Ministers to meet over flooding

Severe flooding at Kinnego Marina shops
Severe flooding at Kinnego Marina shops

Ministers are to hold an urgent meeting today to discuss the flooding issues.

It comes after flood-hit businesses on the shores of Lough Neagh questioned if enough was done to prevent rising waters brought on by winter storms.

Agriculture minister Michelle O’Neill said the meeting would be a chance to “hold [government] agencies to account” over their actions in dealing with floods.

Water levels at Lough Neagh are at a 30-year-high after recent heavy rain, causing damage to businesses on its shores, particularly at the south shore at Kinnego.

Council chiefs and representatives of NI Water, Transport NI and the Rivers Agency are due to attend today’s meeting in Cookstown.

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said that while the meeting is to be welcomed, the NI Executive should also be reconvened.

“There is now no excuse for the executive failing to convene a full emergency meeting,” he told the BBC.

“It is our job to take action and despite my calls for ministerial colleagues to meet the responsibilities of our offices, they are failing to do that.

“People are right to be frustrated at politicians failing to deliver - it is happening now.”

The executive has a £1.3m fund provided by Westminster that is to be used to deal with the impact of floods.

Mr Durkan said he had not received a response from the first minister or deputy first minister to his request for a full meeting of the executive to discuss how to use that money.

The Agriculture minister said she was “very assured that nothing has been left undone” in the response to flooding.

She said the priority for ministers at the meeting would be to help people “mitigate against the worst effects” of recent bad weather.

“This is not a money issue at this moment in time,” Ms O’Neill said.

“I think if we get the practical support right then let’s look at what additional funding is there and what else we can do.

“Our immediate urgency needs to be about protecting, properties, businesses and households.”

“Today is an opportunity for us to hold all the partner agencies to account.”

Sinn Féin councillor Fergal Lennon called for a thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding the flooding at Kinnego Marina.

The Councillor who has been in contact with both Council and Rivers agency said: “While we acknowledge that the Marina is located in a low lying area prone to flooding it would appear that the present difficulty is directly related to the water levels in the Lough.

“If we are to prevent similar problems in the future it is essential that we understand the factors that caused this unusual occurrence.”

The Councillor expressed his sympathy for all business affected by flooding and pointed out that the immediate concern was to get affected businesses back trading,” he said,

“I will continue to liaise with Council Officers and Rivers agency until the current crisis abates. This is an extremely difficult situation for those whose ability to trade has been seriously restricted as a result of the unprecedented rainfall. These traders are understandably frustrated and want assurance that everything that could and should have been done was in fact done.”

The lough’s level is controlled by floodgates at Toomebridge which the Rivers Agency has said have been fully opened since early November.

But “repeated winter storms” have put pressure on the lough and its outlets, the Rivers Agency has said.

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association has called for the Department of Finance should provide immediate rates relief to businesses affected by floods.

Flooding problems here can be reported by contacting the Floodline on 0300 2000 100.