HELP THE FARMERS - PLEA

HARD-PRESSED farmers in the North Antrim area must be compensated for the loss of livestock and also be able to access Government funding in the future to assist in the clearing of snow by whatever means necessary, two local public officials have said this week.

MLA, Mervyn Storey and his DUP colleague, Councillor Bill Kennedy are calling for funding to be put in place so that local labour or recognised contractors in the areas affected can be brought in to assist the statutory organisations in dealing with a crisis situation that many found themselves in at the weekend.

Drifting snow caused by high winds paralysed many parts of North Antrim leaving businesses and farmers, in particular, counting the cost of livestock that couldn’t be reached. Sheep farmers expect to lose hundreds of animals and with the lambing season in full swing, the difficulties encountered were even greater.

“Finding the animals was one of the biggest challenges and with the icy cold weather it was virtually impossible for young lambs to survive,” one farmer said.

It is this scenario that has prompted Mr. Storey and Councillor Kennedy to stress that some form of redress is put in place for the farming community and on a general basis that a fund should be set up so that local labour can be deployed to assist in the clearing of snow.

There is no criticim from either on the work of those involved such as NIE staff whom Mr. Storey described as doing a great job at a very dangerous time. They also praised the efforts of the Mountain Rescue Team and all the other volunteer organisations who braved the conditions to help.

“However, we need to look at what can we learn from these circumstances that will enable us to deal better with them in the future. We need the structures put in place right through from local Government to central Government to trigger action when it is necessary,” Mr. Storey said adding that a further worry would come with the thaw which could lead to flooding.

Cllr. Kennedy said he had spoken to a number of farmers in the Glens and Armoy areas who all said they would suffer extreme losses both financially and in livestock.

“One farmer couldn’t move any distance from his home because of the snow and this is why we need a rapid response with money available to get more people involved to alleviate this sort of situation,” Cllr. Kennedy said.

The NI Water Service deployed emergency generators to a number of sites to ensure supply was maintained to customers.

Meanwhile, DUP Agriculture spokesman Paul Frew has commended the dedicated hard-work of DRD staff but said it is time to ask the Territorial Army to assist with clearing some of our rural roads.

Commenting Mr Frew said: “Many rural roads have walls of snow reaching more than 10 feet. Whether it heavy plant or snow blowers a large majority of these roads will take time to clear.

“The Territorial Army are in place for emergencies such as this and the engineering teams will have heavy plant which could help clear routes. Whilst DRD staff have been working hard, it would be sensible to supplement their efforts with the TA personnel to speed the process along. Many farmers are facing significant loss of livestock because of the conditions. The TA will also have the ability to erect temporary shelters if they are needed.

“Whilst DARD will not have machinery at its disposal, the Minister should recognise the emergency situation which exists and the dire need for help within some communities.”

Moyle Independent Councillor, Padraig McShane, said he was disappointed at the complete closure of Sheskburn on Friday due to the communications systems going down.

He felt a skeletal complement of staff should have been on hand to deal with emergencies form the public. Staff did however return on Friday evening when the telecommunications and power returned.

See more on weather on Page 7.