Anna Lo MLA said: “The Department of the Environment approached this issue in completely the wrong manner. They decided that the best way to go about increasing support for a National Park was to hold large public debates with local groups, however all this did was to raise tempers and fuel misconceptions.
“What we need to do is to have a campaign to build support around this. It is not something that should be feared, as it would in fact bring a lot of benefits to Northern Ireland and the local area.
“It would help increase tourism, which has actually prevented a number of farms and rural businesses from going under during these harsh economic times. It would also help farmers and landowners determine where the public can walk and ensure that certain areas are kept off-limits. They would also have better protection from public liability over those who come onto their land.
“A National Park would ensure that there was a group with co-ordinating responsibilities to build up the tourism in the area at the same time as to ensure conservation is respected. There are no environmental areas in Northern Ireland with this sort of managerial aspect which is why we need a National Park here.
“The idea of a National Park has been around since the 1950s, but there has been very little movement to see one designated in Northern Ireland. The Environment Minister has failed to show leadership on this issue, whether it is because he does not see the importance of this issue or because he has not been given adequate support by his party to pursue this idea. After having a few initial meetings I believe that is time that we have a proper campaign to get this achieved. Therefore I am writing to several groups and organisations who I believe would be interested in helping to shape Northern Ireland’s first National Park wherever it is. These include environmental groups, farmers, walking clubs, hoteliers, restaurateurs, the Tourist Board and the Departments for Environment and Agriculture and other political parties.
“It is obviously a very complicated issue that is controversial but there has been interest in it from some other politicians. I hope to be able to provide a forum for these interested parties to help deliver a National Park for Northern Ireland.”