asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will initiate a study on the long-term effects of toxic waste in Lough Neagh.
A study by the Ulster university on chironomids in the Lennymore bay area of Lough Neagh is under way. This, together with the studies of algal growth and pesticide residues already being carried out by the Department of Agriculture, will indicate the effects of toxic waste.
Will the Minister confirm that in January this year there was a significant spillage of a highly toxic chemical called tributyl tin oxide into Lough Neagh and that, while it may not pose an immediate threat to people who drink the water, there is a serious possibility that this chemical is dangerous to wildlife and plantlife in the lough? Does the Minister agree that a survey should be carried out into the effects of that spillage so that we know what is happening and to give an assurance to local people who are concerned about it?
The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that there was a spillage, but as soon as it occurred my Department advised the Department of Agriculture, the Fishery Conservancy Board for Northern Ireland and the residents living near where the spillage took place. Three separate laboratories analysed samples from the lough, and I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that the spillage was confined to the immediate area where the tributyl tin oxide was spilt. There was a feeling that perhaps the Department would have been better advised to have made a statement about the spillage as soon as it occurred. We took the view that that may have caused unnecessary alarm about the nature of it. When we checked, we found that the spillage was closely confined. Therefore, the results will not affect the lough. At the same time, we are ensuring that studies are taking place within the lough to check exactly what the position is.
Does my hon. Friend, with his Ulster nurture, recall that Finn McCool plucked out the land where Lough Neagh now is, hurled it into the sea, thus creating the Isle of Man, and that Lough Neagh is reputed in consequence to be bottomless? Did the studies to which my hon. Friend referred take into account the bottomlessness of Lough Neagh?
I am afraid that that leaves me slightly out of my depth. My information is that Lough Neagh is a shallow lough, and my hon. Friend and I would not be likely to sink very far in it. I shall refer his question to Finn McCool for verification.
Will my hon. Friend take account of the fact that in days gone by I have not only fished in the lough but eaten the excellent eels that come from it? Will he bear in mind that it is important to protect the eels and the eel industry over there, because when smoked the eels are probably the finest in the world?
The ecology of Lough Neagh is of extreme importance, not only because of the quality of the eels and the pollan, which is a freshwater herring almost unique in the world, but because of the salmon and the trout. I assure my hon. Friend that I will do exactly as he asks, because I enjoy eating them as well.