THE owner of Lough Neagh has not ruled out selling it to the Stormont Executive.
The Earl of Shaftesbury said he is hoping to arrange a meeting with the Stormont working group set up to look at the possibility of bringing it into public ownership.
Earlier this year the Shaftesbury estate said it had no plans to sell the lough. The shore and bed belong to the estate, but the water is owned by the public.
The issue arose after MLAs debated the lough’s future and agreed to investigate taking it into public ownership.
Last Friday the Earl was in Northern Ireland for a two-day symposium on the management of Lough Neagh. He said he would listen to all sides to make a decision.
“We’re not putting the lough up for sale but if the Assembly was to make an offer we’re not definitely going to say no,” he said. “What we want to do is do the right thing for the people living there.”
The earl, Nicholas Ashley Cooper, has contacted the Stormont working group and asked for a meeting. He said: “It’s about discussing all the issues and I think taking an opinion after everyone’s had their say. It affects the lives of a huge amount of people.”
The earl said some of the people he has talked to favour the current management system, while others want it to change.
“I think the wider issue potentially is how to manage it, how to get the best out of it and how to deal with some of the issues that were raised in the debate — pollution, navigation development.”
Lough Neagh has been dogged with environmental issues for years, including problems with water quality. Its waters have been classed as ‘bad ecological potential’ — the lowest rating.
At the symposium, Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill said it was time to take a fresh look at how lough-related matters are coordinated.
An MLA has warned against a public squabble over who owns Lough Neagh.
Danny Kinahan’s call for a ‘partnership’ approach came after the Lough’s owner, the Earl of Shaftesbury, hinted he might sell it to the Assembly.
Mr Kinahan, who met the Earl last week, said: “I do not believe that now is the time to focus on ownership.”
Instead he said there should be a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to illegal fishing and the problem of litter which threaten fish stocks and tourism potential.
Speaking in the wake of a two-day conference on managing the Lough, the UUP MLA added: “Rarely has government shown that it is the best body to manage such a resource.
“I want to see bed and breakfasts all around the lough packed with fishermen, country sportsmen and walkers, and all the businesses around the Lough thriving.”
The Earl is now hoping to arrange a meeting with the Stormont working group set up to examine bringing the Lough into public ownership.