Greens call for an independent environmental agency in NI after Poots announced the English office would extend its mandate to Northern Ireland


The Green Party has called for an independent environmental protection agency in Northern Ireland, following the Agriculture Minister’s announcement that England’s Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) would be given remit extended to include NI.

n Monday, Edwin Poots, who is both agriculture and environment minister, revealed new legislation for NI in relation to the UK Environment Act for Northern Ireland.

He said key elements will include his department’s legal obligations to publish an environmental improvement plan (EIP), issue a policy statement on environmental principles and OEP’s ability to fulfill of its functions in NI.

This is of particular concern to the leader of the Greens, Claire Bailey.

“It remains to be seen how OEP will operate in Northern Ireland and how effective it will be,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.

The OEP was legally established in November 2021 and is intended to operate as an independent environmental watchdog in England and Northern Ireland, a role previously assumed by the European Commission.

In a statement, the Ministry of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs said the aim of the new body is to hold public authorities accountable for the proper implementation of environmental legislation.

His duties in Northern Ireland further include reviewing environmental improvement plans and environmental law, advising departments on environmental law and tackling breaches of environmental law. environment.

Ms Bailey continued: “Since Brexit, Northern Ireland has been left without scrutiny from the European Commission. Although the OEP does not replace all of the functions that the European Commission previously held, such as the power to impose fines, it does have a key oversight role, and oversight of Northern Ireland’s environmental performance is long awaited.

“We have a no-environment, no-waste and no-ammonia strategy,” the South Belfast MP added.

“We don’t have an air quality strategy, despite Northern Ireland’s dirty air which causes hundreds of premature deaths a year here. Northern Ireland is the twelfth worst region in the world in terms of biodiversity loss, and not all of our waterways meet the right basic standards. We need an independent environmental protection agency for Northern Ireland.

“Minister Poots is overseeing a public health and environmental crisis. His department and the NI Environment Agency have serious questions to answer about how pollution in Northern Ireland could have gotten so bad.

“Northern Ireland urgently needs its own Environment Act which reflects our unique environmental and geographical context, including the legal obligations of the departments to achieve the targets. The overall aim should, of course, be clear zero, and we shouldn’t hide behind shared goals. When we succeed, we can start building a sustainable future for all.

Mr Poot and his department have additionally been contacted for a response to Ms Bailey’s comments, but previously speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the minister said he had taken action to limit the impact of farming on the environment.

He cited the introduction of low-emission slurry spreading equipment that will reduce ammonia releases by around 25%. And funding for soil testing to determine soil nutrient content, allowing farmers to apply only the necessary nutrient content.

The new South Belfast DUP Assembly candidate acknowledged that legislation was slow to pass through Stormont, but argued that his department had introduced many strategies and action plans which will have a huge benefit for the environment.

On the issue of air pollution and its impact on public health, Mr Poots would have liked to present a clear air strategy for Northern Ireland during this term of the Assembly. A series of recommendations await the next DAERA minister.

Announcing the new legal framework on Monday, Mr Poots said: “These measures will not only strengthen existing environmental protections, but create mechanisms that will benefit future generations through a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable Northern Ireland.

“Protecting and improving our environment is a priority for my ministry and I am pleased to introduce these new provisions to further protect our planet. It is essential that Northern Ireland continues to play its part in the wider environment and climate change agendas and these arrangements will enable us to do so. The independent opinion of the OEP is welcome to ensure good environmental governance.

Dame Glenys Stacey, President of OEP, said: “This is another important step in improving and protecting the environment, and a welcome new responsibility for OEP.

“We can’t wait to start the work and are confident we can make a positive difference for the environment and the people of Northern Ireland.”


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