Belfast Telegraph

Lough Neagh: Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill is rapped for 'burying' report

By Noel McAdam

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill has been accused of attempting to bury a report on Lough Neagh's future that advised against buying the waterway.

The DUP's Paul Frew, chair of Stormont's agriculture committee, also said there appeared to be some delay in publishing the report, which finally saw the light of day this week.

The study is dated February of this year, even though the team had completed its investigations more than a year earlier.

He said: "The minister did sit on this report and I do believe she tried to bury it, because it did not say what she hoped it would say.

"This has been a Sinn Fein-driven project and they wanted to nationalise the lough and take it into public ownership. I always believed that was pie in the sky."

A spokeswoman for Ms O'Neill's department said no one was immediately available for comment.

Sinn Fein's Francie Molloy called for a rethink of the report's conclusions.

The Mid-Ulster MP said:"I find it inconceivable that the working group found no compelling grounds for the Executive purchasing Lough Neagh from the Earl of Shaftesbury.

"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."

The lough bed is owned by the Earl of Shaftesbury.

Nicholas Ashley Cooper (31) does not have control of the water, but his family have long owned the bed and much of the foreshore.

The agriculture committee will now examine the report in detail, although it is not likely to begin doing so until the autumn, following the summer recess.

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