NI national parks: 'Angry' meeting between Alex Attwood and UFU

Giant's Causeway The Giant's Causeway has been proposed as one of the sites for national park status

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A meeting held between the environment minister and the Ulster Farmers' Union over plans to designate national parks to Northern Ireland led to a heated debate on Monday night.

Alex Attwood has identified the Mournes, the Causeway coast, the Antrim Glens and Fermanagh Lakelands as likely areas.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK without a national park.

The Ulster Farmers' Union said they feared extra land restrictions.

David Wright, an Irish Farmers' Journal journalist, said the meeting held in Cookstown, County Tyrone, was "one of the most heavy" he had been to.

"There was a lot of anti-feeling against national parks and the proposals put forward by the minister," he said.

"There were a lot of questions, there was a lot of anger and many dissenting voices."

Mr Attwood wants two national parks to be created and has insisted they would not bring extra restrictions for farmers.

Speaking to the BBC's Radio Ulster Good Morning Ulster's programme, Mr Attwood said he hoped the "plain-speaking" and "boisterous" meeting cleared the air.

He said those who had expressed concerns had a "very important voice".

"What we are doing is having a model of national parks that recognises that land ownership and the dispersal of a rural community and the size of our faming business is very different from other parts of these islands and consequently our model will be different," he said.

"Can we find a model that promotes and protects the interests of local land users, the interests of the local community and grows jobs and develops the economy? I think we can and that's what the conversation was about."

One person who attended the meeting contacted the BBC.

"I went to the meeting in Cookstown last night with an open mind," he said.

"The minister failed to make a case for the idea. He kept telling us that we needed better regulation, but couldn't explain why the present set of regulations weren't working.

"It's a long time since I've been in a meeting with so many angry people. It was very apparent that people from the Mournes feel their views have been ignored."

UFU president, Harry Sinclair, has previously said its members feared extra restrictions would be placed on what farmers could do with their land.

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