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Urgent need for environmental Reform in Northern Ireland

May 14, 2004

Northern Ireland is the dirty corner of the UK when it comes to environmental protection and reform is urgently needed, says the UK Environmental Law Association (UKELA) (1).

UKELA is recommending a package of reforms to address a legacy of environmental failings which civil servants are struggling to put right(2). The UK already faces costly fines through the European courts for failing to enforce environmental legislation.

“Northern Ireland has a uniquely serious problem of weak environmental regulation and enforcement”, says UKELA chairman Andrew Wiseman who took part in a seminar in Belfast on the issues on Friday May 7th(3). “It is only now beginning to address what was done in the rest of the UK in the 1970s and 1980s. Even so, the actions now being taken are largely limited to a programme of some legislative reform or ‘catch up’ with the rest of the UK. The real issues of regulation and enforcement and the structures needed are still being ignored by government”.

UKELA is calling for an independent environment agency to be established, with the resources and political commitment to support it and provide new leadership. This would be accompanied by a skills exchange with similar bodies in England and Wales and Scotland and better promotion of environmental laws.

“A new sense of priority for the environment in Northern Ireland is urgently required and a new form of environmental governance must be devised” said Andrew Wiseman. “While there is strong demand within Northern Ireland for an independent environmental agency, structural reforms alone will fail if the cultural attitudes continue to be ignored. Northern Ireland should be able to trade on a clean and green environment, which will attract investment and tourism, but years of The Troubles and economic problems have meant the environment has been a low priority”.

Notes to the editors:

1. UKELA is the UK forum, which aims to make the law work for a better environment and to improve understanding and awareness of environmental law. UKELA’s members are involved in the practice, study or formulation of Environmental Law in the UK and the European Union. It attracts both lawyers and non lawyers and has a broad membership.
2. UKELA, which has members across the UK, has published a paper on the issues after consulting individuals and key organisations in Northern Ireland. “Environmental Regulation in Northern Ireland: an agenda for reform” is available from UKELA by emailing Vicki.elcoate@ntlworld.com.
3. Today’s seminar is being organised by non-governmental organisations in Northern Ireland to explore options raised by Professor Richard Macrory in his recent paper: “Transparency and Trust: Reshaping Environmental Governance in Northern Ireland”.

UK Environmental Law Association - Better law for the environment
Registered charity 299498; company registered in England number 2133283
Registered office: One Glass Wharf, Bristol, BS2 0ZX

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