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Blair: We need to restore our damaged eco systems now

Northern Ireland is in urgent need of policies to restore our damaged ecosystems, Alliance Environmental spokesperson John Blair MLA has said.

Mr Blair was speaking during an Assembly debate on the UK Government’s Environment Bill, which was designed to bring in legislation and provide environmental governance following changes after Brexit.

“Our exit from the EU has substantial implications for the environment here,” said Mr Blair.

“This Bill goes some way towards addressing the environmental governance gaps Brexit has exposed. However, in its current state, it does not offer the same level of protection and accountability the European courts did, and as a result, there is a greater ongoing requirement for Northern Ireland to remain aligned to the EU.

“As the only jurisdiction within the UK and Ireland without an independent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a Climate Change Act or a specific net-zero emissions target, Northern Ireland is in urgent need of policies to restore our damaged ecosystems.

“It should go without saying independence and an ability to prosecute effectively are critical to the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), but that is not the case. The new power in this Bill will have the effect of allocating DEFRA and DAERA Ministers a central role in shaping the basic principles of the oversight body, therefore constraining the role of the OEP and its ability to act independently.

“But while this Bill extends oversight of the OEP to Northern Ireland, we cannot allow it to become the absolute of environmental governance here, given the differing role and scope of an independent EPA. That is an outstanding New Decade, New Approach commitment and remains needed to help deal with the climate and ecological crisis we are in.”