INFRASTRUCTURE Minister John O’Dowd faced the brunt of some carefully-nurtured anger this week, when he arrived in Strabane to talk to residents whose homes had once again been flooded.
Standing at the foot of the Ballycolman, the Sinn Féin MLA said he understood local frustration over the flooding but emphasised he would not provide “false hope.”
A number of Ballycolman homes were among those who suffered flooding following torrential rain on Saturday. Across the north west houses and businesses were all but underwater as surface run off, blocked gullies and inadequate drainage all conspired to wreck devastation.
However local frustration boiled over for Minister O’Dowd’s visit in the aftermath of the flood because less than a year ago and in the same spot in the Ballycolman, former Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon, had given her word that remedial works for a short-term solution would begin early 2022. This work did not take place and once again, homes were flooded.
“I’m not here to give you false hope,” John O’Dowd told residents, admitting that a long-term solution to the flooding was “years away.”
“I’m going to be as straight with you as I can. I was going to say I can understand your anger and frustration but unless you’ve been through this experience, you can’t fully understand it.”
However the minister’s mitigations were increasingly met with rising ire.
“You were far from us on Saturday when this happened,” Hayley Devine blasted, explained that her father’s home has now been flooded six times.
“We have done all this talking. How many meetings have we been to. We have been palmed off. ‘We’re doing this, we’re doing that.’ Yous have done nothing,” she continued.
“IT’S not good enough. I don’t care whose fault it is… I don’t care. Sort it out. Work together. I am disgusted.”
These were the words of local lady, Hayley Devine as she addressed Infrastructure Minister, John O’Dowd during a visit to Strabane on Tuesday.
Speaking to householders whose properties had been damaged by Saturday’s floods, Minister O’Dowd faced some stiff questioning from angry residents at the foot of the Ballycolman.
Homes in Ballycolman Estate and Pearse Gardens have seen some of the worst flooding in recent years, with some properties being flooded three times since 2020.
Moreover, despite it being previously promised by former Infrastructure Minister Nicola Mallon that a short-term solution to the flooding would begin earlier this year, no remedial works have yet commenced.
As well, at a meeting at the Ballycolman last August, she pledged £500,000 for a long-term, permanent solution to the flooding. This week John O’Dowd said this was a sum of money that ‘never existed’.
“We’re fed up,” remarked resident, Emma Relf. “We thank you for coming here today but in the nicest possible way, we’ve been here (before).”
Minister O’Dowd empathised with residents’ plight but refused to provide any ‘false hope’. He also emphasised that he had only been in post for a matter of weeks.
“The long-term solution to this area is a number of years away…” he admitted.
“I’m not going to lie to you.”
When asked about the previously mooted funding of £500,000 for a drainage upgrade by former Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon, John O’Dowd replied simply, “I don’t know.”
Hayley Devine, whose father’s Ballycolman home has been flooded six times, then went on the attack.
“We (already) met with all of you,” she said. “And we sat back and were very dignified. We thanked you for listening; we thanked you for coming.”
Addressing the minister, she continued, “Tell me why we’re back here again and nothing has been done.
“I’m sorry but we’re angry now, very angry. We were so dignified, and we did everything we could… and we’re back here again – no, not good enough.”
Asked if he could provide a date for when any remedial works would commence, Minister O’Dowd admitted that he could not.
“The longer-term plan is going to be more difficult. It involves a number of legal issues, design issues, and we may run into budgetary problems with that as well,” he said.
Minister O’Dowd agreed to return to Strabane in one month for an update with residents on how the short-term solution has progressed.
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