“I am determined to develop a response which fully matches our responsibility under the Habitats Directive…”

With the Northern Ireland Fisheries Minster, Sinn Féin’s Carál Ní Chuilín, displaying Helleresque logic in her efforts to avoid European Commission fines over the Executive’s failure to act to conserve atlantic salmon stocks, BBC NI’s environment correspondent, Mike McKimm, has an update on the NI Executive’s continuing inaction over environmental vandalism at Strangford Lough – a designated Special Area of Conservation, an Area of Special Scientific Interest and a Ramsar (protected wetland) site.  From the BBC report

Unless the departments can persuade the European Commission otherwise, they could face a fine of at least £8m plus a fine of tens of thousands of euros for every day the problem persists. And they have only weeks to make their case following the formal warning they have just received from the commission.

“Our response must be decisive,” said environment minister Alex Attwood.

“We need to demonstrate that the horse mussel reef issue is being conclusively addressed. We have until May this year to convince the EU that any deterioration is being addressed, beyond which infraction awaits.”

The BBC understands that Mr Attwood has meet with senior EU officials in Northern Ireland and Brussels to try and reassure the commission.

But it will be the Department of Agriculture who will have to do the lion’s share of the reassuring. Only they can introduce the necessary protection required by Europe and it needs to be done immediately.

Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill said that she is disappointed with the commission’s interpretation of the situation.

“I am determined to develop a response which fully matches our responsibility under the Habitats Directive,” she said.

“I have undertaken to meet fishermen in the near future to discuss options with them and officials from both departments will be working hard together to develop a satisfactory management regime for the future.”

Which is what her predecessor, and party colleague, Michelle Gildernew, MP, MLA, and NI Agriculture Minister from 2007-2011, should have done…

Instead, as I noted in November last year

Eight years after first drawing attention to the problem, and six years after a formal written warning was issued from the European Commission, the Ulster Wildlife Trust have made a second formal complaint alleging a “systematic and deliberate failure” to protect and restore the special habitat. 

In January 2009, the then-ministers concerned did manage to summon the press for a photo-opportunity on the issue.  But that’s about the only activity we’ve seen – despite evidence that the NI Department of Environment, at least, is aware of the potential for EU fines.

But, as Mike McKimm points out, it may be too little, too late.

But that may not satisfy Europe. They have made it clear that at this late stage they are looking specific action, not options. With just a few weeks until the May deadline there is little time for more discussions.

  • ranger1640

    Its a pity these horse mussel’s are not marching on Saturday in Armagh. then these 3 shinners would be going out of their way to keep them in their reef.

  • socaire

    ……….fisheries minister???????????????

  • Pete Baker

    What’s your question, Socaire?

  • socaire

    Please sir, why does Fisheries come under DCAL?

  • Pete Baker

    Because it does.

  • USA

    ” inaction over environmental vandalism at Strangford Lough”
    British government about Sellafield.

  • cynic2

    Please sir, why does Fisheries come under DCAL?

    Because they needed to create a few ragbag Ministries to make the patronage trough deep and wide enough so all the parties could get their snouts in

  • The yokel

    DCAL is fishing
    DARD is fisheries
    DoE is environmental protection

    Why? see C2 @ 7:30

  • These Ministers and ministries seem to be tripping over one another. It ought to be pointed out that DOE and DCAL were DUP fiefdoms from 2007 to 2011 so Attwood and Ní Chuilín have limited responsibility for the shambles at Strangford and elsewhere. Foster, the former DOE minister, is also currently embroiled in a different shambles. Is any ministry running smoothly?

  • “our responsibility under the Habitats Directive”

    Here’s an answer to a question tabled on March 2 from the DCAL minister re.salmon which spells out the various responsibilities [search: salmon]:

    I am not aware of any infraction proceedings against this DCAL by the European Union and therefore the Department has made no financial provision for infraction fines.

    DOE is the lead Department in the north of Ireland for the implementation of the Habitats Directive. DCAL seeks to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Directive and the implementing legislation in the north of Ireland through the discharge of its responsibilities in relation to the conservation and protection of salmon and inland fisheries.

    Infraction proceedings by the EU are against Britain as a Member State and not against the devolved administrations or individual Government Departments.

  • wild turkey

    good morning

    here’s this morning dumb question.

    if the shit does hit the fan and NI is hit with an £8ml fine by the relevant european authority, why shouldn’t ALL relevant ministers and perm secretaries, past and present throughout this episode, be surcharged?

    ” In the United Kingdom a public servant, for example a local government officer, who has unlawfully spent public funds, OR CAUSED A LOSS to a public authority through misconduct may be surcharged to recover public money. The surcharge may be applied, after referral to a court by the Audit Commission. In the case of an ILLEGAL CORPORATE DECISION BY AN ELECTED BODY all the councillors may be surcharged.”

    Pete, following on from your reference to Helleresque Logic (like that one) perhaps the lack of a decision and decisive action might be plausible defence; ie “you can’t surcharge us for an illegal decision, we didn’t make any decisions”


  • Wild Turkey, if you look at my previous post you’ll see that the EU would take infraction proceedings against the UK, not NI. Perhaps Westminster would then make deductions from the block grant should financial penalties be imposed.

  • Reader

    USA: British government about Sellafield.
    I don’t think the environment has ever noticed Sellafield. that’s why objectors wave scientific instruments instead of pointing out the devastation.