Northern Ireland

NI flooding: £1.3m fund to focus on prevention

Image caption Floods have hit many parts of Northern Ireland, damaging homes, businesses and farmland

Stormont ministers have agreed to spend the full £1.3m of additional funding for flooding on preventative measures and preparing for future incidents.

The three departments dealing with the recent flooding briefed Northern Ireland Executive ministers on Monday.

They have been now been asked to work with the finance department to bring detailed proposals to the next executive meeting on 21 January.

However, SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said ministers must act sooner for victims.

She claimed that the only result of Monday's emergency executive meeting was to "form another working group".

"Five weeks after £50m was made available to flood victims in England and two days after the Scottish first minister make £12m available, our executive's only move has been to announce another meeting 10 days from now," Ms Kelly said.

Earlier, it was revealed that 30 properties in Northern Ireland were flooded in recent storms, nearly all of them along Lough Neagh.

The figure was confirmed in the Northern Ireland Assembly by Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill.

She said that the water level of Lough Neagh was beginning to fall but that agencies remained on "high alert".

She also revealed details of a new flood protection grant for homes which she is due to launch later this week.

Ms O'Neill was responding to an urgent oral question tabled by her the DUP's Sydney Anderson.

She said three winter storms had followed a wet autumn which had left river and lough levels high and land already saturated.

Last week, businesses on the shores of Lough Neagh were badly damaged by floods.

The agriculture minister told the assembly that Lough Neagh had peaked at 3ft 3in (1m) above its normal winter level - a 30-year high.

Her department will review the levels at which the lough is managed and whether rivers running into it should be dredged, as part of a wider review.

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has called for the UK-wide flood fund to be extended to businesses and community facilities.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers met Rivers Agency staff in Toome on Monday, where they use sluice gates to help control the level of the lough.

She was given an overview of the flood control measures that have been put in place by Rivers Agency chief executive David Porter.

Ms Villiers said: "My heart goes out to those throughout Northern Ireland who have had their lives so severely disrupted.

"It has been a devastating Christmas and new year for many and it is vital for householders, farmers and businesses to get back on their feet as soon as possible."

The secretary of state added that she was "impressed" with Northern Ireland executive minister and the steps taken to help those affected by flooding.

She praised the "resilience" of flood-hit householders and businesses and the agencies who were working to help them repair the damage.

Image caption Lough Neagh's floodgates have been fully open since November, the Rivers Agency has said

BBC News NI's environment correspondent Conor Macauley

The £1.3m fund is a spin off for Northern Ireland from a big package of flood relief money announced for the UK before Christmas.

There will be a lot of calls on that cash.

The Rivers Agency has been pumping for 24 hours a day at a number of properties around Lough Neagh.

The overtime bill for its staff alone will be significant.

There is also the issue of compensation for businesses affected by floods.

And there has been talk of raising some rural roads in County Fermanagh, which has suffered badly as a result of the high waters.

It is easy to see that the money will not stretch too far.

Dropped

The Rivers Agency said "repeated winter storms" had put pressure on the lough and its outlets.

But on Monday it confirmed that the level of Lough Neagh and Lough Erne, which stretches through County Fermanagh, were dropping.

Lough Neagh was down by 12mm since Friday, but is still more than a metre above the level it should be.

Lough Erne had dropped by 63mm overnight, making some roads that had been affected by flooding passable.

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