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.