Murphy: Taoiseach to visit the area this summer
The meeting was chaired by former IFA President, Joe Healy, and included a panel of local Oireachtas members including Independent TDs Denis Naughten and Michael Fitzmaurice, Sinn Féin TD Claire Kerrane and local Senators Eugene Murphy and Aisling Dolan.
During the meeting at St. John’s Community Centre, Fianna Fáil Senator Eugene Murphy told those in attendance that Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue would visit the area “before summer was out” and said a “serious review” of the planning process was taking place with results expected by the autumn.
Earlier, Matthew Beattie, whose elderly parents were forced to move from their home last year, called on the State to take urgent action following letters of support from both Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Minister for the OPW Patrick O’Donovan.
He told those in attendance that residents were not going to accept relocation “now or at any time”.
Geraldine Murray, a resident of Lisphelim, provided a detailed overview of the situation at Lough Funshinagh, and said the lake had doubled in size in recent years.
“It was always known as the ‘disappearing lake’ but now it is no longer disappearing…it was 600 acres and now it’s 1,300 acres. Since 2015 it has become infamous for doing the opposite of draining,” she said.
Ms. Murray said pumps had been in operation at the lake since 2016 and roads have been raised as high as six feet in places. She also provided a brief recap of the legal issues around the lake and said that the High Court decision to stop works this year “left communities absolutely devastated”.
Ms. Murray also highlighted turlough flood relief measures at Ballyvelaghan in Co. Clare as a possible way forward for Lough Funshinagh.
Cllr. Laurence Fallon said water levels around Lough Funshinagh haven’t receded since 2020 and that while the local authority were committed to protecting homes, if the water was to reach higher levels that would be impossible.
He questioned whether democracy was working when it came to protecting those around the lake and highlighted how every power Roscommon County Council CEO Eugene Cummins had sought to use had been shut down.
Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice told the meeting that “diggers and a pipe” was the only way to solve the situation but that de-designation of the lake as a Special Area of Conservation could take up to three years.
He said a plan was in place to bring the relevant parties together but that there would be objections throughout the process of laying a pipe.
The Independent TD also explained that a pipe with a sluice valve “works like a sink” and would therefore not pose a threat to homes and land in other areas.
Sinn Féin TD Claire Kerrane said Lough Funshinagh “was not how an SAC should look or be treated” and said the National Parks and Wildlife Service had questions to answer.
“We need to work together for a solution once and for all. We need a temporary solution because we need urgent action but we also need a long-term solution,” she said.
Referring to the legal action taken by Friends of the Irish Environment to halt works at the lake, Deputy Kerrane said: “not for the first time have Roscommon County Council been caught for not doing an assessment”.
Fine Gael Senator Aisling Dolan called on the National Parks and Wildlife Service to take action around the status of turloughs and said a scientific argument was needed to challenge some of those designations.
Independent TD Denis Naughten called for all relevant bodies to be “locked in a room together” and said progress on the matter would “be at the rate of the most reluctant participant”.
He had earlier stated that it was imperative to change existing laws in order to allow local authorities to carry out emergency works in the future.
Meanwhile, a number of farmers’ representatives including John Keane, Teagasc advisor James Kelly, Connacht IFA Chairperson Pat Murphy, and former IFA Roscommon Chairperson Jim O’Connor raised the plight of farmers affected by flooding in the area. The impact on food production, loss of land and the added stress placed on farmers were among a number of topics raised (see this week’s farming section).
All Oireachtas members present pledged to work together to ensure that a solution was found. It was agreed that this would involve the de-designation of the lake’s status as a Special Area of Conservation.