also pointed out that CFRAMS made recommendations on infrastructure to prevent flooding in urban areas and that these recommendations “were and are being acted upon” with the construction of defences.

In relation to the removal of pinchpoints, which CFRAMS also recommended, Deputy Cowen said “this has not happened” and he called for the victims of flooding to be represented on the single Shannon Authority.

Liam Broderick also questioned why the Shannon Flood Risk State Agency Co-ordination Working Group – which was established in 2016 in the wake of the highest winter flooding ever on the Shannon - has only met twice this year. He said they met in April and October but not in July when the flood risk on the Shannon posed a risk to farmers and businesses alike. He added that there was “a lack of co-ordination by various State agencies, particularly the ESB and Waterways Ireland” when it comes to the management of flooding along the river.