Paul Melia: 'Lack of action at highest levels endangers vital infrastructure'
The fact that local authorities have commissioned a study on coastal erosion reflects the concern that little or no attention has been paid to the issue by the national Government.
Some 1.9 million people - 40pc of the population - live within 5km of the coast and of these, 40,000 live less than 100 metres from the sea. There have been warnings for some time about the risk. A 2001 study from the Department of the Environment suggested that 27pc of our coastline, or 1,500km, was at risk from coastal erosion, with 490km requiring "urgent attention".
Since then, the situation has grown more urgent due to climate change.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has warned that sea level rises of up to 3.5mm a year have been observed since the 1990s, up from 1-2mm in the decades previously. By 2100, cumulative rises of up to 60cm are forecast for Ireland, which will magnify the impact of storms and storm surges. Homes have already been lost to the sea, and the Department of Transport has warned that Irish Rail faces being forced to shut down services to Rosslare Harbour in just over a decade due to severe coastal erosion, which is threatening the line.
As much as three metres of coastline has been washed away in some years, and the sea near Rosslare is 135 metres further inland today than in 1905.
Tackling coastal erosion will involve difficult decisions. If, for example, one area is protected with rock armour, will the works have an impact on another place further along the coast? Where will be left unprotected? How is risk assessed? How will works be funded?
Having one agency with overall responsibility, mooted by Office of Public Works Minister Kevin 'Boxer' Moran, is a sensible decision. Local authorities will be at the forefront of the response, and appear to be well-placed to do this important work.
For a start, they are aware of the problem in general terms and have correctly suggested that a national pilot study is needed to identify black spots.
They also advise they don't have the money to put in place hard defences, and that technical expertise will have to be made available. This clearly is a role for the regional climate offices tasked with advising local authorities on climate change.
The fact that 10 of the 19 coastal local authorities do not have policies in their development plans regarding at-risk property or infrastructure needs to be urgently addressed. Clarity is also needed on building in at-risk areas, and planners too must be supported in deciding that a development, even if a one-off home, is not appropriate.
Climate Action Minister Richard Bruton is correctly focusing on the need to reduce emissions, but adaptation plans - setting out how to cope with the impact of climate - are also needed.
There is a job of work to be done.