06/12/2011 Stormont Today


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont.

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Welcome to the programme. One Downing Street denies lobbyists


have influence government policy, could anyone here be pulling the


strings of the MLAs? On the programme, the environment


dominates the day but his son and deep capitalist the event that


brings proceedings to a standstill. - back-row it is an anti-capitalist


movement. Order! Order! And when business got going, more tackling.


There is no licence for fracking in Northern Ireland. No licence has


been issued, no licence has been issued and I do not know how many


more ways I can say this. Fracking is safe as long as nothing goes


wrong. Well, America shows things can go wrong. My guest is


environmental lawyer, Andrew Lyon. We used to parties dividing along


Orange and green lines but it was a green issue of a different picture


that raised temperatures in the chamber today. Andrew Ryan is a


partner with solicitors and specialises in environmental law.


What sort of cases to you cover? do a broad range of work, from


defending environmental Prosecutions, advising clients in


terms of compliance with the lock, across to looking at environmental


implications of planning. It is a broad area. What is the most common


case you deal with? In terms of enforcement work, it is to deal


with waste, and things like that. Fracking was not just a talking


point inside the chamber. Dozens of protesters opposed to the process


travelled to Stormont to hand in a petition of more than 2000


signatures to MLAs. They claim it is dangerous and do not want the


process carried out here. The Alliance and Green parties want


more research into the impact of fracking and they tabled a motion


calling on the economy Minister to withdraw the licences for fracking.


I am bemused by the motion before us. It has been proposed by those


to remind us of the need to identify and it lies alternative


sources of energy. Yet there seemed to be paranoid about any effort


made to find solutions to the energy needs. That is a load of


BEEP! Order! Order! BEEP! Order! Suspend the sitting... This is


suspended. The public are entitled to hear the debate. Any more


interventions and I will ask the public gallery to be cleared. If


you want to participate, listen and ask members. Do not refer to the


public gallery and the gallery should not intervene. The US is


where technology for the mining of fossil fuels is very strong. If


those debts are urging the cautionary note, we should also


pursue this. We are largely in favour of the motion, but we do


recognise that the motion is very prescriptive at the last third,


were it talks about emphasising only the energy sources, renewable


sources. We must exploit the potential of shale gas. I notice


that talk about how shale gas is going to encourage cheaper energy.


I have not heard any guarantee about that. In the meantime, it


could destroy what we have, it could destroy the agricultural


industry and the tourism industry, it could destroy the water quality


that be enjoyed and there are too many things that we know could go


and no guarantees on cheap energy. Let me say, the premise of this


motion is fundamentally flawed. There is no licence for fracking in


Northern Ireland. No licence has been issued, a no hydraulic


fracking licence has been issued and I don't know how many more ways


I can say that. I have listened to members, all of them asking me and


the motion asks me to withdraw the licences for hydraulic fracking.


There are no licences. Indeed, nobody in Northern Ireland has a


licence to extract oil or gas by any method currently. The Minister


said it does not permit for any drilling and colleagues refer to


this as a desktop exercise. Is there not even within this,


permission for exploratory drilling? I have a licence which


was granted. It's available on the internet. Anybody can check this.


It does allow it for some drilling. To suggest drilling as desktop


research is misleading. In year four and five, it allows for


secondary exploration wells. member is wrong in addition to that.


They have to apply to the Department for the licence for


fracking and they also have to apply for planning application and


for the environmental impact assessment. It is outlined in the


licences. There might be further permission is necessary but it is


within their licence. This is a licence which includes fracking,


multiple horizontal laying and processed on a train. People can


check this. There was confusion about whether the exploratory work


the Enterprise Minister referred to would involve any fracking. She


told me it would not. You have the borehole, I came to boring a hole


for water, which farmers will be familiar with. They take samples of


rock. No fracturing can take place. Until planning application has been


met. He does seem unclear whether they do have to come back to you


and ask for further information. Every licensee under stands they


cannot do any invasive drilling without an application. To


ourselves, the Department of Environment and the environmental


impact assessment. It is very clear that anybody who does undertake


this, and these are reputable companies, they know they have to


apply for that. The Assembly has spoken, what difference will that


make? We listen to the Assembly and what it has to say but if I was to


revoke the licence that currently exists and that isn't what the


motion calls on me to do, it calls are made to revoke licences which


allowed fracturing and there are none. The motion was flawed. That


is what I tried to explain today. Unfortunately, some members were


not listening and there are no licences so it is difficult to


revoke licences that matter not there. Or was today's debate a


waste of time? It gives us a chance to listen to members' concerns, the


concerns they have picked up from across the world, a lot of people


don't live in Northern Ireland, they were coming across to express


concerns as to what happened in their jurisdiction. In Northern


Ireland it's a different situation, we have all the protections in


place and I would not have it any other way. This is where I live. I


want to ensure we do this in a responsible way and that we look at


alternative energy sources. It would be wrong not to it but we


only do so when it is environmentally safe. And a low


table today's motion and she is with us. Was it flawed? -- Anna Lo.


Flawed in what way? She said there are no licences for fracking so the


wording of the motion was wrong? is important that we look at this


process fairly carefully. The Minister has issued licences for


exploratory work to investigate and explore the potential for fracking


in Northern Ireland, and it has been banned in the USA and France


and in Germany. And now it is happening in Northern Ireland.


