Belfast Telegraph

Only two workers on duty when floods hit Northern Ireland, claims insider

Just two Rivers Agency workers were on standby in the north west this week - despite the Met Office issuing a severe weather warning, it has been claimed.

The staff were paid just over £5 each for the duty, a whistleblower from a Stormont department said. Hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed, roads were washed away and bridges collapsed during Tuesday night's unprecedented flooding in the north west.

It came after the Met Office issued warnings earlier in the day for thunderous downpours causing isolated flooding and disruption to roads.

Some 465 people have so far applied for Derry City and Strabane District Council's £1,000 grant to aid those affected, and it is estimated the cost to the council alone will run to £500,000.

But an employee at the Department for Infrastructure - which oversees the Rivers Agency - claimed that despite the weather warning, only two people volunteered to go on standby duty due to the low rate they are paid for doing so.

The two River Agency workers were both paid a total of £5.65 each to remain on standby during Tuesday evening, he said.

Staff say the agency was left scrambling to call in extra crews to help deal with the deluge of rain that caused utter devastation across the north west.

The employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said the Rivers Agency simply couldn't get staff to go on standby duty because of low rates and slashed overtime budgets.

"There were two men put on standby on Tuesday night to cover the entire Derry area," he said.

"What the workers get paid for going on standby is a total of £5.65 for the whole night and when you take tax off this, it's literally next to nothing.

"If they go on call-outs to deliver sandbags etc they would get paid overtime as well, but they've cut that to shreds too.

"Men don't want to come out now and do the work at night. It's simply not worth it at all.

"Workers are only out helping people because they are flooded and they are all very community-minded. Over the last few days the men have been out from 7am to well past midnight, around the clock working themselves to the bone, and are still out on call-outs with sandbags helping people."

The worker says that staff are paid an overtime rate if they have to attend call-outs, which he says have been recently cut to time and a third.

"When the workers are put on standby, they have to sit at home by the phone for a fiver," he claimed.

"They can't go out, they might have to just get up and go five minutes after they come home. There is not someone on standby every night of the week. They don't seem to want to put people on that duty.

"If there is rain, it seems to me they take a chance that there won't be flooding.

"This week was an exception. That night they had to call others to come in, from different areas, but the men don't want to come in because their overtime has been cut. They just had to muster up whoever they could get."

A Department for Infrastructure spokeswoman said: "During Tuesday evening DfI Rivers standby rotas for the north west were quickly augmented as staff were deployed from other areas of DfI Rivers.

"These were assisted by DfI Roads, Derry City and Strabane Council, Causeway Coast & Glens Council, private contractors and emergency services."

Independent councillor Gary Donnelly, who was on the ground in Creggan helping neighbours protect their homes, says the response was inadequate.

"I was with residents in Creggan bailing the water out to stop houses flooding," he said.

"It was a complete catastrophe. And we find out that people are paid this amount of money, is it any wonder they are not volunteering to work?"

The SDLP's Mark Durkan said that cuts and savings result in more costs when incidents like Tuesday's unprecedented floods occur.

"You can't blame anyone for rainfall," he said. "But you can blame politics for the lack of capacity to respond to incidents like this. When you look at cuts across services over a number of years it undoubtedly impacts on ability to respond to incidents like this and therefore it leads to greater destruction and devastation when these thing do arise."

by leona o'neill

Belfast Telegraph

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