The big debate: Mournes National Park divides opinion
The debate over whether the Mournes should be designated as a National Park looks set to rumble on after a meeting last night in Newcastle.
Support for and against the prospect of National Park status for the Mournes – which is one of four sites being considered – appears to be evenly split and more than 1000 people attended the public meeting, with the majority stating their opposition.
The debate is continuing in cyber space too, with two Twitter accounts voicing their stance on the issue. Advocating a National Park, ‘Yes National Park’ has 142 followers on Twitter and ‘No National Park’ has 123 followers. Both accounts have taken to the virtual world to push forward their case and both have publicly clashed over the issue.
The Slieve Donard Hotel played host to the meeting after Environment Minister Alex Attwood announced in June that the Mournes was one of the most likely candidate areas for designation as a National Park. The Minister also confirmed that his plan was not for one, but two National Parks, when designation does happen.
Speaking back in June, Attwood said: “The Built and Natural Heritage is a big part of the great quality of our lives and a big part of tourism and jobs in the future. Northern Ireland is the only part of these islands that does not have National Parks.
“It is time to grasp the opportunity. National Parks, modeled for our circumstances here, can be a strong way to protect our environment and secure jobs.”
With the majority in attendance intimating their opposition to the idea, Alex Attwood’s SDLP colleague Margaret Ritchie, who attended the meeting, remained tight lipped on which course of action she preferred.
“We want, along with the people of south Down, to see the best outcome in terms of economic prosperity for all the people of the Mournes.”
She added, “We must try to achieve that and that means everybody getting around the table and finding a solution.”
Valerie Hanna of the Mourne Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty residents group, spoke to Newry Times and said the huge turnout was ‘indicative of the depth of feeling there is in the community surrounding this issue’.
She stated, “During what is probably the best week of weather we have had all summer, the farmers and families turned out in their droves to make a very clear statement to all MLAs – they do not want, nor will tolerate a national park being imposed on them. There were representatives present from the Glens, Sperrins and Fermanagh.
“The meeting was advertised as a public meeting so was open to anyone to come and express their views. The visitors from the Brecon Beacons addressed issues of tourism as well as farming and advocated no benefit to either industry.”
Newry and Armagh DUP Assemblyman William Irwin MLA said the issue has generated a high level of concern amongst rural dwellers and farmers in the greater Mourne area and because he is a farmer, he can understand their frustrations and fears over these proposals.
“I understand Minister Attwood is keen to advertise the benefits of national park status however, at a time when agriculture is under enormous pressure it is quite clear farmers see the prospect of a national park as an unnecessary and bureaucratic burden with the potential as they see it to restrict farming in the area.
He added, “One thing is certain and that is that farmers must be listened to on this important matter and their views have to be given the utmost consideration. The farming community will not be walked over.”
DUP MLA Jim Wells stated, “The turnout would indicate that there is a great deal of interest in the National Park issue. The meeting provided a useful opportunity for residents and landowners to put forward their views.
“There will be further consultations on the proposal during the incoming weeks and all public representatives will listen to the various points of view.”
Newry Times conducted a poll of readers on our Newry Times Facebook page and asked them a simple question: ‘Do you want the Mournes to be designated as a National Park?’
Of the respondents, an overwhelming majority answered ‘No’ (117 votes) to the Mournes being designated as a National Park. 55 people voted ‘yes’ and 5 people said they were ‘undecided.
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