North/South Ministerial Council: Environment

Ministerial Statements – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:00 pm on 16th November 2020.

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Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin 12:00 pm, 16th November 2020

I have received notice from the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs that he wishes to make a statement. Before I call the Minister, I remind Members that, in the light of social distancing being observed by parties, the Speaker's ruling that Members must be in the Chamber to hear a statement if they wish to ask a question has been relaxed. Members do still have to make sure that their name is on the speaking list if they wish to be called, but they can do that by rising in their place, as well as by notifying the Business Office or Speaker's Table directly. I remind Members to be concise in asking their questions. This is not an opportunity for debate per se, and Members should not engage in long introductions.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Thank you, Mr Speaker. In compliance with section 52 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, I wish to make the following statement on the twenty-third meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in environment sectoral format, which was held in Armagh and by videoconference on Wednesday, 21 October 2020. The statement has been agreed with junior Minister Kearney.

Junior Minister Kearney and I represented the Northern Ireland Executive at the meeting. I chaired the meeting. The Irish Government were represented by Eamon Ryan TD, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, and Darragh O'Brien TD, Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

The Council noted the work that is being carried out to prepare for the end of the transition period and the need for continued cooperation on environmental matters, including those of a cross-border nature. Ministers agreed to continue to cooperate on environmental issues in coming months. They recognise that it is in the common interest of both jurisdictions to work together to minimise disruption to trade and economic activity on the island.

Ministers welcomed the continuing cooperation on, and draw down for, the main sources of EU funding in the environment sector — INTERREG Va, LIFE and Horizon 2020 — including successful delivery of Northern Ireland and Ireland partnership projects and ongoing collaboration through joint meetings, training and information events. We noted that, under the INTERREG Va environment objective, nine cross-border projects were awarded funding totalling €89 million in the 2014-2020 programme period, and collaboration is ongoing to maximise draw down of the available EU moneys and to continue to implement the programmes as agreed.

Ministers noted the commitment to funding INTERREG Va after the UK withdraws from the EU, allowing the projects to be continued until their conclusion in 2023, and that, under Horizon 2020 societal challenge 5, two North/South collaborations on low temperature anaerobic digestion treatment of low-strength waste waters and photo-irradiation and absorption-based novel innovations for waste treatment were successful and contributed to the drawdown figures, with €2·5 million being shared by five organisations in Ireland and €0·55 million shared between two organisations in Northern Ireland.

The Council noted that benefits for joint environmental priorities from a small number of LIFE projects have been achieved through ongoing collaboration between Departments, agencies and partnerships operating in both jurisdictions. Ministers also noted the potential to build on the success of the INTERREG projects through access to the new PEACE PLUS programme 2021-27 and its environment policy objective of achieving a greener, low-carbon Europe.

Ministers noted the ongoing collaboration between officials in both jurisdictions and submission of joint position papers focusing on a range of holistic clean air, water catchment and nature based solutions to address future pressures from climate change, support sustainable economic recovery and protect the environment to inform emerging PEACE PLUS themes.

The NSMC noted that the work programme will be kept under review at future NSMC environment sector meetings, having regard to particular matters arising from the outcome of the UK referendum on EU membership. Ministers agreed that, within the work programme, consideration should continue to be given to opportunities for cooperation on wider environmental issues, such as sustainable development; encouraging cooperation and knowledge sharing in relation to the environmental impact of agricultural activities and related issues; cooperation and exchange of information on marine, bathing and shellfish waters; cooperation and collaboration on water and urban waste water services areas, including implementation of EU measures; the promotion of a circular economy; a joint programme of enforcement and collaboration on tackling environmental crime; and cooperation with a view to maximising draw down of EU funding. We also agreed the proposed updated work programme.

The NSMC noted that both Environment Ministers are continuing to work together to target resources into joint enforcement action against those involved in illegal waste activity, including the continued exchange of intelligence and information on problem areas and the continuation of coordinated joint inspections.

Ministers noted the efforts of both Administrations to increase the quantity and quality of recycling, including the publication, on 4 September 2020, of Ireland's national waste policy 2020-25, 'A Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy', the publication of the new Northern Ireland waste prevention programme, 'Stopping Waste in its Tracks', and the associated actions and successes.

