The Ulster Farmers’ Union has welcomed short term support from the Executive for farmers and other rural businesses affected by the recent floods.
It says it is also hopeful that plans will emerge before the election in May that will create a plan of action for the long term infrastructure changes needed to protect areas devastated in December and January by the floods in County Fermanagh and around Lough Neagh.
Earlier this week Minister Michelle O’Neill announced that she plans to extend the Homeowner Flood Protection Grant Scheme to small non-domestic properties.
The new measure is in addition to the Executive’s decision to commit £1.3 million to flood prevention.
She said: “I very much welcome the Executive’s decision to commit £1.3 million of additional funding to preventative measures and preparing for future flood incidents. This demonstrates a commitment to ensuring that homes and other properties are protected from the worst effects of flooding and that our infrastructure, where possible, should remain useable to minimise the impacts on communities.
“I have long held the view that flood prevention must be the priority and, therefore, Rivers Agency will use its allocation from the Executive to inspect watercourses in areas recently affected by flooding and to carry out an essential maintenance work identified in order to strengthen protection for the future.
“I am also happy that the Executive will step in to assist businesses severely affected by the recent flooding event.
UFU deputy president, Barclay Bell, who visited farmers in areas affected by flooding, said that while farmers had done their best to cope with the conditions, damage in some cases had been severe and costly.
“Farmers put on a brave face when dealing with weather events – but these were extreme and in many cases it is only as the water recedes that the full extent of the damage is becoming clear,” said Mr Bell, who warned that a big unknown remained as to the damage of pastures and fences which will soon become more evident.
The UFU has welcomed the extension to commercial properties of grants to improve flood defences. It has also urged ministers to consider giving farmers access to hardship payments.
“These will not cover the cost of damage - but they would be a welcome gesture at a time when unexpected bills for flood damage are the final straw for many farm families already struggling to cope with a collapse of farm profitability,” said Mr Bell.
With warnings that the floods of 2009 and 2015 could become more common, thanks to climate change, the UFU says the new Assembly, after May, will need to rise to this challenge.