A catastrophe of a statelet
A catastrophe of a statelet


The unionist veto of government in the Six Counties is creating a crisis in public services which is revealing itself in an unpredictable manner.

The power vacuum is being blamed for mounting scandals within the health service, waste collection, power supply, and the funding of libraries, among others.

The most striking example of the current state of decay in the North is Stormont, which houses the powersharing Assembly still paralysed more than 18 months after the DUP began its boycott over Brexit regulations.

The building itself is beginning to crumble, and the potential for falling debris in Parliament Buildings due to a poorly-maintained roof has led to part of the canteen being cordoned off.

People Before Profit Assembly member Gerry Carroll linked the risks of part of the roof falling in to the current political stalemate, suggesting a “certain irony” attached to the issues.

Mr Carroll said: “Repairs should be actioned when necessary, but people will rightly wonder whether Stormont still represents good value for money and whether the building should serve another public purpose.”

But the most disastrous outcome of the Stormont stalemate so far has been the poisoning of Ireland’s largest lake, Lough Neagh.

Large areas have become overwhelmed by toxic blue-green algae, which is clearly visible from space.

The pollution of the lough, a source of 40% of the North’s drinking water, has become a giant metaphor for the failure of the Six County statelet itself.

The lough was inherited by the absentee Nicholas Ashley-Cooper, ‘the 12th Earl of Shaftesbury’, who makes money from it by selling licenses to sand extraction companies. His claim to the lough bed and banks derives directly from the colonial ‘Nine Years’ War’ and the subsequent Plantation of Ulster, and has always been refuted by some nationalists.

The risks from drinking the lough water include headaches, dizziness, nausea, and longer-term, liver damage and neurological damage. And even if the myriad sources of pollution are cut, it is thought that the lake will remain dangerous until 2043.

Gerard McCourt has been working the waters for over 30 years, but it has now made him sick. He said: “It’s finished. It’s a dead duck. The fishing season opens on May 1 and usually, we would fish until Halloween. This year I had to pull the pin in early June.

“Any eels are skinny and starved and I’m blaming that on lack of feeding for them from the Lough Neagh fly. There’s been no Lough Neagh flies, no Mayflies.

“The Lough Neagh Fly is the Achilles heel for Lough Neagh. Wee birds and fish all depend on the flies and there’s nothing. This is it - it’s game over. It will never recover in my lifetime.”

Gerard has now fallen ill after he was splashed in the face by a wave. He said: “I’ve been getting cramps in my stomach, all the things that go with that. I’m not actually being sick but feeling really, really sick and everything that comes with that - the sweats and the shakes.

“It was like a fluey type feeling and that went on all night and I never got a wink of sleep. I’m as weak as water and that last time I was sick, I was at school.

“I’ve spent most of my life lifting lines and eels and everything else and now I’m afraid to put my hands in the water.”

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson (pictured) has avoided comment on the issue, but party councillors in Armagh this week blocked a Sinn Féin motion calling for the setting up of a working group made up of representatives from central government and from the four councils bordering the lough.

Sinn Féin’s Declan Kearney described it as an “ecological catastrophe” and urged the immediate restoration of the Six County Executive to address the emergency.

He said the crisis “highlights the imperative of the power sharing Executive being restored to ensure coordinated ministerial direction and the necessary political oversight.

“It also vindicates the significant case for Lough Neagh being placed into democratic, public ownership to guarantee its ecosystem is restored”.

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