We also noted the ongoing work in Northern Ireland to tackle plastic pollution, the success of the extended producer responsibility schemes in Ireland and the opportunities for both Administrations to share examples of good practice in this area.

The NSMC welcomed the work being undertaken in both jurisdictions to further a clean air strategy and the collaboration between officials working together to identify cross-border research opportunities and develop proposals.

Ministers noted the publication of the second-cycle river basin management plan for Ireland in 2018 and welcomed the ongoing preparation of the third-cycle river basin management plans in Ireland and Northern Ireland. We noted that the public consultation on significant water management issues closed in Northern Ireland on 22 June 2020 and, in Ireland, on 7 August 2020. We acknowledged the continued support for the Rivers Trust in cross-border areas, and we welcomed the level of beach awards in both jurisdictions for 2020 and the continued coordination on the Clean Coasts and Coast Care schemes.

Ministers acknowledged the engagement of both Administrations in the work of the advisory group for Ireland’s marine protected areas, the final report of which is expected shortly, and noted the continuing engagement between the Department for Infrastructure, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Irish Water and Northern Ireland Water on exploring opportunities for cooperation, including applications to access funding under the EU’s new PEACE PLUS programme.

The Council agreed to hold the next environment meeting in early 2021. Ministers agreed the joint communiqué.

Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP

What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that the Republic of Ireland moves to repatriate illegal waste from the Republic of Ireland that has been dumped in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Eamon Ryan was the Environment Minister back in 2009 when I was also Minister. An agreement was drawn up then whereby waste that was illegally tipped on 20 sites in Northern Ireland, emanating from the Republic of Ireland, would be repatriated. It is my understanding that around only half of those sites have been cleared. That leaves around 100,000 cubic tons of illegally tipped waste in Northern Ireland on sites that have not been secured. Consequently, I have raised the issue again and asked why it has not happened. The reason given is that they have capacity issues in taking the waste. However, I do not find that acceptable. I will continue to work to ensure that that work, which has been let go by the by in spite of an agreement, is taken up again and that the material on those waste sites is removed and taken back to the Republic of Ireland.

Photo of Maolíosa McHugh Maolíosa McHugh Sinn Féin

I note the Minister's commitment to cooperation on environmental matters. I am sure he is aware of the recent news of a major bog slippage in the Tyrone/Donegal border at the Meenbog wind farm. That has impacted on the Mourne Beg river — a major tributary to the Derg river, which is a renowned salmon watercourse. What work will the Minister do to ensure that we have the cooperation of the authorities on both sides of the border to minimise the impact of that bog slippage on fauna, flora and the fish stocks of the Mourne Beg river?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Loughs Agency, which is a cross-border body, has been engaging in investigations since that slippage occurred, as has the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA). I watched a video of the slippage: it was astonishing to see the amount of material moving slowly but inexorably. Donegal County Council has organised a meeting for today. My officials will be in attendance, as it is an issue that has a material impact on both sides of the border. It is clear that the rivers have been affected by large amounts of peaty soils coming into them. At this stage, oxygen levels in the rivers are still high, which is good, but fish gills can become contaminated with high levels of peat, and they can die from that. Small levels of fish kill have been identified at this stage, but that does not mean that that will be the case. Given the amount of peat and so forth in the water and the high levels of water, it is not particularly easy to identify the issues, but all of those things will be investigated in due course. We will continue to work with the authorities in the Republic of Ireland on that matter.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

In the Minister's statement, heavy emphasis is placed on the exchange of and cooperation on information on marine bathing waters, rivers and the like. What cooperation has there been on the strain of COVID that has been identified in mink in Denmark. As we know, mink inhabit our waterways and rivers. Has there been collaboration between both Departments?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP 12:15 pm, 16th November 2020

We suspect that the problem is less of an issue with wild mink because they do not come into contact with humans; in general, the problem is with farmed mink. There are three mink farms in the Irish Republic. There have not been any here since 2002 because the keeping of mink for fur was banned, but that practice has continued in Ireland. I believe that those three mink farms will be run down over the next year. It is a matter for the health authorities in the Republic of Ireland to keep a close eye on that circumstance.

