ALMOST three years on from the flash flooding that caused devastating landslides in the Glenelly and Owenkillew valleys, the “forgotten” hill farmers whose land was badly affected by massive amounts of debris are still waiting to be compensated.
In late August 2017, Damian Carolan, a sheep farmer based in the Glenelly Valley, halfway between Plumbridge and Cranagh, was left with an enormous amount of gravel, stones and trees strewn over 10 acres of his land after sudden torrential rain resulted in two severe landslides.
Parts of his land was covered in debris to a depth of five to six feet, he claimed.
In an area that is well-used to flooding, it was destruction on an unprecendented scale.
Mr Carolan estimates that it cost him around £10,000 to get his fields back to a usable state, although he fears it will take much longer for the land to re-cultivate and grow properly.
“We’ve the land all repaired, it’s been ploughed and re-seeded, but the feeding value is not what it should be at the moment,” he said.
Along with others who suffered a similar level of devastation, the hill farmer has been campaigning to be compensated by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) for the last three years, but so far with little success.
During the period of Stormont’s collapse, the affected farmers say they were told that they were entitled to compensation on numerous occasions, but that the Department was unable to get it signed off without a Minister in place.
However, while Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has been in office since January this year, their wait still goes on.
Since the flash flooding, they have received strong cross-party support from local MLAs including Sinn Fein’s Declan McAleer, the DUP’s Tom Buchanan and the SDLP’s Daniel McCrossan.
But Mr Carolan feels there is renewed momentum for the campaign after new Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president, Victor Chestnutt, mentioned their cause in his acceptance speech at the organisation’s drive-in annual meeting, held earlier this summer.
In the wake of the 2017 floods, Mr Chestnutt visited the area and saw for himself the damage caused by the landslides.
Speaking in the presence of the Agriculture Minister, Mr Chestnutt said, “In a month’s time it will be three years since the devastating floods in the Glenelly and Owenkillew valley and surrounding areas. These small numbers of farmers have been left without any support, simply because there was no government at the time. I would appeal to our Minister and
Agriculture Chair to sort this out. It’s common sense that these devastated farms should receive the equivalent of the de minimis €15,000 payment, in sterling.”
While very appreciative of the support received from the new UFU president, Mr Carolan claimed that the farmers feel like they have been “let down” by the North’s statutory bodies, particularly after seeing how others have been helped following major disasters.
“After the Primark fire in Belfast, they were very quick to find money but the farmers of the Glenelly Valley have been forgotten about,” he said.
Mr Carolan said that, normally, the river in his home valley would break its banks maybe three to four times a year.
“This would leave a small amount of debris that would clear itself up,” he said.
But the torrential rain and landslides of late August 2017 were “extraordinary”.
“It left an enormous amount of debris, gravel and stone, that was washed on to the fields along the river. It couldn’t get away on the river and ended up lying on the local farmers’ houses.
“For myself, I had ten acres that was covered from top to bottom. My land was just directly below the landslide,” Mr Carolan said.
The sheep farmer said he had to hire a bulldozer for over a week at “maybe £60 an hour” to get his land back into a usable way.
“It was a lot of money just to get it back to its normal condition. You wouldn’t mind investing the money in machinery or a building or reclaiming the land. Then you’ve something to show for it,” he said.
Mr Carolan said compensation would be a “big help”.
“We’ve all had to spend money that was lined up for other projects. There were farmers who weren’t able to make to plough or improvements to their farm because they had to put so much money towards the recovery of the land,” he added.