Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 20 March 2001 (continued)

Mr Douglas:

Can the Minister assure the House that everything possible is being done including the spraying of disinfectant and the putting of precautions into place, especially in Scotland at the ferry crossings? Can she confirm that that is the case and not, as we have heard on the radio, that the precautions currently in place are unsatisfactory?

Ms Rodgers:

I have heard such stories. I hope that I will be forgiven for using my native language, but here is an old Irish saying: "Dúirt bean liom gur dhúirt bean léi gur chuala sí bean a rá." That means "A woman told me that another woman told her that she had heard another woman saying." In other words, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence about what people have been saying.

People have told me that they have arrived at airports and that no announcements were made and that no precautions were in place. Many of my staff and I have travelled on many planes during this outbreak, and we have never encountered that. If there are any specific incidents that can be brought to my attention, they will certainly be investigated.

Our controls at all points of entry are continually under review. Last Saturday evening, while most people were off, the Chief Veterinary Officer was once again at the port to check that everything was in order and assume himself that the controls were working. We will step up the controls if necessary because, as I have already said, the front lines preventing the disease getting into Northern Ireland are at the points of entry and, I must stress again, at the farm gate.

Mr Shannon:

Can the Minister indicate, through the interdepartmental committee of officials on foot-and-mouth disease, what steps have been taken to assist the tourist industry, particularly given the fact that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the UK has agreed to give compensation to that sector?

Ms Rodgers:

I am not aware that the UK Government have done anything of the sort. In fact, it has been made very clear to me that the UK Government are not prepared to look at consequential compensation of any description.

3.45 pm

The tourist industry issue is clearly a problem. Tourism is affected by foot-and-mouth disease more than any other sector at the moment and I will be discussing that with my Executive colleagues on Thursday. Sir Reg Empey will be giving his views, and because tourism forms part of his responsibilities he will want to discuss the issue with me.

I am reviewing the guidelines to see where easements can be made in order to make life more comfortable for the sectors that are suffering from the consequences of foot-and-mouth disease. All action must be taken in the context of veterinary advice whilst ensuring that our response is in proportion to the problem. We must make sure that we do not go too far but that we do as much as possible to make life easier for those who run bed-and- breakfast accommodations and hotels. I am not aware that the UK Government are giving compensation to the industry.

Agrimonetary Compensation


Mr Leslie

asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to detail when payments under the agrimonetary compensation package, announced on 5 March 2001, will be made to farmers.

(AQO 1116/00)

Ms Rodgers:

The agrimonetary compensation in respect of sheep will be paid in early April, subject to EU approval. Seventy per cent of beef sector compensation will be paid in late April/early May 2001 following the payment of outstanding balances under the 2000 suckler cow premium and beef special premium schemes.

The UK is seeking a derogation from the EU Commission to bring forward payment of the remaining 30% of beef agrimonetary compensation. This could not normally be paid until after 16 October 2001. The intervention board will handle dairy compensation on a UK-wide basis, and it is expected that this will be paid in two stages, in April and May.

Mr Leslie:

I am glad to hear that some money will be forthcoming in April and May. I trust that the schedule outlined by the Minister will not be subject to any slippage. It has taken a long time to get any agrimonetary compensation. Whilst any money of that kind is welcome, does the Minister think that the £1million being allocated in respect of Northern Ireland sheep is going to be anywhere near adequate, considering the difficulties that the sector faces as the result of foot-and-mouth disease?

Ms Rodgers:

The £1million that will be allocated to the sheep sector is all of the possible agri-money that could have been drawn down. At the beginning of the foot-and-mouth crisis the UK Government took a decision to draw down all the optional money that was available. In relation to next year's agrimonetary payments, I will again make the case that the Treasury draws down all optional money that is available.

Mr Gibson:

One week ago the Minister assured me that all moneys owed to the farming community would be paid as soon as possible. Is this now happening? The rural community are lobbying me with the words "cash flow", "cash flow", "cash flow".

