CLAIM: Only the Green Party supported a proposal to establish an environmental protection agency (EPA), as part of the review of public administration (local government) in Northern Ireland.
CONCLUSION: INACCURATE. During the Review of Public Administration (June 2002-March 2006), three political parties — Alliance, Green Party, and the SDLP — pledged support for an independent environmental protection agency. In the subsequent Review of Environmental Governance in Northern Ireland (February 2006-May 2007), Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionist Party also expressed support.
On 25 January 2020, published in the Irish News, Newton Emerson stated: “All Stormont parties except the Greens rejected an EPA when it was proposed a decade ago under the last major review of public administration.” This claim may be related to a similar claim made in the Green Party manifesto for the elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2003: “(None of the political parties in the current Assembly has called for an independent Environmental Protection Agency for Northern Ireland as part of the reform of public administration).”
An EPA for Northern Ireland
Governmental reports from 1962 (Abercorn Report), 1984 (Balfour Report), 1990 (Rossi Report) (see Col. 550), and 1996 (Prior Options Report) have explored options for environment governmental arrangements. The last of these — The Prior Options Report — asserted “the theoretical merits” of independence (of an EPA), but argued that an entity within Government could exert a much greater degree of influence than one outside and that it was inappropriate for Government agencies to be subject to regulation by a Non Departmental Public Body (NDPB). It proposed the creation of the Environment and Heritage Services (EHS) (now known as the Northern Ireland Environment Agency) as an executive agency of the Department of the Environment.
In February 2004, the result of a review chaired by Professor Richard Macrory was published — Transparency and Trust: Reshaping Environmental Governance in Northern Ireland. This Macrory Report proposed a series of options for the better delivery of environmental regulation, strengthening the regulator’s accountability, and providing independent policy advice to the government. In October 2004, an environmental NGO coalition launched a public consultation seeking views on the Macrory options. It found strong support for the creation of an independent environment agency in Northern Ireland.
Review of public administration
The last major review of public administration was commissioned, under direct rule, in 2002. It concluded and reported its findings in March 2006, leading to the creation of Northern Ireland’s current arrangement of eleven local councils.
Concurrently, in February 2006, the former UK Minister for the Environment, Lord Rooker, appointed a panel of experts to conduct an independent Review of Environmental Governance in Northern Ireland (REGNI).
The terms of reference of the review included:
“Taking account of the Review of Public Administration, previous inquiries into environmental governance arrangements in Northern Ireland, and the existing and emerging EU environmental regulatory framework, the Review will address the structure, management and resourcing of the publicly funded elements of the environmental governance system and will bring forward proposals for the future environmental governance arrangements, in relation to environmental protection, the natural heritage and the built heritage…”
An interim report was published in September 2006, and the final report was published in May 2007 — Foundations of Our Future: The Review of Environmental Governance. With devolved administration of government restored to Northern Ireland on 8 May 2007, the REGNI report was presented to the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Committee for the Environment (Item 6) and the Minister for the Environment.
Among the recommendations in the REGNI report was the setting up of an independent environmental protection agency responsible for environmental regulation.
Party positions during review
During the REGNI review, written and oral submissions were solicited from stakeholders. These stakeholders included local political parties, which held the following positions in regards to an independent environmental protection agency in Northern Ireland.
- Alliance: see statements (Alliance Party manifesto (2003); David Ford MLA (2007)); written submission delivered
- Green Party: see statement (Green Party manifesto (2003)); oral submission delivered
- SDLP: see statements (SDLP manifesto (2003); Tommy Gallagher MLA (2007)); oral submission delivered
- Sinn Féin: see statement (Daithí McKay MLA (2007)) (no submission)
- UUP: see statement (Northern Ireland Assembly Official Report, 3.00pm, Mr Kennedy (2007)); written submission delivered
- DUP: see statement (Northern Ireland Assembly Official Report, 3.00pm, The Minister of the Environment (Mrs Foster)); no submission delivered
During the Review of Public Administration (June 2002-March 2006), three political parties — Alliance, Green Party, and the SDLP — pledged support for an independent environmental protection agency in their manifestos for the 2003 elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Subsequently, during the Review of Environmental Governance in Northern Ireland (February 2006-May 2007), five political parties — Alliance, Green Party, SDLP, Sinn Féin, and the UUP — are known to have supported an independent EPA in Northern Ireland.
(Some of the evidence presented in this fact check was discovered via an online service, Wayback Machine, which archives website content and keeps it visible after the original website may have disappeared or removed the content.)