A ROW over the ownership of Lough Neagh looks set to boil over after Dungannon Council called for the return of the lough to the people of Northern Ireland.
The ownership of the lough has become a hotly disputed subject after concerns were raised about its management and the poor quality of its water supply.
At a meeting of the Council’s Strategic Committee last month, councillors endorsed the move to public ownership of the lough.
The council was responding to a consultation carried out by the Inland Waterways Association seeking views on the future of the lough.
Coalisland Councillor Padraig Quinn said the council strongly believed that public ownership was the best option.
“The council were asked by inland waterways, as part of their review, to take a stance on the ownership of Lough Neagh based on whether we have had difficulty with the current ownership, and the answer was a unanimous yes”, he said.
“It’s clear that the council haven’t been able to engage with their work with the Lough due to it being under the control of the Shaftesbury estate.
“It must also be said that the residents, the people who live in the area and have grown up around the lough, like myself, also believe very strongly that public ownership is the best option.
“I belief the Lough has great potential, particularly as a tourist destination, and until we have a cohesive and strategic approach to its development, the public will never really benefit from what it has to offer”.
Sinn Fein MLA Francie Molloy has also called on the Earl of Shaftesbury to give up his inherited ownership of the lough.
He 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.
“There has been no development of the lough and its resources in the last 50 years”, he said. “If anything, development has gone backwards in that time.
“We have raw sewage being pumped into one side of the lough and drinking water taken out at another.
“A total of 40 percent of the North’s tap water is taken from the lough, yet its quality has been assessed at the lowest possible measurement.
“Jobs are being lost in fishing and tourism because of pollution and poor management.
“Sand banks are allowed to build up in places which ground fishing and leisure craft.
“It is time that the assembly should be allowed to manage the lough effectively and ensure that we get the most out of this great natural resource.”
The Mid-Ulster MLA called on more investment to encourage tourism to the area, including a proper road network around the lough.
“The fact that there is still just a footbridge at Maghery rather than a proper crossing is an issue which should be addressed.
“These loughshore communities are disadvantaged in terms of access to services and the benefits of tourism,
“If this were a lake in the South it would be managed much more effectively.”
Mr Molloy also suggested that a special rescue diving centre could be established at the new police training college in Cookstown,
“Such a centre could make use of the lough, and mean that we don’t have to rely on specialist divers from the South.”
He also warned it was possible that the lough could be sold off to an international water company that would charge Northern Ireland Water for the supply.
Sinn Fein has won cross-party support at the assembly to explore the option of taking responsibility for the lough which is currently owned by the Earl of Shaftesbury.
However, the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury has firmly insisted that he has “no plans” to sell the lough.