The Green Party group leader in Belfast City Council, Cllr Brian Smyth, brought a motion to it this month, calling for Lough Neagh to be brought under public ownership, instead of the current ownership of the Lough bed by Lord Shaftsbury. Many recent reports have highlighted the fact that over 20 public authorities have some degree of legal responsibility, but no one takes overall responsibility - management is fragmented and siloed. The motion called for an ownership model fit for the 21st century and that the communities around it must be central to it’s future. The motion successfully passed and only the DUP abstained from supporting a public ownership model.
The situation has been compounded with no sitting Executive at Stormont currently in place, this has led to no political leadership on what is an environmental and ecological disaster. Yet previous decisions regarding the implementation of the Going for Growth Strategy, signed off and supported by all Executive Parties in 2015 and the rapid expansion of industrial agriculture has played a significant role in the levels of pollutions now in the Lough. As well as dredging of the Lough bed for sand, which was given the go ahead by then the sitting Minister for Department for Infrastructure, Nicola Mallon in 2020. Only the Green Party NI opposed this decision as we believed it would further the environmental degradation of the Lough.
Brian has also contacted the Minister for the Environment and Climate in the Irish Republic Eamon Ryan, and asked could he intervene with the Secretary of State for NI, for Lough Neagh to be declared an environmental emergency and for the UK government to devise and emergency response plan. As a Party we have little faith in the current Tory government to act alone with the best interests of Lough Neagh and the communities that surround it. As has been shown by their indifference and incompetence to Lake Windermere and the River Rye in recent months, both iconic British waterways.
We believe that what is unfolding at Lough Neagh has implications for the entire island and as such demands an all-island response. The Green Party is also working and liaising with locally based NGO’s on the issue and will continue to do everything it can to exert political pressure to bring about the much needed help Lough Neagh is crying out for.
Northern Ireland is an environmental laggard. We are 12th worst in world for biodiversity loss, and we have the highest per capita emissions region of these islands. More than 7m tonnes of raw sewage are being discharged into Northern Ireland’s seas and rivers each year that we know of, and every recorded waterway in the country has been found to be in poor health. We must take care of our valuable water, invest in it, and ensure that eco-systems thrive not die. We will continue to fight for and highlight the issues that must be addressed for us to have a greener, cleaner and fairer Northern Ireland.