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Theresa Villiers sorry for 'insensitive' floods remark

By Staff Reporter

Published 15/01/2016

Theresa Villiers
Theresa Villiers

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has apologised for saying she was "grateful" she lived on top of a hill during the devastating floods which wreaked havoc across the UK.

The Chipping Barnet MP posted a report on Facebook of her recent visit to Toomebridge beside Lough Neagh to meet Rivers Agency officials.

Some of the worst flooding here over the festive period was witnessed around the shores of the lough and its tributaries, leaving scores of homes and businesses swamped. Lough Neagh reached a 30-year high during the worst of the weather, peaking at a metre above the normal winter level - about 200 millimetres above the last significant high in 2009.

In her Facebook post, Mrs Villiers praised the Rivers Agency's work to combat flooding.

But in response to one comment she added: "It's times like this that I am grateful that I live on top of a hill."

The remark was described as insensitive by beleaguered householders whose homes are still flooded.

UUP MLA Jo-Anne Dobson said that feelings were still very raw among deluged farmers in her Upper Bann constituency.

"It's a scene of devastation and heartbreak" she added. "Tension is running high. I'm sure Mrs Villiers did not mean to cause offence, but if she was an MLA for Upper Bann, I'm sure she would be as upset as I am at the devastation in the community that these floods have caused.

"I hope she will join me in calling for Agriculture Minister (Michelle) O'Neill to speed up the payment of compensation to people affected, so they can rebuild their lives and businesses."

Upper Bann MLA Dolores Kelly described the Secretary of State's remarks as insensitive.

"It shows a degree of insensitivity to the impact of the floods on homes and business around Lough Neagh and in Co Fermanagh," the SDLP MLA said. "I would have expected better of her. People will not be impressed.

"I knew she went to Toome to see the Lough Neagh gates, but I would have expected the Secretary of State to have looked at the human impact of the flooding. I've seen no sign of the Secretary of State having engaged with the NI Executive to put a case to Cabinet for enhanced assistance for homes and firms in Northern Ireland affected by the floods.

"At worst, her remark shows a level of naivety. It comes across as insensitive, almost flippant."

Last night Mrs Villiers said sorry and added: "I want to assure you that I did not intend to cause any offence to anyone affected by the recent flooding in Northern Ireland.

"I would like to offer my sincere apologies for the comment and for any offence which it caused.

"With hindsight, I realise that this informal response to a Facebook posting was insensitive and inappropriate."

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