Downpatrick businesses in plea for money as clean up operation continues

Days on and Downpatrick is still dealing with the aftermath of severe flooding.

From morning till night, dusk to dawn, emergency services and council staff helped get this town looking like it did before the water rushed in.

Pumps helped to remove flood water from Downpatrick's Market Street area on Friday and night and throughout the weekend.

Around 30 premises used by businesses, some who have traded in the town for more than 50 years, were flooded after the River Quoile's banks burst at the beginning of last week.

On Monday, business owners were able to return to their shops to take in the damage left by the water.

Ciara Douglas, who previously spoke to UTV as she held flower girl and communion dresses above her head in a last ditch rescue, was one of them.

"I had someone who was in, who had seen a beautiful wee dress, that they wanted for their wee child's Christening - and we got that ordered for them even though we were in the midst of this," she said.

"Things like that have been a power of strength," she added.

Ciara described moments like that as a 'piece of light'.

Her shop is now lying as an empty shell. All that remains is strong smelling dirty water alongside some old stock raised high enough away from the ground.

Flooding here has been a family affair.

Next door to her mum's dress shop, stock from a charity shop run by her daughter Julie lies destroyed.

Our regular customers that come in here, you know, are struggling and we provide clothes at a reasonable price for them to buy," she said.

"It's just devastating seeing everything destroyed," she added.

Workers from Newry, Mourne and Down District have been on the ground in Downpatrick for days.

On Monday, they cleared debris away from a clothing shop on St Patrick's Avenue.

Around the corner, Bartley Murphy is salvaging what he can from his bar with a team of volunteers.

He told UTV he's determined to reopen but the costs are astronomical.

He had a direct message to those in power.

"Stormont's not in power, so where is our Secretary of State?

"If some other tragedy had have happened he'd have been here," he added.

Bartley said around 90% of Downpatrick businesses were affected.

Nearly a week on, business owners are still fearing going bust, many not covered by insurance.

The majority now at a crossroads, wondering where to turn to for help.

On a visit to those who’ve been affected, Michelle O’Neill appealed for intervention.

Addressing the media in Downpatrick, she said: "All of our minds have to be focused on the financial package and that's why I'm calling very clearly on Chris Heaton-Harris to pony up - put the money of the table for these businesses to help them to rebuild and that's what we're going to continue to work [to do] because that's what they need."

Last week, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) said it was in 'close contact' with the Northern Ireland Civil Service about the evolving situation.

On Monday, an update was provided.

Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris said: "The floods across Northern Ireland last week have been devastating for those affected.

"Whilst this is directly a matter for the relevant NI departments, we will continue to engage with them and Northern Ireland's parties on the communities impacted.

"We stand ready to support and provide assistance where possible. We continue to work very closely with the Northern Ireland Civil Service to get the best information on the scale of the impact and to explore options to support businesses which have been hit by flooding, and we are in touch with the NI Parties on this.

"Meanwhile, we are continuing to do everything we can to facilitate the return of locally elected, accountable and effective devolved government, which is the best way for Northern Ireland to be governed. Discussions with the Northern Ireland Parties are ongoing, with a focus on encouraging a return of the Executive as soon as possible."

These are the worst floods to hit Downpatrick in decades.

Water has now left, but money needs to rush in, from somewhere.

A joint letter from the five main political parties was issued on Monday evening saying that "the extensive flooding that has affected many areas here over the past week has caused widespread damage and devastation for businesses and homes. "Without immediate support and financial assistance, the damage and loss of business could lead to closures and job losses. "Repairing the extensive damage caused by flooding is also a massive financial pressure for families already suffering the impact of the cost-of-living crisis. "Communities, businesses, and families need immediate help but given the precarious financial position of local Departments, this requires additional funding. "As leaders of the main political parties, we would urge you to immediately request from the Treasury and specific to this weather event, additional resources for an emergency relief scheme to assist local householders and businesses, and to protect jobs and community facilities. "Collectively, we should spare no effort to protect vulnerable businesses, families and communities facing this enormous and unforeseen financial pressure.

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