Secondly, we will need a long period of recovery. Has the Minister approached the major banks with the idea of setting interest rates at 0% for one year, 1% for a second year, and 2% for a third year, so that the farming community can have a recovery programme and financial package?

Ms Rodgers:

I recognise the importance of making premia payments to farmers as quickly as possible, especially in the present circumstances. My Department continually works to that end. Priority is currently being given to the processing of premia payments in respect of the new less favoured area (LFA) compensatory allowance schemes that are worth £22·1 million and balance payments under the 2000 sheep annual premium that are worth £5·5 million. Producers can expect to receive those payments by the end of March 2001.

I am aware of the cash flow problems that farmers are facing. I met with representatives from the grain trade and the banking organisations and they have assured me that they will be flexible when dealing with farmers who encounter problems due to the present situation.

I have endeavoured to ensure that no farmer will be penalised over premia payments because of the present situation regarding paperwork or inspections. We placed a question-and-answer brief in a press release and it is available on our web site. If any farmers are in doubt they can contact our helpline or their local office and we will reassure them. It does not mean that records do not have to be kept and that there will not be inspections as soon as is possible. However, I will ensure that no farmer will be penalised at the moment because in the present situation it is not possible for inspections to take place.

Mr Dallat:

Can the Minister state the amount of compensation that will be paid to Northern Ireland producers? Has the United Kingdom drawn down all of the agrimoney? Can the Minister assure the House that she will seek further compensation if and when it becomes available?

Ms Rodgers:

The question relates to what I will do about agrimonetary compensation in the future. I have argued over the past year - with a good measure of success - for the payment of agrimonetary compensation on each occasion it became available. It is a means of assisting the industry through the immense difficulties it has faced, and it brought an additional £8·5 million into Northern Ireland last year. It is one of the few ways of putting money directly into the pockets of our hard- pressed producers without contravening the strict EU rules.

I will continue to push for the payment of agrimonetary compensation for as long as it is available and for as long as it is needed by our industry. The amount of payment will depend on the exchange rate between the euro and sterling. So far as I am aware, it will no longer be available after next year, but for as long as it is available I will keep pressing the case to have the full amount drawn down by the Treasury.

Farmers' Markets


Mrs E Bell

asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to detail what steps she is taking to encourage the establishment and growth of farmers' markets.

(AQO 1106/00)

Ms Rodgers:

My Department is continuing to work with interested farmers and growers to explore the opportunities for farmers' markets in Northern Ireland. It co-ordinated a seminar on farm retailing that took place at Loughrey College last December, which explained the steps necessary to operate a successful farm retail enterprise. The seminar sparked interest from a number of groups keen to explore the possibilities for farmers' markets in their areas and we will continue to provide assistance to them.

Technical and financial assistance have been provided through the farming and retailing movement, Farm NI. That assistance has been aimed at developing the retailing capabilities of producers and helping to promote the Belfast Farmers Market that I opened in February 2000. Once the current foot-and-mouth restrictions are over, my Department will continue to work with Farm NI to ensure a co-ordinated approach to the establishment of farmers' markets. My Department would encourage those people who want to develop a market of this kind to liaise closely with Farm NI.

Mrs E Bell:

I concur with the Minister. Can anything be done at this time in spite of the foot-and-mouth disease problem - and I congratulate the Minister's handling of that problem - to support the on-farm processing of food to enable farmers to trade at local markets? The Minister, by her answer, demonstrates that she knows that farmers' markets have created thousands of jobs in the USA and Canada, and they are starting to make inroads in Great Britain. Perhaps that is one ray of hope for farmers.

Ms Rodgers:

The agrifood advisory section of my Department gives assistance and advice through Farm NI to on-farm processors and those who want to move in that direction.

At the moment my officials are staying away from farms, given the situation on the ground, except where absolutely necessary. Therefore visits to farms by advisers - to use a pun - will be pretty thin on the ground at the moment, except where visits to check for brucellosis and tuberculosis have resumed, as that was becoming quite a problem. Apart from that there are no visits to farms at the moment.

