‘Welcome step’ as Minister hears about local concerns

‘Welcome step’ as Minister hears about local concerns

15 November 2023

POLITICIANS were delighted to see Lord Caine take time to visit Downpatrick and speak with business owners most affected by the devastating floods.

Lord Caine – who was invited to the town by Baroness Margaret Ritchie – spoke with many business owners and the chairman of the Downpatrick and Co Down Railway during his visit.

And while politicians have welcomed the initial financial support that has been provided, they say significantly more is needed to help businesses and the town centre economy to recover from the catastrophic flood.

They insist there needs to be a substantive follow-up in terms of financial aid, with Stormont’s Department of Finance revealing that more support will be available.

However, it is not clear how much money will be on offer or when it will be available and there could also be Irish government funding after Senator Nial Blaney revealed that cash from the Dublin government’s shared island fund could be a possibility to finance flooding prevention measures.

South Down Sinn MP Chris Hazzard said the Secretary of State said the £15m in flooding relief was a first step and it was important to get the full detail of the support package, insisting that what’s on the table “will not scratch of the surface of what’s needed”.

He said families and businesses affected by flooding need immediate support as many are already suffering the financial impact of the cost of living crisis.

“The knock-on effect of this flooding will heap even more pressure on already hard-pressed workers and small businesses,” the MP continued.

“Locally elected ministers should be around the Executive table and working to support communities through these difficult times, but those affected by the recent flooding are suffering because of one party’s boycott.”

SDLP MLA Colin McGrath said Lord Caine’s visit provided an important step for local businesses.

“Businesses have been decimated as a result of the recent flooding,” he said.

“But they were insulted following the fly-by-night visit by the Secretary of State Chris Heaton Harris last Wednesday. He did not have the decency to talk to our traders and hear them out. Rather, he made a swift exit through the back door. 

“The message that was sent out was one of contempt for our traders and could have caused irreparable damage. However, Lord Caine spent hours in our town walking, talking and listening to our local traders and all parties. This was an important step for our businesses and has gone some way to repairing the damage caused by the Secretary of State.”



Alliance MLA Patrick Brown and party leader Naomi Long MLA met with the Secretary of State last Thursday to discuss the delivery of the £15m financial package and the need for investment in flooding defences to protect Downpatrick from future flooding. 

He said Mr Heaton-Harris confirmed the funding will be allocated to council areas based on need, with council’ deciding how the money will be spent. 

“Councils will have significant powers in determining how this money is spent. Whilst all businesses who have lost out as a result of the flooding should receive financial support, there are questions that still need to be asked about the criteria being used to access this.”

DUP MLA Diane Forsythe described the £15m funding package as a “welcome step” and recognition of the damage done to livelihoods across Northern Ireland.  

“The flooding was catastrophic for businesses who have lost hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of stock as well as their premises,” she continued, explaining the £15m was not new money.

“It is a reallocation of capital money as revenue, but capital budgets are already stretched in every NI Department. In the longer-term Northern Ireland will require greater financial allocation and firepower to make the kind of necessary investments to safeguard these communities in the future.”

Speaking at Sinn Fein’s annual conference in Athlone, Cllr Oonagh Hanlon reaffirmed her party’s commitment to ensure local businesses and residents get the support they need.

“Recent floods left a trail of destruction last week for local residents and businesses,” she said.

“Downpatrick town centre was destroyed; retailers, hospitality, banks and the post office have all been left devastated. Our community rallied, with local people determined to stand with those small, independent businesses who are the life and soul of our county town.” 

Cllr Hanlon said as business owners start to pick up the pieces and open their doors again, there is a need to ensure residents are shopping local and helping to kick-start businesses. 

She added: “The British Government must step up and provide a financial package that meets the needs of the community. Stripping money from hard-pressed Stormont budgets won’t cut it.”

Downpatrick councillor Gareth Sharvin described Lord Caine’s visit as a “welcome step” which allowed Lord Caine to hear from traders first hand and actually see the devastation caused by the flood. 

“After visiting almost a dozen businesses over the course of a few hours I think the message could not have been made any clearer. While the £15m is welcome, it will not be nearly enough to provide the necessary funding package for our local businesses to return to pre-flood conditions and operating levels.”

Cllr Conor Galbraith described the outpouring of support and help across the town following the flood as “incredible”.