Lough Foyle/Carlingford Lough

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 5th December 2016.

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Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP 2:15 pm, 5th December 2016

7. Lord Morrow asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to outline the current ownership of both Lough Foyle and Carlingford lough. (AQO 822/16-21)

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

Last week, responding to a parliamentary question about fishing rights in Lough Foyle and Carlingford lough after the UK leaves the EU, the Secretary of State restated the UK's position that the whole of Lough Foyle is within the UK. The issue of ownership of both loughs is not a matter within the competence of the Assembly. However, I know that the Irish Government, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Crown Estate have been talking about the issue for some time. I understand that the next meeting between the two Governments is scheduled for later this month in Dublin.

My immediate concern is that the ongoing dispute is impacting the ability of the Loughs Agency to effectively manage aquaculture activities, particularly licensing in Lough Foyle, and I am, therefore, anxious that it be resolved. For that reason, during my first North/South Ministerial Council meeting in September, there was a discussion on how the ongoing dispute is adversely affecting the operational activities of the Loughs Agency. The pressing priority for all those involved in the discussions should be to come to an arrangement that will allow the Loughs Agency to fulfil its role properly.

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP

I thank the Minister for her answer. I listened to what she said, and she related that the situation is causing difficulties with aquaculture licensing. To what extent is she or her Department being kept abreast of what is happening? Surely the hiatus is causing problems for the sensible running of her Department in relation to what we are speaking about.

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. As he highlighted, this has been going on for quite some time. In fact, it dates back to 1662 and the charter of Charles II, in which he granted the waters in the bed and the fisheries of Lough Foyle to the Irish Society and included them as part of County Londonderry. As you are aware, the lough is the responsibility of the Loughs Agency. There is a claim by the Irish Government by virtue of the fact that they have not accepted the position of the United Kingdom, which is obviously causing ongoing problems, not only with aquaculture licensing in Lough Foyle but with any future management that we would like to put in place, particularly for Lough Foyle and Carlingford lough. The situation is ongoing, and we want it resolved as soon as possible.

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

Minister, for clarity: how many licences have been issued for aquaculture by the Loughs Agency for Lough Foyle? What work has been undertaken to ensure that there are no illegal beds being set down instead, or does she consider that to be an ecumenical matter?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. There is an issue with illegal fisheries in the Foyle. There has been a substantial increase in the number of unregulated oyster trestles — in excess of 400% on the Donegal side of Lough Foyle in recent times — which is causing a navigation issue, particularly hazard and risk, and a general health and safety hazard in the lough. It is not possible to issue licences because of what is happening.