Environment Bill: Legislative Consent Motion

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 7:00 pm on 30th June 2020.

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Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP 7:00 pm, 30th June 2020

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate today, and I welcome the Minister's comments on the issue. As we know and have debated on many occasions in the Chamber, the environment is a highly valued and important asset that must be protected in a meaningful and sensible manner. The Environment Bill is the method by which Northern Ireland, and indeed the rest of the UK, will protect and enhance the environment. Each devolved region will have the capacity to add to the various measures and powers that can be used to help protect our environment in the years to come.

What is important is the opportunity that this presents and, whilst everyone will want to maintain all the various rules that were effective in protecting the environment up to this point, it is important to have an element of control in which to react to circumstances that may be unique to a devolved region, such as Northern Ireland.

As has been voiced at Committee, and referred to by a number of people from DAERA to the Committee, the COVID-19 restrictions have hampered work on the Bill and have somewhat delayed its progress so far. Therefore, I welcome progress on the matter. The Bill will ensure that protection continues for the future, post-Brexit, and that, in Northern Ireland, we can better protect our environment with our own tailored initiatives that best suit practices here and avoid cumbersome and unreflective one-size-fits-all legislation that can, on occasions, be counterproductive, as was the case with some European directives. A lot of work has still to be done on the issue and, whilst the current restrictions limit that work, it is vital that proper work and discussions continue, in earnest, to ensure that we have a workable set of arrangements for Northern Ireland.

I welcome the general thrust of the work around this from DAERA, and the emphasis that there is no intention of making any decisions that will, in any way, reduce protections. That should be comfort to anyone, or any group, that may have concerns that the legislation signals some kind of a relaxation of the types of important restrictions or protocols that ensure that our environment continues to be protected.

In the Committee, in recent days, we heard from DAERA officials, who provided important clarity in this regard. They are on record as having stated to members that nothing in the Bill threatens existing protections. This is essentially enabling legislation, to allow further work to take place in this very important area of governance. That must now be the real focus for everyone, and I look forward to working further on this important legislation. I know that the Minister has a real awareness of the issues, and that has underpinned his ministry thus far. Indeed, I know that he has even pulled his own canoe on the River Bann, a few days ago, to see at first-hand the very real issue presented by waste in our Province. That is the sort of practical approach that must underpin this progress, to ensure that we arrive at solutions and legislation that are effective and protect, promote and enhance our environment.

The environment is our prize asset in Northern Ireland. It must be protected, and I support efforts to do so. I support the motion.