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MLAs' fury at 'systemic failure' to tackle flooding

By Noel McAdam

A “systemic failure” involving a complete lack of co-ordination between Government departments and agencies increased the misery for thousands of households hit by the latest flooding crisis, the Assembly has heard.

Roads and water Minister Danny Kennedy came under attack from MLAs who suggested an immediate £30m must be found to tackle infrastructure deficiencies in the short term.

Their criticism came ahead of an expected Executive meeting this Thursday which is also to consider more interim and long-term measures to help prevent a repeat in future.

The special debate was also against the backdrop of new yellow level ‘be aware’ weather warnings for further heavy downpours this week.

Alliance’s Stewart Dickson, who initiated the question and answer session, said he was disappointed he had to table an “urgent oral question” to get the Regional Development Minister to the dispatch box.

But he argued the actions taken after last Wednesday’s deluge were wholly inadequate and had demonstrated a total lack of co-ordination between the department and others.

The SDLP’s Sean Lynch, new deputy chair of the Regional Development Committee, said it was the “process not people” which had failed and the DUP’s Sammy Douglas said “exceptional action” was needed to deal with exceptional circumstances.

Mr Kennedy’s Ulster Unionist colleague, Michael McGimpsey, said the system was not “fit for purpose” and the only action that would make a difference would be if the Executive allocated £30m to deal with the issue.

Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey said the response to the downpour, which had been known about in advance, had demonstrated an “abysmal failure”, and his fellow party member Oliver McMullan said: “This is no longer exceptional. This is year on year.”

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell asked when a joined-up and integrated plan would replace the “total failure” of last week and an end to “passing the parcel”.

Mr Kennedy said there was no “quick fix solution” but he would not be “slow or shy” in making the case for additional finance to deal with infrastructure at the Executive table this Thursday.

However he said the Floodline which had failed to cope with calls was the responsibility of Sammy Wilson’s Finance department, drainage was the responsibility of Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill, and local councils came under the control of Environment Minister Alex Attwood — along with the Rivers Agency and the fire and rescue service.

“I understand the frustration and distress that people feel,” said Mr Kennedy.

Story so far

During last week’s deluge the Fire and Rescue Service dealt with more than 700 flood-related call-outs in greater Belfast. But there was also serious flooding in Cushendall, Armagh and Holywood in north Down. At the height of the flash flood aftermath on Wednesday many roads — including main routes — were impassable and about 1,000 homes were left without power.

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