VIDEO: Blue Flag winning Ballyronan Marina a 'no go zone' for swimmers because of raw sewage concerns

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A Mid Ulster-based community swimming group with more than 1,300 members has been forced to look elsewhere for their daily dip because of what they fear is raw sewage floating in the waters around Ballyronan Marina.

The marina, which recently received its 15th consecutive Blue Flag award, has been described as a "no go zone" for swimmers.

Mary Elizabeth O'Hagan, of The Ballyronan Bluetits, said the group came back to the Lough Neagh last October when the blue-green algae cleared, only to find sewage fungus in a nearby river adjacent to the marina.

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"Despite repeated reports to NI Water in February and March, the issue remains unresolved, preventing safe swimming," she claimed.

Thomas McElhone and Mary Elizabeth O'Hagan pictured at Ballyronan Marina. Credit: National WorldThomas McElhone and Mary Elizabeth O'Hagan pictured at Ballyronan Marina. Credit: National World
Thomas McElhone and Mary Elizabeth O'Hagan pictured at Ballyronan Marina. Credit: National World

Thomas McElhone who sits on the marina's board of directors and is its rear commodore, said for the past eight years Ballyronan Marina has lacked a pump-out station for removing sewage from moored boats.

"Additionally, vents installed 15 years ago to prevent stagnant water have been blocked for over a decade, leading to poor water quality. Last year, severe blue-green algae blooms, up to four inches deep in places, rendered the marina unusable," he said.

"The Blue Flag is a prestigious award for beaches and marinas, symbolizing excellence in environmental education, tourism, environmental management, and safety. Displaying a Blue Flag assures visitors of high standards in water quality, safety, and amenities.

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Mr McElhone claimed: "Mid Ulster Council, which operates the marina, had no contingency plans, allowing these toxins to linger. Raw sewage was found on the shore where families and children were playing, unaware of the dangers. There were no signs to alert the public about the hazardous waste or the algae.

Decking at Ballyronan Marina which leading to where the pump station is located. Credit: Thomas McElhoneDecking at Ballyronan Marina which leading to where the pump station is located. Credit: Thomas McElhone
Decking at Ballyronan Marina which leading to where the pump station is located. Credit: Thomas McElhone

“Despite these significant issues, Ballyronan Marina was still awarded a Blue Flag, which should represent excellence in every category, including water quality, which is clearly not the case in Ballyronan.

"The water is unsafe for swimming or any contact, and the ongoing pollution has devastated the local community who once found solace and support in their shared activities at the Lough. Mid Ulster Council has been made aware of these issues for the last eight years and yet have taken no action to date."

A spokesperson for Mid Ulster District Council said the council is committed to maintaining high water quality standards at Ballyronan Marina.

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"We conduct regular water quality tests, particularly over the summer months, especially before events such as canoe summer camps. These samples are analysed by an accredited laboratory and have consistently met satisfactory standards,” said the spokesperson.

Vents to prevent stagnant water in Ballyronan Marina have been blocked for a decade according to Mr McElhone. Credit: Thomas McElhoneVents to prevent stagnant water in Ballyronan Marina have been blocked for a decade according to Mr McElhone. Credit: Thomas McElhone
Vents to prevent stagnant water in Ballyronan Marina have been blocked for a decade according to Mr McElhone. Credit: Thomas McElhone
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"To date, no sewage incidents or positive findings have been reported within the marina. However, in light of some concerns being raised by the public, we are actively reviewing the closed pump-out station via our internal procedures.

"During our investigations we have found no evidence of sewage spills from moored boats. We will continue to conduct further investigations to ensure the highest standards are maintained.

"Regarding the Marina’s Blue Flag status, this is awarded based on four areas: environmental education and information, environmental management, safety and service facilities, and water quality. While Blue Flag marinas are not required to undergo specific water testing, they must maintain visual cleanliness without any signs of pollution. We continually strive to meet these criteria and uphold the integrity of our Blue Flag status for 2024 and over the last 15 years."

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A spokesperson for Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, which manages the Blue Flag programme, said they would not like to make any comment at this stage.

A NI Water spokesperson said: “NI Water can confirm that we investigated the reports at Ballyronan in February and found the works were operating normally within the consent parameters, with discharges within Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) permissions.

"No complaints or reports were received in March but if further details are provided we can investigate further. NI Water would welcome an update from swimmers including The Ballyronan Bluetits. Although bathing water testing falls under the remit of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Marine and Fisheries Division and should be raised with DAERA, we would be pleased to look into the issues arising.”

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