Shadow Northern Ireland secretary criticises flooding support
The shadow Northern Ireland secretary Hilary Benn has criticised the level of support for victims of recent flooding in the region.
Areas of counties Down, Antrim and Armagh suffered after heavy rain fell last week.
Work continued across the weekend in Downpatrick to pump the floodwater out of the town.
In Northern Ireland, all there is at the moment is the scheme of emergency financial assistance that has been activated,
The ongoing collapse of the Stormont Assembly has left senior civil servants leading government departments with limited powers.
Mr Benn compared the situation with the aftermath of Storm Babet in England when a number of support schemes were announced.
“In Northern Ireland, all there is at the moment is the scheme of emergency financial assistance that has been activated,” he told the BBC.
“That means homeowners, but not businesses, can get £1,000 – and that is not enough.”
Mr Benn said he wrote to Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris on Saturday to ask what assistance the government could provide to businesses and homes in Northern Ireland.
He said Mr Heaton-Harris responded on Sunday, and said he is “working with the Northern Ireland Civil Service to see what can be done a quickly as possible to deal with the impacts of the floods”.
“I’m looking forward to hearing what the outcome of that is,” he said.
“This is a crisis, people are in trouble, they need help. It’s very simple, and not having an Executive in Northern Ireland doesn’t help because it’s at times like this you really need your government.”
More needs to be done, we're working on that. We'll work with the government to deliver the support that people need, including for farmers as well
The DUP has remained out of the Assembly for more than a year in protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements.
The party remains in talks with the government to address unionist concerns at the Northern Ireland Protocol and the Windsor Framework.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said his party is working hard to help businesses and home owners affected by the flooding.
He said even if Stormont was sitting, it “doesn’t have a big pot of money”.
“It is a priority for us, but at the end of the day, let’s be clear about this, Stormont is projecting an overspend this year of hundreds of millions of pounds.
“It doesn’t have a big pot of money sitting there ready to be handed over, that’s why I’m going to be at Westminster talking to the people who can deliver that additional support over and above the rates relief scheme and the £1,000 for householders affected by flooding,” he told the BBC.
“More needs to be done, we’re working on that. We’ll work with the government to deliver the support that people need, including for farmers as well.”
SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole who visited businesses in Downpatrick on Monday said the scenes were “heartbreaking”.
“I grew up in this town. I know the businesses on the street, I grew up with them, shopped in them, they supported the local community for years and generations in some cases,” he said.
It is frankly shocking that we don't have proper clarity on the support they’re going to get yet
“They’re facing devastation. They need support, they need money, they need cash, and they need a proper plan for this town to recover from what’s happened.
“It is frankly shocking that we don’t have proper clarity on the support they’re going to get yet.”
Mr O’Toole said his message to Mr Heaton-Harris was “don’t wait any longer”.
“People here need support. This isn’t a political game. This isn’t about putting pressure on people politically one way or the other,” he said.
He added: “Chris Heaton-Harris needs to be absolutely clear that he is going to fund and support, and the UK Government is going to fund and support the small businesses of this town.”
Alliance MLA for South Down, Patrick Brown, whose constituency office in Market Lane was damaged by floods, called for Mr Heaton-Harris to provide financial aid to businesses, some of whom have seen damages estimated at more than £100,000.
“I think all Stormont departments have to chip in and support businesses to come out of this as well,” he said.
“But ultimately that leadership needs to come from the Secretary of State, and we need Westminster to reach in their pocket because we know what the current financial landscape is like in Northern Ireland.
“We obviously don’t have an executive there or anyone to show leadership in that regard politically. So we need them to step up.”
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