OVER a week after huge parts of the district began to flood, local residents and business owners are trying to piece their lives back together. In Kilkeel a section of the busy Newcastle Road in the town has had to be closed due to weatherrelated damage and this is causing major upheaval for local people and the town’s many businesses.
In what has been officially acknowledged as a “complex and traumatic” period, many are still no clearer about what financial support will be made available to help them. For some traders the fear of what lies ahead, as they approach their busiest time of the year, is all-consuming. Others are unsure if they will ever be able to reopen, never mind fully recover. Last night (Tuesday) an emergency meeting took place in Downpatrick, at which its business community called for urgent, and substantial, assistance from government. Locations across the district, from Newry city centre and the county town, to Newcastle and Kilkeel, remote areas in Mourne, as well as in and around Ballynahinch, witnessed some of the worst flooding in living memory. But they also bore witness to wonderful kindness and professionalism, from the emergency services to charities, and those willing to do whatever they could to help friend and stranger alike.
SOUTH Down DUP MLA Diane Forsythe said her party will do “everything in our power” to help local businesses and towns following last week’s flooding. She called on the UK government to provide funding to help businesses on the path to recovery. “Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP has been working since early last week on securing a financial flood response package for local businesses, liaising with the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council CEO,” stated Ms Forsythe. “NI departments are already in huge deficit, funding needs to come from elsewhere. “The UK government needs to step up. “Locally, myself and William Irwin MLA have been leading the local response across South Down and Newry and Armagh.” She added that she has visited businesses in Downpatrick which have been devastated by the flooding, as well as Kilkeel Harbour, which was also badly hit. “We are committed to doing everything in our power to assist the recovery and rebuilding of our local businesses and towns through these tough times ahead,” the DUP Assembly member concluded.
SOUTH Down MLA Colin McGrath has said the delivery of recovery money for businesses impacted by flooding in Downpatrick must be “swift and substantial”. Over the past week he has witnessed at first-hand how local businesses and residents have been affected by “the worst flooding our town has seen in living memory”. He pointed out that many of the businesses hit by the flooding are familyrun enterprises. “These local families have spent generations building up their businesses, creating jobs and contributing to our local economy,” stated Mr McGrath. “They have been decimated at the worst possible time of the year, when they were preparing for Christmas.”
The local MLA praised the way people have rallied together in the face of adversity. “Local agencies have been on the ground offering support, and now we need to see government step up to the plate and deliver for Downpatrick,” he added.
He said that once the businesses have had a chance to assess how much they have lost, government “must be ready to provide swift and substantial funding to help these businesses”. “We have structures in place in Downpatrick to help with the revitalisation of Downpatrick, and these must be fully utilised and funded to begin the next steps for the town. “We know that Market Street, St Patrick’s Avenue and other key areas will need major infrastructure action and this must also get the funding that it needs. “In the absence of ministers, we need our Secretary of State and Head of Civil Service to see the impact the flooding has had on Downpatrick first-hand, and I have written to them to this effect. “This cannot be something that moves at a glacial pace; we need action now. “Otherwise, our town will face a challenge we simply cannot countenance.”