Future plans for Lough Neagh stalled at Stormont

Lough Neagh
Lough Neagh

AN official report on the future of Lough Neagh has been sitting on Stormont shelves for almost a year, it has been revealed.

Commissioned by Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill, it was sent to Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy, Arts and Leisure Minister Caral Ni Chuilin and Trade and Industry Minister Arlene Foster -- but no decisions on it have been taken.

Now questions are being asked over whether the conclusions of the special working group will ever be made public.

The Earl of Shaftesbury, the peer who owns the lough, recently met with MLAs to discuss the lack of progress over the lough since the Assembly decided to investigate taking it into full public ownership 18 months ago.

The DUP’s Jim Wells - who has blasted management of the lough as a “shambles” over recent years - said: “It is concerning that this report is lying festering while the problems of the lough, with the exception of water quality which has slightly improved, continue to mount.

“I would say it has not been made public because one side or the other does not like its contents. The Executive can be like a glacier which moves very slowly.”

Northern Ireland gets 45% of its water supply from the lough.

Responsibility for the lough straddles several government departments -- Agriculture and Rural Development looks after the water level; the Department of Environment is accountable for water quality; Culture Arts and Leisure takes care of fishing issues, and its tourism potential comes under the aegis of the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Industry.

Ulster Unionist MLA Robin Swann, a member of the DARD committee which has been given a preliminary briefing, warned: “This report may never see the light of day.

“But unless there is some serious business or economic sensitivity I do not see why it should not be made public.

“My best guess on why nothing has happened is that it is sitting on the desks of too many ministers or that it contains something that one or more of them does not find palatable.”

In an Assembly written answer, the agriculture minister said the report is “going through due process”.

Ms O’Neill confirmed the draft report was received during December last year and shared with Mr Kennedy, Ms Ni Chuilin and Mrs Foster. “Consideration is being given to additional consultancy work to complement the findings in the report before it is finalised,” Ms O’Neill said.