(The Environment: North/South Ministerial Council Sectoral Meeting)

– in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 11:45 am on 12th March 2001.

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Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP 11:45 am, 12th March 2001

I will make a statement on the third environment sectoral meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council, which was held at Belle Isle, County Fermanagh, on Friday 23 February 2001.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Sir John Gorman] in the Chair)

Following nomination by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, Mr Mark Durkan and I attended the meeting, which I chaired. The Irish Government were represented by Mr Noel Dempsey, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. This statement has been agreed by Mr Durkan and is also made on his behalf.

The meeting began by reviewing progress on the current environmental work programme. The Council noted progress by the Environment and Heritage Service and the Environmental Protection Agency in developing a joint register of environmental research projects. The agencies are in the process of tendering for a joint contract to develop a web site of current environmental research. Access to this information will help researchers to avoid duplication of effort and to identify topics for research and possible funding sources.

The working group on water quality reported on the two areas that it was tasked to take forward — namely, water quality strategies for the Erne and Foyle catchment areas and the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive.

Dr Alan Barr of Kirk McClure Morton made a short presentation on the main findings and recommendations of the review of the Erne and Foyle catchment management strategies. Copies of the report have been placed in the Assembly Library.

The Council also approved the publication of a report — ‘New Technologies for Monitoring’ — which was prepared jointly by the two environmental agencies. This report has been placed on the agencies’ web sites, and copies have been deposited in the Assembly Library.

At the second environment sectoral meeting the Council agreed that co-operation on new technologies for monitoring should concentrate initially on water quality monitoring. In view of the importance of water quality monitoring for the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive, the Council decided at the Belle Isle meeting that this work should be taken forward by the working group on water quality as part of its work on the implementation of the Directive.

The Council noted the progress being made by the two environmental agencies in developing databases of environmental information. Ministers agreed that initial work should concentrate on cataloguing the information held by both jurisdictions. Decisions will then be taken on how best to provide Internet access to the data.

The Council agreed that the two Environment Departments should conduct a joint study into a number of the most significant impacts of agriculture on the environment. The terms of reference of the study include: assessment of the use of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilisers; consideration of good farming practices and relevant controls both North and South; and assessment of the cross-border movement of slurries and spent mushroom compost. A steering group including representatives of the relevant Agriculture Departments will take the work forward.

The Council then turned its attention to cross-border waste management. Ministers agreed that officials should begin work on identifying options to encourage the expansion of waste recycling in Ireland. In particular, it was agreed that a joint approach to developing uses and markets for secondary materials and recyclates would be of mutual benefit.

Ministers also noted the arrangements for taking forward the issues raised by Assembly Members, following my first report to the Assembly on 11 September 2000. Pollution of the Erne system and the spread of zebra mussels will be studied by the water quality working group in the context of its work on the implementation of the Water Framework Directive.

Investigating problems of disposing spent mushroom compost will form part of the study on the environmental impacts of agriculture. Primary responsibility for transposing the Major Accident Hazards Directive in the South rests with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment rather than with Minister Dempsey’s Department. It is not, therefore, a matter for the environment sectoral group.

Finally, the Council considered and agreed the text of a joint communiqué that was issued after the meeting. A copy of that communiqué has been placed in the Assembly Library. The Council agreed that the next sectoral meeting on the environment will take place in June in the South.

Photo of Carmel Hanna Carmel Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

I welcome the Minister’s statement, in particular the announcement on co-operation on new technologies for water quality monitoring. Does the Minister believe that there are adequate measures in place to protect our waterways, and that there are sufficient fines to deter polluters?

Is he considering raising the 10% target reduction of medium to severe water pollution incidents to a more challenging level and, indeed, perhaps raising the fines?

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

New monitoring technologies are extremely complex and must be thoroughly considered. Copies of the joint report on new technologies for monitoring have been placed in the Assembly Library. The report is also available on the websites of the two environmental agencies.

The report concluded that there are well-established methodologies for monitoring emissions to air and water and for measuring air quality. The report stated that co-operation should initially concentrate on monitoring water quality. The initial work in that area will focus on three main issues; the chemical and biological monitoring of surface waters, and the assessment of fish stocks.

