Londonderry and Strabane is one of only three council areas in Northern Ireland with no representation on an oversight body responsible for the impartial application of the Rivers Agency’s province-wide drainage and flood defence programme, despite the severity of flooding experienced in areas of the North West last winter.
There was some head-scratching and general bewilderment at our non-representation when it emerged at a recent meeting of the Stormont infrastucture committee, prior to the summer recess.
David Porter from the Department of Infrastructure and Alan Strong, Chair of the Northern Ireland Drainage Council, revealed Londonderry and Strabane’s non-representation during a briefing on NIDC’s work.
Asked by DUP MLA and Committee Chair, William Humphrey, which Councils weren’t represented, Mr Strong replied: “You are asking me to name all the councils. I will tell you who is represented, and maybe you will tell me who is not. Mid Ulster is not. We have Lisburn and Castlereagh, Causeway Coast and Glens, Belfast City, Ards and North Down, Mid and East Antrim, Fermanagh and Omagh, Antrim and Newtownabbey and Newry, Mourne and Down. We are missing three.”
Mr Porter confirmed: “Mid Ulster and Derry City and Strabane.”
At this, Mr Humphrey asked, rhetorically, if there was “no flooding in those areas”.
Of course, there is flooding in this area and it’s only likely to get worse, as a result of climate change.
Last winter severe flooding in the Strabane area helped sweep away a section of parapet wall at Clady Bridge, and back in March the Sentinel reported how six thousand homes in Londonderry and Strabane are at risk from flooding, according to data released by the Rivers Agency.
Elaborating on the NIDC recruitment process, Mr Porter said: “I am cautious about going into too much detail, because some of the councils had applicants who did not get through the process.
“The number applying tends to be relatively small, and I do not want to give too much information and thereby embarrass individuals. We are going to re-run the process to fill vacancies, namely the two council representatives and the industry representative.
“We plan to re-run the process to fill those three vacancies over the summer.”
The chair Mr Humphrey commented: “When I heard that two councils had no representatives on it, I assumed that they had opted out. I am sure that other members thought the same. I am grateful for that clarification. The people who are living in the Mid Ulster and Derry and Strabane council areas do not have a voice at that table.”
One local MLA expressed bewilderment at the non-representation.
Referring to the Londonderry and Strabane area West Tyrone MLA Daniel McCrossan said: “That area has been impacted quite badly in the last year, and it gives me concern that it has been left out of the loop, regardless of what procedures are to be carried out to meet the criteria.”
He later added: “I find this very difficult to believe, to be honest. It would be a difficult headline for people to comprehend that none of their elected representatives could meet the criteria for a body such as this.”
Foyle MLA and committee member Eamonn McCann cautioned against blaming councils rather than the process of recruitment to the NIDC.
“I take it that none of the members of councils who are members of your body are direct nominees of the councils concerned? If they are not, it seems rather crass of us to be implicitly criticising the councils for not being represented when it is not their decision and they cannot, as of right, nominate one of their number,” he said.