Environment Minister Alex Attwood is on a collision course with the farming community over plans to set up two national parks in Northern Ireland.
Following a heated debate with the minister earlier this week, the Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) warned that its members are overwhelmingly against the proposals.
The minister (below) says he has been to many other meetings where he was given a very different message, citing five chambers of commerce covering the foothills of the Mournes which support the idea.
Mr Attwood said he was “not going to give up the argument”, but said a national park would not be forced on an area where there is clear and overwhelming opposition.
Farmers insist only those living in the area should decide whether a national park would be of benefit.
“Where there is overall support, it seems to me reasonable, democratic and proper to say, ‘if you think this is a good idea, we think this is a good idea’,” he said.
Mr Attwood has named the Mournes, the Causeway Coast and Glens and the Fermanagh Lakes as his top three candidates for national park status and is hoping to bring his plans before the Assembly this autumn.
He has said he wants to set up two national parks.
Following the meeting of almost 300 Ulster Farmers Union members in Cookstown, president Harry Sinclair said there was nothing to convince the sizeable turnout that they should change their position of opposing national parks.
“We have consistently highlighted that there are genuine and deep-seated concerns from our members across a very wide range of issues particularly on the areas of bureaucracy, additional restrictions, governance, access, liability, and the impact on the social structure of these areas. These very real issues clearly remain,” he said.
“One of the key drivers in this process has been the potential for tourism development.
“This is an objective which we fully support.
“However, we firmly believe that this can be achieved without the designation of national parks and that the growth of tourism would be delivered much more effectively if the funding earmarked for the establishment and operation of national parks was instead re-directed at tourism promotion and supporting infrastructure development.”