Mr Paisley Jr:

I welcome the development of such farm markets, but does the Minister agree that normalisation of trade is essential for the agricultural community? On that basis, can she tell us when the livestock marts will be opened again for trade in Northern Ireland?

Ms Rodgers:

I have two responses to that. First, I have already said that when I can move, in a proportionate, reasonable and effective manner, towards relaxing the restrictions in Northern Ireland, I will. As we move further away from our one case of foot-and-mouth here, and if we have no further outbreaks, I hope that such relaxation of restrictions will be possible.

In the second place, there is, as the Member will know, an EU ban at the moment on all marts across Europe. I am subject to that ban. In other words, if I reached the stage where I thought that it might be possible to lift the ban in Northern Ireland because of our situation, I would have to take cognisance of the EU-wide ban, which applies to all member states.

Mrs Nelis:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome the Minister's commitment to developing the farmers' markets. Is it her opinion that farmers' markets should continue to operate during the current crisis?

Ms Rodgers:

The guidelines as to what should or should not operate during the current crisis have been laid down very clearly by the Executive Committee. I have asked everyone, including farmers' markets, to look at the guidelines, apply them to their own situation, and make a decision as to whether, within the guidelines, they should proceed with their market or not. I cannot legislate for every single operation in Northern Ireland. It depends on the guidelines - on whether large crowds are being drawn in from rural communities, and so on.

Foot-and-Mouth Disease


Mr Fee

asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to give an update on the present situation regarding foot-and-mouth disease.

(AQO 1111/00)

Ms Rodgers:

I am very pleased to report that there has still only been one confirmed case of foot-and-mouth disease in Northern Ireland. We continue to have quite a number of suspected cases reported, which is understandable, given that farmers are particularly anxious about any unusual signs in their animals at this time. However, all of these have so far proved to be negative.

There has been much media interest in the so-called missing sheep - in other words, the possibility that the consignment of infected sheep that led to our outbreak may have been larger than we first thought. As I said in my statement to the Assembly on the 12 March, there is no certainty at all that there were any such sheep.

However, we did receive anecdotal reports that there could be, and I am duty-bound to follow those reports. My Department is pursing this with the utmost vigour, but there is, as yet, no evidence that the sheep ever existed. We do have to consider the possibility that this suggestion is simply wrong.

However, I would appeal to anyone who has any information to come forward with it. Until we know the full circumstances, we cannot be assured that foot-and- mouth disease has been beaten. In the meantime, the biggest single threat is the possibility of the virus getting past the farm gate to susceptible animals, so all farmers must remain vigilant and make sure that they maintain their "fortress farm" procedures.

Mr Fee:

I thank the Minister for the intense attention that she has given to this problem and for her selfless and tireless efforts over recent weeks. They have been appreciated in the House and elsewhere.

I will preface my question by saying that everybody here - and in my case, both literally and metaphorically - will stand shoulder to shoulder with her to beat the disease. The entire country is looking anxiously at what is happening in Meigh, and the first major breakthrough will come when we can ease the restrictions in that area of south Armagh. When does the Minister think she will be able to introduce some easements there?

4.00 pm

Ms Rodgers:

I thank Mr Fee for his remarks. I recognise that Meigh is a key area. Provided that there are no further cases in that area, the inner three-kilometre protection zone will be removed on 22 March. If the area continues clear, the 10-kilometre surveillance zone will be removed on 6 April. At that stage, Meigh will be completely clear. The removal of the three-kilometre zone will mean that animal movements can be resumed, but only under licence from the Department, as currently applies to the rest of Northern Ireland.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

The time for questions is up. We must move to - [Interruption].

Mr Wells:

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I must again express concern at the length of time that some Ministers took to answer questions during these three sessions of Question Time. The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure took 14 minutes to answer the first question, including supplementaries. Ministers are looking at the clock and - I suspect - some are deliberately expanding their answers to ensure that the more difficult questions further down the list are not reached. It is your role, as Deputy Speaker, to intervene when a Minister is clearly over-egging the pudding in his or her answers. You should step in and say "Enough is enough. Let us move on to the next question."

