A SINN Féin delegation including Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and MEP Martina Anderson has lent support to a Moville campaign group, which wants the whole of Lough Foyle to remain as British as Finchley unless border negotiations can secure protective clauses to prevent a sewerage pipeline being extended hundreds of metres into the waterway.
Several high-ranking Sinn Féin representatives turned up for a photo opportunity at Glenburney beach at Carnagarve in Inishowen recently to support the Community for a Clean Estuary (CFCE) group.
Ironically, CFCE wants the whole of the Lough Foyle seabed to remain British in order to prevent Donegal County Council (DCC) vesting part of it for the controversial sewer. That’s unless negotiations between London and Dublin can secure protective clauses banning authorities or industry from polluting the waterway.
Spokesperson Enda Craig said he feared the potential settlement of a historic border dispute between the UK and the Republic of Ireland (ROI) - if it were to result in uncontested jurisdiction being won for ROI on the Inishowen side of the boundary - would result in the pipeline going ahead.
Earlier this year ROI Environment Minister Phil Hogan was asked by Donegal Sinn Féin TD Pádraig MacLochlainn for his Department’s stance on the proposed 350 metre pipeline “in view of the fact that the UK Crown Estate claims propriety ownership of the sea floor of Lough Foyle to the high water mark on the Donegal side of the Lough.”
The Minister replied that a successful application for a compulsory purchase order was confirmed by the Irish planning board, An Bord Pleanála, in August 2011.
He went on to claim that the grant of the order was justified under current Irish law and that Lough Foyle’s foreshore was Irish property.
However, this interpretation is disputed by the British Government and the Crown Estate.
Three years ago - after a telecoms chief told a Stormont committee a multi-million pound transatlantic cable could not be brought up Lough Foyle because it was “a disputed border region” - a spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) told the Sentinel that the whole of Lough Foyle was within the UK.
According to Mr Craig - who was joined at Glenburney by a host of Sinn Féiners - ROI should not be granted uncontested jurisdiction on the western shores of Lough Foyle.
Fresh from personally delivering a formal complaint against the sewerage proposal directly to the European Commission in Brussels - a visit facilitated by Fine Gael MEP Marian Harkin and welcomed by Martina Anderson - Mr Craig explained why Lough Foyle should remain British unless sufficient protections are in place.
He referred to “the negotiations between representatives of the UK and Republic of Ireland over the longstanding question of jurisdiction over the seabed of Lough Foyle.”
“This raises for us, as an environmental group, the question of the potential future consequences of a negotiated settlement of the boundary dispute.
“If any boundary is agreed along Lough Foyle, which will grant uncontested jurisdiction to the Republic side of the boundary, our fear is that this will bestow on our local and national authorities, the right to use Lough Foyle for discharge of pollutants into the estuary,” he explained.
“The outfall pipe from the Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP), part of an illogical conceptual overall proposal, is a clear example of this.
“The Donegal County Council have striven against us over the last 23 years and against all reasoned argument, to achieve just that. A Compulsory Purchase Order has actually been raised for the compulsory acquisition of the part of the seabed required for this pipeline.
“This was issued to the Minister for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Marine who are listed under the CPO schedules as the owners or reputed owners of the foreshore. No such ownership exists and this is a false claim,” said Mr Craig.
He said that whilst CFCE would “greatly appreciate a happy solution to this long dispute we can only foresee the ultimate destruction of the biodiversity of Lough Foyle in any solution that would give the right to damage further a waterway that we all share and is precious to all of us on all sides of the dispute.”
Mr Craig said he believed that the Lough could be brought back to health and that clauses needed to be included in any settlement of the border dispute that protected the environment.
“It is for this reason that we appeal strongly for firm pressure be exerted during these negotiations to ensure that protective clauses are introduced which recognize this goal and prevent polluting industries that have reasonable access to open water, discharging into the Foyle for any reason whatsoever,” he said.
“We particularly emphasise a complete ban on any attempt to pump untreated effluent upstream and away from open water for the very purpose of treatment and discharge into our tidal estuary.”