Northern Ireland could face a repeat of the fiasco which saw government agencies pass the buck while thousands of homes were flooded, it has been warned.
Around 50,000 properties across the province are estimated to lie within a flood risk area, an official report has concluded.
But senior Stormont sources have told the Belfast Telegraph the key recommendation of the report into last June’s flooding disaster may not be implemented.
An Executive watchdog called for the Rivers Agency to be switched from Sinn Fein Minister Michelle O’Neill’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) to Ulster Unionist Danny Kennedy’s Department of Regional Development (DRD) to improve co-ordination in future.
However, it is believed Sinn Fein is at present blocking the proposal which could lead to |another split on the Stormont |Executive. During the entire |three-hour period of record rainfall last summer departments the |agencies couldn’t agree who was in charge.
It is understood the Performance, Efficiency and Delivery Unit (PEDU) report was with ministers for almost two months |before finally being made public but no decisions have been reached by the Executive.
DRD Minister Danny Kennedy has warned that the issue could not be left in limbo. “The whole point of the PEDU exercise was to get an improved service for householders which will not happen if we fail to act or we don’t consider how to deal with this,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
The Minister said he understood that Minister O’Neill and her party, Sinn Fein, have their own issues and perspective.
Mr Kennedy also insisted he had no foreknowledge of the PEDU report when he told his party’s annual conference that the Rivers Agency should be switched from Ms O’Neill into his Department.
“I am more focused on the future and the important thing is the service we are providing to householders,” he added.
“There is an on-going engagement with Executive colleagues.”
Despite a request last week through both her department and Sinn Fein, Ms O’Neill has not been available for comment.
The PEDU report said the transfer of Rivers Agency from DARD to DRD would both remove the scope for any debate and loss of time over who is in charge - and simplify and improve the distribution of sandbags.
It concluded: “...too much time was lost on June 27 on a debate around ‘whose water’ was causing the flooding.
“Eventually DRD agreed that it would be nominated as lead government department. But this was done in exasperation at the debate rather than by way of |acceptance that they were the correct lead department.”
PEDU further said it is “anomalous” that Northern Ireland should continue to be the only area of the UK without a flood alert and forecast service and recommended:
- A “robust predictive capacity” to allow alert notices to be issued at least two to three days in advance
- More detailed and low level weather and flood forecasts.
There were no replies to a series of questions sent to DRD, DARD and the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) by the Belfast Telegraph. DARD sent the questions for them to OFMDFM, it later emerged.
A spokesman for OFMDFM said: “The report makes it clear that consideration should be given to the consolidation of all of the flood response organisations under one departmental ambit.
“That will be the basis therefore of further work by the departments concerned on the recommendations has been completed.”
Around 1,600 homes were damaged on June 27 this year when 44mm of rain fell during a three-hour period in the evening — an event which the Met Office calculated has an annual risk of just one-two per cent. The Fire and Rescue Service dealt with more than 700 flood-related call-outs in the greater Belfast area alone but there there were also serious flooding incidents in other areas including Cushendall, Armagh and Holywood. MLAs accused departments and agencies of |“systemic failure” involving a complete lack of co-ordination which heightened the misery and Finance Minister Sammy Wilson launched an investigation by the Executive’s Performance, Efficiency and Delivery Unit (PEDU) task force.