Belfast Telegraph

'Northern Ireland needs single agency to deal with flooding'

By Adrian Rutherford

A single agency must take the lead in helping flood victims deal with the devastation caused by this week's downpour, it has been claimed.

Dozens of families are counting the cost after heavy rain saturated their homes and left them facing massive repair bills.

With the worst of the weather subsided, attention has now switched to the clean-up and repairing the damage.

However, many of the victims have been frustrated because dealing with the chaos does not fall under the remit of a single department.

Aside from the Department of Environment, rivers are the responsibility of Rural Development Minister Michelle O'Neill, while the Department of Regional Development deals with clearing up the roads.

It has led to confusion for some flood victims over who is in charge of helping them deal with the crisis.

Ulster Unionist councillor Bert Wilson lives near Beragh - one of the worst affected areas - and helped with the rescue operation as water swept through the village on Monday night.

He believes a single agency should deal with the issue.

"Tom Elliott has called for the number of departments to be cut to eight and this is a clear case where they should come together as one agency," he said.

"People are really confused because nobody knows who is responsible for what and that is something which needs to be sorted out urgently.

"These people have their homes to repair, they have jobs to go to and they can't be expected to ring department after department.

"We have two or three departments with various degrees of responsibility when, in reality, it could easily be dealt with by one."

Others, however, believe that the scale of the crisis requires a multi-agency approach.

West Tyrone MLA Tom Buchanan said the key issue was getting the various departments to work together.

"I don't believe one department is going to resolve this matter," said the DUP man.

"If we are going to do everything possible to stop any more flooding then I believe it is an inter-agency approach by the three departments.

"The three ministers have to learn to work together effectively and avoid passing the buck from one department to another, which is what happens too many times."

Gerard Treacy, from the Beragh Red Knights GAA club which was left under several metres of water, said it was critical that all departments work together to ensure the crisis is dealt with effectively.

"I would love to see a joined-up approach towards this because that was the promise given to us by the Environment and Rural Development ministers yesterday, and we will be holding them to those strong promises," he said.

On Tuesday, Rural Development Minister Michelle O'Neill announced a £1m flood prevention package for areas badly hit by this week's downpour. The move follows flooding in many parts of Northern Ireland since persistent heavy rain on Sunday and Monday. In Beragh, Co Tyrone, 18 people had to be rescued on boats after a river burst its banks, leaving some residents trapped.

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