“precisely missing the point..”

There was an understandable focus in today’s StormontLive on the Environment Minister’s rejection of the Review of Environmental Governance’s recommendation for an Independent Environmental Protection Agency. One of the authors of that report, Environmental Law specialist, Sharon Turner of Queen’s University [pdf file], responds in this clip along with Aidan Lonergan of the RSPB – she accuses the Minister of “precisely missing the point about the recommendation to have an independent agency.”

And there was an interesting point in the studio discussion with Arlene Foster [below the fold] when Mark Devenport asked the Minister why we’re still the only region of the archipelago not to have an independent EPA. Her response was to reference an “interesting conversation [she had with her] Scottish counterpart, in relation to the workings of the Scottish EPA”, “I think they are reviewing the workings of that as well.” The implication – that the independence of SEPA would be under review – might come as news to the Scottish EPA.. since they’ve just published their draft Corporate Plan for 2008-2011.. However, there have already been instances where the Scottish First Minister, the SNP’s Alex Salmond, has been accused of interference in planning matters. And this March 2008 Scotsman article illustrates that the Scottish Parliament recognises the importance of an independent EPA. That doesn’t mean that the NI Environment Minister’s “Scottish counterpart”, the SNP’s Richard Lochhead, wouldn’t want to change that if he could..The StormontLive coverage started with the Environment Minister, the DUP’s Arlene Foster, announcing her proposals to the Assembly followed by a studio discussion involving the Minister, the Chairman of the Assembly’s Environment Committee, the SDLP’s Patsy McGlone. The Minister’s reference to her “Scottish counterpart” comes around 5min 40sec in.

Then the Green Party’s Brian Wilson and the UUP’s Roy Beggs.

The last political representatives in discussion were Alliance Party leader David Ford and Sinn Féin’s Daithí McKay.

Finally, BBC NI’s political editor Mark Devenport makes a couple of important points, on the reluctance to devolve power beyond the Executive, and, in light of the Scottish examples noted above, the difference between an Independent EPA and the in-house version the Minster proposes.

, , ,

  • IJP

    Sharon Turner is right, from what I can see.

    It was interesting that the DUP contribution to the Assembly debate talked consistently of “handing over control“.

    But that is not the point of an independent agency. Control remains with the Department(s). The independent agency exists to oversee and regulate, not “control”.

  • Pete Baker

    IJP

    Indeed.

    Any decisions made are made by the Minister[s].

    Another major element of the Environment Minister’s argument was an emphasis on the idea that an in-house agency provides greater accountability.

    And yet the Scottish EPA has this to say.

    The agency board is responsible to Scottish Ministers, with SEPA officers reporting to a specific minister and department at the Scottish Executive. Our corporate management team is responsible to the agency board, and there is a formal scheme of delegated authority to board sub-committees and SEPA officers.

    The agency board members are appointed by the First Minister and they set SEPA’s direction. The three regional boards act as the ‘eyes and ears’ of SEPA, with members appointed from a range of backgrounds and locations.

    Around half of our funding comes from the Scottish Executive, with the other half charged to operators that we regulate, under the polluter-pays principle. Accordingly, we are accountable through Ministers and officials at the Scottish Executive for what we do and how we spend our money.

  • willowfield

    Why are farmers opposed to an independent EPA?

    Surely the problem is that – because of the indivisibility of the Crown – the EHS cannot prosecute Government departments, and therefore the reason for going independent is to enable the agency to do so.

    The EHS currently can prosecute farmers, so what difference does an independent agency make?

  • Willowfield, we have a rather sad stand-off between a farmer and ‘authority’ between Whitepark Bay and Ballintoy Harbour yet ‘authority’ seems to be fairly impotent, not to say hard to specify.

    The barriers have been in position IIRC since the end of last summer and nothing much appears to be happening to achieve a resolution of whatever the problem is.

  • Danny O’Connor

    As far as I know from my dealings with people, the only people opposed to an EPA are those likely to fall foul of it.Meanwhile the EHS will continue to allow itself to be bullied by Ms Foster’s colleagues.
    DUP = Dont Upset Polluters.
    DUP = Dont Upset Property Developers
    DUP = Dont Upset Party members/potential donors