Thank you for the question. Responsibility for dealing with illegal dumping is shared between the local councils, which deal with low-level waste offences, and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), which deals with large-scale waste criminality and hazardous waste. While there are no plans at present to strengthen the legislation around illegal dumping, officials are working with councils to consider the effectiveness of the existing legislation and explore how they can work together to make best use of the powers that it provides. That may create opportunities to deal more quickly and effectively with lower-level offending on a local level through fixed penalty notices rather than being reliant on court proceedings, the timings of which are outside our control.
I thank the Minister for her answer. Over the summer, some 200 tons of illegal rubbish was dumped at Edenderry industrial mill on the Crumlin Road in my constituency of North Belfast. That led to a plague of rats, a swarm of flies and noxious smells, with people feeling and taking ill. Belfast City Council was too slow in its response, and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency was somewhat secretive in passing information to and sharing information with elected representatives. The situation simply was not good enough, and it took an intervention from the Minister to resolve it. I ask the Minister, in responding for her colleague Mr Poots — to whom I, too, sent my regards for a speedy recovery this morning — what more the Department, working with local councils, can do to ensure that, if such a situation arises again — sadly, it is happening more often in Northern Ireland — there is a more effective and speedy response.
I thank the Member for his question. I followed the story and how it impacted on the lives of local people in that part of the Shankill. It really is quite disgraceful that such things continue to happen. The answer lies in the closer working relationship between district councils and the NIEA. While the NIEA is responsible for larger waste criminality, councils can take a proactive approach to fly-tipping. It is about trying to bring the two together so that one does not pass the responsibility on to the other, and we then see a situation like we had in the Shankill where the Minister had to intervene. The additional powers that the Minister is looking at include giving councils discretionary powers to take enforcement action in respect of illegal waste disposal other than littering and to provide them with more robust penalties as this works through the system.
I thank the Minister for her comments so far. Can she pass on our good wishes to Edwin? It is good to see that he will be getting some first-hand knowledge of how well our NHS is coping at this moment in time.
Is there any information to confirm that waste from the Republic of Ireland is being illegally dumped in Northern Ireland?
I thank my colleague for his good wishes for Edwin, but I remind everyone that he is a former Health Minister and is acutely aware of how amazing our National Health Service has been in response to the pandemic. His wife is a nurse, who has many years of service in the National Health Service.
I do not have specific information on that. If there is information in the Department, I will, of course, ask the Department to write to the Member on that specific area. I am aware that there have been various news stories on the issue, and we need to make sure that criminality of this sort is dealt with, appropriate penalties are levied and costs are directed to where they should be.
I thank the Minister for her answers so far. I extend my good wishes to Minister Poots and wish him a speedy recovery.
In my constituency, in the Fews Forest, at a nature spot called Carrigatuke viewpoint, there have been over 50 incidents of illegal dumping over the last 18 months. Will the Minister take it back to Minister Poots that we need a cross-border approach, because there is clear evidence that there is illegal dumping of material from across the border?
Yes, I fully accept and agree. The Minister will talk to his counterpart to ensure that that kind of criminality does not take place, that we can levy appropriate fines and make sure that costs are apportioned appropriately and sensibly in the matter. I am sure that the Department will write to you about any specific incidences that have occurred at the beauty spot that you spoke about.
The councils, NIEA and the Department are looking at how effective the legislation is, and they will bring forward further proposals on that. As I said to my colleague from the Shankill, where there were some very serious incidents, additional powers would perhaps be conferred on councils to allow them to have an immediate response to littering and illegal dumping.