Belfast Telegraph

Ministers bicker over stalled action plan to tackle flooding chaos in Northern Ireland

Danny Kennedy
Danny Kennedy
Michelle O'Neill

By Noel McAdam

Two Executive ministers have clashed over an official Stormont action plan to help prevent floods.

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy accused his agriculture counterpart Michelle O'Neill of blocking a plan aimed at improving response efforts to flooding emergencies.

Ms O'Neill denied being opposed to change and said the blueprint should form part of a wider shake-up of Stormont departments. Their row resurfaced after a spate of flooding in the last week - with more likely as the winter months loom.

Almost two years have passed since a special report recommended the Rivers Agency should be switched from the Department of Agriculture and Regional Development (DARD) to the Department for Regional Development (DRD) to prevent a repeat of the flood crisis debacles of recent years.

The report from the Executive's own troubleshooting task force, the Performance and Efficiency Delivery Unit (PEDU), also asked why NI remained the only UK region without a flood alert and forecast service - though the Met Office offered to extend it here.

Mr Kennedy told the Belfast Telegraph: "I don't see any sign of any movement on that at all.

"There has been some improvement in the way the agencies co-operate, but people don't understand the whole range of departments which are involved."

Apart from DRD and DARD, it is the Department of the Environment that kickstarts the £1,000 grants scheme for those worst hit, and the floodline telephone number comes under the umbrella of the Department of Finance.

Mr Kennedy insisted any change was blocked by Ms O'Neill of Sinn Fein. "Some people appear to be more interested in protecting their own empires than in what would work best," the Ulster Unionist claimed.

Ms O'Neill retorted: "My view on this has always been clear. I believe that, rather than looking at this in isolation, any restructuring should be considered as part of the broader strategic review of the civil service departments, post-2015.

"There has been clear evidence of improved levels of co-operation and collaboration between Rivers Agency, as the lead agency, and others since the publication of the PEDU report."

A DRD spokeswoman added: "The PEDU report recommended in 2012 that all flood response agencies should be consolidated within a single body.

"This issue is being considered as part of the wider review of departmental structures across the NICS post-2015. The report also recommended an additional £120m should be made available to tackle flooding in high-risk areas."

Belfast Telegraph


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