Our interest in fish stocks is purely as an indicator of environment quality — any work will be undertaken in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure as appropriate. Where there are other issues, these will be followed up.

Photo of Mrs Joan Carson Mrs Joan Carson UUP

I welcome the Minister’s statement that the working group on water quality has reported on the water quality strategies for the Erne and Foyle catchments and the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive, and also that the working group will be studying the pollution of the Erne system and the spread of zebra mussels as part of the Directive.

What progress has the working group made in the water quality strategies? What advice would the Minister give to boat owners and anglers in the Lough Erne area?

Can he give an assurance that positive action will be pursued on the zebra mussel problem in Lough Erne? That was not our problem — it was one that we could have used the policy of "fortress Ulster" on — but unfortunately it is with us. Will the Minster update the Assembly on progress, if any, that we can make?

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

The Water Framework Directive requires member states to identify cross-border waterways as international river basin districts and member states are required to co-operate on the management of water quality throughout such a district on both sides of the border.

Northern Ireland’s three main waterways are the Erne, the Foyle and the Lough Neagh systems. They form part of catchments with the South. The group has made good progress in two areas: the Erne and the Foyle water quality strategies. Kirk McClure Morton, consulting engineers, were commissioned to review the Erne and Foyle catchment management strategies. They presented the main findings of the report at the meeting at Belle Isle.

Significant water quality management advances have been made since the original strategies for Lough Erne and Lough Foyle were completed in 1997–98. However, there are important new areas of work to be done to meet the water framework directive requirements.

The working group has begun to plan for the long-term implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive. Relevant officials from both jurisdictions and their counterparts in Great Britain will have to liaise on technical matters.

The occurrence of zebra mussels outside their natural habitat is a problem in many parts of Europe and north America. They first appeared in the Erne system in 1996. They probably spread to Ireland on the hulls of boats that entered the River Shannon and then to the Erne system by the pleasure craft.

The main thrust of my Department’s spring publicity campaign will be to educate the public abaout the mussel problem. It will be aimed particularly at boat owners, anglers and those who engage in watersports. We need their help to stop the spread of the mussels to waters that are not yet affected. The campaign will alert those groups to the danger of transporting zebra mussels to unaffected waters and will explain how their boats and equipment can be cleansed by steam-cleaning —[Interruption]

Photo of Sir John Gorman Sir John Gorman UUP

Order. There is someone in the Chamber who has a mobile phone. Will he or she please remove himself or herself and the phone.

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

The campaign will explain how boats and equipment can be cleansed by steam cleaning hulls, and so on.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

In October 2000 the environment sectoral meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council agreed to proposals for the development of the database of environmental information. It was agreed that the emphasis should be placed on a few specific matters such as the options for completing the CORINE Land Cover Project 2000 and the development and integration of several key databases on matters such as river and air quality. Today, the Minister told us that the sectoral meeting of the Council noted the progress on those issues. What exactly has that progress been?

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

The land cover map records in detail the extent and type of land use — for example, forest, wetland, farmland and coastal areas. The information is valuable to environmental planners, regulators, agriculturalists and conservationists. The main difference between the UK land cover map and the CORINE map is the level of detail in each. The CORINE map records information to a minimum of five hectares. The UK land cover map is more detailed and records information every one hectare. Northern Ireland is included in the more detailed UK land cover 2000 map.

It is a European requirement that Northern Ireland also be part of the CORINE land cover map. There should be no additional costs to Northern Ireland. The cost of converting the UK land cover map to CORINE will be shared by the UK and European Environmental Agency. The obvious benefit of a joint land cover map is that land types will be classified in the same way in the North and in the South. It will be essential to have similar information in the North and the South when characterising shared river basin districts for the water framework directive.

We are working on other databases, and the first step in the integration of key environmental databases will be to catalogue the information held by both jurisdictions. Full integration of data may not be necessary — the catalogue itself may be sufficient.

People will have Internet access to the information in both jursidictions. It is too soon to estimate the cost of developing a catalogue of environmental information. However, both environmental agencies had already begun the process for their own purposes.

Progress is slowly being made towards integration, which is not expected significantly to increase the costs.

Photo of Mr Mick Murphy Mr Mick Murphy Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.

The Minister had a meeting on 23 February, and foot- and-mouth disease was confirmed around that time.

