An aid package worth £3.45m has been approved for farmers who were impacted by floods and landslides in the Glenelly area of Co Tyrone in August 2017.

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots made the announcement at the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) AGM on Wednesday and it was officially confirmed in a public statement on Thursday morning.

“I am pleased to announce a ‘one-off’ payment of almost £3.5m in assistance to these farmers, as a contribution towards the losses experienced in 2017,” Minister Poots said.

Scheme details

Exact details of the scheme will be announced when it opens for applications in the summer.

However, DAERA has said that only landowners who submitted a force majeure form in 2017 will be eligible for the scheme.

The force majeure form allowed farmers to claim area-based payments on land which was damaged by the extreme weather event and no longer met land eligibility requirements.

Dermot O'Brien from Glenelly, Co Tyrone, was impacted by floods and landslides.

Figures obtained by the Irish Farmers Journal at the time indicate that 223 farm businesses applied for force majeure across 1,080 hectares of land.

DAERA states that individual payments will be capped at £106,000 and support will be based on lost income due to erosion and flood deposition, as well as the cost of restoring land to productive use.

Analysis: 1,346-day wait

Farmers in the Glenelly and Owenkillew valleys who were impacted by unprecedented floods and landslides in August 2017 have had to wait 1,346 days for a support package to be announced.

A package for farmers in Co Donegal, who were impacted by the same weather event, was announced and paid out by the Irish Government within a few weeks.

Piles of silt and stones remain a common sight around the Glenelly and Owenkillew rivers.

However, the delay for farmers in Northern Ireland was due to the political stalemate at Stormont and the lack of a minister at DAERA to sign off on a support package.

By the time an executive was back in place at Stormont in January 2020, most farmers in the Glenelly and Owenkillew valleys had paid for land and fences to be restored and replaced dead livestock out of their own pockets.

For this reason, an aid package was no longer deemed “value for money” by civil servants in DAERA.

Scars on hill ground from landslides in 2017 can still be seen in the Glenelly area.

The affected farmers thought otherwise and public figures, including local Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer and UFU president Victor Chestnutt, were particularly vocal about the need for support to delivered.

Minister Poots always had the option to proceed with a package, but it required “ministerial direction”, as it would go against the recommendation of his department officials.

His concern was that the move could set a precedent for Stormont ministers to sign off money for other schemes which run against the advice of civil servants in the future.

However, after visiting the area with McAleer and Chestnutt in March 2021, it was widely accepted that the minister was making moves to get flood aid signed off.

Having visited farms in the area numerous times since August 2017, I know that the affected farmers will welcome Thursday’s official confirmation.