The Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development visited last week Toome to meet representatives from Rivers Agency and view the sluice gates which control the water levels in Lough Neagh.
The visit comes in the wake of severe winter weather conditions which saw water levels in the Lough reach a 30-year high, causing subsequent heavy flooding around the Lough shore.
Speaking after the visit, Committee Chairperson William Irwin, MLA said: “The recent flooding has caused utter devastation to rural communities around the shores of Lough Neagh. Homes, families, businesses, land and livestock have all been adversely affected and the Committee remains concerned that not enough is being done to address this issue and to mitigate the risk of future flooding.
“While we accept that the unprecedented December rainfall played a large part in the resultant flooding, we believe it is now time to re-evaluate the Lough Neagh water levels, which while reviewed in 1971, have not been changed since the 1950s. The fact that the opening of the sluice gates in November by Rivers Agency to stem rising water levels had little effect would tend, we feel, to confirm our viewpoint that a re-evaluation is required.”
Mr Irwin continued: “There can be no doubt that they did everything possible to pre-empt risk and control the effects of flooding and we commend them for that. However, we want some recognition that many local businesses including farmers have been severely affected by the flooding. My Committee also welcomes the extension of the UK flood response funding which will see £1.3 million allocated to Northern Ireland.
“It is also crucial that the Ministers of Agriculture, Regional Development, and the Environment meet as soon as possible to discuss and agree a viable action plan outlining how and when this money will be spent. We need to ensure that as well as compensating those affected this funding is also used to develop the necessary preventative measures.”