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Mr Wells, if you had been in the Chamber for all of Question Time, you would know that I brought the matter of the duration of questions and answers to the attention of Members and Ministers.

The time is up.


Inland Fisheries


The Chairperson of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee (Mr ONeill):

I beg to move

That this Assembly approves the report of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee on inland fisheries in Northern Ireland and calls on the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to implement the Committee's recommendations at the earliest opportunity.

It may be helpful to Members if I begin with an outline of the background to the report. The Committee embarked on its first major inquiry into the subject of inland fishing in Northern Ireland on 20 January 2000, which is some time ago. The terms of reference were as follows:

"To examine existing policies in Northern Ireland concerning the management and conservation of salmon, trout, eels and freshwater fish"


"To report to the Assembly, making recommendations to the Department and/or others on actions which would improve inland fisheries in Northern Ireland."

The Committee agreed that the inquiry should take particular account of the need to maintain and enhance, where appropriate, biodiversity and the need to maximise the economic, social and recreational benefits derived from salmon and freshwater fisheries. We had to take account of the interests of local communities, local factors and traditions and the need for the management of fisheries to be on a fully sustainable basis.

The inquiry also considered other factors that may affect the development and sustainability of inland fisheries such as planning policy in respect of industrial and housing development along river corridors and lake source, drainage, pollution and tourism.

Finally, the Committee examined the institutional arrangements for the regulation and management of inland fisheries, including the role of the public sector and the need to involve all interested parties.

(Madam Deputy Speaker [Ms Morrice] in the Chair)

The Committee received 76 written submissions from a variety of groups and individuals. Some of them were considerable, bulky submissions. To say the Committee was overwhelmed is an understatement. Following these submissions, the Committee went on to hold 32 oral evidence sessions, which encompassed individuals, large and small angling clubs, Government Departments, organisations with direct and indirect responsibility for inland fishing and related areas and a number of non-governmental organisations.

During the course of our inquiry, the Committee was gravely concerned to discover that Northern Ireland's fish population had declined so dramatically in recent years. It is clear to us that much of the blame for this deterioration can be attributed to man's abuse and neglect for his environment. It was brought to our attention in particular that the Atlantic salmon is in danger of becoming extinct unless urgent action is taken.

In this regard, commercial netting has been identified as a major contributor to the decline of the salmon population in Northern Ireland's rivers. Pollution incidents are simply far too frequent and are having devastating effects on fish stocks and habitat quality. As I have indicated before to the Assembly, this current year appears to us to be the worst record for pollution incidents. In other words, the situation is deteriorating even as we sit and deliberate on the matter.

There is an urgent need for action on sewerage treatments works, which have already been identified as causing pollution problems. Improvements to infrastructure must be given a much higher priority in the Water Service's capital investment programme.

The Committee also felt strongly that the removal of Crown immunity for the Water Service should be considered. Incidentally, the Public Accounts Committee also referred to this issue in its recent report on the control of river pollution in Northern Ireland.

Farming related pollution is also a serious problem. While Members agreed that we do not wish the agricultural sector to feel that there is any more on its plate at present, there is strong evidence that good farm management is a major factor in preventing river pollution. It is critical that farmers are provided with sound, well targeted advice, that effective farm pollution regulations are in place and that existing pollution control legislation is strictly enforced.

Our inquiry also underlined the importance to the Northern Ireland economy of being able to offer an attractive, recreational fishing product to the tourist industry. It is a geographical fact that we have some of the best rivers on the island. Currently fishermen wish to go to the West of Ireland, where they have made great inroads in improving the river fishing habitats and stocking levels. Indeed, we were given evidence to the effect that each salmon caught was worth £700 to the local economic community.

We can do the same. What a great opportunity this would be for the tourist industry. We argue, therefore, that every effort should be being made to promote opportunities for game and coarse angling, opportunities that should be offered to as wide an international audience as possible.

