Posted by: fermoyweir | August 31, 2010

Deadline for repair of Fermoy Weir passes

“I love deadlines”, the sadly departed Douglas Adams used to say, “I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

This Tuesday at midnight the deadline to repair Fermoy’s historic weir passed.

To repeat the facts: in 2003 migrating salmon were unable to traverse Fermoy Weir. An anonymous complaint to the EU led to officials from the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (as it is now) claiming that nothing less than the demolition and replacement of the weir, and with it the subsequent lowering of the river upstream, would satisfy Brussels. Officials claimed that Ireland would be fined millions of Euro if the weir wasn’t blown out of it and replaced with a lower structure, a rock ramp pass.

(Sean Sherlock TD has repeatedly suggested on the Dail record that the initial, anonymous, complaint may have come from the Southern Regional Fisheries Board as a means of perpetuating its own survival. The SRFB has yet to contradict the Deputy’s suggestion. Freedom of Information requests were hampered by the reported loss of documentation to “flooding”.)

The people of Fermoy, awkwardly enough, didn’t accept the Department’s version of reality and spoke out loudly and often in their opposition to the removal of John Anderson’s weir. Members of Fermoy Rowing Club and local angling clubs, courtesy of outgoing MEP Kathy Sinnott, travelled to Europe last year to discover that the EU had never specifically sanctioned the Department’s preferred solution.

Leaving aside the far more serious impediment to fish migration at Careysville, all sides agree that the weir, the structure around which the modern town was built, is badly damaged and is in urgent need of attention. Last Christmas saw Minister of State Conor Lenihan concede that a simple repair of the weir would satisfy Europe and get the problem off his desk. To this end, Lenihan told the owners of Fermoy Weir, Fermoy Town Council, that he was giving them twelve months to fix the weir.

For conservation reasons, the Southern Regional Fisheries Board will not allow in-river work after the end of August, so the Council had a clear window and a clear deadline. Instead the gamble has been taken that this isn’t really an urgent matter and sure as long as we are seen to be doing something, won’t that do ye?

And now our worst fears may be coming to pass. Water levels in Fermoy are as low as they were in 2003 and we hear, anecdotally, that the Southern Regional Fisheries Board may have a JCB on standby to knock the weir, should they judge its destruction necessary for the migration of salmon.

Last year Minister Martin Mansergh caused annoyance when he advised worried property owners on the South Bank of the Blackwater that, until the entire Flood Plan is finished, the best thing they could do is pray for dry weather. Ironically, those of us who campaigned to save the weir are now left with little better hope than praying for the opposite.

Donal O’Keeffe.

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