A ROW erupted after a unionist councillor said that the British Army should be called in to assist in the ongoing recovery operation following the recent floods which devastated the northwest.

The comments came at a special meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council held in the Guildhall on Friday afternoon, where councillors received an update from various statutory agencies, including NI Water, the Red Cross and the PSNI on their response to last month’s flooding and the ongoing work being carried out into assisting the people affected and rebuilding damaged infrastructure.

At the meeting, the council’s Chief Executive John Kelpie said that 200 council staff were involved in all areas of the operation, with 60 technical officers carrying out inspections of over 510 homes.

The meeting was told that to date, 370 of 510 properties affected by floodwaters were deemed eligible for the Emergency Fund Scheme and over £360,000 worth of payments have been made to date.
It also emerged that the council had removed 200 tonnes of waste from homes and businesses affected.

Conor Loughrey, Divisional Manager, for the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) Roads Western Division said that the floods had resulted in the closure of 60 roads, which had now been reduced to 22, 12 of which were in the Derry and Strabane areas.

He added that Drumahoe Park and Ride which was badly affected would reopen this week, but repair work was still ongoing at a number of roads and bridges.

The independent councillor Patsy Kelly said that the Irish Army had been called in to aid to help in parts of Donegal, where engineers from the Defence Forces had helped rebuild bridges.

After a number of other speakers had contributed, the independent councillor Gary Donnelly responded to Cllr Kelly’s comments.

Cllr Donnelly said that he didn’t know if the previous comments made by Cllr Kelly was ‘silly attempt at being funny’ before adding that his comments regarding the British Army ‘should not go unchecked’.

He continued that ‘most people’s experience of the British Army is that they don’t build bridges’.

However, the Ulster Unionist councillor said that the British Army had been used to aid UK citizens affected by the hurricane which has hit the Virgin Islands.

“I have yet to find an English regiment here,” he said.

“Why has the British Army not been asked to come in and assist with the replenishment of this part of the UK?”

Responding, Jonathan McKee, Head of DfI Rivers Development, said that the extra resources needed would be a matter for the civic community groups involved in the recovery operation to discuss.

The meeting also heard from Eddie Doherty, District Manager with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, who said that out the 26 Housing Executive homes affected, only two of the families remained in emergency accommodation, one of which was St Columb’s Park House.

He added that it was envisioned that all of the properties affected would be repaired by Christmas.

Later in the meeting, a number of other representatives, including PSNI Chief Inspector Alan Hutton, were invited to address the meeting.

At that point Cllr Donnelly left the Guildhall Chamber.

Chief Inspector Hutton told the meeting that the PSNI was involved in the protection of ‘vulnerable premises’ in the immediate aftermath of the floods.

He added that while the police would usually deal with around 100 incidents on a midweek night, they dealt with over 190 on the night of the floods.

The meeting was then told that while calls had been made for the Emergency Fund Scheme to be extended to include businesses and charity organisations affected by the floods, the absence of a working Assembly there is no mechanism in place to allow this to happen.

Members unanimously voted in support of a proposal to write to the Secretary of State asking for his intervention in an effort to help flood victims across the council area.

ABOVE - Members of the Irish Army pictured assisting with the flood recovery operation in Donegal.

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