What controls has the Minister considered placing on environmental issues? Was that discussed at the cross- border meeting? What advice has the Minister given to people travelling either North to South or South to North — for example, hill walkers?

12.00

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

There were no confirmed cases of foot- and-mouth disease when the environment sectoral meeting was held. We have assisted the Department of Agriculture by taking the necessary measures and precautions over the movement of people. We have eased the enforcement of the tachograph rules. We have worked in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, and we will continue to do so. We work with that Department — it is mainly a Department of Agriculture issue — under the guidance of the Executive Committee.

Photo of David McClarty David McClarty UUP

I am interested in the fact that the Council has noted the progress made by the Environment and Heritage Service and the Environmental Protection Agency in developing a joint register of environmental research projects. The Minister mentioned that the progress of the two environmental agencies in developing databases of environmental information was also noted. What progress has been made so far in developing the joint register of environmental research projects? Can the Minister briefly outline the benefits that will arise from the involvement of the two agencies in developing the databases of environmental information?

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

An advertisement calling for tenders for a contract to develop a web site for the joint environmental research register was placed in newspapers both North and South on 22 February 2001. Access to the register will be through the web sites of the two agencies or through the sites of partner organisations that have contributed information about their research to the register.

The register currently contains information about environmental protection research carried out by the Environment and Heritage Service and the Environmental Protection Agency. Research about nature conservation will be added next. Thereafter it is planned to add information from academic institutions and the private and commercial sectors where available. The register will be of great benefit to anyone who is involved in environmental research or anyone — such as universities and colleges, environmental groups, industry, environmental consultants and agriculturists — who wants to know about the current and past studies. Sharing the information will help researchers and sponsors to avoid duplication of effort and cost, identify new areas for research, find partners for collaboration and identify potential sources of funding.

Information about the new monitoring technologies is in the Assembly Library; it is also available on the web sites of the two environmental agencies. The report concluded that there are well-established methodologies for monitoring emissions to air and water and for measuring air quality and that co-operation should concentrate initially on monitoring water quality. Initial work in this area will focus on three main issues — chemical and biological monitoring of surface waters and the assessment of fixed fish stocks.

Photo of Eddie McGrady Eddie McGrady Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for the comprehensive report on the joint work by the two environmental agencies. Can he confirm that the Environment and Heritage Service is an agency of the Department of the Environment, whereas the Environmental Protection Agency is independent of the Republic of Ireland’s Department of the Environment and Local Government? Northern Ireland is the only part of these islands that does not have an environmental protection agency which is independent of the worst polluter — namely, the Department of the Environment itself.

Is the Minister aware of the inland fishermen who complained bitterly for over two decades that they could not get the Department to act on proven pollution? Is it not time for Northern Ireland to have an independent environmental protection agency that would act unilaterally to guard the environment on all the issues that the Minister so clearly listed in his report this morning?

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

This question is very important and the issue is one that has been referred to many times. The Member is referring to pollution incidents where there has been Crown immunity. If we were to introduce an independent agency, we would be creating another quango — and I am not sure that that is what is wanted.

There are advantages and disadvantages. I assure the Member that any Government agency that pollutes the water will certainly be exposed. We do that rather pedantically. Sewage treatment is the responsibility of the Department for Regional Development; it is not within my remit. Regarding pollution, we will certainly go after the polluter, whoever he may be, and we will enforce the issues when they come before us and where it is possible to do so.

Photo of Paul Berry Paul Berry DUP

At the October 2000 meeting the Minister raised the issue of the Major Accident Hazards Directive, which had not been implemented by the Republic of Ireland. Today, he has told us that it is not appropriate to the environment sectoral group but to the South’s Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Has the Minister passed our deep concerns about this Directive to the relevant Minister, to have something done about the issue?

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

The Major Accident Hazards Directive is not within the remit of Mr Dempsey’s Department and, therefore, did not come under this sectoral meeting. I assure the Member that where the issue impinges on us, we will be pursuing the matter vehemently with the Republic of Ireland’s Government. This would be a national issue, and the UK Government would be involved.

