Ulster Unionist Agriculture spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson MLA has criticised the three Executive Ministers responsible for flooding, describing their response to the recent heavy flooding as ‘uncaring and out of touch.’
She made her comments while visiting homes and farmland affected by flooding at the Birches outside Portadown.
Earlier this week Farming Minister Michelle O’Neill launched a new £1million scheme to help people protect their homes from flooding.
The grant scheme will allow owners of residential properties at risk of flooding to install physical barriers and equipment to help reduce the impact of flooding on their homes.
However, the Upper Bann MLA has claimed the Minsters of Agriculture, Regional Development and the Environment are collectively responsible for the agencies which can bring help and assistance to those who continue to struggle to cope with the flooding.
She added: “It is within the power of these Ministers to bring forward a grant scheme, which I previously called for, to bring immediate help and hope to struggling families and it is a disgrace that they have so far failed to do so.
“Parts of my constituency of Upper Bann have effectively become an extension of Lough Neagh and it’s clear from speaking with families living close to the Lough that it will take many months and many millions to repair the damage.
“While Ministers met together last week all we have heard so far is a vague indication that the £1.3M from Westminster will be spent on reducing the risk of future flooding. However, families are struggling now with the flooding which persists in their businesses, in their houses and on their lands it is practical help they need and they need it now.”
Newry & Armagh DUP Assemblyman and Chairman of the Stormont Agriculture Committee William Irwin MLA, who chaired a meeting of the ARD committee with senior Rivers Agency officials earlier this week, said it is a useful engagement with the body responsible for maintaining the river and loughs network but he added “much more” work needed to be done to address the flooding risks.
He stated: “Visiting people in my own constituency whose homes or businesses have been damaged by flooding it is clear just how major an ordeal it is for people to cope with.
“It causes great stress and strain having to clean up and find alternative accommodation and I have seen first-hand the distress such an event causes. That is why I was keen to have this meeting with Rivers Agency and have the opportunity for the Committee to ask the questions members of the public want to know the answers to.
“Whilst River Agency officials have stated this is the worst flooding for over 100 years and whilst I accept there has certainly been a high level of sustained rain fall, the bigger issue is that over the past number of years people in the vicinity of the Lough Neagh and further inland have experienced ongoing issues with flooding, even in less persistent rain. Ask people in these areas and they will tell you they expected this to happen.
“It is clear therefore that more work needs to be done in terms of assessing fully the impact of the flooding on homes and businesses and it is very hard for those effected to accept the position from Rivers Agency that officials have done all they can.”
Mr Irwin said he believed there are additional measures that could be explored by Rivers Agency and at Tuesday’s committee he raised the possibility of perhaps a winter and summer level for the Lough to try and help mitigate against the type of damage experienced to homes and businesses.