The Committee considered other issues: the impact that drainage schemes, weirs and artificial sluice gates had on the physical habitat of inland fisheries; the impact of hydroelectric schemes on migratory fish; the complexity of the current licence and permit scheme; and the financing and composition of the Fisheries Conservancy Board. In total, the Committee's report sets out 67 recommendations. We consider their implementation to be essential to the conservation of inland fisheries and the protection of fish.

The Committee accepts that the responsibility for the delivery of many of the recommendations in the report does not fall directly on the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. The Department of the Environment, the Department for Regional Development, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment all have a part to play in delivering a vibrant and sustainable system of inland fisheries in Northern Ireland within the terms of the report, and the Committee urges the Minister to engage with his Executive Colleagues to ensure that their Departments give the highest priority to it. I also urge the Chairpersons of the relevant Committees to take forward the issues that we have raised with their Departments. I have spoken to the Chairpersons involved and was encouraged by their interest and positive response.

To say that the angling fraternity has welcomed the Committee's report is like a fisherman saying that the one that got away was on the small side. The enthusiasm with which it has been greeted has been staggering. I am not simply making this point to bring attention and glory to the work of the Committee. However, the protection and enhancement of Northern Ireland's inland fisheries is an issue that has been neglected for too long, despite many people's deep and passionate interest in the subject. The angling community is like the watchdog of the environment. It amazed the Committee that more attention has not been paid to concerns of its members in the past.

Perhaps this is one of the great benefits of devolution and in particular our brand of devolution - accessibility to the public. From the outset we were encouraged by the level of involvement in the inquiry. I thank all those organisations and individuals who produced written or oral evidence. Their input gave us vital food for thought. I also pay thanks to the staff who serviced the Committee. They were a dedicated and hard-working bunch of people who were of great help and support to us. In particular, I place on record our deep appreciation and thanks to the current Committee Clerk and to her predecessor.

As Chairperson, I also pay tribute to the hard work of my Committee Colleagues in bringing forward the report. It has been a great example of people working together for something which is clearly in all our interests and for the common good. I know that other Committee members will not object if I single out the Member for South Antrim, Mr Jim Wilson. His expertise and guidance on the subject was invaluable to everyone throughout the inquiry.

I commend the report to the Assembly and invite Members to support the motion.

4.15 pm

The Deputy Chairperson of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee (Mrs Nelis):

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I support the motion and the comprehensive recommendations contained in the report of the inquiry into inland fisheries. As the Chairperson has already done, I pay tribute to the Committee Clerks, the researchers and to all who gave evidence to the inquiry.

In total, our report has made 67 recommendations, each important in its own right. However, if our work and recommendations are to address the crisis in inland fisheries, then those recommendations that call for the management and development functions of fisheries to be constituted in a new single fisheries body must be addressed as a priority by the Minister and the Department. This report must not be left on the shelf to gather dust like its predecessor.

The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has indicated that it intends to undertake a review of the Fisheries Conservancy Board. Recommendation 61 of the inquiry report states

"a sub-committee comprising membership of the Fisheries Conservancy Board and the Loughs Agency should be established to review the harmonisation of responsibilities".

Harmonisation involving the various agencies and cross- border bodies is, of course, essential, but it will not produce the fundamental change needed to resolve the current problems of the fishing industry.

The suggestion of a new body appeared in 56% of the submissions to the inquiry - a sufficient indication that many of those giving evidence have little faith in the major old bodies. The submissions from groups and individuals detailed the advantages that would arise from such a fundamental undertaking. Those who subscribed to the call for a new body did so for sound, pragmatic reasons as well as the expectation that all Government agencies should adhere to the principle of accountability and democratic practices.

The present system of management in fisheries is unnecessarily complex and fragmented. It involves four Government Departments: the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Department of the Environment and the Department for Regional Development. In addition, there are the geographically-based organisations - the Fisheries Conservancy Board, the Loughs Agency, the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, as well as the Environment and Heritage Service and the sub-bodies of the Rivers Agency and the Drainage Division. That makes some nine organisations of varying status with responsibility for inland fisheries and waterways.

