Student Blog by Michael McCoy
Hi everyone, Michael here. Today I had the honour of attending the Lough Neagh conference. This meeting focused on the future management of Lough Neagh and how councillors, MLAs and local residents and their businesses can work together. A presentation was given by Dr William Burke, Lough Neagh Partnership (LNP) manager who informed the audience of the current management in place along with what is needed for the future. A representative from each of the main political parties also spoke about their views on legal responsibilities and what the aims are for future policies regarding Lough Neagh.
John Blair, representing the Alliance party, was knowledgeable about many concerns regarding management and referred to his experience in working Inland Fisheries for NIEA. Blair understands that realistic ideas need to be in place to work inside the budget. Tourism was highlighted as it is deemed important to improve public awareness of the Lough. Blair acknowledged the biodiversity rich environment and the unique species that live in and around the Lough. Blair wants to develop government policies with great detail and ensure everything is planned out instead of rushing poorly thought out ideas.
Rosemary Barton spoke on behalf of the Ulster Unionist party (UUP). Barton understood the need for more support from the government and the need for structure. She acknowledges that there is conflict of interest between communities. Barton highlights the need for inter-departmental grouping and only by working together can this task be achieved. Barton praises the good work done by LNP so far.
Dolores Kelly represented the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). She focused on farming and fishing communities, highlighting the issues of flooding on agricultural farmland. Kelly also briefly mentioned Eutrophication and focused on the need for more creative ideas. She highlights the importance of community involvement and the need to be flexible and adaptable. Kelly concluded by pledging the SDLP support to having a proper structure for regulating policies on management for Lough Neagh.
Francie Molloy, who was representing Sinn Fein focused on the need for one department to make the important decisions for future management of Lough Neagh. He highlighted the need for navigation authority on the Lough that the general public and fisheries should follow. Malloy wants to develop tourism across the whole Lough and feels that Lough Neagh needs to reach its full potential. He wants more people fishing on the lough to help generate revenue.
Overall, every politician was emphasising the importance of Lough Neagh and the need for a more structured approach to managing the lough. I personally found the conference interesting and hope that the meeting today will hopefully improve not just the economic and social aspects of the Lough, but also the environmental side, which requires more focus from the government.
Student Blog by Aine Mallon
Lough Neagh is the largest freshwater water lake which has many benefits, all of which bring environmental, social and economic purposes. On 10th March 2020, I got to sit in on a conference here at the Discovery Centre with a range of political parties to discuss the strategic approaches associated with ensuring Lough Neagh is the next government, managed plan. The history of drawing up a management plan for Lough Neagh have been labelled as ‘un-coordinated,’ but now there are new challenges to bring forward more important, organised solutions. A representative from each of the political parties spoke on behalf of their party to share their planning procedures which they have set in place for Lough Neagh.
John Blair MLA, Alliance Party
John Blair had first opened with telling the chairmen a little bit about his background and how he had a combination of involvement in relation to Lough Neagh and having worked with DAERA. He made it very clear that the Alliance party have laid out a three-fold approach to bring forward new changes. Firstly, the policy proposals need to be addressed as principles, this is so that everything would be laid out in detail and there would be no delays in working towards them. Secondly, that the six people who are representing their political parties meet again, and more often to further discuss processes and work that they are carrying out in relation to Lough Neagh. Finally, he wants an action plan drawn up. These are all to be developed in detail because this will then bring forward a collaborative joint up approach.
Rosemary Barton MLA, Ulster Unionist Party
Rosemary had a very clear understanding of the main issue and dilemma that Lough Neagh faces, government funding is what’s needed. There are main difficulties that arise from the issue of there being much difficulty in the management structures for Lough Neagh. There is no government plan set in action and that she raised awareness of Waterways Ireland to manage the Lough. The action plans her party has put forward is that there needs to be more government management and practical efforts to assist in practical involvement however, all political parties must be on board for this to work. Interdepartmental grouping to shape the policy is mandatory. Finally, there needs to be more focus on the security of the area to put a stop to the illegal activities here.
Dolores Kelly MLA, Social Democratic and Labour party
Dolores made it very clear that the issue of strategy for Lough Neagh has been missing. Changes need to be brought in place to bring new improvements to the Lough. What her party have suggested is that all the councils in the areas need to join up and work with each other. Much more can be done together as a bigger team, but this can’t be done without central government funding. Lough Neagh needs to be more advertised as a key tourist destination for the economic benefits of the area. There needs to be a new strategy of how things are done, there needs to be more flexibility and become more adaptable and to also fix the funding issue. As Ulster Unionist Party has already stated, social democratic and labour party also believe that Waterways Ireland need to be involved.
Francie Molloy MP, Sinn Fein
The main issue of Francie’s idea focused more around community ownership of the Lough. The no demands for ownership has led to no one having responsibility. The main approach for Sinn Fein is that there needs to be a lead department minister, and the funding issue which all the other parties have mentioned need to be addressed. Sinn Fein have laid out a list of plans to develop tourism in Lough Neagh for the future. Firstly, there must be an initial step protocol to deal with navigation (for the boats) as it can be very dangerous. All parties have spoken about the importance of waterways Ireland to take control, and for the promotion of Lough Neagh. They want to work towards a long-term sustainability plan of Lough Neagh this including the tourism growth deal. Tourism needs to be more promoted across the area.