MOMENTUM is building for Lough Neagh to move into public ownership, Mid-Ulster Sinn Féin MLA Francie Molloy has declared.
Mr Molloy was speaking after meeting Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill and Conor Corr from Rural Community Networks.
Mr Molloy said: “I am very encouraged by the momentum building in favour of Lough Neagh hopefully moving into public ownership. Minister Michelle O’Neill is leading the executive’s cross-departmental work and is moving quickly to bring forward recommendations.
“There is widespread interest and enthusiasm from all of the Lough’s stakeholders for this agenda. The Lough is a huge eco system on which many people depend for their livelihood and indeed their life through the supply of drinking water so it important that it is managed properly.
“It is important in coming months that – with so many competing activities around the Lough - everyone works together towards supporting Minister O’Neill’s initiative for longer-term commercial, social, leisure and environmental goals.
“On behalf of Sinn Féin, I will continue to promote the need for the Lough to be brought under public ownership.”
The Earl of Shaftesbury, who owns Lough Neagh, has said he has not ruled out selling it to the NI Executive.
Calls have been mounting from local politicians and organisations such as the Inland Waterways Association and Dungannon District Council to have the lough returned to public ownership and transformed into a major tourism project
Mr Molloy has described the current management of the lough as ‘a shambles’, resulting in the impoverishment of communities along the lough shore and the loss of countless jobs.
Responding to the criticism, Lord Shaftesbury said he would listen to all sides of the story to make the right decision.
“We’re not putting the lough up for sale but if the assembly was to make an offer we’re not definitely going to say no,” he said.“I think what we want to do is do the right thing for the people living there.”
Lough Neagh supplies 40% of the water used in Northern Ireland and it is home to industry, business and tourism generating millions of pounds.
The earl, Nicholas Ashley Cooper, said he had already contacted the Stormont working group and asked for a meeting which he hoped would happen soon.