Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Sinking feeling as agencies fail again

For the thousands of people who are without water because of burst mains or whose homes are without heat, this has been a horrendous festive season.

Of course it is due to extreme weather conditions, the like of which the province has not seen for many years. With temperatures falling to less than -18C, it is little wonder that an already creaking water distribution system has come under severe pressure and sprung leaks all over the place.

But the plight of householders has been made worse by the inability of NI Water and the NI Housing Executive to handle the volume of emergency calls made by the public. The agencies knew that there would be severe problems on a large scale and should have planned to have appropriate staffing levels to respond to calls during the holiday period. There have been many tales of people hanging on the phone for hours to make a complaint and having to eventually hang up without registering the problem. That is unacceptable.

This has been a severe test for Department for Regional Development Minister, Conor Murphy, and, while no one can criticise the efforts of field workers who have struggled heroically to keep main routes passable or who are even now working to restore water supplies, on occasion it has appeared that there has been a lack of cohesion between central and local government in responding to emergencies. Certainly when the current extreme conditions have abated, all the emergency services must review their performance and see if their response can be better co-ordinated.

There is also merit in the suggestion that the Stormont Executive should be meeting to ensure that each department is playing its full part in responding. The severe weather has affected every sector of life and it would appear prudent that every department should be looking to see what role it can play in alleviating hardship.

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