Stormont tests water on purchase of Lough Neagh with community consultations

Boats on Lough Neagh
Boats on Lough Neagh
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  • Washing Bay, Nov 24
  • Antrim, Nov 26
  • Oxford Island, Dec 1
  • Ballyronan, Dec 2

Hopes that Lough Neagh can be bought from its English owner appear to have been rekindled, with a new public consultation due to start next week.

Four meetings on the future ownership of the Lough are being facilitated by Development Trusts NI through the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development [DARD].

A sand barge working on Lough Neagh

A sand barge working on Lough Neagh

Their purpose is to ascertain the feasibility of a community ownership model that could benefit communities who engage with, use, live or are based around Lough Neagh.

And all those living on its periphery - many of whom are from Mid Ulster - are being encouraged to take part.

The mineral rights for Lough Neagh, which has recently been in the news in relation to sand dredging, are currently owned by the Shaftesbury Estate - which licences five local companies to suck sand from its bed.

On the other hand, fishing rights on the lake are the property of Toome-based Lough Neagh Fisherman’s Co-operative.

Mid Ulster chairperson Linda Dillon gets a sneak preview of the River to Lough Festival which runs at the eel fishery in Toome in August

Mid Ulster chairperson Linda Dillon gets a sneak preview of the River to Lough Festival which runs at the eel fishery in Toome in August

It is understood the Earl of Shaftesbury said in the past he would be willing to sell Lough Neagh to Stormont for £5m.

DARD Minister Michelle O’Neill said her department has been working with stakeholders on a new management model for Lough Neagh since spring and that Development Trusts NI was appointed in August to take the project to the next phase.

“I believe that the new trust structure will be able to explore in a holistic way the potential of Lough Neagh including the options to bring it into public ownership,” she told the Mail.

To do this, director for Development Trusts NI, Charlie Fisher, said his organisation would like to encourage those who reside, work, engage with or are passionate about the lough to come along to one of the consultation events.

The first session has been organised at the Washing Bay Community Centre on Tuesday, November 24 between 7–9pm, while those in Antrim will get to have their say at Clotworthy House on Thursday, November 26 from 7–9pm.

Lough Neagh Discovery Centre will host a third discussion on Tuesday, December 1 at 7pm, and the final consultation is to be held at Ballyronan Marina Centre on Wednesday, December 2 between 7–9pm.

It is understood the lough could be bought from the Shaftesbury Estate for £5m.