I believe that there are 17 million mink in Denmark. The original plan was to have an immediate slaughter of them all, but I do not think that that is now the case. It is an issue of significant concern because a lot of effort and money has been expended on developing vaccines. We know that one is virtually ready to go and that another one will come very shortly afterwards. It would be of significant concern if a mutation of COVID happened through the mink and, consequently, those vaccines were not fit for purpose. Any country that has mink farms needs to act very responsibly in that regard at the moment. My preference is that mink farms would cease to exist.

Photo of Rosemary Barton Rosemary Barton UUP

Minister, thank you very much for your statement. What cooperation is there on cross-border fly-tipping, particularly from homes in border areas? Much waste from homes is dumped in Northern Ireland because there is an expense involved in having that waste collected from homes in the Republic.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member puts her finger on a problem that emanates more from the Republic of Ireland than here. One of the benefits of our rating system is that people have their waste collected. The issue of fly-tipping arises but not to the same extent. It is for local authorities, in the first instance, to deal with fly-tipping. We have a level of cross-border cooperation on issues around waste in general, and we will press hard to ensure that as much information as possible flows to each side so that the people involved in the illegal tipping of waste are caught and prosecuted for their activities.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

I also thank the Minister for the statement and the detail therein, including the reassuring cooperation envisaged on marine waters, as well as the joint programme of enforcement and collaboration on environmental crime. In that regard, how will the proposed Office for Environmental Protection, which will have only one Northern Ireland representative, be able to play a part in intergovernmental arrangements that are already making progress here?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Office for Environmental Protection will deliver on the same standards that currently exist under the EU and are monitored by the European Commission. Therefore, the standards that exist in the Republic of Ireland will be the same standards as exist in the United Kingdom until the United Kingdom makes legislation that may produce different standards. Those standards could be higher or lower, but that is a matter to be debated by the UK Parliament or, indeed, the Assembly, should we wish to change them. At the moment, the standards will be the same, and the Office for Environmental Protection will have a role to ensure that the standards that have been set are implemented right across the United Kingdom after it leaves the European Union.

Photo of Harry Harvey Harry Harvey DUP

We are back to waste: what commitments have been made to ensure that greater enforcement measures are put in place to stop illegal waste practices?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Clearly, there is a series of rules relating to waste, the tipping of waste and illegal management of waste. It is a matter for the courts to decide how they use the fine process that is available. There are substantial opportunities to fine individuals who are involved in the illegal management of waste. We all know that there is substantial money to be made in the illegal management of waste. Our Department has a "polluter pays" principle, so we will ensure that people who are caught dealing with illegal management of waste pay for all of the costs associated with disposing of it properly. There is a series of measures, but I accept that those measures may be made be stronger because people are still involved in this. So, whether it is through greater enforcement or whether it is through strengthening the fines that are imposed, we need to ensure that what is done is enough to put people off engaging in this activity.

Photo of Philip McGuigan Philip McGuigan Sinn Féin

Given the recent discovery of two birds, a swan in Derry and a falcon in Limerick, with bird flu, what are the contingency plans in the Department here in the North in the event of an outbreak of bird flu? What is the level of cooperation across the island to monitor the situation?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

It is very concerning. There have been a couple of outbreaks in England. Obviously, there is the one in Limerick and the mute swan that was picked up in Lough Beg. That is a matter of significant concern to us, because the poultry industry in Northern Ireland is worth around £900 million. It employs directly 5,500 people, so it is an industry that is hugely important to us.

Every keeper of birds is supposed to register with DAERA — even if there are only two or three chickens scratching about in your back garden, they are supposed to be registered. DAERA has a website set up that identifies how best to manage biosecurity arrangements. DAERA has been escalating, through the veterinary section, its response. We are not at the point yet where birds should be closed up, but, nonetheless, we are pressing and impressing upon people the need to take all of the biosecurity steps that they should and we have been very clearly indicating what those biosecurity measures are. Fundamentally, the most important thing that a chicken farmer or any keeper of poultry can do at this minute is to manage their biosecurity particularly well. If we believe that we need to move to that next stage of closing up free range birds, we will recommend that step in the not-too-distant future, if that is required.

