Minister for the Office of Public Works (OPW) Patrick O’Donovan has warned that a Sinn Féin proposal to review the Arterial Drainage Act 1945 could see 242,800ha of farm land flooded.
Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal this week, Minister O’Donovan suggested that changes to the act could see farms returned to “jungle” and “Amazonian” like conditions if progressed.
He advised that some 21,000 properties, nearly 2,500km of roads and 77 rural towns and villages would be impacted.
The drainage act tasks the OPW with carrying out works on waterways to ensure that surrounding land is not flooded.
O’Donovan said that in the past, this has been “bolstered by significant investment through the Department of Agriculture in improving land drainage for food production”.
The minister was responding to Seanad comments from Sinn Féin senator Lynn Boylan who highlighted that 98% of the participants in the Citizen’s Assembly on Biodiversity Loss believe that the drainage act no longer serves its purpose, and that it requires changes to account for biodiversity.
Senator Boylan argued that Irish streams, rivers and lakes should be managed through nature-based approaches like ‘slow the flow’, where water is allowed to flood on to surrounding plains, rather than being blocked with man-made flood defences.
Minister O’Donovan was hugely critical of Boylan’s stance, stating that as it stands, the act ensures that the OPW carries out environmental and ecological assessments and stakeholder consultation before any flood-prevention works are carried out.
“This could have huge consequences for agriculture but also one-off houses. It would turn land back into Amazonian in nature. The OPW is not averse to doing our part on biodiversity loss but there needs to be impact assessment,” he insisted.