Social Democratic and Labour Party MLA for Mid Ulster Patsy McGlone has said the crisis in Lough Neagh must be addressed as a high priority by any new Executive.
He was speaking after a meeting with DAERA to discuss the department’s Steering Group response to the Blue Green Algae blooms.
Mr McGlone was accompanied at the meeting by Mid Ulster SDLP Councillors, Christine McFlynn, Kerri Martin, Malachy Quinn, Denise Johnston and Karol McQuade.
Mid Ulster MLA Mr McGlone said:
"During the meeting we raised issues of concern around fish stocks and the sustainability of the eel fishery, biodiversity, and restricting the spread of zebra mussels. The department have advised that they would have a report with 113 recommendations on moving forward and that report would be ready by beginning of February 2024.
“They have said that some of the decisions that may need to be considered by an incoming Executive include: prioritising investment in the wastewater treatment works that impact on Lough Neagh, upgrading domestic wastewater treatment systems, reducing or eliminating the use of chemical phosphorus fertiliser on grassland, development of a fertiliser database, consultation on an updated Nutrient Action Programme, nature based interventions, potential NI land use strategy, establishment of a Water Forum and regulation.
“We look forward to seeing the details of those recommendations and a new Executive acting promptly on them. Those proposals will be dependent on the necessary funding and it will be for an incoming Executive to allocate that finance. It will also be the responsibility of Executive parties to address the failure of environmental governance behind this crisis.
“The underlying factor that created the crisis in Lough Neagh this summer has not gone away with the warm summer weather. The excessive levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, mostly from agricultural sources, that caused the recent blue-green algal blooms still remain. The SDLP have repeatedly called for an independent Environmental Protection Agency for Northern Ireland, in line with those already established elsewhere across the islands of Ireland and Britain. It was a commitment n the 2020 New Decade, New Approach agreement and it must be delivered upon.
“Everyone wants to see a reversal in the decline of water quality in Lough Neagh, but if we are to make progress on Lough Neagh’s recovery, and help ensure it does not happen again, then we need to put in place a robust and fully independent system of environmental governance. Reducing the level of excessive nutrients in the water remains the only viable long-term resolution of the immediate problem, but the future well-being of the Lough will be dependent on the establishment of a fully independent Environmental Protection Agency to enforce regulations in the North."