Belfast Telegraph

Army flood aid unused because of Stormont impasse

By Donna Deeney

Soldiers were available to help flood relief efforts in the north west after recent storms - but couldn't be deployed because Stormont is in limbo, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

The Army is usually quick to lend assistance in emergency weather situations across the UK.

However, troops can only be dispatched by the Government after a request from the Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire, since there are no Executive ministers at Stormont.

A nationalist Derry and Strabane councillor has slammed Mr Brokenshire for not asking the Army to help rebuild roads and bridges and for not even coming to the north west in the aftermath of the flood.

Councillor Patsy Kelly said the work carried out for victims of the flood in Donegal by the Irish Army should have been replicated on this side of the border.

The Army had previously been used to help farmers in Northern Ireland whose animals were trapped in hills and fields during the heavy snow in 2013.

Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle Gildernew - then the Agriculture Minister - requested assistance from the MoD as livestock faced starvation.

An RAF Chinook and Irish Air Corps were used to deliver food drops in isolated farms around Northern Ireland, mostly in the Glens of Antrim.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, Mr Kelly reiterated a call he made in the council chamber.

He said: "If this (flooding) happened anywhere else in the UK, they bring in the Army.

"They have brought them in here before in different emergency situations, so they should have been brought here.

"There is no Stormont government in place to send the Army in but why didn't James Brokenshire not even come to the north west and see the level of destruction left by the floods?

"He could have come here, assessed the situation and given authorisation to the army to come and help.

"It is a shame on him that two weeks have passed and he still hasn't appeared. In the meantime, the infrastructure is falling apart.

"When a disaster is unfolding at your back door you don't care who helps you, so the Army could and should have been brought here."

Ulster Unionist councillor Derek Hussey said bringing the Army in to help wasn't anything new.

He had suggested bringing the troops to the north west to help build bridges and carry out repair work to roads in areas such as Drumahoe and Claudy.

Mr Hussey said: "In the past here, the Army were in extracting animals stuck during the heavy snow.

"And in previous floods where bridges had been washed away, the Royal Engineers came and repaired them and would have been on the ground for a considerable amount of time.

"There are still roads in the north west closed so I have no hesitation in calling for the civilian authorities to consider bringing military assistance where there are long-term issues that need to be dealt with in relation to the recent floods.

"There are British troops heading out to the British Virgin Islands - which, granted, is a worse scenario than we are facing - but why should we in Northern Ireland not expect assistance?"

A spokesman for the Army said: "Just like elsewhere in the UK, the Government can request assistance of the Armed Forces in times of crisis or emergency.

"The decision to request military assistance is a matter for the Government to consider and request."

A UK Government spokeswoman told the Belfast Telegraph no approach had been made for military assistance following the recent floods.

She added: "If such a request was received, the Government would give it full consideration, as it had done during the heavy snowstorms which affected Northern Ireland in spring 2013.

"The Secretary of State has been in constant contact with senior Government officials, who have kept him informed of the situation affecting so many people in the north west.

"The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Permanent Secretary also briefed the Secretary of State on current developments earlier today."

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