Roscommon flooding row: ‘It would be too dangerous for these families to stay’

Lough Funshinagh flood relief works paused after legal move by environmental group

Edward Beattie at his house near Lough Funshinagh in Co Roscommon looking at flood waters creeping in. Photograph courtesy of Beattie family

Edward Beattie at his house near Lough Funshinagh in Co Roscommon looking at flood waters creeping in. Photograph courtesy of Beattie family

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Every day Edward Beattie (83) drives his tractor to a house at Ballagh Cross, Rahara, Co Roscommon, where he had lived for more than 70 years.

Encroaching floodwater forced him and his wife Teresa (81) out of the property in February.

Their son, Matthew Beattie, says Edward has had to see “his life’s work, his home and farm, crumbling in front of his eyes” because of regular flooding from nearby Lough Funshinagh.

When Roscommon County Council commenced flood-relief works at the turlough last June, his parents felt they had got “10 years back”, says Matthew, and were looking forward to being home for Christmas.

However, a High Court order temporarily halting the works has been secured by Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE). The case is due to be mentioned in court again this week, with a full hearing expected to proceed next month.

“Overnight they had a sense of hope, but now there is just despair,” says Matthew of his parents’ reaction to the news.

Laurence Fallon, a farmer and independent councillor, says the outcome of the case may come too late for the Beatties and five other families who could be “evicted” by Lough Funshinagh’s rising waters before Christmas.

“It would be too dangerous for these families to stay. It could take just five minutes for their homes to be engulfed in water,” he says.

Fallon and other locals say FIE should have considered the suffering facing these families when taking its legal action, which halted the construction and laying of a 2.6km pipe designed to take water from Lough Funshinagh, a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), and pump it into the much larger Lough Ree.

“There is gloom over the entire community. We have no future in the village [Rahara],” says Fallon, one of 42 local farmers affected by floods in recent years.

‘Unintended consequences’

FIE says the blame for any misery lies with the council, which it accuses of not doing the necessary environmental impact assessments before embarking on the work and being “in contempt of planning and European law”. The group is concerned about “unintended consequences” the measures could have.

Tony Lowes, FIE director, says it could well be that the works under way are the best solution for Lough Funshinagh, but that the necessary assessments should have been done in advance “to make sure for example that the waters don’t end up in someone else’s living room down the line”.

Flooding around Lough Funshinagh in Co Roscommon in January. Photograph: Lough Funshinagh Flood Crisis
Flooding around Lough Funshinagh in Co Roscommon in January. Photograph: Lough Funshinagh Flood Crisis

“Our actions are not intended to stop flood control measures and leave residents at the mercy of rising water levels,” the group said in a statement. “They are to ensure that the growing threat of flooding be addressed with the best available scientific advice and on a basis that is fair to all those who face threats to their homes across Ireland as climate change bites.

“We ask the residents to understand that it is not that we value birds or plants more than human beings – we value human beings and all the ecosystems that support us.”

Fallon says an impression has been created that the proposed flood-relief works will damage the SAC and threaten local flora and fauna, but he believes the opposite is the case.

He argues that “much of the flora and fauna has been killed off by the floods”, with trees such as ash and whitethorn dying.

“The FIE have talked about the whooper swans but they don’t know that for 50 years I have counted anything from 112 to 148 swans grazing on my land every winter. They eat the grass and then they stand on their heads and pick up food at the bottom of the lake,” he says.

“But last year, for the first time, only 20 of these majestic birds came, because there is no food at the bottom of the lake now. They are fooling themselves if they think they are saving the whooper swans.”

He said all the council was trying to do was remove excess water from the turlough.

A 1949 Act

FIE has also questioned why the local authority utilised the 1949 Local Authorities (Works) Act, which makes special provision for emergency works, to embark on the project.

“If we had remained silent while Roscommon County Council used a 1949 Act to authorise works of this scale outside of the planning system to proceed without the required studies, every county manager in the country would follow their example”, the group says.

The council has “with huge regret” paused the flood relief works. It intends to “vigorously defend the project” and to do everything possible to ensure work can resume as soon as possible.

“Since 2016, life-threatening and escalating flooding at Lough Funshinagh has been damaging properties, causing distress and fear amongst local people, and destroying the environment,” it says.

The council says water levels in the lough are 2.5m-3m higher than usual for this time of year and, with more flooding predicted for next year, it was planning ahead by laying a preparatory overflow pipe.

Matthew Beattie says it was now “a humanitarian issue” with a real danger to human life in the event of further flooding.

“There are drains around our home and other homes with 20ft of water in them and this is only mid-August,” he says.

He says his father and other farmers have been “custodians of that lake”, as were previous generations.

“We are all aware of the threat of climate challenges and we need to work together but this [legalistic] approach polarises people and polarises opinion.”

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