Local residents say it “came as a big shock” to learn that Mid Ulster District Council had earmarked a beauty spot for a Travellers’ halt site on the shores of Lough Neagh.
A 70-acre site at Traád Point, near Ballyronan, was purchased by the former Magherafelt District Council with plans to turn it into a Nature Reserve.
Local people are angry that an Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI) and outstanding beauty from which they were “locked out of for 20 years” should be used for such a development.
More than 1,000 have signed a petition which they are planning to present to the nationalist controlled council.
Just last week a special meeting of Mid Ulster Council decided to evict two families of Travellers’ from a council-owned car park at Ballyronan, with unionist and SDLP councillors voting together to carry the proposal.
However, it is understood, an alternative site for Travellers is yet to be found in the district, raising concern among local householders.
In a statement the Shores of Traád Community Group said: “Traád Point located on the western shores of Lough Neagh has been a meeting point for local people for generations.
“We have played in its waters, walked in its woods, and worked on its shores.
“Traád has the only traditional fishing family left in south Derry. At one time, there were hundreds.”
They claimed Magherafelt Council missed opportunities to develop Traád into a park worthy of international recognition.
“It came as a big shock when the local community discovered a secret scoping study earmarking Traád and a number of beauty sites that all of our community enjoy ie Newbridge picnic area used extensively for fishing and just enjoying the river to Ballyronan Marina recognized as one of only a few Blue Flag locations in Northern Ireland, to be turned into a halt site for Travellers,” they continued.
“It is obvious to anyone reading the scoping study that the sites selected are totally unsafe - flooding in winter and deep water.
“Mid Ulster Council hold a number of sites more suited to the Travelling community with hard standing, schools and full amenities near by. But will not release their locations.
“So the Shores of Traad Community Group was set up to give the people a voice. You can find us on Facebook at ‘Shores of Traad Communty Group’ please sign the petition and share your memories with us.”
A spokesperson for Mid Ulster Council said: “While the responsibility for the provision of Travellers’ accommodation lies with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE), at a special council meeting held on 9th July, Council agreed that a working group comprising NIHE representatives, cross-party Councillor representation and Council Officers is to be set up to investigate widening the potential sites for consideration initially suggested in the scoping study, which was presented to the Council’s Environment Committee in May this year and which included Traad Point as well as a number of other sites in the Mid Ulster District.”