Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland flood summit slammed as stunt by MP Elliott

MP Elliott hits out at crisis meeting, claiming constituents feel abandoned by Executive

By David Young

A top-level ministerial crisis meeting held yesterday on the flooding crisis was last night slammed as "a stunt held for the optics" by an MP whose constituency is still under water.

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill and Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen hosted the flood summit, which was attended by Environment Minister Mark H Durkan, council chief executives and representatives of NI Water, Transport NI and the Rivers Agency.

After the emergency meeting at Loughry College in Cookstown, the Stormont ministers said they had explored measures to enhance flood protection and also considered strengthening the multi-agency response approach.

But Fermanagh & South Tyrone UUP MP Tom Elliott said that the meeting was merely "giving an impression of action being taken", and hit out angrily, claiming people affected by the floods felt that the Executive had left them to fend for themselves.

"For the people who have water running through their homes, or those who have been isolated for weeks, or for the farmers who are battling night and day to keep their sheds and machinery from being submerged, the outcome of the meeting will do nothing but compel the feeling that the Northern Ireland Executive has all but abandoned them," he said.

"Instead of three ministers meeting informally in Cookstown, it should have been a full and formal meeting of the entire Executive.

"That would have meant decisions could have been made there and then, and funding for immediate support measures could have been allocated," Mr Elliott said. However, the Executive will not meet until next week to discuss how to spend flood relief funds.

Business owners and residents have been critical of the Executive for what they describe as a totally inadequate response to the flooding, which has seen some firms lose tens of thousands of pounds.

Speaking after the high-level meeting ended, Ms O'Neill - who this week toured flood-hit areas of Northern Ireland - told reporters: "We had some discussion around priorities going forward.

"We all had different ideas as ministers, but we will have a further discussion next week at our Executive meeting where we can take decisions on how we can get the most impact out of the £1.3m."

The £1.3m figure refers to funding made available to Northern Ireland from the Westminster Flooding Fund for relief works.

Ms O'Neill said she would announce details next week of a new grant scheme to help people protect their homes.

"Today, we looked at where more could be done to reduce the risks of flooding in the future," she said.

"As Rivers Minister, I intend to seek resources to use to improve our flood protections where necessary."

Ms McIlveen said agencies had been working round the clock.

"My key priority is to identify any immediate remedial works that need to be carried out on roads which have been flooded to ensure they are opened as quickly as possible," she said.

"As well as carrying out emergency repairs, I will be seeking to identify longer-term measures to address any issues with the roads infrastructure."

Mr Durkan said a grant system to help people trying to repair flood damage to their homes was already available.

"Over recent years we have seen much heartache for homeowners dealing with the aftermath of flooded homes," he said.

"It is important that Government ministers and local councils work in a joined-up way to tackle the problem and help those most severely affected to get back to normal."

Meanwhile, roads were being salted across Northern Ireland last night after the Met Office issued a yellow severe weather warning for snow and ice. Road users were advised to exercise caution.

Belfast Telegraph


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