Northern Ireland news

Stormont ministers promise action to tackle flood crisis

Jimmy Quinn from Derrytresk, Co Tyrone, who is among those affected by the rising water levels in Lough Neagh

Stormont ministers have promised to look at new ways to improve flood protection and responses as large areas of the north continue to suffer serious flooding.

Speaking after an emergency meeting in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, agriculture minister Michelle O'Neill also said a new grant scheme will be introduced to help people protect their homes.

The meeting yesterday was also attended by regional development minister Michell McIlveen and environment minister Mark H Durkan as well a range of other bodies.

It was called after flooding around Lough Neagh reached record levels earlier this week.

Owners of flooded businesses have claimed the Rivers Agency could have done more to reduce the water levels by opening sluice gates at Toome in Co Antrim before the recent wet weather arrived.

Other parts of the north, including around Lough Erne in Co Fermanagh, have also been badly hit.

"Today, we looked at where more could be done to reduce the risks of flooding in the future," Ms O'Neill said.

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

Ms McIlveen said agencies had been working round the clock.

"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."

Mr Durkan highlighted that a grant system to help people trying to repair flood damage to their homes is already available.

"Flooding can no longer be termed as a one off or once in a hundred years. It is happening on a regular basis. It is important that government ministers and local councils work in a joined up way to tackle the problem and help those most severely affected to get back to normal," he said.

Meanwhile, residents and business owners in flood-hit parts of the north continue to battle against rising water levels.

Efforts to save properties around swollen loughs and rivers suffered another setback with a fresh downpour on Wednesday night.

The home of 72-year-old Jimmy Quinn, who lives alone in Derrytresk near Coalisland, Co Tyrone, has been surrounded by water for 11 days. 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 watching these pumps day and night the water would be in the house."

The house - which is close to a tributary of Lough Neagh, the Blackwater River - 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 pumps.

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."

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