Protesters demand action at Stormont over Lough Neagh crisis

Demonstration on Tuesday saw calls for immediate steps to protect lough

Protest against pollution in Lough Neagh
Protesters at Stormont calling for action over pollution in Lough Neagh. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN (Mal McCann)

Protesters have demanded an independent body to hold polluters responsible at a demonstration at Stormont highlighting the environmental destruction of Lough Neagh.

The Save Lough Neagh protest on Tuesday saw demonstrators gather to call for immediate action to protect Ireland and the UK’s largest inland body of water, including taking it out of private ownership.

Last summer saw alarm bells ring for the lough, from where 40% of the north’s drinking water is sourced, as it became blanketed in a thick layer of toxic blue-green algae.

Algae on the surface of Lough Neagh at Ballyronan Marina
Algae on the surface of Lough Neagh at Ballyronan Marina. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY (Liam McBurney/PA)

Since last summer’s crisis, multiple protests have taken place in the north to highlight environmental concerns and to demand action on steps to reduce the threat from pollution.

Speaking at last week’s Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs meeting, Mr Muir said: “Over the past couple of decades, the balance between growing our economy and safeguarding our environment has not been correctly struck. That being the case, Lough Neagh has been identified as a first-year priority for the Executive.”

Andrew Muir said analysis of the consultation responses was under way
Stormont DAERA minister Andrew Muir. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY (Liam McBurney/PA)

Organisers of Tuesday’s protest have said that along with it being taken into public ownership, commercial sand extraction at the lough must cease, investment in sewage infrastructure to prevent pollution in the water must be prioritised, and new regulations put in place to reduce agricultural pollution.

Campaigners have also called for a new independent environmental protection agency to be established with powers to target polluters.

Protest against pollution in Lough Neagh
Laura Ringland with baby Skye and Casey Aspen were among protesters at Stormont. PICTURE: MAL MCCANN (Mal McCann)

Among MLAs to join the protesters was People Before Profit’s Gerry Carroll, who said in a social media post he was standing with them and “demanding action to save this most important of natural resources”.