From top: River Bride at Blackpool, Cork; Dan Boyle
It was about 18 years ago. I had secured a Dáil adjournment debate because of serious flooding that had occurred throughout Cork City. Extensive damage had been caused, less so from the River Lee and more from the tributaries of the river. The then Minister for Health, Mícheál Martin (who had something of a local interest) responded on behalf of the government.
While I was most concerned with flooding that occurred in the constituency I (and Mícheál Martin) represented, I also cited serious flooding that had happened on the northside of the city, from the River Bride in Blackpool.
The response given was that the culvert that existed on the river had exceeded its capacity resulting in the flooding. This shouldn’t have been a surprise. Cork had become a city of culverts. The Venetian network of waterways and had over the centuries been covered over to reclaim and create road space.
From this the modern Cork was created. It was not without a price. Hiding the waterways removed the observational knowledge of how and when flooding might occur. The out of sight out of mind policy created surprise each time serious flooding happened.
Blackpool has been victim to it more than once. When I raised the issue in 2002 the response I received was that the culverts should be made longer, wider, deeper. And they were. It resulted in further flooding in 2010 and 2013.
Fast forward to 2021 to the proposals of the Office of Public Works, the agency responsible for flood protection in Ireland. Also an institution that more than lives up to Einstein’s definition of insanity by repeating the same behaviour then achieving the same failed responses.
The motto of the OPW seems to be that if it isn’t entombed in concrete it ain’t worth it. Its current proposals are that the River Bride needs further culverting. It wants to culvert a 350 metre section of what is left open in Blackpool, removing what had once been the central feature of the village for once and for all.
This is to include both sides of the embankment completely sanitising the area from the notion that nature ever has existed there.
This discommodes one particular set of residents. The Bride has been home to a significant population of otters, a protected species. Not that the OPW gives a damn. The legislation it operates under, the 1945 Arterial Drainage Act, makes the OPW believe that it can act with impunity when it comes to the environmental impacts of its work.
Up until now the agency has been unchallenged in this. This is despite the fact that since 1945, European Union environmental laws, such as the Habitats and Water directives have had precedence in Irish law.
This will now change. Last week, at a well attended virtual meeting, a group was set up ‘Save Our Bride Otters’, along side a crowdfunding campaign. In a few short days a legal fund of close on €7000 has been built up.
A lot more will be required. Given the support shown to date I would be confident that further support would be forthcoming. Perhaps it could help change how we see the OPW. Otters Please Wallow has a much nicer ring to it.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle
Pic via Save Our Bride Otters