Photo of Maurice Bradley Maurice Bradley DUP

I thank the Minister for his statement. He referred to the implications of withdrawal from the EU and preparations for the end of the transition period, but what are the implications for Northern Ireland if there are no preparations ready to hit the ground running come the end of the transition period?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I assure the Member that there has been a lot of preparation. Sometimes, it is a little difficult to prepare for something when you do not know what you are preparing for, so the conclusion of the negotiation is absolutely critical. I believe that the aim is that that will take place this week, but there are still outstanding issues, particularly on state aid and on fisheries. Those are the two issues that seem to preventing a trade deal at this stage.

For Northern Ireland, there are particular areas of concern that arise through the implementation of the protocol. First is seeds that are imported to Northern Ireland, mainly from Scotland. In fact, the issue is of seeds imported to all of Ireland, mainly from Scotland. That is around 90% of seed used. That importation is currently a problem as a result of the protocol.

There is another group called PMR. That relates to minced beef and processed meats and accounts for up to 30,000 tons of meat imported into Northern Ireland every year. As things stand, that would stop immediately on 1 January, so it is not even a matter of having an export health certificate — you just do not import it, full stop. So, for example, there would be no lasagnes in Iceland. In fact, many of the products that you get in our shops would no longer be available and the shelves would be empty. That is purely a matter for the European Union.

I will add further that the importation of red meat amounts to around one quarter of a billion pounds per year. Indeed, a considerable amount of chicken — white meat — is imported to Northern Ireland, processed in Northern Ireland and, in the main, goes back to GB. There are issues around that. Those issues really need to be sorted this week, and we need to get solutions.

It has to be stressed that it is not about damaging the single market or reducing the quality of things in the single market, but it will be hugely detrimental and have serious implications for Northern Ireland, both at a consumer and a business level, if we cannot get those issues resolved. The Executive are aware of the issues, and they have mandated me to write on their behalf to the European Union to impress the need to get those matters resolved to everybody's satisfaction.

Photo of Declan McAleer Declan McAleer Sinn Féin

In paragraph 9 of the Minister's statement, he refers to the importance of clean air. Will he update us on whether any progress has been made on developing a clean air strategy discussion document for here and, indeed, on a cross-border basis?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

We discussed clean air and where cooperation could take place. We intend to bring to the Assembly this year the clean air discussion document that we are working on. It will go out to the public so that we can have a consultation process on clean air, which is a very important matter, particularly for those who live in cities.

Photo of Daniel McCrossan Daniel McCrossan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for his statement. It refers to greater cross-border work on increasing water quality. In that regard, such collaboration will be absolutely essential in investigating and mitigating the environmental damage caused by the peat landslide that the Minister referred to at Meenbog, which has caused contamination of the Mourne Beg river and the local waterways.

I visited yesterday with councillor Steven Edwards, and there is clear anxiety amongst my constituents in Killeter, Aghyaran, Castlederg and Ardstraw. Will the Minister outline what action his Department has taken to reassure the public in that area that his Department is doing everything possible to mitigate contamination of those waterways? Does he know the root cause of the slippage problem?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

On 13 November, at around 1.30 pm, NIEA was informed of a landslide at a peat bog adjacent to the Mourne Beg river in Donegal. NIEA contacted Northern Ireland Water and the Loughs Agency regarding the event. In response, Northern Ireland Water shut down its intake of raw water from the River Derg as a precaution. As the incident occurred on the southern side of the border, the investigation and initial response to the event was the responsibility of the Loughs Agency. It has been on site investigating the matter.

NIEA tasked a water quality inspector to assess the impact on the Mourne Beg and Derg rivers on Saturday morning. The initial assessment showed that the oxygen levels have not been suppressed but that the high levels of suspended solids were affecting aquatic life, including a fish farm business. Loughs Agency is working with the owners to mitigate the impact, including the deployment of aerators.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

I thank the Minister for his statement. I would be grateful if the Minister could provide some further detail on the LIFE projects referred to in paragraph 7.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP 12:30 pm, 16th November 2020

A number of the LIFE projects that we mentioned have taken place. They have been achieved through work done by Departments, agencies and their partnerships operating in both jurisdictions. The LIFE projects have environmental priorities. There are a small number of them. I will write to the Member to give him the detail of the projects so that he can get fully updated on them.

Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for his statement. He will be well aware that ammonia emissions are a particular issue here not just in the North but across the island. There will be a debate on the issue later this afternoon. Work has been going on to inform an ammonia strategy. When can we expect publication of the draft strategy?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

It is at the latter stages of preparation and will be produced before the end of this year. Ammonia is an area of significant concern for us. We know that most ammonia is produced on farms. A course of actions therefore needs to be taken to reduce ammonia levels as we continue to increase our agricultural output. It is important that we support the industry to increase its output but that that be done in a way that is less harmful to the environment. One of the things that we want to do is to ensure that, over the next number of years, ammonia outputs on farms are reduced, and there are ways and means of doing that. One of those means is through low-emission spreading equipment. We recently launched a grant that will support a number of things, but the priorities are that people will get additional points for having such equipment, for covering tanks, for better separation of slurry and for slurry scraping. We are already working on a series of measures that will help reduce ammonia emissions. If I get more funding, there is the opportunity to make a much more significant reduction in ammonia emissions, so that is an area of work that we will continue to impress on the industry.

Photo of Emma Sheerin Emma Sheerin Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for his statement. Minister, can you provide an update on the joint programme of cross-border collaboration and enforcement to tackle environmental crime?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

At our meeting, Ministers agreed to continued cooperation in five key areas of mutual benefit and future development potential: environmental research and reporting; environmental protection and sustainable development; water and waste water management; waste management in a cross-border context; and EU funding. In all those areas, we are encouraging sustainable development; cooperation sharing; cooperation and exchange of information on marine issues; cooperation and collaboration on water and waste water service areas; the promotion of a circular economy; a joint programme of enforcement and collaboration on tackling environmental crime; and cooperation with a view to maximising drawdown of EU funding. Environmental crime is therefore very much a key area within those areas of cooperation.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

Minister, thank you for your statement. It contains an update on EU funding, including existing INTERREG funding and, looking ahead, Horizon 2020 funding. What it does not mention, however — it would be good to get your thoughts on this, Minister — is the European green deal, which is an enormous, multi-year plan of investment by the European Union to transition to a lower-carbon economy. Given that, for example, large parts of Northern Ireland's energy generation sector will remain in the EU emissions scheme and given some of the potential benefits from the protocol, notwithstanding the issues that he described earlier, can the Minister ask his officials to work with officials on the other side of the border on looking at potential benefits for Northern Ireland projects from what could be a £20 billion-plus Just Transition Fund (JTF) for green transition. That is something from which we might be able to benefit. I ask the Minister really to look at the European green deal and figure out how Northern Ireland could benefit from it.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Some funding continues, despite the fact that the UK has left the European Union, and it will certainly go on until 2023, as set out in the statement.

The ETS is a scheme into which we pay very heavily, at close to £60 million a year. A new scheme will be set up for the UK, but, under that, only around 18% of our payments will go to the UK scheme, with 82% going to the EU. Over the years we have never drawn down any money from the ETS because of its three project per country rule. Given that the UK is quite a large country, ETS has not benefited Northern Ireland.

We are asking whether Northern Ireland will have the status of being a country in this instance because Northern Ireland remains part of the ETS outside of the UK. That would allow us to bid for three schemes per year, and that would be hugely progressive. However, thus far, we have not had the benefits from the emissions trading scheme that I would like to have seen. Northern Ireland has many wonderful opportunities in hydrogen and in how we can better manage and capture carbon and so forth. It would be good if the EU allowed Northern Ireland the status of being its own country and consequently we were able to draw money from the scheme.

Photo of Sean Lynch Sean Lynch Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for his statement. What assurances can he offer to the many organisations who have contacted me and other MLAs regarding the replacement of lost EU funding as we come to the end of the transition period?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

There has been a rollover of funding by the UK Government. Therefore, the funding that is currently in place for the environmental sector continues to be in place as we go forward.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

Thank you to the Minister for the statements and for bringing them forward in a timely manner. That was much appreciated.

