Three Northern Executive Ministers held an emergency meeting in Cookstown, Co Tyrone yesterday to try to devise a plan to assist those who have been affected by flooding in Northern Ireland, most particularly around the Lough Neagh area and in Co Fermanagh.
More than 100 homes and businesses have been affected by the flooding of recent weeks. The Department of the Environment last night disclosed that 94 households applied for special emergency grants of £1,000 (€1,300) each to help them cope with flood damage.
The majority of applications, 40, came from families living in the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon council area which takes in part of Lough Neagh. There were 15 applications for relief support in the Fermanagh and Omagh Council area. The department is expected to receive many more applications for such grants.
The worst affected area is around Lough Neagh where water levels are currently a metre higher than normal winter levels. This is the highest since records began 30 years ago with some residents saying the level of the lough is the highest in living memory.
Sluice gates at Toome in Co Antrim and Kilrea and Coleraine in Co Derry help control the level of the lough. The Bann is the only river that carries water out of Lough Neagh while several rivers including the Upper Bann, Moyola and Ballinderry rivers flow into the lough
The North’s Rivers Agency said that the sluice gates have been open since November 10th in an attempt to lower the level of the lough.
Minister of Agriculture Michelle O'Neill, Regional Development Michelle McIlveen and Environment Mark H Durkan met in Cookstown on Thursday evening to assess the impact of the flooding and to help those affected.
Westminster has allocated a grant of £1.3 million to ameliorate the impact of flooding. Last night after the meeting Ms O’Neill said the Northern Executive would meet next week to decide how the money should be allocated.
She indicated there were differences of opinion on how and where the £1.3 million should be spent.
“We had some discussions around priorities going forward, about how can we use the £1.3 million to actually make a difference to people’s lives. We all have different ideas as Ministers. We will have that further discussion next week at the Executive meeting,” she said.
Ulster Unionist Assembly member Jo-Anne Dobson of the Upper Bann constituency which includes parts of Lough Neagh called on Ms O'Neill to immediately provide more resources to help affected families.
“The current flooding is leaving many farmers and their families facing an uncertain future. In many cases not only is their land waterlogged, but farming equipment and buildings have been left damaged and expenses continue to spiral, whilst for a number their single farm payment remains unpaid,” she said.
“For these cases the Minster must immediately direct additional staffing resources to ensure that any outstanding administrative or procedural issues causing the delays are dealt with as a matter of urgency. For the farmers affected these payments may well prove to be the life line that they and their families need to get through this current crisis,” said Ms Dobson.