Lough Neagh: “It’s not for sale.”

The Northern Ireland Assembly may have picked up the curio Mick noted, and agreed to set up a working group “to explore and pursue actively the potential for a cross-departmental approach to bring Lough Neagh back into public ownership.”  But, as the Belfast Telegraph reports, they failed to inform the current owner, Lord Shaftesbury, of their intentions

In a statement yesterday, the 12th earl, Nicholas Ashley-Cooper (left), revealed that the decision of the Assembly on Tuesday was “unexpected”.

The Shaftesbury estate said it had “no plans” to put the Lough — which has had an estimated value put at between £3m-£6m — up for sale. The owners, however, also held out an olive branch by agreeing to assist the working group in its examination of the declining waterway.

The current Lough owner’s surprise may be due, in part, to the distinct lack of interest when his predecessor offered the rights to the Lough to the then administration…

Adds  As Newton Emerson pointed out in Thursday’s Irish News

Bureaucratic confusion over Lough Neagh predates the discovery that it belongs to a peer of the realm [“officials only noticed it in 2005 while plotting to sell it off themselves”].

In 2000 the Department of the Environment set up a steering group to address the management of Lough Neagh as “a matter of urgency”.

After two years of consulting with stakeholders, statutory agencies and councils it produced a Lough Neagh management strategy for all concerned to follow.

This is the approach DUP MLA Jim Wells denounced as a failure in this week’s assembly debate but it is difficult to see how public ownership will make any difference.

The management strategy failed because a multiplicity of public bodies refused to work within it, let alone work together.

There is no evidence the Earl of Shaftesbury got in their way.

Most of the 29 objectives in the management strategy relate to matters fully within the control of Stormont departments.  Most of the critical concerns it raises, such as pollution from industry, housing and agriculture do not even originate on the earl’s property.

If Lough Neagh comes under public ownership there will inevitably be another management startegy.

Remarks during the debate suggest this will cover an even greater multiplicity of public bodies.  Why will this not also fail?

For final proof that public ownership is no panacea look to the catastrophe in Strangford Lough, where protected wildlife habitats have been destroyed in contravention of EU law, Stormont policy and yet another multi-agency management strategy.

This is entirely due to buck-passing between just two Stormont departments, using a legal loophole they have refused to close despite looming EU fines.