Victims of the severe Derry floods have been unable to access help from the Emergency Financial Assistance Scheme, it has emerged.
The scheme cannot be extended to help businesses without the approval of the Northern Ireland Executive, which collapsed at the start of the year.
Former Environment Minister Mark H Durkan says it is unacceptable that flood victims should be left without emergency help when the Civil Service had taken action on other matters elsewhere, including granting planning permission for a controversial incinerator in Co Antrim.
“Despite the fact that businesses across Derry and Strabane have seen significant damage to their premises, the Emergency Financial Assistance Scheme has not been extended to help them,” he said.
“I am increasingly frustrated, as I am sure local businesses are, that political parties are not kicking down the door with us to have this scheme extended.
“The response I received from the Head of Civil Service that the scheme cannot be extended to businesses without Executive approval, really beggars belief when this week the Civil Service granted planning permission for a hugely controversial incinerator in the absence of an Executive.”
Mr Durkan, along with SDLP party leader Colum Eastwood, wrote to the head of the Civil Service, asking for financial aid under the scheme to proceed, but was informed by letter that the emergency response scheme had expired in January last year.
“Despite the fact that businesses across Derry and Strabane have seen significant damage to their premises, the Emergency Financial Assistance Scheme has not been extended to help them.
“We believe support should be extended immediately to include non-domestic properties like businesses, community and sporting organisations. While small businesses remain shut, there are wider economic impacts for people here in Derry.
“When I was Environment Minister I had proposed to extend the scheme accordingly to protect businesses and other organisations. While this proposal was supported in part, it was only put in place on a temporary, time-bound basis and no longer applies.
“Political parties have backed the extension of the scheme previously, there is no reason why their explicit consent should not be given to press the Civil Service to extend the scheme on this occasion. Flood victims in Derry cannot be treated as second class citizens.
“In the absence of an Executive, I reiterate my call to all Party Leaders for a political consensus to allow local businesses and organisations to avail of this much-needed assistance. We must urgently meet with the Head of Civil Service together to ensure that we work together to get the best possible outcome for people here at this very challenging time.”