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Independent Environmental Protection Agency

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 13th October 2015.

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Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance 2:30 pm, 13th October 2015

T5. Mr Lyttle asked the Minister of the Environment to outline his plans for the creation of an independent environmental protection agency, for which he welcomes his long-overdue public support. (AQT 2985/11-16)

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank Mr Lyttle, not just for the question but more so for the support. His party colleague and Chair of the Environment Committee, Ms Lo, has also been extremely receptive to the idea since I floated it, as she was to the work done in 2011 by my predecessor, when he had discussions and consultation on this very important matter.

It is my intention to attend the Environment Committee on Thursday to fill it in on my plans for how we proceed towards, hopefully, the eventual establishment of an independent environmental protection agency. I do not want to disappoint or upset Ms Lo by revealing those details here first.

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance

I thank the Minister for his response. I am glad that my colleague Anna Lo, as Chairperson of the Environment Committee, will get a front-row seat for the unveiling of his plans for the creation of the agency. How important is an independent environmental protection agency to safeguarding our natural environment? Does he anticipate Executive agreement for it?

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I believe that it is very important. It is telling that every other region on these islands has gone down that road and has the model of an independent, or at least arm's-length, environmental protection agency, and most European nations have similar arrangements.

It will become even more important as we move to the new departmental structures, when most of the classic environmental functions of DOE will be amalgamated with those of DARD. That has caused a lot of concern for environmental NGOs, but not just them. We have to work with others on achieving or securing Executive agreement. Naturally enough, we have to make people aware — not just politicians but those in industry and agriculture — that they have nothing to fear from an independent environmental protection agency.