Opinion divided on Fermanagh fracking referendum

Fracking in Fermanagh has always proved a divisive topic – and now even the suggestion of a referendum on the issue has split opinion.

A vote to gain an insight into public feelings on whether or not fracking is a good thing for the area is something that would give local people a say, according to some local people and politicians – but others feel such a referendum is either not required or would not get a big response.

Currently there is a licence to allow exploration of the area, looking at what effect fracking – a process which uses large quantities of water to extract gas from rock far beneath the ground – may have on the environment.

Fracking is a hot topic worldwide, with many protest groups adamant it is dangerous for the local environment.

DUP Enterprise Minister and Fermanagh native Arlene Foster has said the positives for her county in terms of jobs and investment could be enormous.

But now Sinn Fein’s Phil Flanagan has suggested a referendum to get a clear idea of how local people feel about the potential for fracking in their area.

The DUP’s Bert Johnson disagrees with his council colleague’s view on holding a referendum, saying it is “unlikely” to happen, but adding that he is as concerned as anyone else about the environment.

“I think there should be a survey, of maybe 1,000 local people, to see what people think. But realistically I think we should leave the matter [of deciding whether to go ahead with fracking] to the Department. I don’t think they will act irresponsibly,” he said.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson yesterday hit out at Sinn Fein for suggesting a referendum, saying the proposal “was simply being put up by Sinn Fein as another attempt to block economic development”.

“The debate on fracking should be taken forward on the basis of evidence as to its safety and the economic impact it can have,” he said.

Local opinion among those who spoke to the News Letter yesterday was divided.

Enniskillen woman Ann-Marie McSherry said it is a common topic of conversation in the area, but admitted she finds it confusing and complex.

“From what I’ve heard I would be against it, but I’m not sure I know enough about it,” said the 32-year-old office worker at SD Kells in the town.

“If there was a referendum I would research it a bit more before voting I think.”

Will Brown, who works in Sloan’s shoe shop, said he hadn’t heard much talk about it – but would be likely to vote no in a referendum.

Another man from Letterbreen, who did not wish to be named, said most people did not know or care about fracking, and likely would not take part in a referendum.

“The people who are dead against it number about 100, if that,” said the 30-year-old.

“I think fracking is something that could easily happen here.”

A full council meeting will be held on February 3 to discuss the matter.