Lough Neagh Working Group: “This report may never see the light of day.”

As the Belfast Telegraph reports, having set up a inter-departmental Working Group by September last year, “to explore and pursue actively the potential for a cross-departmental approach to bring Lough Neagh back into public ownership”, the Northern Ireland Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill has lost the group’s report down the back of the sofa told the DUP MLA Paul Frew that the report “is [still] going through due process”.  [It’s not for sale! – Ed]  “but if the assembly was to make an offer…

ANYhoo…  The draft report was, apparently, received by the NI Agriculture Minister “during December 2012 and was shared with the Ministers for the Department of Environment, Department for Regional Development, Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.”

As the Belfast Telegraph report notes, “questions are being asked over whether the conclusions of the special working group will ever be made public”.

The DUP’s Jim Wells — who has blasted management of the lough as a “shambles” over recent years — said: “It is concerning that this report is lying festering while the problems of the lough, with the exception of water quality which has slightly improved, continue to mount.

“I would say it has not been made public because one side or the other does not like its contents. The Executive can be like a glacier which moves very slowly.”

Northern Ireland gets 45% of its water supply from the lough.

Responsibility for the lough straddles several government departments — Agriculture and Rural Development looks after the water level; the Department of Environment is accountable for water quality; Culture Arts and Leisure takes care of fishing issues, and its tourism potential comes under the aegis of the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Industry.

Ulster Unionist MLA Robin Swann, a member of the DARD committee which has been given a preliminary briefing, warned: “This report may never see the light of day.

“But unless there is some serious business or economic sensitivity I do not see why it should not be made public.

“My best guess on why nothing has happened is that it is sitting on the desks of too many ministers or that it contains something that one or more of them does not find palatable.”

From the information I can find about that Working Group,

The Lough Neagh Working Group [comprised] 6 core members (all senior civil servants) with a small secretariat providing administrative support.

The NI Culture Minister, Sinn Fein’s Caral Ní Chuilín, told the Assembly on 4 December 2012,

I nominated a senior official at grade 5 level to represent my Department as a member of the Lough Neagh working group.  There have been four meetings of the working group, all of which have been attended by a DCAL official.  My officials have supplied information and briefings about DCAL’s involvement in Lough Neagh, as required by the working group.

My officials were in direct contact with 14 organisations, with whom my Department has dealings, to take note of their opinions about the ownership of Lough Neagh.  Their views and written comments have been collated with information gathered by other Departments and will be taken into account for the report that is due to be given to the Executive.

Here is the NI Agriculture Minister’s recent answer to the priority written question on 7 November 2013

Question: To ask the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to detail (i) the findings of the Lough Neagh Working Group; (ii) when she received the findings; and (ii) what action has been taken in relation to these findings.

Answer: The report produced by the Lough Neagh Working Group is to be presented to the Executive, and is going through due process.  The draft report was received during December 2012 and was shared with the Ministers for the Department of Environment, Department for Regional Development, Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.  Consideration is being given to additional consultancy work to complement the findings in the report before it is finalised.

And here is the NI Agriculture Minister’s response to a previous question about that Lough Neagh Working Group, in October 2012.

Question: To ask the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to list the individuals or organisations who were included in the recent Lough Neagh consultation.

Answer: The Lough Neagh Working Group comprises representation from 5 NICS Departments – DARD, DCAL, DOE, DRD and DETI. In addition to the research and work being undertaken by the individual Departments involved in the Working Group, an informal consultation was launched with a wide range of groups and organisations that were identified by officials from each of the Departments as key stakeholders.  The purpose of the informal consultation is to obtain their high-level views on the proposal regarding public ownership. Fifty-seven key stakeholders have been asked for comment. A list of the consultees is attached for information.

List of Consultees for Lough Neagh Working Group
Invest NI
Geological Survey NI (DETI)
Tourist Board
NI Water
The Utility Regulator
Consumer Council
Cookstown DC
Magherafelt DC
Craigavon DC
Antrim BC
Dungannon and South Tyrone DC
Armagh DC
Lisburn City Council
Ballymena BC
ECOS Centre
Monaghan County Council
Quarry Product Association NI
Woodland Trust
Ballinderry Fish Hatchery
Six Mile Water Trust
Ulster Angling Association
The Honourable Irish Society
Waterways Ireland
Ulster Coarse Fishing Federation
Lough Neagh Sand Traders Association (NI) Ltd
AMK Association
Rural Development Council
Constructed Wetlands for NI
Rural Community Network
Ulster Farmers Union
Portadown Boat Club
Cullybackey and District Game and Sea Angling Society
Rectory Lodge Trout Fishery
Ballysaggart Lough Environmental Group
NI Pike Society
Ballyronan Marina
Friends of the Earth NI
Council for Nature Conservation and Countryside
Norman Emerson Group
Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute
Lough Neagh Partnership
Lough Neagh Fishermans Co Op
Outdoor Recreation NI
Lagan Canal Trust
Inland Waterways Association Ireland
River Bann and Lough Neagh Association
Kinnego Marina
Lough Neagh Rescue
Rams Island Management
The Blackwater Regional (Tourism in Ireland)
Countryside Alliance of Ireland (CAI)
British Association for Shooting Conservation
Scottish Association of Country Sports
Sports NI
National Trust

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