A community barge project has asked Mid Ulster District Council to aid its efforts to ensure the facilities along the River Blackwater are renovated.
Speaking at meeting of the council’s development committee, representatives of the Blackwater Community Barge project outlined the work the group do and advised the local authority of the need for a modernisation of the facilities along the district’s waterways.
“Recently we have secured a big boat on the river. It carries 10 people and has full disabled access and that was made possible thanks to a partnership with the Wheelyboat Trust,” said the project’s Chair, Conor Mallon.
“We have managed to train 12 crew members and it is designed to be free at the point of usage, we take donations, but it is largely designed for community use and we have found it very successful to date.
“We are asking for the council’s assistance in the drive to get an entrance from the Blackwater out on to Lough Neagh.
“At the minute it is difficult to get larger boats in and out of Lough Neagh. Waterways Ireland do not currently take any responsibility for the Blackwater.”
He continued: “On the Co Armagh side there is a lovely new facility, since it opened it is getting great usage but on the Tyrone side the place we would use is the Moy jetty and it is not fit for purpose.
“The mouth of the River Blackwater and the Moy jetty are, we feel, a missed opportunity at present.”
“Unless you were very able bodied you would not be able to get on or off the boat at Moy. Anything the council could do in terms of assisting with upgrading the Moy jetty to a usable standard would be great.”
Reflecting on the presentation, Councillor Niamh Doris praised the groups efforts and agreed more needed to be done to improve the access to Lough Neagh.
“I was down not so long ago to see the entry into Lough Neagh and it is nearly like a wall was built to stop people getting into it,” said Cllr Doris.
“I know there are a lot of boat owners in Derrylaughan and Maghery who would say it easier to take their boats to the lakes in Fermanagh than Lough Neagh because of how bad it is.
“It is very difficult to see the potential in the area and know it is not being reached.”
Councillor Walter Cuddy said the project has been talked about for a long time and having spent some time kayaking on the River Blackwater he can appreciate the beauty and tranquillity of the river.
“It is a wee world of its own, the banks are high and when you are on it, you would not think Dungannon is simply a few miles away,” he said.
“This is a community project and it is a small group of people and it shows what can be done when their is a passion involved.
“I know the council is becoming more aware of the Blackwater and Lough Neagh and it is important we keep this momentum going.”
Councillor Dan Kerr thanked the group for their presentation and expressed concern at the amount of time it takes for Lough Neagh rescue to get onto the river.
“One of the issues that I had raised is the barrier of time it takes for Lough Neagh Rescue to get onto Lough Neagh at that part of the lough,” said Cllr Kerr.
“If somebody was to find themselves in difficulty at that part of the lough, the debris and other stuff that is causing the blockage results in time delays for Lough Neagh Rescue and its volunteers and it is also damaging to their boats and the boats of local fishermen.
“Going forward, as has been mentioned in the presentation, hopefully all relevant stakeholders can grab this issue by the scruff of the neck and try and get this resolved once and for all.”