I am considering a number of documents relating to the proposed Islandmagee gas storage project. The documents relate to an application for a marine licence and the review of a discharge consent and abstraction licence. The matter that I am determining is complex, and, as such, it is vital that I give the documentation all due consideration.
Thank you, Minister. I trust that you will appreciate that this issue requires a great deal of detailed analysis and investigation. Nevertheless, it is effectively a sword of Damocles being held over many residents in Islandmagee and far beyond.
Given the approach of the COP26 environment conference in Scotland later this year, together with the number of serious incidents around the world regarding this type of gas storage, and given that this is a fossil fuel and the United Kingdom wishes to move us away from fossil fuel, will the Minister please help to alleviate the fears and concerns of my constituents in Islandmagee and across East Antrim? Can we have a positive decision that the Department is clear that fossil fuel is a fuel of the past?
Unfortunately, I cannot look at the issue in the same way as the Member for East Antrim or, indeed, his colleagues from East Antrim who are in my party might look at it. I have to look at it purely on the basis of the scientific and planning evidence that is provided to me. Whatever decision I arrive at will be based on the qualitative material that is garnered by them in order to make recommendations to me. Therefore, I cannot take a decision that would be prejudiced by bias either for or against. I have to take in all the arguments and arrive at a reasoned position that is defensible thereafter.
Given the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that shows that we rapidly need to decarbonise and, as Mr Dickson said, move away from fossil fuels, as part of the consideration of the application, are you considering the potential for legal challenge on the basis of climate legislation that is going through the Assembly?
I am under the impression that, should I approve the application, I will be challenged judicially, and, if I refuse the application, I will be challenged judicially. I have to make a decision based on the information provided to me, not on whether one or other party will challenge me judicially thereafter. If I make a decision and one or other party challenges that decision, it is for that party to demonstrate that I have not been rational and have not done all the things that I should have done as a Minister. Who knows what would happen thereafter?