State agencies questioned about continued flooding on the Galway-Limerick railway line have been told to “buck up” and find a solution to it.
"You want to buck yourselves up... and realise you are public servants," Labour TD Willie Penrose told officials from Iarnród Éireann, the Office of Public Works (OPW) and National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) on Wednesday.
The officials were attending the Joint Committee on Rural and Community Development to discuss the flooding, which has occurred five times in the past decade and has led to line closures between Limerick and Ennis.
The Longford-Westmeath TD reserved particular criticism for Iarnród Éireann, observing that one had a “better chance of winning the Lottery” than getting a positive response from it.
The committee chaired by Clare Fine Gael TD Joe Carey heard how a 3.5km stretch of the line near Ballycar lough in Co Clare has flooded 17 times since 1930. There were no reports of flooding before 1930 on the line, dating from 1859.
The most severe flooding took place in 2013, and a section of the line had been closed for seven weeks from early February this year for the same reason.
The area is known for its karst limestone,and a 2011 consultancy had identified five options.
However, the preferred drainage solution could have impacts on environmentally sensitive area around Ballycar lough and associated turloughs, the committee was told.
OPW commissioner for flood risk management John Sydenham said that a working group involving Iarnród Éireann and the OPW had asked RPS consultants to revise its 2011 study.
This study recommended raising the rail track by 1.2 metres at a cost of €10 million, and this was deemed to be not economically feasible, the committee heard.
Iarnród Éireann chief executive Jim Meade noted that the track had already been raised by a seventh of a metre in three separate work programmes between 1984 and 2000.
He said that raising the line again would not resolve it, but could reduce flooding to a quarter of the current frequency. However, climate change had to be factored in, he said.
NPWS principal John Fitzgerald said that his agency learned only in the last few days that there was a 2015 consultancy study, and had requested a copy of it.
Waterford Fine Gael senator Paudie Coffey criticised a "silo mentality" within agencies which could not seem to resolve the problem, and criticised the NPWS for "not engaging".
Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice questioned why a pipe which did not damage the environment could not work, and described how farmers affected by flooding had taken their own action in his constituency of Roscommon-Galway.
Hen harriers had been “drowned” because of a failure to clear drains, Mr Fitzmaurice said, and farmers were frustrated by a series of EU regulations which precluded action.
Mr Carey asked the agencies to convene a new working group and report back in six months. He stressed the importance of finding a solution and observed that President Michael D Higgins hailed from Ballycar.