The £15 million relief package for flooded businesses is “nowhere near enough”, an MP has said.
Sinn Fein MP for South Down Chris Hazzard, along with party colleagues, met senior civil servants on Tuesday and said repairing the flood damage will take “four or five times” the amount that is currently being offered.
Businesses in a number of towns across Northern Ireland were seriously affected after being left under several feet of floodwater in recent weeks.
There has not been a devolved government for more than a year because of the DUP’s boycott of Stormont in protest against post-Brexit trading arrangements.
In the absence of an executive, Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris reallocated £15 million of funding to provide emergency relief.
Speaking to media at Stormont, Mr Hazzard said it was clear after their meeting that the money that had been made available to date was “nowhere near enough”.
“It will not meet the scale of this emergency,” he said.
“We have pushed them fairly hard that they need to make the case for additional funds from the British Treasury and that the Secretary of State must hear that message loud and clear.
He added: “We also made it very clear today that, while support for businesses is very good and we need much more, we also need to extend this to homeowners and those residential properties.”
Schemes that have been announced from the £15 million of funding include a one-off grant payment to businesses of £7,500 and a rate relief scheme.
Two of the worst hit towns were Newry and Downpatrick and Mr Hazzard said that initial damage reports from local authorities were presenting a need well in excess of £15 million.
“The indicative reporting that was done by the local councils to give some shape suggested that this was going to be tens of millions of pounds,” he said.
“At the very outset when businesses first started to open their shutters in Newry and Downpatrick alone they were thinking that anywhere between 50 to 60 million pounds, and that was two weeks ago.
“That could be anywhere heading up in the tens of millions of pounds, a hundred million pounds, we simply don’t know at this stage, but put it this way, it is at least four or five times more than what is currently on the table.”
Mr Hazzard said the request for increased funding “has to be met”.
“If it’s not met, we’re going to have town centres that are the heartbeat of our local communities, think small independent retailers, in the mouth of Christmas are having to take very, very tough decisions about whether they will ever open their doors again,” he said.
“That doesn’t affect just them, or just their staff, that affects our entire local community. So if there’s not additional funds made available to these businesses, some of our town centres are going to have very difficult times ahead.”
As well as funding for businesses and homeowners, Mr Hazzard said the Department for Infrastructure would need resources to ensure flood-affected towns could be protected from future bouts of severe weather.
“Then you have the Department of Infrastructure itself that has to do the reviewing, that has to take urgent measures straight away to ensure that this doesn’t happen again,” he said.
“Because we have residents, we have business owners in Downpatrick and Newry and Portadown, who’re looking out the window as the storms continue to come thinking ‘is this going to happen again next week?’.
“And we must ensure whatever can be done now to mitigate the effects of that is done now and that needs to be resourced.”
The Northern Ireland Office has been approached for comment.