The environmental campaigner was speaking ahead of a major conference in Derry today, Saturday, February 9.
Derry born but now living in the south of England, the 60-year-old is chairman of Amwell Magna Fishery, Britain’s oldest angling club.
His role, forged decades ago from his angling passion on the banks of Derry’s River Faughan, has raised his awareness of environmental issues and river pollution in particular.
As a schoolboy, encouraged by Brother Mons, a teacher at his Christian Brothers’ school, the young Sharkey would get his pre-teenage kicks fishing for salmon and sea trout a couple of miles from his home in Rosemount.
Fly-fishing took a backseat during his time performing with the Undertones and subsequent solo career but in recent years his passion has been rekindled, centering on the River Lea in Hertfordshire close to his home north of London.
His music industry profile has helped Sharkey highlight the plight of England’s chalk streams and now he hopes similar attention will be focused on the north’s rivers, and especially the Faughan.
This weekend he will revisit the spot where nearly 50 years ago he would cast his fly, joining local campaigners to assess the current state of one of the north-west’s finest game fishing waterways.
River Faughan Anglers have been the fore in highlighting the threat to this sensitive habitat posed by illegal dumping, unauthorised sand and gravel extraction, and agricultural pollution.
Sharkey told The Irish News: “I can vividly recall that bit of the river where I used to fish so I’m keen to see what’s going on these days.
“I’m told there’s a pattern developing of lax environmental governance as illustrated not just by the threats to the Faughan, but also the drilling in the Sperrins and the destruction of the ancient Prehen wood near Derry.”
While local campaigners have ensured the Faughan remains in a relatively healthy state, water quality in most of the north’s lakes and rivers is substandard – according to figures from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, just 32 per cent were classed as ‘good or better’ in 2015.
Sharkey regards this as a damning indictment of poor environmental governance, a message he’ll be hammering home when he opens the Gathering conference in Derry today.
“If you want a text book example of regulatory failure you need look no further than Northern Ireland’s environment and our rivers – they’ve been massively let down by those we entrusted to look after their welfare,” he said.
“If I was still living locally, I’d be demanding answers from politicians and civil servants – you were given an objective through 2003 EU legislation but you’ve failed by about 70 per cent.”
He describes the authorities’ failure to adequately protect the region’s waterways as “shameful”.
“As a result of pollution of its spawning grounds and over-fishing, the Atlantic salmon is a breath away from being on the endangered species list so it’s vital to safeguard great salmon rivers like the Faughan,” he says.
“On top of that, God only knows what the hell is happening to Derry’s drinking water.”
* The Gathering takes place today in St Columb’s Park House in Derry from 1.30 pm – 5 pm.