The system is probably unique in the Western World - a top-heavy and bureaucratic oversubscription of bodies which, on face value, appear to be operating on the principle that the left arm need not know what the right arm is doing. If the angling fraternity is confused by so many layers of bureaucracy, one can imagine how difficult it was for members during the inquiry to determine and understand such complicated management arrangements.

The facts of how that management system carried out its duties to protect and develop the fishing estate are contained in our report. They make stark reading. But the report should be read not only in terms of addressing the crisis but as an exposé of undemocratic principles, absentee Government and jet-set Ministers who seemingly left it to the old boy network to run the show.

"Running the show" has almost decimated the fishing estate. The fish population has declined so dramatically that some rivers are only stocked with what anglers describe as "sharpening stones". The indigenous species of brown trout, peculiar to certain rivers, is almost extinct. The Atlantic salmon is an endangered species. The complexities of the licensing system have contributed to the decline in angling tourism.

The report has been researched thoroughly. It contains evidence on river pollution, water quality, water abstraction, hydroelectric schemes, exemptions, fish farming and other issues of serious concern to the fishing estate and the environment. The report notes the failure of the Fisheries Conservancy Board to use its existing powers to halt the serious decline in fish stocks. There is a feeling among anglers who gave evidence that commercial interests have taken precedence over the future protection and preservation of the fishing industry.

Whatever the reasons for that, one thing is certain: there is a crisis that is producing dead fish, polluted rivers and lakes, toxins in the waters, ineffective legislation, demoralisation among anglers and, in some instances, muzzling of officials. That crisis is exemplified by the statistics and evidence that were given to the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee's inquiry. Some of the statistics are alarming. Between April and November last year 5,000 salmon entered the Lower Bann. In 1961 - 40 years ago - over 104,000 salmon entered that river. Why is that decline in fish stocks continuing, when there are nine organisations and agencies in operation? Why are the people who try to warn others about the situation victimised and demonised? Those questions will only be answered by a root-and-branch overhaul of the existing management structures.

It is common and economic sense to have a single fisheries body operating in the North with strong cross- border linkages to the regional bodies in the South. The present unyielding bureaucratic system is not working and is not cost-effective. The setting up of a new body would, in the long term, not only begin the process of resolving the problems identified in the report, but also put the fishing estate and industry on a sound economic footing. An enhanced Fisheries Conservancy Board is a non-starter. This report deserves better than that.

Mr J Wilson:

I thank the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee Chairperson for his kind words. In anticipation of this report, a journalist who is well known in the angling fraternity said

"These recommendations have taken much longer to produce than anyone anticipated, but we are hoping for major changes in policies after thirty years of decline. Our waterways cannot withstand another three decades of pollution, damage and abstraction, nor policies which favoured industry and commerce over the environment."

Those are telling words.

When the inquiry began, some Members knew that it would lead the Committee to examine matters way beyond the pleasurable sport and pastime of catching a fish with rod and line. The report runs to five volumes. It examines how mismanagement by the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland during the years of direct rule contributed to a decline in angling in Northern Ireland and how silage effluent, pig slurry and heavy and unnecessary dosages of phosphates on grassland contaminated Northern Ireland's streams, rivers and lakes.

The report examines how drainage schemes right across the Province left our rivers' nursery upland habitat looking like canals. This was probably the greatest of all bad deeds. It also examines how mismanagement by the Department of the Environment led to pollution of our waterways by bad planning practice in river corridors and lake and lough shores, by permitting development to take place when it was fully aware that sewage treatment works were designed for much smaller populations, and by permitting industrial establishments to discharge toxic waste into drains, streams and waterways with ineffective monitoring procedures in place.

It examines how the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, over recent years, managed to put itself light years behind Bord Fáilte in promoting angling as a major leisure pursuit and contributor to local economies. It examined how water abstraction, with questionable practices at hydro stations, drained rivers almost dry to the point where the natural process of fish moving upstream to breed was not possible. When a few fish did get upstream their smolts were often crushed to a pulp at the same hydros on their way back down to the sea.

