Exposing the pollution of our waterways

For decades politicians have been silent on the well-known fact that raw sewerage has been routinely flowing into the River Erne. Former NI Water workers report sewerage having had to be suctioned out when the volumes got too great. Anglers report an underlayer of congealed waste in stagnant pools located around the town.

Like many other towns in the North, Enniskillen retains a Victorian-era style sewer system designed to deal with excessive volumes of brown water by allowing it to overflow into the river. The problem is that the system hasn’t received proper investment for decades so now every time we get a heavy rain (regularly!) sewer water floods out of the top of the combined sewer outlets. What is worse, it has been confirmed in writing to Cllr O’Cofaigh that grills meant to filter solid matter from overflowing have been removed to reduce costs of staff having to clear them out regularly (all to meet Stormont austerity budgets).

The result has been, and continues to be, an environmental disaster for the River Erne but a blind eye is turned as the responsibility for this contamination falls squarely on the Stormont Executive. By the decision of Stormont Ministers, the NI Environment Agency (meant to levy fines on those who contaminate the environment) is not independent but is constituted as an agency funded by the Agriculture Department. In response to questions from Cllr O’Cofaigh about their inaction, they protested that they do impose fines but inadvertently revealed that the average fine imposed since 2011 is only about £4000. Even under the Tories in England, the fines imposed from the Environment Agency there on water companies for contamination mount into the tens of millions!

The ongoing pollution is affecting tourism and threatening the health and safety of all water users. We are proud to promote outdoor water sports in Enniskillen but in response to his concerns for those entering the water around the island, Cllr O’Cofaigh was told by the NI Environment Agency that people should only enter the water in designated areas and even then only outside heavy rainfall periods. When are we going to tell visitors to the town about this?

In the face of opposition from right-wing councillors, Cllr O’Cofaigh secured a majority for his proposal that councillors be provided with a report detailing options for Fermanagh & Omagh District Council to mount a legal challenge to the ongoing pollution of the River Erne around Enniskillen. Fermanagh & Omagh District Council must act to end Stormont’s pollution!

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