Parties Unite in Call for Environmental Protection Agency
The Coalition for Environmental Protection this morning held a cross party event at Stormont to highlight the urgent need for an independent Environmental Protection Agency.
The event was sponsored by Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein; David Ford, Alliance; Tommy Gallagher SDLP and Danny Kennedy UUP.
Speaking at the event Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP MLA congratulated all of the nine organisations, which together form the Coalition for Environmental Protection, for their "diligence, hard work and dedication to the protection of our environment."
The Sinn Féin leader said:
"This is about our future. The future of the people of this part of Ireland, of the island as a whole, and of humanity across this world. Protection of our environment from the threats it faces is perhaps the great challenge faced by humanity today.
"We have all read articles and reports, and watched news reports about our shrinking ice caps; to the corruption of the food chain; water pollution; floods; droughts; the devastation of the rain forests and many, many more. The impact of this on all of us, and on our world, is enormous; in terms of lives lost; destruction of property; political instability; and quality of life issues, including the extinction of animals and plants.
"These are major issues, internationally, as well as here in our own place. The reality is that successive British Direct Rule Ministers failed to plan properly for the future; for a safer environment, across a whole range of matters. They failed to provide a co-ordinated policy approach; allocated inadequate resources, and gave the protection of the environment a low government priority. This has to change.
"Reports stretching back over the last decade, including the Waste Management Advisory Boards' highly damning report into the DoE's environmental protection and waste management record, demand real solutions. It is up to those of us elected to the Assembly and the Executive to produce the solutions. With the restoration of the political institutions, and local politicians now having control of these matters,
"I believe we now have the opportunity to make a real change, a positive change to our environment in the time ahead. One very positive and concrete step is the establishment of an independent and an effective Environmental Protection Agency Sinn Féin unequivocally supports this proposition. The Review of Environmental Governance Report released in June recommended that 'responsibility for environmental regulation should be transferred to a new Environmental Protection Agency'.
"The record of the DoE on this front has been very poor. It has failed to do its job. The ineffectiveness of the Environment and Heritage Service has been criticised in report after report.
- Around 90% of wetlands in the north are 'at risk' of not meeting the European Union, Water Framework Directives environmental objectives.
- There is an epidemic of illegal dumping.
- Laws to protect wildlife are weak.
- Important wildlife sites are not looked after properly.
- There has been a failure to implement the European Union, Environmental Impact assessment Directive.
- Raw and poorly treated sewerage is still routinely discharged into inland waterways and coastal waters.
For all these reasons the recommendations of the Governance Report should be implemented quickly by the Minister for Environment. The establishment of an independent Environmental Protection Agency, working in close co-operation with its opposite number in the south, is essential if we are to protect our beautiful environment; it is essential if we are to avoid colossal European fines; and it is obligatory if we are to halt biodiversity loss, as well as illegal dumping.
An independent Environmental Protection Agency with strong enforcement powers, and which is totally independent and transparent in its work, can ensure no unhelpful departmental or political interference in its work, while building public confidence. An independent EPA with a strong commitment to ensuring that the polluter is held responsible for their actions and meets treatment costs, can make a real difference. Sinn Féin also believes that there is a very strong case for the creation of a single all-Ireland Environmental Protection Agency.
An all-Ireland approach would be of benefit to biodiversity conservation as we have a distinct island biogeography which does not consider boundaries; an All-Ireland approach would also ensure greater regulatory and enforcement mechanisms. The fact is that action is needed to protect our environment and is needed now. Any action we take must be with a view to sustainable development. New jobs can be created.
There is also a need for a robust renewable energy policy; a waste management strategy; and much more. With a barrel of oil about to pass the 100$ figure, higher energy costs, the effect of global warming and all of the environmental concerns I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks will take on an even sharper focus and importance. An independent Environmental Protection Agency is a crucial part of this jig-saw. Sinn Féin wholeheartedly endorses this campaign." ENDS