There have been calls for Stormont departments to work together to crack down on those responsible for pollution incidents.
During a debate held last week about the recent fish kill on the Sixmilewater river, local MLAs criticised the existing procedures for investigating pollution incidents and called for the Environment, Culture, Arts and Leisure, Regional Development, Agriculture and Justice departments to work together and get tough on polluters.
The debate, attended by several local anglers and environmentalists, heard the DUP’s Paul Girvan criticise the departments’ response to last month’s fish kill near Ballyclare.
He suggested that the town’s waste water treatment plant may have been to blame for the pollution - something NI Water has denied - and went on to allege that “an intentional cover-up” has taken place to protect the polluter - an accusation Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said he would ask his department to investigate.
Calling for a more joined up approach to tackling pollution incidents, Mr Girvan said: “On many occasions we pursue the wee man, but sometimes it is a government agency that has caused the problem. How do we ensure that such agencies are made answerable so that it does not happen again?”
Danny Kinahan suggested that “some form of independent sampling” is required so that government departments can be held to account if they are responsible for pollution.
Urging tougher punishments for polluters, the UUP man added: “The Minister and we, as politicians, need to find a better way forward so that there is a suitable punishment and suitable compensation is paid. That is key.”
Condemning the “paltry fines” handed out to polluters, Trevor Clarke said realistic deterrents are required.
“We need action from DOE, DRD and DARD. The sooner the three departments knock their heads together and try to take a coordinated approach to prevent incidents such as this happening again, the better,” he said.
His party colleague, Pam Cameron added: “The penalties for environmental crime are simply not robust enough to act as a deterrent to those individuals and businesses intent on wreaking havoc on our environment.
“A joined up approach between the Department of the Environment, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Department of Justice is long overdue in order that a clear message is sent out to the culprits of environmental crime that they will be dealt with under the full rigour of the law.”
Mr Durkan revealed that two sites are still under investigation in connection with the recent fish kill on the Sixmilewater, but stressed he wasn’t at liberty to identify them.
He added: “I am happy to give a commitment to the House that I will undertake to review how the system works and how my department works with others, including DCAL, DARD, DRD and, importantly, the Department of Justice. I will be happy to get on to that as soon as possible.”
Michael Martin of the Six Mile Water Trust, who attended the debate, described it as “a worthwhile exercise.”