Northern Ireland

Lough Neagh and environment protection complaints prompt EC letter

Sand dredging boat on Lough Neagh
Image caption Sand companies have until the end of June to stop dredging from the bed of Lough Neagh

The European commission is seeking clarification about alleged breaches to environmental regulations, including those protecting Lough Neagh.

The Department of the Environment has received a letter asking for more information following complaints to the commission.

The complaints were made by Friends of the Earth and other organisations 15 months ago.

The department has 10 weeks to provide the information.

The commission then has 10 weeks to decide whether it is satisfied with the answers.

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has given sand companies until the end of June to stop dredging from the bed of the lough.

It is internationally recognised as an important bird habitat and has been given special protection area status under European rules.

Mr Durkan had been criticised by environmentalists for a failure to act to protect it.

News about the commission's letter emerged in response to an assembly question by Green Party leader Steven Agnew.


In response, Mr Durkan said the commission was seeking clarification "on allegations relating to a number of environmental matters, including reference to the Lough Neagh special protection area".

"Lax environmental regulation and poor planning could lead to Northern Ireland facing big so-called infractions, or fines," said Mr Agnew.

Mr Durkan said he would seek to show that "compliance has been achieved, or prioritise any actions necessary to the satisfaction of the commission".

He added that he and his department were taking "all steps necessary to minimise the risk of any infraction penalties".

James Orr of Friends of the Earth said his organisation had raised issues about systematic and persistent failures by the government in fulfilling their legal obligations to the environment.

He claimed important EU directives on habitats and environmental impact assessments had not been properly implemented.

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