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a leasCheann Comhairle. I thank the Minister for his statement and particularly welcome the presentation of the two reports — the working group on water quality and new technologies for monitoring. I look forward to examining these reports, particularly given the recent evidence presented to the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee that the Department of the Environment is one of the major polluters. I would like to see the actions, proposals and recommendations that those reports contain taken forward.

My question to the Minister is on the part of his report that deals with waste management. While I welcome the announcement about the cross-border waste study, it is somewhat vague and general. The study is very important, and I want to know when it will begin. How urgently is this matter being addressed, and how long will it take? Will the Minister undertake to review the current waste management strategy in the light of this important research?

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

I am pleased with the progress that has been made on implementing the waste management strategy since its publication in March 2000. My Department will make £3·5 million available to help councils implement the strategy, which requires district councils to submit their waste management plans to my Department by June 2001. District councils have formed three waste management planning groups to meet this requirement.

Further planned work includes: establishing a new advisory board, which will comprise 15 members, including a chairman, to assist my Department implement the strategy; the issue of planning policy guidance on planning and waste management; the introduction of regulations to place a duty of care on anyone handling controlled waste to ensure that it is managed properly and recovered or disposed of safely; and the introduction of a waste management licensing scheme to control the operation of waste disposal sites. The progress may be slow but we are working on it and movement has been made.

A study is beginning straight away, and I will also inform the Member when the first review of the waste management strategy comes around.

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

I welcome the Minister’s statement. With regard to the study on the expansion of waste recycling, what involvement will there be of private sector bodies, which seem to be playing the major part in recycling and on which we will be depending if we are to meet the targets now being set?

As regards the study on the impact of agriculture on the environment, this is not exactly the best timing for such a study. Moreover, it is couched in terms such as "consideration of good farming practices" and "relevant controls", as opposed to perhaps "consideration of the encouragement of good farming practices". Would it not be better to encourage farmers, by grant aid, to move towards better practices — especially in the face of the current crisis of BSE and foot-and mouth disease — rather than suggest further controls, to add to their problems?

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

The Member has referred to the waste management strategy. It has set a target for district councils to recycle 15% of household waste by 2005. This will entail a significant increase in the current level of recycling with district councils, estimated to be around 5%. I am pleased to state that my Department will provide, as I have said, £3·5 million to help councils to implement the strategy. This can include assistance with recycling and the development of targets for recycling.

With reference to the farming issues, one takes into consideration the great difficulties farmers have at this time. However, agriculture is a major contributor to the economy of both Northern Ireland and the Republic, of which we are all very much aware. I fully appreciate the dire circumstances that the agriculture industry finds itself in at present, particularly with the current foot-and-mouth emergency.

Nevertheless, we have to take a longer-term view and recognise the impact that agriculture activities have on the environment. The greatest problem is the run-off of nutrients to lakes and rivers, leading to excessive growth of algae and plants. This can cause oxygen levels to fall, which is the most serious water-quality problem affecting waterways on both sides of the border.

At Belle Isle, Ministers agreed that a joint study should be carried out into a number of the most significant impacts of agriculture on the environment. The study will involve representation of both Agriculture Departments. It will assess the use of fertiliser application rates, identify good farming practices and relevant controls, and assess cross-border movement of slurries and spent mushroom compost. Data from private bodies will come in through the Waste Advisory Board, which will be appointed very shortly.

Photo of George Savage George Savage UUP

I welcome the Minister’s announcement that the Department of the Environment and its Republic of Ireland counterpart will be conducting a joint study into the significant impacts of agriculture on the environment.

I also welcome that the terms of reference for the study include assessment of the use of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilisers, cross-border movement of slurries and mushroom compost and good farming practices.

The Minister also mentioned the problem of disposing of spent mushroom compost, saying that it will be part of the environmental impacts of the agriculture study. Will he briefly outline what the study will be looking at and what impact will this have on the agriculture industry?

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

As I said, the agriculture problem is a big problem. It is a difficult time for farmers, as I appreciate. The waste management strategy deals with the management of controlled wastes, which includes household, commercial and industrial wastes. Agricultural, mining and quarrying wastes are not included. However, the EU Waste Framework Directive requires that controls will be extended eventually to agricultural wastes.

My Department and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development will be working together to bring such wastes within the control regime and to develop an agricultural waste strategy. The aim is to incorporate within this the waste management strategy at its first review in 2002.

