Anna Lo MLA said: “After a long campaign, Northern Ireland finally caught up with other western countries with the establishment of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency in 2008.
“But while it was a step forward for us to have a voice to promote and protect our natural environment, there are questions over how much it would be willing to investigate Government Departments with its lack of independence.
“One of Northern Ireland’s greatest assets is our environment and it obviously needs protecting by a strong organisation. The Environment Agency has shown that it does have some teeth by imposing large fines on those who have broken environmental laws. But with a lack of independence, it cannot fully investigate actions by Government Departments, either through fear of interference in its budget or direct action to deter investigations.
“The actions of some of our Departments in looking after our environment have been called into question such as over the Strangford Lough horse mussel which could result in large fines being imposed by Europe over our failure to protect this species. There is clearly a need to have an independent organisation that can work without fear of interference of Government Departments.
“The inability of our Environment Agency to go after any organisation or person, whether it be a private individual or a Government Department could have negative consequences for our Environment. Alliance proposals to improve protections for our environment have previously been blocked by other parties such as the DUP in the Assembly, but I hope that the Environment Minister will support our calls for greater protection for the environment, including an independent environment agency.”