Northern Ireland waking up to environmental neglect: Ford [Newsletter]

Eight beaches around Northern Ireland were awarded Blue Flag Status in 2006 and the same number received that accolade in 2005. The number of beaches in Northern Ireland which were given this internationally-recognised status is extremely low and indicates the level of sewage and pollution around some areas of the coastline. Worse still, it was recently announced that Northern Ireland will have no blue flag beaches at all by 2007, because Tidy Northern Ireland could not enough secure funding to employ a beach officer.

Recently, the Marine Conservation Society recommended eight of Northern Ireland beaches in its ‘Good Beach Guide,’ but indicated that our poor water treatment facilities led to so few beaches being given this status. The disturbing development regarding the loss of blue flag status in Northern Ireland altogether indicates the need for government to take environmental issues here more seriously.

A recent study conducted by the Marine Conservation Society found more than 8,200 items of litter on eight different beaches, spanning 4.4km of Northern Irish coastline. The survey concluded that Northern Ireland had the highest density of beach visitor litter of all UK counties. These findings suggest a lack of respect for natural amenities in Northern Ireland, and this is an issue which the Alliance Party has addressed in actively promoting recycling and advocating a plastic bag levy for shop customers.

Northern Ireland’s Water Service recently announced that it will not be connecting new houses to the sewage network, because facilities in some areas are already at their full capacity. Friends of the Earth won a case against Water Service after asking that they be investigated for not assessing the impact of new developments on the sewage network. In some areas, raw sewage is still pumped into the sea very close to the Northern Irish coastline.

Alliance believes that a quality local and global environment is integral to a good quality of life. We support regional, national, European and international efforts to protect the environment and we support the implementation of the Rio and Kyoto Treaties.

Yet there is much that can be done in Northern Ireland to protect our local environment, and to contribute to wider efforts to protect the environment generally. All sections of society, including the public and private sector, civic society, local communities, producers and consumers, have important roles to play.

Alliance has pledged to introduce legislation to ensure the conservation of marine wildlife. These laws will identify, designate and protect marine sites of special scientific interest. Furthermore, we want to see the establishment of an independent Environmental Protection Agency, because the region’s department of the environment has singularly failed in this duty. Politicians would have an input in the work of this organisation, and it would have the power to enforce environmental legislation. Northern Ireland needs a comprehensive agency to work on environmental protection, to ensure that a joined-up approach is taken by government to deal with green issues.

The government’s neglect of environmental policy locally is illustrated by the fact that they have been dragging their heels on implementing new environmental initiatives. At Christmas, the government announced that £59 million was to be provided as grant-aid for alternative home energy schemes. Northern Ireland had to wait until the middle of July to see any of this funding, and even then only a paltry £8 million was allocated to help equip homes with environmentally-friendly energy sources.

Environmental protection has unfortunately been pushed down the agenda in Northern Ireland due to the current political impasse. However, the Alliance Party has been a constant and strong voice on the environment, and we will continue to focus on green issues even if other parties are neglecting their duties in this area. Whether it is through campaigning for the introduction of an Environmental Protection Agency, working towards improving public transport or simply calling for the introduction of a plastic bag levy in Northern Ireland, we continue to look for better options to help protect the environment.

David Ford MLA

Leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland

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