Lough Neagh

Oral Answers to Questions — Finance – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 7 May 2024.

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Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance 2:15, 7 May 2024

5. Mr Blair asked the Minister of Finance to outline how Budget allocations reflect the Executive’s priority to protect and better manage Lough Neagh. (AQO 385/22-27)

Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin

The protection of Lough Neagh and the surrounding environment is a key priority for the Executive. The Executive agreed to allocate the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs £1·6 million of capital departmental expenditure limit (DEL) funding in June monitoring to support actions relating to Lough Neagh. Now that the Budget has been set by the Executive, it will be for Ministers to consider their departmental priorities and allocate funding accordingly within their budget. Departments can highlight any further funding requirements in relation to Lough Neagh as part of the in-year monitoring process. Any bids will be considered in the context of the available funding, competing budgetary demands and the Executive's wider priorities. It will then be for the Executive to allocate the available funding.

As the Member is aware, we were faced with a very challenging Budget for this financial year. I would have liked to be able to do more across a number of Departments. Addressing the issues of Lough Neagh is a priority for the Executive and will be considered as such in the monitoring rounds.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

I thank the Minister for that reply. Given that — if we face it — the allocated sums that have been outlined are likely to fall woefully short in comparison with the scale of the problems of Lough Neagh, and recalling earlier comments about cross-Executive responsibilities, as the catchment area of Lough Neagh extends to and includes parts of the Republic of Ireland, is she willing to work with the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister to try to secure resource from the Shared Island Fund to help deal with those issues?

Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin

The Member will be aware that, recently, prior to the official plenary meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council, the First Minister and deputy First Minister and the Taoiseach and Tánaiste had a conversation about Lough Neagh. It is clearly a shared priority across the island, and the issues to be addressed are cross-jurisdictional: the issues impacting on our environment, climate and biodiversity do not recognise borders, so it is important that we have a joined-up collaborative approach. I will certainly be happy to work with the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister in any engagements that he has on the Shared Island Fund or any other funding that may be available to him.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

Minister, when Members, including those in your party, all voted for a Lough Neagh rescue plan motion some weeks ago, the most modest estimate of its cost was well north of £100 million of investment. It is disappointing to see parties repeatedly vote for motions but, when it comes to aligning —.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

Is there a question in there, Matthew?

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

Yes, there is. Did the Infrastructure Minister make any bid to you for waste water investment specifically related to Lough Neagh recovery?

Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin

I do not have the bids from the Infrastructure Minister in front of me, although I know that significant funding, in the region of £330 million or £350 million a year, is invested through NI Water in our water infrastructure. That would, obviously, impact on Lough Neagh and on much wider areas. I am aware of that, and I would be happy to write to the Member about any additional bids.

Photo of Nicola Brogan Nicola Brogan Sinn Féin

Will the Minister outline the next steps in tackling algae blooms in Lough Neagh so that that vital economic asset is protected, le do thoil?

[Translation: please?]

Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin

I understand that a draft set of evidence-based recommendations to tackle the toxic algae in Lough Neagh and secure longer-term improvement in water quality is being refined and finalised by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and that the recommendations for Lough Neagh will be brought to the Executive for consideration and discussion in due course.

I am also aware that the AERA Minister has brought the draft environmental improvement plan to the Executive for consideration. It sets out actions relevant to supporting water quality across the North to secure longer-term improvements. There is clearly a need for collective action across government and the public, private and community sectors to tackle the issue of water quality. Additional investment will clearly be required, and that will need to be considered in line with the Executive's priorities and competing budgetary pressures.

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

Minister, £1·6 million is a paltry sum given the scale of the crisis. Will you confirm whether the AERA Minister submitted a plan to you or to the Executive to save the lough, including acquisition of the lough and establishing an environment protection agency, beyond the £1·6 million figure that you mentioned?

Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin

As I said in response to the previous question, I understand that a draft set of recommendations to tackle the issues relating to Lough Neagh will be brought to the Executive for consideration in the near future.