Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

On the Hill: Rivers Agency to flow away?

Newcastle, Co Down, was badly affected by flooding last July

When is an agency not an agency? When it's the Rivers Agency, apparently.

For it's not going to be one for much longer.

Sinn Fein Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill wants to see the "de-agentisation" of the agency.

"I did not even know there was such a word," the DUP's Paul Frew, chair of the committee which monitors her department, admitted.

And what difference will the change make?

Because, after all, the agency was to the fore in the recent flooding alerts, identifying that 46,000 properties across Northern Ireland are at flood risk.

According to David Porter, the agency's director of development, it won't make very much difference at all.

He described it as "really just a little bit of corporate tidying up..."

Yet the agency and its parent, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, or both, will have to come up with a new name.

Mr Porter explained: "In essence, we are an agency, because agencies were flavour of the month 15 years ago, and there was an attempt to separate policy people from those who actually delivered. At present, we are an agency in name only, in that there is not a separation between the operational and the policy side of Rivers Agency, and there are no central flood risk management policymakers in the department. It is all in the agency."

Mr Frew asked: "So, it will not affect the on-the-ground operation?". "Not at all," said Mr Porter.

"In fact, we told staff at staff information days that we suspect that the vast majority of them will see no difference.

"It is not changing our business in one single way."

'The things our government chooses to do'. Discuss.

Especially when the agency is proposing a Floods Bill much of which arguably overlaps with protections already contained in the recent Reservoirs Bill.

Ulster Unionist committee member Robin Swann said: "If you bring forward a Floods Bill, I do not see the need for two separate pieces of legislation."

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