The report examines the relationship between the Fisheries Conservancy Board and its officers on the ground and raises a big question mark over the management practices of that body. It also examines other important issues which will be touched upon by my Colleagues.

I would like to refer briefly to the Black Report, which was the last report of a committee of inquiry into angling in Northern Ireland. It was presented to the then Secretary of State, Humphrey Atkins, on 23 March 1981. It had 65 pages, only 43 recommendations and contained a minority report. The committee had been set up by Roy Mason MP. A civil servant attached to that committee was pulled into an office before the work got under way and told "Here is what we want to come out of this when it is finished." So much for the Black Report.

I would like to look briefly to the future. Minister McGimpsey would be right to say that he and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure cannot put all the wrongs right. They cannot; they will need the co-operation of the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to keep the Northern Ireland Tourist Board focused on catching up with Bord Fáilte.

The Northern Ireland Tourist Board recently announced, with much trumpeting, a new web site, and it was not long before I was scrolling through it. With my knowledge of County Fermanagh and the angling pursuits there, I wondered if it would mention "my other office" (as my wife calls it) - the Mayfly Inn in Kesh. It is a very well- known drinking and eating house where anglers gather from all over Europe, and further afield, for information and to meet old friends.

I know the phone number of the Mayfly Inn by heart. When you log on to the Northern Ireland Tourist Board site and bring up the Mayfly Inn it states "Main Street, Kesh, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh". That is miles away. It then gives a phone number. If you ring that number you will find that you get through to the Mayflower Chinese Restaurant in Portrush. That is the new site.

4.30 pm

It goes on to give a description of the Mayfly Inn, and history will show that the Mayfly Inn got its name from the mayfly - if you see the connection. The description of the Mayfly Inn on the site is actually a description of the mayfly. It goes on to tell you where you can find this mayfly all over the Republic of Ireland - this is the Northern Ireland Tourist Board site. I did not search it any further.

The Minister will need the co-operation of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to introduce good farmyard management practices and give encouragement - and perhaps financial support - to farmers who apply fertilisers that do not turn our large lakes into cesspits, such as Lough Neagh. Unfortunately, it looks as if Lough Erne could go the same way.

He will need the co-operation of the Minister of the Environment to ensure that development proposals are not rubber-stamped to proceed willy-nilly where sewage treatment works are known to have been under stress for some time. He will also need the co-operation of the Minister for Regional Development to ensure that sewage treatment works, such as the one in my home town of Ballyclare, are not polluting the rivers.

I doubt whether it is raining outside at the moment. However, if it were raining heavily then in my home town, upstream of the sewage works on the Six Mile Water, a large pipe would be passing items into the river because the treatment works cannot cope with storm water mixed with sewage. I have stood there and watched identifiable personal hygiene, bathroom and household items pass into the river before they even get near the sewage treatment works. That is what is happening. I am not saying that it is happening right now as I stand here because it is probably not raining, but if it were raining that is what would be happening. Despite that, however, development goes on apace in Ballyclare, as it does in other small towns.

This report has been a personal milestone in my life. Along with other campaigners and correspondents to newspapers and angling magazines, we have manfully tried to bring the destruction of angling to the attention of Northern Ireland Office Ministers and civil servants, making suggestions regarding the improvement of the environment as it affected our rivers and waterways.

I must emphasise that I am talking pre-devolution, because I do believe that things have changed. But pre-devolution they did not listen. Indeed, a well known senior politician once described one of these campaigners as a "b." nuisance because he was trying to bring these matters to the attention of politicians and the public.

I know that the Minister will take care to ensure that the fate that befell the Black Report all those years ago will not befall this report. But he will need the support of his ministerial Colleagues and all the Members of this Assembly. I believe that all our Ministers now know what has to be done.

I encourage all Members to read this report carefully. It is not just about the future of angling; it is about a starting point to address the neglect of the environment that has occurred for too many years. I support the motion.


<< Prev / Next >>