So far as the cross-border issue of spent mushroom compost is concerned, the mushroom industry is concentrated in the border counties of Armagh, Tyrone, Monaghan and Cavan. Spent mushroom compost (SMC) has become a major environmental problem in those areas. In Monaghan, around 60% of SMC is dumped, only 10% is composted, and 30% is land spread. If the compost were to be imported into Northern Ireland for disposal, the district council would need to be satisfied that environmentally sound disposal methods were not realistically available in the country of origin.

Disposal options for SMC include utilisation in the potato sector, vermi-composting using worm beds, pelleting of pig slurry and SMC for use as fertiliser, and waste-to-energy recovery through incineration. Those are issues that we take on board, and, as I said earlier, we appreciate their importance and the difficulties that agriculture is having at this particular time. We are all involved in what is good for agriculture, and for all of us, in the long term.

Photo of Mr Arthur Doherty Mr Arthur Doherty Social Democratic and Labour Party 12:15 pm, 12th March 2001

My question relates to waste recycling options. This is an urgent matter in view of the punitive deadlines on district councils to produce and implement waste management strategies. The Minister suggested, in answer to a previous question, that work would begin at once on identifying such options. Can he be more precise with regard to the

"joint approach to developing uses and markets for secondary materials and recyclates" that he mentioned? When will this approach move beyond the agreement stage to the setting-up and operation of effective joint working strategy groups?

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

The waste management plans are due from district councils by June 2001 and will include proposals for achieving the recycling targets. Cross-border co-operation will provide the economies of scale necessary to make investment in recycling and recovery facilities viable. Northern Ireland is not large enough in itself, so there will be co-operation as far as that is concerned. We will look at it on an all-island basis. As I have already emphasised, that will also provide a larger market for products made from recycled material. That is a big issue on which we are working jointly.

Photo of Mr Oliver Gibson Mr Oliver Gibson DUP

I note that the Minister’s water quality control group is going to undertake a study of the freshwater zebra mussel. He used the term "pollution of the Erne system". Is it true that the zebra mussel is a pollutant? Has any effective study been done? Has anything been done to see what its effect is on fishing? Does it usurp and take the food of the fish, or is it an excellent means of clearing the water? Furthermore, what has been done to prevent the spread of this mussel to the Foyle estuary? There are concerns in the fishing industry and, among those who enjoy fishing, concerns as to the effect of the freshwater zebra mussel.

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

The zebra mussels at first seem as if they are clearing the water, but they do a lot of damage to it. I am not aware of any full investigations having being done. I understand that the Department of Agriculture is undertaking a major study of the zebra mussel issue because, as I said earlier, it is a very big issue that has really been imported. It looks as if the emphasis needs to be on prevention rather than cure because, as I understand it, whenever one has the problem, it is very difficult to get rid of it. Therefore prevention is an important issue. That is why I emphasised that boats and equipment can be cleansed by steam-cleaning the hulls. We depend very much on the people who move boats and equipment in waterways to ensure that they steam clean. The emphasis must be on prevention rather than cure.

Photo of Derek Hussey Derek Hussey UUP

Like others, I wish to home in on the issue of waste recycling. The Minister will be well aware that the group of councils in the north-west is of a cross-border nature and, from the point of view of my council in Strabane, we have had difficulties in working in a cross-border manner, particularly with Her Majesty’s Treasury.

Will the Minister tell the House under what conditions the United Kingdom management plan is likely to allow cross-border imports and exports of waste? Will the cross-border study involve a study of energy recovery from residual waste?

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

The waste management strategy allows for cross-border co-operation as part of the district council waste management plans. Any cross-border co-operation needs to comply with the waste management strategy and the United Kingdom management plan for exports and imports of waste. The United Kingdom plan is currently under review. It is likely to allow cross-border imports and exports of waste where there are sound economic and environmental reasons for such activity and so long as the activity is included in the district councils’ waste management plan.

The waste management strategy encourages groups of councils to draw up joint waste management plans to achieve economies of scale. Everything that is done will be controlled. The strategy will be watched closely, and control will be exercised on all cross-border activity. The North and South are co-operating so much, because waste management is a big issue — almost too big for Northern Ireland to deal with on its own. It is good that we, as two separate jurisdictions living in a neighbourly fashion, can work together on this big issue.

