The future of Lough Neagh was debated by representatives from all political parties at a Conference hosted by the Lough Neagh Partnership at Oxford Island. The largest freshwater lough in Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and United Kingdom, which supplies Northern Ireland with 40% of its drinking water and 30% of sand for the construction industry, has received limited central government attention in recent years and has no inter departmental co-ordination, regional promotion or navigation authority.
Conor Jordan, Chair of Lough Neagh Partnership, said: “It is incredible to think that Lough Neagh is the only commercial Lough in the whole of the UK and Ireland that has sand and fishing boat traffic throughout its length and breadth and yet it doesn’t even have a basic navigation body.
“This is the first time we’ve brought together representatives from all political parties and given them a platform to discuss the way forward for the Lough. It is anticipated that following this Conference we will be able to work with government locally to develop a policy of Lough Neagh.”
Dr William Burke of Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership, said: “This conference was vital in establishing an understanding of work happening on the Lough and the needs to be addressed. It gave government representatives an understanding of the legal obligations and responsibilities of present government Departments on Lough Neagh and provided a platform for political parties to articulate their party policies for the Lough.
“Following this conference we hope that a new interdepartmental structure with a dedicated investment plan will be identified with long term sustainable funding streams and we will also be able to examine new options for management and ownership of Lough.”
Dolores Kelly, SDLP, said: “I think there has been a woeful absence of any strategic vision for Lough Neagh despite repeated attempts by Craigavon Council and others to have it as a tourism destination. It will require versatile and quick thinking in terms of looking at funding opportunities and the landscape there is before us. We shouldn’t be afraid. It is the right time where everyone is focusing in on the environment and conservation and, as the largest freshwater lake on these islands, surely it is within the ability of government to come up with a strategy for today and indeed for future generations to enjoy.”
Francie Molloy, Sinn Fein, said: “I think it is very important that we establish the ownership of Lough Neagh to ensure that we have the future development of Lough Neagh to develop it to its full potential. I would like to see the Assembly and a Minister taking responsibility for the management of Lough Neagh and coming up with proposals around that. I think that Lough Neagh Partnership is the ideal body at this point in time to manage that.”