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T4. Ms Bailey asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs whether, given the seemingly systemic failings in environmental protections in Northern Ireland, she has had any discussions with the Minister for Infrastructure on the obvious need for an independent environmental protection agency. (AQT 399/16-21)
I thank the Member for her question. She will be aware from my previous responses to such questions that it is not my intention to bring forward an independent environment agency. However, I want to see the appointment — or the reappointment, now — of independent members to the NIEA board. They were previously taken off that board by a former Environment Minister, and I want to see that decision reversed, because I value the expertise and insight that independent external panel members would bring to the board. I am responsible for protecting our environment, and I take that responsibility very seriously. It is part of my remit, and I have no intention of abdicating that responsibility.
I thank the Member for her question. I will give that commitment, and I have sought a meeting with the chief executive of Northern Ireland Water in order to discuss not only the Annsborough incident but others. As I said, I take this very seriously, and I will continue to have dialogue with anyone who I feel could benefit from a discussion with me or the Department.