OPW Secretary Patrick O’Donovan asked a government colleague if they were considering removing Special Area of Conservation (SAC) status for a lake that had caused flooding chaos.
However, the minister was told there was no “realistic prospect” of Lough Funshinagh being reclassified as there was no scientific evidence to back it up.
The drainage of the ‘disappearing lake’ has caused long-standing problems in Co Roscommon, with farmland and homes regularly being inundated by the rising waters.
Roscommon County Council was also taken to court and ordered to halt the work it was undertaking after complaints were made of violations of environmental law.
Internal records detail how Junior Secretary Patrick O’Donovan wrote to Heritage Secretary Malcolm Noonan asking if the designation would be considered.
In a letter last January, Mr O’Donovan said he was aware local elected officials had already been contacted to ask about the possible withdrawal of Lough Funshinagh’s SAC status.
He wrote: “You will understand that the challenge of environmental designation of the turlough is viewed as a significant issue in relation to the development of a viable engineering option to effectively address the flooding problem in this area.
“It would be nice if you could confirm whether your department is considering de-designating the turlough in this regard.”
However, officials dismissed any possibility of a change in Lough Funshinagh’s conservation status, saying it was very unlikely that it would happen.
In an email prepared for Mr O’Donovan, an official wrote: “The lake was selected as a SAC considering the more elongated drainage pattern than the typical annual rise and fall of other turlough lakes.
“The advice I’ve received is that we don’t have a scientific case to go to the European Commission and take it off the SAC list.”
Internal emails said the reply to the minister should be short and to the point. “I propose the following answer,” says a communication between colleagues. “We’re not the main actors here, so I’ve kept it short and sweet. and [I] therefore propose the same answer to the honorable Member [Denis] Naughten [a local TD in Roscommon].”
The email to Mr O’Donovan was not sent in the end, instead the OPW Minister received a verbal briefing from department officials.
Other records released by the OPW detail how the minister received a large number of representations from victims in Roscommon, as well as from their local politicians.
An email said: “Seeing your home and business go underwater is something that is extremely stressful and heartbreaking.”
Another wrote about how keeping water out of their house had become a 24-hour job.
“I don’t know what else I can say to you to understand the absolute seriousness of this situation,” it said in an email. “I urge you to take action. My family and our neighbors feel completely abandoned and nobody comes to help. Will you?”
In a January 2021 letter, Mr O’Donovan also warned Roscommon County Council of risks associated with undertaking flood relief work.
He said: “The proposal to build a drain at the lake could raise environmental concerns given the current designation of the turlough.”
A statement on behalf of Mr O’Donovan said he was aware of the “significant impact, distress and concern” that the flooding had caused across the region.
It states: “In his letter, Secretary O’Donovan explained his understanding that elected officials had approached Secretary Noonan to seek the withdrawal of Lough Funshinagh and asked Secretary O’Donovan for clarification as to whether this request would be considered would.
“The context of Secretary O’Donovan’s request has also been made clear in this letter, whereby knowing whether Secretary Noonan is considering lifting the eviction could inform Secretary O’Donovan in identifying possible options that might provide a solution for the management of the flood risk in the region. ”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/news/lake-that-caused-flood-chaos-to-keep-conservation-area-status-41626288.html Lake that caused flood chaos to maintain nature reserve status