Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein accused of 'burying' report into Lough Neagh future

BY NOEL MCADAM

It's where Northern Ireland gets almost half of its water supplies.

And recent surveys show Government agencies are beginning to turn the tide on the water quality of Lough Neagh.

But now, however, the future of the Lough is emerging as the latest issue on which the two top parties at Stormont – Sinn Fein and the DUP – are at loggerheads.

Sinn Fein Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill is expected to come under fire from the DUP after it was confirmed no action has been taken on a report on the Lough produced almost a year ago.

Paul Frew, chairman of the agriculture and rural development committee, is to tackle Ms O'Neill on the delay in the Assembly next week.

The DUP MLA, who recently met with the peer who owns the Lough, the Earl Of Shaftesbury, said: "He is very keen to engage and be pro-active and I cannot fault him on that.

"I suspect the reason we have not seen the report is that it does not suit the Sinn Fein agenda and that therefore the minister has attempted to bury it.

"We (the committee) were given a preliminary briefing on this last November and it was then supposed to be going to the Executive very quickly. I will be wanting to ask the minister why has it stalled and why is it taking so long?

"It was very clear during the debate in the Assembly that Sinn Fein wanted to take the Lough back into public ownership.

"I have always been of the mind that we do not need to do that."

There was no comment from Sinn Fein but its Mid-Ulster MP Francie Molloy, who first raised the potential 'nationalisation' of the Lough in the Assembly, has said: "The situation is that you cannot drive a post down into Lough Neagh without paying a fee to the Shaftesbury estate."

A statement from Mrs O'Neill's department added: "The report from the Lough Neagh Working Group was a significant piece of work and requires due consideration.

"That consideration includes whether additional consultancy work be undertaken."

STORY SO FAR

The Northern Ireland public own the water in Lough Neagh, but not the Lough itself. The land, including the shore and the lough bed, belongs to the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury (below). The Assembly set up a 'working group' to look at taking the Lough into public ownership.

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