Northern Ireland

NI flooding: Agencies 'working together' says Michelle O'Neill

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Media captionA 300-year-old listed cottage near Portadown has been surrounded by floodwater

The agriculture minister has said agencies are working together to help those affected by flooding.

Heavy rainfall has left some roads impassable and fields saturated.

Water levels at Lough Neagh are at a 30-year-high after recent heavy rain, causing damage to businesses on its shores.

Michelle O'Neill took part in an urgent meeting with the environment and regional development ministers to discuss the response to the flooding.

A total of £1.3m is available to Northern Ireland, the spin-off from a Westminster flood fund.

But first the executive must agree that it will be spent on flood relief and then departments must then make a pitch for the cash. So far neither has happened.

"We had some discussions around priorities in going forward, how can we use the £1.3m to actually make a difference to people's lives," Mrs O'Neill said.

"We all have different ideas as ministers, we'll have that further discussion next week at an executive meeting where we can actually take decisions on we can make the most effect out of the £1.3m."

She added: "As rivers minister, I intend to seek resources to use to improve our flood protections where necessary.

"Also, next week I will announce details of a new grant scheme to help people protect their homes from flooding."

Flood-hit businesses on the shores of Lough Neagh have been questioning if enough was done to prevent rising waters brought on by winter storms.

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

Council chiefs and representatives of NI Water, Transport NI and the Rivers Agency also attended Thursday's meeting in Cookstown, County Tyrone.

Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen said the meeting was positive and useful.

"My key priority is to identify any immediate remedial works that need to be carried out on roads which have been flooded to ensure they are opened as quickly as possible," she said.

"As well as carrying out emergency repairs, I will be seeking to identify longer-term measures to address any issues with the roads infrastructure."

Image caption The floodgates at Lough Neagh have been fully opened since early November, the Rivers Agency says

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said: "Working with and through councils, I have already ensured that practical and financial help is delivered to those most in need as early as possible.

"We have a £1,000 grant available to assist homeowners in ensuring their homes are habitable as quickly as possible.

"Today's meeting though provided the platform to share ideas and plan for the longer term."

At Oxford Island on Lough Neagh's southern tip in County Armagh, several business properties have been badly damaged by floods.

The lough's level is controlled by floodgates at Toomebridge in County Antrim, which the Rivers Agency has said have been fully opened since early November.

But "repeated winter storms" have put pressure on the lough and its outlets, the Rivers Agency has said.

Image caption This motorcycle shop is one of several at Kinnego Marina that have been badly damaged by floods

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association has called for the Department of Finance should provide immediate rates relief to businesses affected by floods.

In the Republic of Ireland, a compensation scheme is opening for farmers who have suffered fodder losses due to flooding in many parts of the country.

Flooding problems in Northern Ireland can be reported by contacting the Floodline on 0300 2000 100.

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