Properties and land which had never been subjected to flooding before have been swamped due to the most recent spell of wet weather, Agriculture Minister and Mid Ulster MLA, Michelle O’Neill, has told the TIMES.
Hours before she hosted a multi-agency meeting to review how the various government departments had dealt with the problems faced by homes and businesses surrounding Lough Neagh, the Minister insisted nothing more could have been done to prevent the flooding which had occurred.
Ms O’Neill said Lough Neagh waters had reached their highest level in 30 years, adding that the gates of the waterway had been opened since November, “well in advance of the adverse weather”.
The DARD Minister said: “I am hosting a meeting which is very much a multi-agency approach to how we have reacted to the situation many people have found themselves in. We will be taking stock of how we handled the problems caused by the ongoing wet weather and making sure that everything that could be done is being done.
“Rivers Agency officials have been working day and night to protect properties. Hopefully we will see the levels of the Lough going down. What we are seeing this time is that there are properties and land flooding which had never flooded before. Myself and councillors Joe O’Neill and Linda Dillon were out in Derrylaughan with people who had never flooded before, for instance.”
Michelle O’Neill said £1.3 million has been made available following the recent flooding and the multi-departmental meeting, which took place in Cookstown on Wednesday, was being held to discuss how it could be spent “to best effect”.
Derrytresk pensioner Jimmy Quinn, who lives alone on the Reenaderry Road, has been surrounded by water for nearly two weeks.
Rivers Agency staff having been manning water pumps outside his property 24/7 ever since.
“This is as bad as it’s ever been,” said Mr Quinn.
“Only for these men (from the Rivers Agency) watching these pumps day and night the water would be in the house.”
The house - which is situated close to a tributary of Lough Neagh - has not had a working toilet since the floods began and Mr Quinn has been forced to sleep at his sister’s home due to the noise of the water pumps.
He said he needs to wear full-length waders to leave the property.
“Even if you are a tall man, the ordinary wellingtons are no good,” he said.
Sean Walshe, 57, owns the house next door. One of his older relatives lives there.
“It’s just a total disaster,” he said.
“It’s really depressing - it would really get you down. You get no sleep, you are worried every day. Every time it rains you are just dreading what will happen. This is the worst ever.”
Gilbert Spence, from the Rivers Agency, predicted the pumps will be required at Derrytresk for at least another week.
“We have all come off leave to assist the community and lots of our boys are working maybe 18 to 20 hours a day pumping at these houses,” he said.
Meanwhile, as householders and businesspeople told of the dire conditions they are facing, Tom Elliott – UUP MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone – rubbished a claim that the authorities had responded well as far as most residents were concerned.
He said that instead of just three of Stormont’s minister’s gathering for a meeting, all of them should have come together to take decisive action.
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan re-stated his claim that it was a “dereliction of duty” for the Executive not to have convened a full meeting by now – something he said is necessary for parcelling out the emergency £1.3m fund.