Flood funding 'better spent on prevention'
Flood funding allocated to Northern Ireland would be better spent preventing future incidences rather than compensating businesses damaged in the recent episodes, the Agriculture Minister has said.
Michelle O'Neill's comments to the Assembly come amid a growing dispute on how to use the £1.3 million given to the region as part of the UK Government's £51 million flood response.
Stormont Executive ministers met on Monday night to discuss the issue and, afterwards, an Executive statement said it had been agreed that all of the £1.3 million would be spent on "preventative measures and preparedness to mitigate future incidents".
However, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has insisted no final decision has been taken and has pressed for part of the funds to be used to extend his department's flood damage assistance scheme to include business owners. The scheme currently provides £1,000 payments to householders impacted by flooding.
Mr Durkan's SDLP colleague Dolores Kelly pressed Sinn Fein minister Ms O'Neill on the issue during Assembly questions, asking her whether she too had made representations to extend the compensation scheme.
The minister replied: "In terms of how we support people going forward I believe the £1.3 million we have been allocated, the priority has to be around prevention, around doing work before people get flooded.
"So the Executive thankfully yesterday agreed that the £1.3 million would all go towards flooding, that it would all go toward supporting preventative measures and preparedness to mitigate against future flooding."
Low laying areas around Lough Erne and Lough Neagh were worst hit in the recent floods.
Around 30 homes and business were flooded over the festive period, with many rural roads closed due to high water levels.
When asked again by Ms Kelly about extending the compensation scheme, Ms O'Neill said: "I would much rather protect businesses against flooding as opposed to give them money to clean up after it."
The Executive has set up a working group consisting of Ms O'Neill, Mr Durkan, Regional Development minister Michelle McIlveen and Stormont's Finance Department to draw up detailed plans on how to spend the money. It will report to the Executive next week.