James Spears, County Chairman I.F.A. listens to Gerry Gunning, I. F.A. Headquarters speakingat the I.F.A. meeting about the effects of recent flooding. Photo: Adrian Donohoe

Frustration voiced by flooded farmers at lively meeting

A taskforce of farmers hit by the recent floods will seek meetings with OPW, ESB, National Parks and Wildlife and Cavan County Council to force progress on maintaining the county’s waterways.
Frustration at a perceived lack of action by state agencies on flooding was evident as approximately 40 farmers whose lands and lanes were submerged for weeks on end gathered in the Hotel Kilmore last Thursday to discuss their options. As the IFA meeting, chaired by county chairman Jim Spears, came to a close, there was no sense that a solution would be in the offing any time soon.
Tom Turley Connacht Regional Chairman, who heads up the Flood Project Teams, had been scheduled to speak, but much to the annoyance of some of those present, an apology was offered for his unavoidable absence, and it was left to Rural Development Executive, Gerry Gunning to outline the state of play. Central to Mr Gunning’s message was that “the only game in town” for a long term solution was the CFRAM study, and that farmers, who illustrated an in-depth knowledge of local issues over the course of the two hour meeting, should engage with it.
However, what impact the farmers’ engagement will make to the study at this stage remains unclear as the initial study has been completed and today’s (Wednesday, February 17, 1-7pm) public consultations in the Hotel Kilmore and Ballyconnell Community Centre will cover 'Preliminary Flood Risk Management Options’.
There are eight so-called CFRAM studies nationwide to settle on holistic solutions to manage water levels, and the study that embraces Cavan’s waterways is 'North Western – Neagh Bann CFRAM Study’. That unwieldy title may have helped muddy the flood waters in the public’s mind and partially explain why a meagre twenty people turned up for the original public consultation back in February 2015.
When Thursday night’s discussion was opened to the floor, Crossdoney farmer Pat Clarke noted that the origins of the severity of flooding at Trinity Lake coincided with the construction of the bridge across the River Erne at Staghall in 2009.
“Our land was never flooded as high, nor nobody else’s as then. It exceeded all previous limits, other than now,” he explained. Mr Clarke speculated that it was possible that at least some of the rock used to block the river to undertake the construction work wasn’t removed.
Her further suggested that the ESB should install sensors on bridges to monitor water levels and regulate it using the hydroelectric dam at Ballyshannon to prevent flooding. Mr Gunning agreed, and to illustrate that it should be possible, read aloud an ESB update he receives regularly to his phone, outlining water levels on the River Shannon.
Another Crossdoney farmer complained that historically the IFA “was very backward” in lobbying for maintenance of rivers, and insisted that pressure should be put on Cavan County Council engineers to undertake the work.
Another Crossdoney farmer, whose land has a river flowing through it, gave a grim insight into what gets caught in the trees along river banks.
“I would want Mulvanny’s skip this evening to gather up dead animals.”
A succession of farmers complained that they were prevented by the State to carry out work on maintaining rivers on their own land.
“There’s far too many governmental agencies over the River Erne,” insisted one Butlersbridge farmer who recalled being stopped from carrying out works.
“A Parks and Wildlife ranger came down on me and told I was after contravening twelve different agencies - he listed out a list of things and more or less told me I was going to be in jail. Luckily enough I didn’t touch the bank of the river.”
The farmer said because his land was at immediate risk of flooding the matter became a County Council one.
“I had to go for planning, but he stopped me in the middle of the whole lot - I got flooded out of it.”
Attempting to offer practical steps for the farmers to take, Mr Gunning said they have to participate in the CFRAM public meetings, meet with the county council, liaise with the Office of Public Works and talk to the National Parks and Wildlife, who he described as a “thorn in everybody’s side”.
“There’s no point in saying that we have a plan if the National Parks are saying they have the veto on it, otherwise nothing will happen,” said Mr Gunning. “We’ll have the same problem again.”
He added: “I think it is the duty of the Office of Public Works, the state agencies, to look after the river systems of this State,” to which a farmer from the floor replied it will never happen.
“No-no-no-no,” Mr Gunning shot back. “We have to make it happen. And I tell you, we have an election coming up in two or three weeks’ time... it has got to be a key element of that programme for government.”
He further urged the farmers present to put pressure on any candidates they meet on the hustings.
The Butlersbridge farmer didn’t hold out much hope in contacting the various state bodies.
“You have all these different departments and no one’s talking to each other, but yet for years they looked about dredging the river from Belturbet to Killykeen, and they were seriously thinking about bringing cruisers up to Killykeen, yet all these agencies could go away when the political will was there. They shelved that programme and they went for the Ulster Canal instead. Now you can talk about CFRAMs and we can have meetings all you want, but if there’s 12 different agencies, you’re pissing into the wind - nothing’s going to happen because you cannot touch that river.”
Regardless, the farmer was persuaded to join five other farmers who volunteered to meet with the various State bodies in the coming weeks to voice their concerns.