Earl gives away acres of land and sets puzzling Lough Neagh mystery
BY ANTHONY QUINN
A PUZZLING question is looming for a government team tasked with examining the future of the largest body of inland water in the British Isles.
Who actually owns the water in Lough Neagh?
The mystery surfaced after a breakthrough meeting with the Earl of Shaftesbury, the hereditary owner of the lough, and a host of organisations and local politicians interested in the management of the lough.
Concerns had earlier been raised by politicians such as Sinn Fein’s Francie Molloy that the earl might sell the water to a private water company.
However, the earl revealed at the two day conference organised by the Northern Ireland Assembly that he does not actually own the water, only the lough bed. He claimed that he had no responsibilty for ensuring the water was free from pollution, nor would he be able to sell the water to a private company.
The earl also gave a major boost to local farmers and residents when he agreed to transfer ownership of a continuous stretch of shoreline to adjoining landowners.
The land, which was created after the level of the lough was lowered, has been a source of frustration to lough-shore farmers since they have been unable to fence it off and prevent livestock from roaming freely.
Sinn Fein MLA Francie Molloy said the announcement was good news to the lough-shore community, and a sign that the earl was prepared to work positively with regards to the future management of the lough.
“It was a very successful conference”, said the Mid-Ulster representative.
“In the past, there has been no contact with the earls of shaftesbury regarding the lough, so to have the earl attending the conference and openly engaging with people was a real breakthrough.
“I had a 45 minute meeting with him, and was reassured that he is prepared to co-operate and help bring about a solution to the problems facing the lough.
“He is adamant that he owns only the lough bed and reassured us that he cannot sell the water. He also offered to transfer ownership of the shoreline to adjoining landowners which will give them a boundary for their land and allow them to manage it more effectively.
“NI Water has a responsibility for the water they take out of the lough, and for the sewage going into it, but they aren’t responsible for the water in the lough.
“The assembly has set up a working group of civil servants to work out who owns the water, and to place a value on the lough itself. This will allow the assembly to work out how to best manage this natural resource.”
Mr Molloy said that one of the biggest problems with the lough was the absence of a navigational authority which could map the lough and help prevent accidents.
“There are sand-bars forming at the mouth of fishing quays hindering fishermen and restricting the movements of pleasure boats.
“The sand-bars also lead to flooding. Presently, when a farmer or fisherman extracts the obstructing sand they are charged for it. We want to see a situation where sand extraction is regulated and made profitable, ensuring easier navigation of the lough.”
Mr Molloy invited members of the public and interested organisations to contact the Department of Agriculture if they had any concerns or issues they wanted examined by the working group, which is due to deliver an interim report by December.
“We want to make the lough a safer place to fish and work upon, as well as open it out for leisure pursuits”, he said. “To do this we need to create a better management system which will be of benefit to everyone.”
The assembly is due to discuss the options for future management of the lough next month, after which a public consultation is expected.
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Weather for Dungannon
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 11 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 9 C to 15 C
Wind Speed: 9 mph
Wind direction: South east