Causeway Coast and Glens councillors have voted against the establishment of an independent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to tackle the recent blue-green algae issues.
The issue had first been raised at a meeting of the council’s Environmental Services Committee on Tuesday, September 12.
At this meeting, a motion was passed asking the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to convene a cross-party meeting between affected council areas to discuss the issue and to develop an action plan.
The motion also called for the establishment of an independent EPA in line with New Decade, New Approach commitments.
At the meeting last month, Causeway DUP Alderman Sharon McKillop questioned the need for the independent EPA, stressing the focus should be on “actions and outcomes” not on “setting up new structures and governance”.
As such, she proposed an amendment removing the call to establish the Environmental Protection Agency, but this failed at a vote.
Ald McKillop raised the issue again at the most recent full council meeting on Tuesday, October 3, proposing an amendment to remove the reference to the EPA. She emphasised the need to ensure council structures are fit for purpose, suggesting that a model like the co-production model used by the Scottish government could be useful.
The vote was tied at 18 votes for and 18 votes against the amendment, with Mayor Steven Callaghan casting the deciding vote to pass it.
Ald McKillop added: “We as a party are committed to protecting our environmental heritage which will be key to Northern Ireland’s success for generations to come.
“It’s simply not prudent to ask tax payers to fund the creation of another layer of bureaucracy especially when there’s no guarantee of better outcomes. Additional monies would need to be found to fund the creation of an independent EPA structure.
“I know the public want the affected council areas to provide a co-ordinated approach to tackle the blue-green algae issue and to stop it recurring. I also know they want statutory organisations, including this council, to fulfil their legal obligations without it incurring additional costs. It shouldn’t sit well with any council to need to set up another structure to fulfil their statutory duties.”
Causeway DUP Alderman John McAuley added the creation of an independent EPA is outside the council’s remit.
“We need to get to the stage in this chamber where we deal with what we have the powers to deal with and not make proposals and motions just for headlines,” he said.
However, Causeway Alliance Councillor Peter McCully, who proposed the original motion, said that an independent EPA is “a fairly standard governance structure that exists across Europe”.
He said: “In fact Northern Ireland is the only area that does not have an independent EPA. It is needed because of its ability to hold major polluters, corporations, government agencies to account. You need a degree of independence to be able to achieve that.
“We can do two things at once: we can deal with the short term concerns and we can also look long term as well. If we’re going to avoid other ecological disasters we need an independent EPA. To say that we have to focus only on the short term whilst not doing the long term, I do not see the logic in that argument.”
Bann Sinn Fein Councillor Sean Bateson said:
“The EPA would be coming further down the line rather than being implemented by the council in the immediate future. The big thing is tackling the problems at hand at present. The big thing is to show that as a council we’re collectively trying to solve the issue.”