Posted by: fermoyweir | March 3, 2010

Adjournment Debate : The Dail, March 2nd 2010

Fermoy Weir and Flood Relief Tuesday, 2nd March 2010

Deputy David Stanton: I thank the office of the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this important matter, namely, funding for the repair of the weir and fish pass in Fermoy, County Cork. I thank, in particular, the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, for coming before the House. I am aware of his personal interest in the matter and that he has visited Fermoy on occasion to familiarise himself with it.

When I raised this issue approximately one year ago, I was informed that a rock fish ramp was required. I understand this is no longer the case and the Department’s scientific committee has indicated that the number of salmon upstream of the weir is surplus to quota. Notwithstanding this, the weir in Fermoy needs to be repaired as a matter of urgency. The fish pass, although adequate, also needs to be repaired. Funding is required for both projects. At long last, a flood relief scheme is being proceeded with in Fermoy. I hope the new scheme will be as successful as the one in Mallow. With workers, contractors and the Office of Public Works on the ground, this is an opportune time to carry out repair works on the fish pass and weir.

I have been asked to bring to the attention of the Minister the concerns of Fermoy Rowing Club. I have been informed the Minister is aware of these concerns and has walked the Blackwater River and noted the issues that arise. The rowing club welcomes the proposed implementation of phase 2 of the flood alleviation scheme and is cautiously optimistic that the Office of Public Works will address its needs and concerns. Initially, the club was assured that the plans to erect a permanent, continuous 1.3 m high wall along the quay from the youth centre to the rowing club were open to qualification. The erection of such a wall would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the club to place boats on the river during regattas, training sessions and so forth.

The club is seeking the erection of demountable walls or movable gates as part of the barrier to enable rowers to launch boats on the river. It wants this issue to be addressed in conjunction with the other works being undertaken in the area. The minimum requirement is that any proposed permanent structure contain two breaks of at least 75 ft. each to facilitate daily training and the launch of boats during regattas. This clearance is needed to launch an eight person rowing boat which is 63 ft. in length. Any new permanent structure would compromise the club’s slipway and require it to be extended and renovated. The rowing club understands from consultations with engineers that its proposals are feasible.

I ask the Minister of State to raise the matter with the Office of Public Works to ensure all the relevant bodies come together. Fermoy Town Council and residents want these works which are both practical and possible to be carried out, as they would safeguard the rowing club, fish in the river and the beautiful weir, a landmark, of which the people of Fermoy and north County Cork are proud. I hope the Minister of State will discuss this matter with his colleagues. Let us see sense because it was left unattended for long enough. The problem has almost been solved. I hope the Minister of State, with his pragmatic, practical way of doing things, will have the matter sorted out to allow us to move on.

Deputy Conor Lenihan: I thank Deputy Stanton for raising this matter. Protecting and enhancing our inland fisheries is a core objective of our inland fisheries strategy and a requirement of EU law under the habitats directive. In this regard, I welcome the matter of the weir at Fermoy being raised on the Adjournment. The weir is in the ownership of Fermoy Town Council. The council, which acquired the weir some years ago, is responsible, as are other weir owners, for the maintenance and upkeep of the weir.

Following a complaint to the European Commission and technical studies taken thereafter, the town council is aware of the need to reduce the barrier effect of the weir on the migration of certain protected fish species, including salmon and lamprey, to ensure compliance with the EU habitats directive. Since taking up responsibility for the inland fisheries brief, I reviewed the approach to resolving the barrier to fish passage at Fermoy up to December 2009.

I was anxious that progress be made to deal with problems of fish passage and actively engaged with the town council on the matter as well as the local rowing club and angling interests in terms of how their needs could also be met. I listened carefully to the strong arguments of the council, local rowing club and anglers, that an alternative to the rock-ramp proposal would provide a viable solution to the issue of fish passage at Fermoy. While the technical and scientific advice to me differs from this position, having listened to the arguments of the council and rowing club, I agreed to afford the council – which is the owner of the weir – an opportunity to implement its own preferred solution of repairing the existing fish passes on the weir.

I also made it abundantly clear that if that solution did not work, I would have no alternative – indeed, no hesitation – in requiring the rock-ramp proposal to proceed. To give practical effect to my decision, I exercised my power to revoke the original direction issued in 2006, in favour of the order given to the Fermoy Town Council, under section 116 of the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act 1959, to undertake immediate repairs to the existing damaged fish ladder situated in the weir to reduce the barrier effect of the weir on migratory fish species. In light of my discussions with the European Commission authorities, having listened to the council, the rowing club and the anglers – and having had the advice of the Attorney General, as the chief legal adviser to the Government – I came to the conclusion that affording the council an opportunity to explore its preferred solution to repair the existing fish ladder is the appropriate immediate action.

This will obviously need to be monitored closely from a fish passage perspective. I hope the council will work closely with local or regional fisheries officers to ensure that the optimum result is obtained. All parties involved must, however, appreciate that Ireland is a member of the European Union and thus committed to meeting its responsibilities under EU law, including obligations on biodiversity, and in particular to protection of species and habitats under the habitats directive.

I have created an opportunity for the council to demonstrate that its preferred solution to repair the fish pass offers a viable solution to the issue of fish passage at Fermoy. This opportunity has been provided to the council notwithstanding the technical advice to me and it is now a matter for Fermoy Town Council, the owners of the weir, to implement its proposals and monitor their effectiveness. In creating this opportunity, I stress there is no dilution of Ireland’s commitment to meeting its responsibilities under EU law, including obligations on protected species under the habitats directive. The effect of the repairs proposed on fish migration will be closely monitored and if the required improvement in fish migration is not achieved, I will not hesitate to direct the town council to undertake further major works.

I understand that the works on the weir do not contribute to the separate flood relief project. The costs are therefore not attributable or appropriate to that project, which is being funded and managed by the Office of Public Works. The onus rests with the local authority to maintain the structure it values and protects so zealously, in the same way that it funds and maintains other important infrastructure in its ownership.

 Deputy David Stanton: It does not have the money.

Deputy Conor Lenihan: I fully appreciate that the need to remedy the problems of a barrier to fish migration at Fermoy has been contentious, but I hope the decision I have made will enable rapid progress to be achieved. I urge the council to expedite the repairs and engage actively with the fisheries board to monitor their impact. I again thank the Deputy for raising this matter. I also thank the people I met in Fermoy who made submissions to me on this matter.

Deputy David Stanton: They have no money.

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