Flood victims funding on ‘lockdown’ in absence of Executive - MLA

Thursday, 30 August 2018

THE lack of a Stormont Executive and minister means that emergency funds cannot be released to help those whose properties and livelihoods in the Glenelly Valley were destroyed in freak flooding last summer, a local MLA has been told.
The area was one of the worst affected with many businesses, community groups, sporting clubs, farmers and homeowners all left counting the cost of what was described as the "worst flooding in living memory" when floodwaters raged through the region on August 22, 2017.
It is estimated that over 60 per cent of the rainfall expected for the entire month of August fell in just nine hours.
Subsequent flash floods and huge mudslides saw sections of roads and bridges swept away, key roads rendered impassable, properties destroyed, land damaged and scores of livestock also lost.
Experts subsequently said that the landslides were a 'one-in-3,000 year event' with the rainfall causing a total of 13 'slide zones' each comprising of several indiviudal landslides.
Almost a year on from the unprecedented flooding and many in the affected areas are still trying to come to terms with the full extent of the ruin and work is continuing to repair the damage and rebuild livelihoods.
Repair bills have run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. As the new school year dawns the Jack and Jill Playgroup in Plumbridge is preparing to move into a new purpose-built port-a-cabin.
The premises in which the group operated was virtually wiped out and suffered catastrophic damage to its building and exterior areas after it was submerged in 12 ft of water with resources and play equipment washed away in the torrents.
Elsewhere, much work remains to be done to local infrastructure, fencing and bridges.
Farmers in particular had thousands of pounds worth of farmland and livestock washed away when floodwater and huge landslides deposited large volumes of silt, rock and debris.
Mounds of silt deposited on farmland by the raging torrents are still evident as farmers attempt to repair their land.
Whilst the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and the Loughs Agency have since announced funding for remedial work to watercourses and fencing along riverbanks, local farmers say no additional government funding has been forthcoming for them.
The SDLP's Daniel McCrossan had called for emergency funding to protect rural communities and businesses from flooding.
The West Tyrone MLA met with the new permanent secretary of DAERA, Denis McMahon, at a meeting in Ballykelly yesterday afternoon (Tuesday), to press the need for action and was accompanied by a number of farmers from the Glenelly Valley.
Mr McCrossan said the need for intervention is as urgent now as it was in August 2017 when the torrents left their trail of destruction however he was told by Mr McMahon during yesterday's two hour meeting that in the absence of a minister he cannot release emergency funding.
The local MLA says the lack of Executive means Northern Ireland is effectively in "lockdown" placing peoples' livelihoods in the balance.
"The bottom line is that the permanent secretary has confirmed that his hands are tied and that he cannot release any funding whatsoever in the absence of a minister. That means hardworking people like our farmers are having their livelihoods hanging in the balance and are having to rebuild large scale devastation themselves. That's not good enough," he said yesterday afternoon.
"Last August's flooding has caused devastation to rural communities. Land has been badly damaged, farm outbuildings have been destroyed while livestock has also been lost through no fault of their own. One year later, nothing has been done to alleviate the financial burden this has placed on them.
He pointed out that in the Republic of Ireland a scheme was developed to compensate farmers with an emergency funding package.
Mr McCrossan added that the only funding forthcoming is a package from the Loughs Agency to fix fencing along watercourses, however he stressed this is not enough.
"Northern Ireland is effectively in lockdown with money unable to be given to those who need it urgently. The funding for the fencing, whilst it is welcome, is is very small in the grand scheme of things and will not be enough.
"Farmers are extremely frustrated and this was evident at the meeting. One farmer alone I spoke with is renting a digger at a cost of Ł1,400 for 20 acres. That's not sustainable. Incidents like this where people need immediate help shows the urgent need to get the Executive back up and running," he added.


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