Sinn Féin Mid-Ulster MP Francie Molloy commenting on a working group report on the possible return into public ownership of Lough Neagh said that public ownership of our Loughs and Waterways makes sense from both economic and tourism potential points of view.
Francie Molloy said:
“I find it inconceivable that the working group found "no compelling grounds" for the Executive purchasing Lough Neagh from the Earl of Shaftesbury. While I don’t believe that any of our natural resources should be in private ownership, we must deal with the situation as it exists.
“Private ownership and control of any natural resource is a barrier to development for the greater good of the citizens and the economy.
“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.
“In regard to the sand extraction for commercial purposes there is no control over the area that extraction takes place or the interference with spawning beds for fish. The number of young fish caught up in the extraction process undoubtedly damages the potential of the fisherman’s livelihood.
"Unless you have ownership of the bed of the lough you cannot control sand extraction or the amount of sand being extracted. No one knows the tonnage of sand being taken out on a daily basis. The licensing of sand extractors is outside the control of even the Shaftesbury Estate and for environmental reasons and fish conservation reasons it should be managed by a government department.
"So there are many reasons why Lough Neagh should be in public ownership and under control of one government department.
“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.
“Our Loughs and Waterways are a critical strategic element of economic importance in terms of tourism and our environment as well as the source of our drinking water and should not be left to the whim of private ownership.”