Opinion

Stormont's mismanagement has contributed to Lough Neagh crisis

The Irish News view: Agriculture and environment policies, overseen by Sinn Féin and DUP ministers, haven't tackled key issues

Lough Neagh is in crisis. Picture by Mal McCann
Lough Neagh is in crisis. Picture by Mal McCann Lough Neagh is in crisis. Picture by Mal McCann

The plight of Lough Neagh, awash with a sludge of toxic blue-green algae, is so profoundly worrying that environmental experts have said it is dying, while on Sunday activists held a 'wake' on its shoreline to draw attention to the catastrophe.

Warning signs have been placed around the lough throughout the summer, alerting people not to swim in it. Businesses who rely on the lough for their livelihoods have been affected.

Anglers have been urged not to eat their catches and farmers told to avoid allowing their livestock to drink from the lough. The deaths of pet dogs who have entered the water has been linked to the blooms of algae.

The carcasses of swans and other birds have been recovered. Lough Neagh's world renowned eel fishing industry is deeply worried. Ireland's largest body of fresh water now looks far from fresh.

Read more:

Environmentalists hold ‘wake' for Lough Neagh over toxic algae bloom

Patricia MacBride: If we don't act now, we risk losing Lough Neagh's beauty forever

Stormont parties at odds over future ownership of Lough Neagh

There is no single cause for the Lough Neagh crisis. Significant blame attaches to intensive farming practices which see high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus from fertiliser run off the land and into the lough. This has been exacerbated by the heavy rain of recent months. Slurry and raw sewage is also pumped into the water.

This accumulation of nutrients encourages the algae to bloom, giving it something to feed on. Sand dredging, the effects of climate change and the spread of invasive zebra mussels are other critical factors.

Lough Neagh supplies around 40 per cent of Northern Ireland's drinking water – including half of Belfast's – and while it is important to stress that this is treated before it reaches our taps, it is also understandable that the public will be concerned. NI Water says it closely monitors the quality of drinking water it sources from the lough, and that there is no health risk.

Politicians have called for 'something to be done' about the current state of Lough Neagh. Though doubtless sincere, these pronouncements are also rather brass-necked, even by the standards we have come to expect.

It is Stormont which has set the tone for the agriculture, environment and infrastructure policies which have ultimately left Lough Neagh on its knees. Sinn Féin and the DUP are the only parties to have held the agriculture portfolio – restructured to include environment from 2016 – since 2007. What have they done to protect the lough?

The empty assembly chamber at Parliament Buildings is a familiar visual reminder of our broken and dysfunctional politics. Lough Neagh and its algal blooms is now another.