'Forgotten' Northern Ireland farmers still awaiting payout two years after floods

Jim Nicholas’ farm between Park and Claudy was flooded in August 2017 when the River Faughan burst its banks
Jim Nicholas’ farm between Park and Claudy was flooded in August 2017 when the River Faughan burst its banks

Donna Deeney

Farmers affected by flash flooding which devastated parts of the north west two years ago claim they have been forgotten about and left to pick up the pieces by themselves.

And without a Stormont minister in place, they will not receive financial aid, officials said last night.

Heavy downpours in August 2017 caused chaos, with 63% of the average monthly rainfall coming down within an eight-to-nine-hour period.

The Glenelly Valley in Co Tyrone and Faughan Valley in Co Derry bore the brunt of the devastation.

While many people who were left homeless received agency help, farmers have not received compensation.

Farmers in both areas lost livestock and crops, had land washed away, fencing destroyed and were left with fields covered in silt and muck washed down from mountains or deposited in flood waters.

Among those affected is Glenelly man William McKelvey, who had 21 acres of silage destroyed in the flood and fencing washed away.

He also lost the use of the land for the following year.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr McKelvey said: "It took me three weeks to clear up the muck that had been washed down from the mountain from the land and then I had to re-seed it.

"We are the forgotten people in all of this, we have been passed from pillar to post.

"I think money should have been allocated to one department who could have overseen what needed to be done for farmers and make sure they were compensated.

"Civil servants sitting in an office in Belfast have no understanding of what we went through and are still going through."

Jim Nicholas has a farm in Park, Co Derry, and shares Mr McKelvey's frustrations at the lack of help and assistance available in the aftermath of the flood.

He said: "The damage done to my land from the flood was by no manner as bad as some of my neighbours.

"But part of my field was completely washed away and I lost almost a mile of fencing.

"I will never forget the roar of the raging waters as I stood on the land and watched the flood pull up mature trees like they were tiny twigs and carry them along my fields.

"Since the flood, I replaced all the fencing myself, cleared all the silt from the fields left behind when the River Faughan flooded its banks.

"I also drew down quarry stone to build my own flood defences because I am sure this will happen again some time in the future.

"It is very frustrating to see how the farmers in Donegal were compensated, and good luck to them, they deserved it - but it was in contrast to the help offered to farmers on this side of the border.

"To this day, not one person knocked on my door or on the doors of my neighbours to see if we needed help or to see how we were getting on after the flood."

Ulster Farmers' Union president Ivor Ferguson said farmers affected by the flooding have endured an anxious two years during which compensation should have been forthcoming.

He said: "It is distressing to hear that farmers are still experiencing a serious financial loss and have received no support.

"The absence of a working Assembly and Executive in Northern Ireland has been ongoing since January 2017 and because of this vacancy in Stormont, farmers affected by the flooding have been left vulnerable in their time of need.

"Emergency aid could have been retrieved from EU funds by government ministers during one of the worst weather crises the country has ever seen.

"However, farmers received no financial aid because there was no Agriculture Minister and the department did not have the ability to make the decision regarding financial support.

"Meanwhile, across the border in the Republic of Ireland, farmers successfully received aid following the flooding, which only added to the dismay of NI farmers."

The lack of compensation for farmers is to be raised with the permanent secretary of the Department for Environment, Agriculture and Rural Development by West Tyrone MLA Daniel McCrossan.

A DAERA spokesperson said its permanent secretary, Dr Denis McMahon, had previously met Mr McCrossan to discuss this issue, and is due to meet him again in early September.

They stated: "It will be a ministerial decision as to whether any direct financial support might be available for farmers affected by the flooding incident.

"Therefore, in the absence of a minister, the department has no plans to provide direct financial assistance to affected farmers."

The spokesperson said the department "has provided advisory support to farmers on managing and reinstating the areas affected by the 2017 flooding incident".

"This advice has been acted upon by landowners and a significant area of the affected land that could be reinstated has been returned to agricultural production. The department will continue to offer practical on-the-ground support to farmers as necessary.

"DAERA has provided £500,000 to the Loughs Agency to enable remedial work to be undertaken in the areas worst affected.

"This funding is to be used primarily for the erection of riparian fencing, and work is to commence shortly."

The spokesperson said the Loughs Agency has met all landowners in the main catchment areas over the last few months and signed up agreements to erect fencing which was lost.

"The Loughs Agency has also provided support and advice to farmers who wished to carry out bankside revetment schemes to protect their lands."

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