Members have asked about enforcement, but I want to go further, Minister. What discussion has there been around how we deal post transition with trans-boundary environmental breaches under existing EU directives? Ammonia, for example, was brought up, but it is certainly not the only issue. We know that we are not meeting our EU directive targets for ammonia. That is not the farmers' fault; it is certainly not the chickens' fault. It is the result of polices. How will we meet those targets post transition across the island?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

There is a series of issues in and around the environment. The UK Government have set out their policy of being carbon-neutral by 2050. That sets significant challenges. You will not achieve carbon neutrality without significant investment, and that is just a reality. People need to put their money where their mouths are when it comes to the environment. One of the things that I will raise at Executive level is how all our Departments will pull together to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and what investment is required to achieve that. For example, agriculture, energy and transport account for around 70% of emissions. Consequently, we need significant investment in those areas. Energy has demonstrated that there has been significant reductions in its carbon. We are looking at about 40% to 45% of our energy coming from renewable sources now. However, some of that energy is not appropriately captured, so we need to ensure that we have the capacity to capture all the energy produced.

COVID-19 has demonstrated that people do not need to travel as much. Those of us who were on the roads this morning will have noticed the considerable reduction in the number of vehicles on the roads, and, driving past them, you will have noticed the substantial reduction in the number of vehicles in our government car parks. There are opportunities to do more work from home. We can also use electric cars, as well as cars that are more fuel-efficient. My only caveat with electric cars is how they and the materials involved in their production are used at the end of life, so that there is no other kind of environmental damage done as a consequence of that. However, there are opportunities in transport.

Agriculture is a huge issue, particularly for Northern Ireland, as it produces more than 10% of the food produced in the entire United Kingdom. How do we manage that in a way that reduces emissions? We spoke about ammonia. I want to look at issues around nitrogen and phosphates and how we can better manage the materials and nutrients excreted so that they can be used for something other than slurry that is applied to land. That will involve investment. There is a series of things.

I am happy to cooperate with people in similar areas to ourselves, be that in other parts of the United Kingdom or in the Republic of Ireland, because, ultimately, all of us have similar problems, and so our responses will be similar. The research that will allow us to take the appropriate steps in environmental management is research that I am happy to support, and I am happy to cooperate with colleagues in the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, England or Wales to identify solutions that we can all apply in delivering a better environmental outcome.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Can I take the Minister back to the INTERREG Va programme? Now that we have left the EU, would the Minister remind the House of the funding formula for INTERREG Va? Would he also remind the House of the match funding aspect, with an indication of what it will cost the public purse in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

I do not have the match funding figures required under INTERREG Va to hand. However, we have been able to fund about €89 million worth of projects over the past six years, and we will continue to be able to access EU money. Significant amounts of money have been spent directly into Northern Ireland, some on cross-border projects. We have been net receivers, as opposed to givers, of that income, and I regard that as positive. We will continue to work to secure as much of that funding as possible for the environmental benefit.

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

In relation to environmental protection, can I ask whether Ministers discussed measures to keep fossil fuels in the ground? My party colleague, Bríd Smith TD, brought a proposal to take such measures in the South, but it was guillotined by a previous Government. Was there any discussion about legislation or policies and proposals to ensure that fossil fuels are kept in the ground?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

No such discussion took place. Of course, keeping fossil fuels in the ground may be appropriate when you have fully identified alternatives to fossil fuels. Sometimes I wonder at people objecting to extracting fossil fuels closer to home when we import fossil fuels from regions that are deeply unstable and use the money that they gain from fossil fuels to engage in wars, whether they be cyberwars or wars involving traditional weapons.

Not utilising fossil fuels closer to home is not necessarily something that is good for the environment, but it can be very good for people who do not care about the environment and human rights, and that is something that is of concern to all of us.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin 12:45 pm, 16th November 2020

That concludes questions on the statement. I ask Members to take their ease for a moment or two, please.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Beggs] in the Chair)