Fine Gael TD for Galway West & Mayo South

Inland Waterways (Adjournment Debate)

Inland Waterways (Adjournment Debate)

Is é seo an chéad seans dom labhairt san áit seo agus ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis na daoine ó dháilcheantar Ghaillimh Thiar maidir leis an tacaíocht a fuair mé san olltoghchán.  Gabhaim buíochas leis an iar-Theachta Dála Fhine Gael don dáilcheantar, Padraic McCormack, tar éis 21 bliain go leith ag obair ar son mhuintir iarthar na Gaillimhe.  Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil sé fíor-bhródúil go bhfuil beirt Teachta Dála nua as Fine Gael sa dáilcheantar anois.


I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for facilitating the raising of this issue on the Adjournment.  As a fellow County Galway man, I congratulate him on his election as Leas-Cheann Comhairle.


Lough Corrib is the second largest lake on this island and the largest within the State.  It is predominantly within the Connemara electoral area which elected me to Galway County Council on two occasions.  It is a prized asset within my county and within this country.  The Galway county development plan in respect of Lough Corrib notes:


It is possibly the single most significant natural asset in the County.  Its waters serve as a domestic supply for half the population of the County.  It is one of the most important wild fisheries in Europe, making it a prime tourist asset and an important habitat.  As the second largest inland waterbody on the island with free and frequent access to its largely unspoilt shoreline it is a vast leisure area for locals and visitors.

Lough Corrib, however, has faced and is facing huge problems and challenges.  The threats of pollution from sewerage schemes, septic tanks, nitrate and phosphate enrichment are real, although improvements have been made to address these threats during the past number of years.  Zebra mussel has also made an unwelcome appearance.  Another very serious issue is [228]the rapid encroachment of African pond weed or Lagarosiphon major.  The origin of this invasion was likely to have come from a domestic water pond where these plants are part of ornamental gardens.  Whatever the origin, the consequences are very serious.  The weed has spread across many of the Lough Corrib’s bays since first identified in 2005.  Its spread has had a number of consequences for navigation, fishing and water quality.  The weed poses a threat to navigation channels because it can get entangled in equipment on boats, etc., and it poses a threat to the supply of clean drinking water.  All of Galway city receives its drinking water from Lough Corrib. The weed also increases the threat of flooding.


The Central Fisheries Board launched a campaign after the identification of this weed as a problem and over the years made presentations to Lough Corrib Navigation Trustees and Galway County Council, both bodies of which I was a member, and to Galway City Council.  Funding was provided initially by the State.  A boat to allow for the weed cutting was purchased in 2008 by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.  Galway County Council then came on board with funding and last year a commitment was also made by Galway City Council in its 2011 budget.  Today, Inland Fisheries Ireland has commitments from Galway County Council and the city council in their 2011 budgets for the control of this weed as well as commitments from the Office of Public Works and the Heritage Council.  This commitment to funding is recognition of the seriousness of the situation on Lough Corrib.


An innovative method of dealing with this weed has involved competent individuals diving to the bottom of the lake, cutting the weed, bringing it to the lake surface, hauling the weed onto a boat and bringing it ashore for disposal.  A mat is then placed over the lake bed from where the weed has been removed to prevent regrowth of the weed, but it allows the natural flora of the lake to regrow.  This is very technical and labour intensive work.  Three local individuals with expertise and, as locals, a love for the lake saw their contracts end on 31 December.


I note previous responses from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or the Department with responsibility for natural resources that the reason behind the refusal to allow Inland Fisheries Ireland issue new contracts is the public service recruitment ban.  I understand our commitment to the IMF-EU deal and the need to impose restrictions on public sector and State body worker numbers to satisfy this deal.  In this instance, however, I am not seeking additional moneys for new staff to be employed but moneys budgeted by Galway’s local authorities, the Office of Public Works and the Heritage Council to be spent and to allow local individuals with the expertise to continue the vital job they have being doing for the sake of Lough Corrib.


