LONGSTANDING fishermen’s land access on the shores of Lough Derg and Lough Graney may sink if the ESB is sold to an international private company, Clare Labour General Election candidate, Michael McNamara has claimed.
Mr McNamara, who was ratified as the Labour Party’s Clare election candidate last week, has also warned that landowners who enjoyed the use of rights of way and access to land near Lough Derg could see it disappear under any new deal.
Under the Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies agreed by the Government as part of the EU-IMF package for Ireland, the State is required to consult with the European Commission with a view to setting targets for the privatisation of State-owned assets.
A new Review Group on State Assets and Liabilities was established by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan to draw up a list of possible asset disposals in the public sector, including commercial state bodies such as ESB.
In 1935, the Irish government handed over all fishing rights on the Shannon to the ESB following the enactment of national legislation. Mr McNamara said tourism in East and West Clare will be badly hit if fishermen and landowner rights are not protected in any new deal.
He said he is worried that none of Clare’s deputies sought clarity on this issue before Wednesday’s Dáil motion on the deal with the IMF.
“Those fishing rights must not be sold into private hands to be used to generate funds at the expense of generations of Irish citizens, as well as tourists, who fish on Lough Derg.
“With very little assistance from the State, local angling clubs have done great work in restocking the lake in recent years. This in turn attracts tourists who provide revenues to our local community.
“The Government should be focussing on developing a county-wide strategy for water-based tourism in line with the Labour Party’s proposals to promote tourism in May of this year. Retaining the fishing rights on Lough Derg in State hands is essential in that regard.
He also noted, “At the same time the ESB acquired the fishing rights, it also acquired some shoreline and low-lying areas that it can flood. The successors of the original farmers from whom those areas were acquired now pay an annual sum to the ESB in return for continuing to farm them.
“It would be a cruel irony if as a direct result of the IMF deal to refinance the banks, farmers – who couldn’t get loans from the banks when they were throwing out money during the boom years – could now face increased payments from a new private owner for those lands, originally acquired by ESB in the public interest,” he added.
An ESB spokeswoman stated, “As ESB ownership is a matter for the shareholders and particularly for Government as the majority shareholder, the agency has no comment on this matter”.