Lough Neagh

Oral Answers to Questions – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 24th September 2012.

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Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin 2:45 pm, 24th September 2012

9. asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development what progress has been made on exploring the possibility of bringing Lough Neagh into public ownership, as had been agreed by the Assembly on 17 April 2012. (AQO 2478/11-15)

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

Following the Assembly debate, I submitted proposals to the Executive in May on the formation of a cross-departmental working group.  The proposals were endorsed, and a key requirement for the working group is to produce findings and recommendations, where appropriate, to my Executive colleagues by November 2012.  I can confirm that the working group has been formed and met during September.  In addition to the research and work being undertaken in the different Departments involved, an informal consultation has been launched with groups and organisations that have been identified as key stakeholders.  The purpose of the consultation is to obtain their high-level views on the proposal regarding public ownership.  At this stage, I am pleased to report that the working group is on track to meet its objectives and provide its findings and recommendations by the November deadline.  If as a result of the working group’s investigation, more time is required, I will immediately make my Executive colleagues aware of that.

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for her answer.  What are the potential courses of action for the Executive once the findings and recommendations have been brought forward from the Lough Neagh working group?  What does she see as being the next steps?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.  The working group was established to provide high-level analysis for the Executive on the proposals regarding public ownership so that an appropriate way forward could be identified.  Once the working group has provided its findings and recommendations, my Executive colleagues and I may decide that it would be appropriate to arrange further, more detailed investigations into the matters raised.  It is also possible, when the findings are extremely compelling, that the potential for public ownership is ruled out.  We have to be open-minded about all the issues that may come forward.  It is important that we are open to commissioning further work to identify how the strategic and operational management of the lough is held by different Departments, how that could be improved and how we can maximise the benefits to the people of the North.  Given the number of problems that were identified during the earlier debate, the potential benefits in public ownership of Lough Neagh are tremendous.