MID Ulster MP Francie Molloy has urged the authors of a report into the possibility of Lough Neagh coming into public ownership, to rethink their view that they could find no “tangible benefits” to be gleaned from the move.
A long-delayed Stormont report warned taxpayers would also have to meet the ongoing costs of management and administration – along with the potential cost of third party liability claims.
The report advised the Assembly against moving towards nationalisation of the lough, owned by the estate of Lord Shaftesbury, which supplies the north with 45% of its water.
That decision has been criticised as “inconceivable” by the Mid Ulster MP, who has argued that private ownership of any natural resource is a barrier to development.
Francie Molloy continued: “The report found that “it had been unable to identify any tangible benefits to the effective management of the lough should it be brought into public ownership”.
“But it went on to call for a more inclusive public management structure. I fail to see how, while remaining in private ownership you can have a ‘public management structure’ that would secure the public interest in the potential of the Lough.
“For example, when departments are asked to dredge the lough or open mouths of rivers they say they can’t do so because they don’t own the bed of the lough.
“What is to prevent the owner from selling it to a private company that would exploit it for purely profitable purposes.
“Or even worse, considering that the Lough provides over 40% of drinking water in the North, selling it to a water company from Britain or abroad, who would then charge the Executive for water.”
“I would therefore urge a rethink on the result of this report and suggest that the Executive conduct an audit of all of our Loughs, rivers and waterways that are in private ownership with a view to bringing all of them back into public ownership.”
The report also revealed that while owners of the Shaftesbury Estate had no plans to sell the lough, “that does not mean if the Assembly asked to buy it the answer would be no”.
The experts warned that purchasing the entire area would involve negotiations with around 60 separate owners of small parts of the area, the biggest freshwater lough in Western Europe at 150 square miles.
Last week, a new App was launched to allow users to access information about Lough Neagh and its fascinating environment.
The initiative was launched by Lough Neagh Partnership (LNP) in conjunction with Translink, and uses Augmented Reality (AR) to educate and reconnect people with nature and specifically Lough Neagh Wetlands.
The ‘Un-Lough Neagh-ture’ app is the first environmental AR app of its kind in the UK and Ireland, and possibly even Europe.