Archbishops of Armagh call for Lough Neagh task force

Signs warning of the presence of algae. Pic: Jay ForbesSigns warning of the presence of algae. Pic: Jay Forbes
Signs warning of the presence of algae. Pic: Jay Forbes
Archbishops John McDowell and Eamon Martin have issued an appeal for focused action to protect the environment of Lough Neagh and the well-being of all who depend on it.

Quoting from scripture, ‘But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!’ Amos 5:24, the clergymen have spoken of their concern at the threat facing the lough from toxic blue-green algae.

In a joint statement they said: “In this, the season of harvest and creation we share the grave concerns, expressed by many, about the future of our beautiful and precious Lough Neagh.

"This impressive body of water – the largest freshwater lake in these islands – is facing a dire threat from toxic blue-green algae. Collectively, we are endangering a natural asset that provides water to hundreds of thousands of families across Northern Ireland, sustains diverse fish varieties, supports wildlife and offers employment opportunities to thousands of people across the area.

"Last week representatives of our churches visited Lough Neagh and heard from some of those who live and work around it – people who love the Lough and enjoy it for all its recreational facilities, and others who depend on the Lough for their livelihoods and for fishing.

"In recent days, we have heard words of reassurance from those charged with protecting Lough Neagh. Still, the algae bloom persists and poses a real threat to livestock, pets and humans. It is indiscriminate in nature and a blight on the natural landscape and ecosystem,” the statement continues.

"We are facing an environmental disaster and, as church leaders, we worry that the issue is not being given the priority it deserves. Before Lough Neagh approaches the point of no return, a collective examination of the causes and development of a robust plan to save this unique and ancient ecosystem is needed.

"Each one of us is called to be a custodian and a steward of creation, we all share a collective responsibility to safeguard the beauty and wellbeing of our natural surroundings and must maintain and preserve the Lough for future generations to enjoy. We cannot take it for granted.

"Our primary concern is that the response is too slow and is tied up in multi-agency bureaucracy. Whilst multiple stakeholders debate the remit of responsibility, Lough Neagh and those who live near and around it suffer. There is a clear need for decisive leadership. We must identify the causes of pollution and devise an Action Plan capable of arresting the decline.

"Lough Neagh ought to be the jewel in our tourism and recreational crown and not a danger to life, flora and fauna. We will not be forgiven for our inaction or inability to come up with workable solutions.

"Our appeal is that a Task Force comprised of experts and relevant agencies be formed immediately and instructed to submit a report outlining procedures and actions required to avert a disaster within a short timeframe,” the statement concluded.

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