I understand the Minister’s Department is tied by the Department of Finance’s insistence on the moratorium, but I ask the Minister of State if the Department accepts the necessity for this work to be completed and if he can persuade the Department of Finance to allow contracts be issued where the moneys are already sanctioned by the bodies listed.  Three young men are receiving social welfare assistance when instead they could be working, being paid by moneys already sanctioned by the listed authorities and bodies and doing a vital job cutting and removing African pond weed from Lough Corrib.  This whole story reeks of red tape and bureaucracy and makes no sense.  I appeal to the Minister of State to liaise with the Minister for Finance to allow Inland Fisheries Ireland issue new contracts in order that these staff can continue with these necessary works.


Deputy Ciarán Cannon:

I am replying to this matter on behalf of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte.  I thank Deputy Kyne for raising [229]this very important issue and congratulate him, his family and community on his election to Dáil Éireann.


I am advised that the biggest threat to biodiversity in Ireland, after habitat destruction, is that of invasive alien species.  Indeed the negative impact of invasive aquatic species such as Lagarosiphon major is widely acknowledged.  Lough Corrib, the second largest lake in Ireland and a vital amenity for the west, is currently under threat from a number of invasive species, in particular Lagarosiphon major.


It is not known how the weed arrived in Lough Corrib, but similar plants can be purchased for use in ornamental garden ponds.  My colleague, the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, has responsibility, through the National Parks and Wildlife Service, for the enactment of legislation in this area under the Wildlife Acts 1976 to 2000 and is currently considering proposals that will further regulate the restriction of invasive plant species.


Funding was secured by Inland Fisheries Ireland under the EU Life plus programme for a project on the control of aquatic invasive species and the restoration of natural communities in Ireland, known as CAISIE.  Control and eradication of the weed can be achieved through projects like this which adopt a co-ordinated approach in highlighting the destruction to habitats caused by invasive species.  Indeed, the National Parks and Wildlife Service is co-financier of this project.


The Deputy is aware that the economic position of the country is profoundly changed, even since the initiation of that project, with implications and challenges for the public sector generally and Inland Fisheries Ireland’s business specifically.  The board and management of Inland Fisheries Ireland are assessing the implications of these challenges for the organisation and its business plan.


In the context of the National Recovery Plan, 2011 to 2014, and under the terms of the joint EU-IMF programme for Ireland, Departments and State agencies have to deal with reduced budgets and the prospect of further reductions into the foreseeable future.  This has clear implications for the level of employment that can be sustained across all areas of the public sector.


Inland Fisheries Ireland was established last year and the intention is that this body will support a more efficient and effective management of the inland fisheries resource.  There is an improved national perspective in the formulation of inland fisheries policy, supporting a more streamlined, coherent and integrated approach.  While the reality is that the organisation faces pressures on its direct grant from the Exchequer, I can confirm that funding has been made available to Inland Fisheries Ireland to continue its efforts at controlling the weed in Lough Corrib.  It employs a number of research staff on the project which will continue to focus on control and containment.  Work on the systematic removal of the weed — in collaboration with the local authorities in County Galway — by using a wide range of tried and tested, as well as new and innovative, methods is being conducted over a three-year period.


The contracts of three temporary personnel involved in cutting and clearing the weed which was mainly done by means of scuba diving expired in December 2010.  It was not possible to renew these contracts because of the public service staffing moratorium.  Notwithstanding the ongoing constraints on public expenditure, Inland Fisheries Ireland has indicated that it will continue to prioritise this work from its available resources.  It is considering options for undertaking works to control the weed this year.  In that context, on 1 April it requested tenders from suitably qualified contractors and competent suppliers and contractors who would supply equipment or be subcontracted for the control and removal of Lagarosiphon major from Lough [230]Corrib for a 12-month period.  The successful tenderer will work in conjunction with existing IFI research and operational staff on Lough Corrib.  This important work will continue as resources permit.