Belfast Telegraph

Time for a co-ordinated response to ease our floods agony

Editor's Viewpoint

The lack of joined-up government at Stormont was well-illustrated this week in the aftermath of the severe flooding which affected many parts of Northern Ireland.

One of the worst-hit areas was Newry, while other areas of counties Armagh, Down and Antrim were also badly affected.

Usually there are three departments dealing with such chaos. The Environment Department's role is to co-ordinate payments for those affected by flooding, while Agriculture and Rural Development oversees rivers, and Regional Development deals with the roads.

In theory this should provide a swift response to any emergency, but the reality can be very different.

In Newry, for example, MLA Mickey Brady and DRD Minister Danny Kennedy were involved in a political spat, but they would have been better concentrating their energies on flood damage.

Clearly the authorities have learned little or nothing from the severe flooding of the past few years.

It is high time that concerted efforts were made to prevent the worst of flooding, and also to react with maximum efficiency to each situation as it develops on the ground.

The MLA David McNarry has rightly asked why the authorities seem to have been caught out again, and why better contingency plans were not made. Another MLA, John McCallister, claimed that some of his constituents had difficulty in getting sandbags to protect their homes.

The obvious answer, as Mr McNarry suggested, is the development of a properly co-ordinated response under the control of a central authority. This could be similar to the Cobra Committee - also known as the Civil Contingencies Committee - which is the Government's response to emergencies in Britain, and which is chaired by the Prime Minister or another senior figure.

It should not be beyond the wit of our Stormont politicians and civil service to devise a similar response in Northern Ireland, instead of appearing to deal with emergencies on the basis of too little, too late.

In our climate, nothing can be taken for granted.

MLA David McNarry wants Cobra-style agency to fight floods as clean-up operation gets under way 

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