Photo of Mr Eamonn ONeill Mr Eamonn ONeill Social Democratic and Labour Party

I too welcome the Minister’s statement. It is a clear indication that there is good work going on. When can Members expect the full implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive? Is there a programme for its implementation, and have dates and benchmarks been set?

Has the Minister noted the publication last Thursday morning of the report from the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee? Among the 67 recommendations made in that report, a large number referred to the Department of the Environment. Can the Minister give me, as Chairman of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee, a commitment that he and the Department of Environment will give early attention to all those areas that are the responsibility of his Department?

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

There is a 15-year package associated with the Directive, so it will be some time before it is fully implemented. The report from the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee that the Member referred to was issued only last Thursday. My officials have not yet had a chance to consider fully the implications of the recommendations that affect my Department. Some of the recommendations relate to the work of the Department of the Environment. My officials will be in touch with their counterparts in the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. It is premature at this stage to speculate about how the Department of the Environment might respond. However, where there is a duty to respond, I assure the Member that the Department will do so.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon DUP

When will the EU Water Framework Directive be implemented, and how will it be funded? Is the Minister aware of the problems that there are in many constituencies relating to that? The Minister also mentioned waste recycling in his report. What financial incentives will be offered to individuals and companies to promote waste recycling?

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

Finances are always a problem. The issue will be pursued, possibly through Europe and the Executive as well. We have 15 years in which to achieve the good water quality specified in the Directive. It will take some time for us to get there, and undoubtedly the money is a problem. That is why there is a cross-border study. Northern Ireland is not big enough to tackle waste management on its own. The Department of the Environment wants to encourage people to recycle and make them realise that it is a valuable thing to do.

A number of financial incentives will be considered to encourage recycling, but the first step is the development of markets and plans. We are working on that at present. This is a difficult issue which is going to be bigger than Northern Ireland can deal with on its own. It is worthwhile for the two different jurisdictions that border on one another to work hand in hand for the mutual benefit of all concerned.

Photo of Esmond Birnie Esmond Birnie UUP

I too would like to focus on waste management and recycling. I welcome the Minister’s statement and agree on the importance of economies of scale. What problems have arisen with respect to ensuring the maximum co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic? The United Kingdom immediately implemented the relevant EU Directive, whereas the Republic of Ireland sought, and got, a derogation. That means, in practice, that it is behind us on implementing recycling targets.

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

It can be very difficult if the two jurisdictions are not running in co-operation and co-ordination with each other. However, we hope to get that married together and balanced so that it will work. It is an important issue, but it will take some time to get us working in co-ordination.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea DUP

The Minister said in his statement that officials are to start work on identifying options to encourage expansion of recycling with a joint approach to uses and markets for secondary materials and recyclables. However, the Department is currently considering proposals from district councils on a sub- regional implementation of waste management strategy. The Environment Committee was given that information in a recent presentation by a key official from the Department. Is there, therefore, a danger that this initiative from the sectoral group will be seen as pre-empting the outcome of the present consultations with district councils? Surely the Department of the Environment’s would be better actively participating with district councils to develop our own waste management strategy.

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

I take Dr McCrea’s point. There are issues that concern everyone, and everyone must work together to get something which will bring us together. The data will be used to support councils’ plans, and the study is welcomed by them. This is why I emphasise that we will be receiving concurrent data, which will be useful and will give us something to go on. I want to emphasise that we are not there for the sake of just being there. We want to gain something which will be of mutual benefit to both jurisdictions.

Photo of Ken Robinson Ken Robinson UUP

I welcome the Minister’s statement. I would like to raise again the matter of human sludge. Has the Republic of Ireland failed to sign up to the EU Directive on putting human sludge on to agricultural land? If the disposal of such sludge is close to the border regions, will it pose a danger to the Erne system?

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

We will take those concerns into consideration. We have to be very careful about what comes into our territory. It has to be guarded and watched. Co- operation between myself and the Minister across the border is vital so that we can watch carefully what takes place.

I am willing to co-ordinate and work this. I want to ensure that what we do is for the benefit of our people up here as well as for people in other jurisdictions.