Northern Ireland

NI flooding: Ministers to host meeting over response

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Media captionFour businesses at Kinnego Marina on the shore of Lough Neagh have been badly damaged by flooding. Video courtesy of the SDLP

An "urgent" ministerial meeting will be held on Thursday to discuss the ongoing response to flooding.

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill and Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen will host the event.

It comes after flood-hit businesses on the shores of Lough Neagh questioned if enough was done to prevent rising waters brought on by winter storms.

Council chiefs and representatives of NI Water, Transport NI and Rivers Agency have also been invited.

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan is also expected to attend the meeting in Cookstown, County Tyrone.

Water levels at Lough Neagh are at a 30-year-high after recent heavy rain.

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Media captionFlood-hit firms at Kinnego Marina are unable to trade as water has swamped their premises, as Conor Macauley reports

At Oxford Island in County Armagh on the lough's southern tip, flood waters are knee-deep and several business properties have been badly damaged.

One MLA has said the Northern Ireland Executive must give more help to businesses damaged by floods.

A warning is in place from the Met Office for more heavy rain on Wednesday night.

The Irish national meteorological service Met √Čireann has also issued a rainfall warning for the Republic of Ireland.

Image caption With more rain due on Wednesday night, businesses are worried they will face more flood problems

The water level in Lough Neagh is controlled by flood gates at Toomebridge in County Antrim, which the Rivers Agency has said have been fully opened since early November.

But business owners at Kinnego Marina have said they want to know if that was done in advance of recent severe storms to allow the lough to accommodate the additional water.

The firms, which employ 20 people, are unable to trade due to floods at their premises, and say they are worried they could face more problems.

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Media captionThe level of Lough Neagh has risen, flooding surrounding land, including Kinnego Marina in County Armagh

One man, Paul Quinn, said his business was "inoperable" and he had not seen the water level as high in more than 40 years.

"This is going to take us months to clean up and get back on track again, and this is our busiest time of year," he said.

"It's really going to have a big effect on all four businesses.

Image caption The flood-hit firms employ 20 people and are unable to trade as water has swamped at their premises

"Our biggest predicament is the rainfall coming later this evening and tomorrow morning.

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Media captionVideo shows the depth of water outside businesses in Kinnego Marina

"And if the wind rises, we're going to get a wave effect off the lough, and that's really worrying us."

Earlier, the Social Democratic and Labour Party's Dolores Kelly said an emergency executive meeting was needed to discuss how to help business across Northern Ireland that have been affected by floods.

She said she had contacted government agencies to get help for the traders at Kinnego Marina but was told that "commercial properties were well down the pecking order" when it came to receiving assistance.

Image caption A playground and boatyard Kinnego Marina are both under water after the level of Lough Neagh rose

The businesses had lost stock worth "tens of thousands" of pounds, she said, and one of the shops had recently spent £10,000 on renovations.

"These businessmen have invested in these properties and they really are distraught as to what they're going to get in terms of help today and coping with the aftermath when [flood waters] recede," Ms Kelly said.

"I find it incomprehensible that in GB, [Prime Minister David] Cameron on St Stephen's Day held an emergency meeting regarding the floods in Cumbria, but it's my understanding that the next executive meeting isn't until 21 January.

"I've called on the executive to release additional funding to help commercial properties."

Image caption Manus Lappin's motorcycle sales and service shop at Kinnego Marina has been flooded

David Porter of the Rivers Agency said on Tuesday that "repeated winter storms" were putting pressure on the lough and its outlets.

"The gates have been opened fully since early in November to let as much water out of the system as we possibly can," he said.

"But more rain keeps falling within the catchment."

Glyn Roberts, of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, said the Stormont executive should begin an inquiry into flooding in Northern Ireland and "learn lessons" on preventative measures.

He also said the Department of Finance should provide immediate rates relief to businesses affected by floods.

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