An MP from one of the hardest-hit flood regions has slammed the failure of the Stormont Executive to discuss the crisis, as it emerged that MLAs are unlikely to decide how they will divide up £1.3m of relief money until next week.
As householders and businesspeople told of the conditions they are facing, Tom Elliott – UUP MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone – rubbished a claim that the authorities had responded well as far as most residents were concerned.
He said that instead of just three of Stormont’s minister’s gathering for a meeting, all of them should have come together to take decisive action.
Meanwhile the Environment Minister Mark H Durkan re-stated his claim that it was a “dereliction of duty” for the Executive not to have convened a full meeting by now – something he said is necessary for parcelling out the emergency £1.3m fund.
The next Executive meeting is not scheduled to take place until January 21.
However, late on Thursday night a source told the News Letter that one will take place next week, although no firm date was given.
He has been forced to leave his home in Co Tyrone due to the aftermath, and declared the crisis to be “as bad as it has ever been”.
Elsewhere in the Province, Paul Quinn – whose business on the edge of Kinnego Marina, to the south-east of Lough Neagh, has flooded – felt the authorities could have done more to lower the water levels of the lough before the winter storms.
But he added: “There are questions to be asked, but it’s not the blame game – that’s for further down the line. We need some sort of help now.”
(FOR A VIDEO OF THE DIRE FLOODING IN FERMANAGH, SEE HERE).
Three Stormont ministers, with key responsibilities for handling the flooding, met on Thursday, along with other bodies such as the Rivers Agency.
However, this gathering fell short of a full Executive meeting, involving all of Stormont’s ministers.
After the meeting – which involved Michelle O’Neill (Sinn Fein Agriculture Minister), Michelle McIlveen (DUP Transport Minister) and Mark H Durkan (SDLP Environment Minister) – a statement was released bearing the names of all three ministers.
Ms O’Neill opened by saying: “For the vast majority of people, the multi-agency response, involving Rivers Agency, Transport NI, NIW and the councils worked well.
“However, there remained some areas which were hit hard, where communities were isolated and homes and businesses damaged.”
She said she will announce a new grant scheme to help protect homes from flooding next week.
Ms McIlveen called it a “positive and useful meeting”, while Mr Durkan pointed out there is a “£1,000 grant available to assist homeowners in ensuring their homes are habitable as quickly as possible”.
There was no mention of a £1.3m fund for flood relief which Mr Durkan had raised on Wednesday, and following the meeting he restated a remark he had made the previous day – that it was “a dereliction of duty” for the Executive not to have convened in full.
When the UUP’s Tom Elliott was asked if he agreed with the claim that the response to the floods had been good, he said: “Absolutely not, no.”
He added: “For the people who have water running through their homes, or those who have been isolated for weeks, or for the farmers who are battling night and day to keep their sheds and machinery from being submerged, the outcome of the meeting will do nothing but compel the feeling that the Northern Ireland Executive has all but abandoned them.
“Instead of three ministers meeting informally in Cookstown, it should have been a full and formal meeting of the entire Executive.”
This would have meant decisions “could have been made there and then”.
He also questioned why householders and businesspeople in England who have been hit by the floods “are entitled to £5,000 each, whereas in Northern Ireland it is only £1,000 and is restricted to home owners”.
A Stormont source said of Thursday’s meeting: “It was important that this meeting took place as a precursor.
“No firm proposals emerged from this meeting as the consensus was that current measures were coping well with the unprecedented levels of rainfall.”
To report flooding, call: 0300 2000 100.
For details of the £1,000 payment, see this link.