Strangford Lough: “It is not as if the two departments did not know what needed to be done.”

It’s worth stating at the beginning that the European Commission haven’t, yet, imposed a fine for the Northern Ireland Executive’s failure to protect and restore a special habitat, of [protected species] horse mussel beds, in Strangford Lough – a designated Special Area of Conservation, an Area of Special Scientific Interest and a Ramsar (protected wetland) site.

But, BBC NI environment correspondent, Mike McKimm’s latest report suggests it won’t be long coming…

Agriculture implement fishing regulations and controls in Strangford Lough. Environment tries to ensure everyone follows the rules of the EU Habitats Directive and protects the environment.

But as Anna Lo, the chairperson of the assembly’s environment committee, explained the two departments are not getting along.

“The two departments haven’t really been working together enough,” she said.

“They have different remits and different goals. One is protecting the natural environment and the other is protecting the economy. When they don’t work together the problem is in implementing the restoration plan.”

And that is a big problem for Environment Minister Alex Attwood. It is his department that will get the blame if we get fined yet he cannot force the agriculture department to do what he says.

“We are running close to huge infraction fines, starting at £7m and going upwards”, admitted Mr Attwood.

“That is why I have tried to prevail upon the department of agriculture. We are making progress, that what we are proposing in terms of no fishing and restoration is the right way forward. That is a work in progress.”

By now the two departments are supposed to have restored the mussel reefs to a sustainable level, imposed non-disturbance zones and brought in legislation to protect the areas involved. But all of that is still to happen nine years after they promised Europe it would.

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  • cynic2

    So we overpaid the farmers millions to control their effluent yet they are pouring tons of it into the Lough and costing us millions in fines. Is the sensible answer not for Environment to fine them or sue them to recover the cost of fixing the damage on the polluter pays principle?

  • Barry the Blender

    Thou shalt not criticise farmers

  • NOT NOW JOHN

    Having read this, the following questions immediately spring to mind.

    1. How does this fit with the Executive’s commitment to protect and enhance our natural environment by
    working to halt the loss of biodiversity as set out in its recent Programme for Government?

    2. How effectively is the Executive functioning?

    3. Is the Minister responsible taking full responsibility?

    4. Is devolution any more effective than direct rule in tackling this issue?

    5. Who will be held accountable in the event of a substantial fine being levied as a result of infraction proceedings?

    6. What action has the Executive actually taken to resolve this issue?

  • cynic2

    the following answers immediately spring to mind.

    1. How does this fit with the Executive’s commitment to protect and enhance our natural environment by
    working to halt the loss of biodiversity as set out in its recent Programme for Government?

    It doesn’t. The policy is only there to keep the EU at bay. Its also probable that half the Executive wouldn’t understand it IF they read it

    2. How effectively is the Executive functioning?

    Good at stopping us killing each other, Otherwise patchy

    3. Is the Minister responsible taking full responsibility?

    Probably but he’s hamstrung because he needs the support of colleagues who will go out of their way to shaft him for party reasons

    4. Is devolution any more effective than direct rule in tackling this issue?

    5. Who will be held accountable in the event of a substantial fine being levied as a result of infraction proceedings?

    Are you kidding? The big boys made him do it ….and anyway by the time the fines roll in it will be someone else in the seat and a Minister 4 back who was to blame. Honest

    6. What action has the Executive actually taken to resolve this issue?

    Bugger all.

  • Neil

    All serving to illustrate how any ‘support’ offered by local parties to either side of the Scottish debate is likely to be viewed with scorn.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Michelle O’Neill and Alex Attwood not getting along?

    Not the most obvious rivalry in the executive.

    It does seem this is being ironed out, if anything perhaps a partisan verbal intradepartmental fisticuffs would be better than a unilateral ministerial decision.

    Don’t be surprised if Michelle and Alex come out laughing at Anna Lo for doubting them, along with a balanced and fair solution.

    Serious, no surprises, please.

  • The Raven

    How many times have you posted on this now, Pete? Three? Four? More?

    The Department of Agriculture – regardless of minister – has no place in environmental protection or management. It simply can’t handle the responsibility. Worse still, as a Department filled with poachers-turned-gamekeepers, it doesn’t care. Most farmers have a “sure it’ll do” attitude. Their representative Department can’t be expected to be any better.

    Yet again, regardless of the undercurrent of Departmental frictions, it is the environment which ultimately suffers – as it inevitably always does in Northern Ireland.

  • Banjaxed

    Instead of imposing fines on the taxpayer, the EU could do us all a favour by punishing the ministers or their senior civil servants/advisors. It’s not the taxpayer who is making a ballox of it. What the hell are we paying these bozos for anyway?

  • cynic2

    “The Department of Agriculture ………………. simply can’t handle the responsibility.”

    You mean that the Minister cant. And the Department does have the locus on stopping farm effluent and fertilizer run off. It just doesn’t do it – it functions as vote grubbing farmers lobby group