Northern Ireland flooding: Chris Heaton-Harris pledges help 'where possible'

Council workers from Newry, Mourne and Down District Council help clean up flood-stricken Downpatrick, Co Down, on Monday. Pic:: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Council workers from Newry, Mourne and Down District Council help clean up flood-stricken Downpatrick, Co Down, on Monday. Pic:: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

​Areas of counties Down, Antrim and Armagh suffered flooding after heavy rain last week.

Chris Heaton-Harris said the floods have been “devastating for those affected”.

In a statement, he said: “Whilst this is directly a matter for the relevant NI departments, we will continue to engage with them and Northern Ireland’s parties on the communities impacted. We stand ready to support and provide assistance where possible.

“We continue to work very closely with the Northern Ireland Civil Service to get the best information on the scale of the impact and to explore options to support businesses which have been hit by flooding, and we are in touch with the NI parties on this.”

The leaders of the five main political parties in Northern Ireland urged him to immediately request additional resources from the Treasury for an emergency relief scheme for householders and businesses.

In a joint letter, Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Naomi Long of the Alliance Party, the UUP’s Doug Beattie and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said there could be business closures and job losses without financial support.

They wrote: “Repairing the extensive damage caused by flooding is also a massive financial pressure for families already suffering the impact of the cost-of-living crisis.

“Communities, businesses and families need immediate help, but given the precarious financial position of local departments, this requires additional funding.

“As leaders of the main political parties, we would urge you to immediately request from the Treasury, and specific to this weather event, additional resources for an emergency relief scheme to assist local householders and businesses, and to protect jobs and community facilities.

“Collectively, we should spare no effort to protect vulnerable businesses, families and communities facing this enormous and unforeseen financial pressure.”

Ms O’Neill visited Downpatrick yesterday, where businesses were beginning the clean-up operation after some were nearly entirely submerged in water for days.

Work continued across the weekend in Downpatrick to pump the water out of the town.

The collapse of the Stormont Assembly has left senior civil servants leading government departments with limited powers.

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Hilary Benn had earlier criticised the level of support for victims of flooding in the province. He 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.

“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.”

The DUP has been 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.

Sir Jeffrey said his party is working hard to help businesses and homeowners affected by the flooding.

He said even if Stormont was sitting, it “doesn’t have a big pot of money”.