There is a potential in Northern Ireland. And we really have not


looked at the seriously and it is a process that can have and has been


shown to have health issues, to have environmental damaging issues.


And we cannot let this go simply by saying, we will let them look at it.


Without a full impact assessment. Were you satisfied with Arlene


Foster's explanation? We are not. She says the planning service will


have a look at this and will carry it out with the environmental


impact assessment. In Northern Ireland, I do not know about within


the environmental planning framework, if we have the


Competency to look at this and have a rigorous, full and comprehensive


assessment on this. Within the EU directives, the amount of gas being


extracted would be below the threshold for the full impact


assessment to be carried out. What we are asking is for an independent,


rigorous environmental impact assessment. Carried out not by the


deal a but relayed by a university or someone with the expertise to


carry this out. So that we are satisfied that it isn't going to


cause long-term consequences for Northern Ireland. Andrew, this is


your area of expertise. Do you think we need an independent body


to look at this order are the procedures robust enough? In terms


of the legal framework it by be robust. In so far as the framework


is there in terms of the potential impact but whether it is a lack of


knowledge is with the technical expertise in what that impact might


be. And that is possibly were there could be a problem in the future


because the expertise locally and nationally might not be there to


understand what is still an emerging and fairly novel process.


Even the word fracking has come into Our Language very quickly over


the last couple of weeks. It is that something you are looking up


now? Cases in America? It is any days and a lot of concern seems to


be in America about the environmental issues that have been


raised. You have to contrast the American system with the UK and the


ear, were there are more rigorous controls on environmental processes


but what it comes down to is having the knowledge and expertise to


apply that regulatory framework to what is going on and that is where


problems could arise. What happens next? Effectively, nothing can


happen as a result of today's motion? We need to continue to


raise the concerns of the public, particularly in Fermanagh. I want


to follow what on Andrew's point. Northern Ireland, the Environment


Agency is a very small branch within the DoE. It has been known


to have a lack of resources and I have a lot of respect for these


people doing their best within these constraints and to be able to


regulate the processes once it has been installed, but they don't have


the resources to do that. They don't have the technical know-how.


How do we know the process is being regulated? At the moment there are


thousands of cases of water pollution, R Care Quality


Commission, they have not brought many cases out for prosecution


because simply there is a lack of resources within the department.


Thank you very much. You will have to leave it there. The Deputy First


Minister was taking questions today but if you were expecting to hear


something on the Maze development which had been promised, it was to


be a disappointing session. Also up was a Social Development Minister,


who concentrated on Warm Homes. First, a question on the recent


controversy surrounding Belfast's lord mayor. What impact does a


First Minister believe it will have on equality issues given the recent


decision by the Belfast Lord Mayor not to present at Duke of Edinburgh


award to a local young female Obviously this has been a sizable


story in the media. It has generated a lot of heat. I welcome


very much the fact that the Mail has apologised for what was


undoubtedly a mistake. There is a clear commitment that that would


not be repeated. -- the Mayer. People should resist the temptation


to inflame the situation any more than it has been. The important


thing to do is whenever someone makes a mistake is to put your hand


up and apologise. As far as I am concerned, he was big enough in the


first instance to attend the Duke of Edinburgh award presentations,


and in the second instance, he put his hands up and made it clear that


he should apologise and he did apologise. The apology was fulsome.


I think it is important not to make a meal out of it but to move on, to


understand that certain circumstances will be a challenge


for all of us. What we all have to do is continue to stretch out the


hand of friendship to each other. We should not make life difficult


for each other, as I am afraid in this circumstance we saw that


happen. The junior minister was on her feet to answer the next


question on the planned enquiry into historical institutional abuse.


The minister will be aware of the reports produced by the Roman


Catholic Church this week. The ones relevant to Northern Ireland, will


they be included in this enquiry, and when we look at the needs of


the victims and survivors, can that Minister assure us they will be


given the most important privilege preference in all this, and not the


needs of the legal profession? was one of the arrears when we were


talking to the victims they had asked us to ensure this enquiry has


not overlook them. We are aware of the reports, it relates to the


north here. The reports did not deal with abuse, but rather look at


how the Church have already dealt with allegations of abuse. The


general theme we have seen from the reports has been that the church


was more concerned with protecting the image than protecting the


children and who were being abused. This is totally unacceptable, and


those within the Church hierarchy will need to examine their


consciences this -- their conscience with regard to this. The


way in which they obsessively conceal the abuse, the reports


indicated procedures are now in place to ensure it allegations of


abuse are reported to the proper authorities, and we will be


properly monitoring it. We met with a member of the safeguarding board,


and we intend to keep in touch with him. We will establish and ensure


that the chair of the enquiry will be able to make recommendations to


us if they feel there are other steps and issues that they could


take account of. This week's falling temperatures has made fuel


poverty even more topical, although it is rarely far from bit agenda.


The minister got annoyed by this in due full -- got annoyed by this


issue. The minister has highlighted the nature of the problem, when


will he take effective action to deal with those who are in serious


difficulty? I do not know where the member has been for the last mile,


because there has been many announcements about this. -- the


last month. It is not a case of talking about it, but doing things.


We have in place a scheme for Warm Homes, while a replacement, ongoing


improvements, the member can shake his head as much as he once, but


the fact is, when people are doing something and delivering, he should


at least acknowledge that it is happening. Not in your head in the


corner of the room will not do much to address fuel poverty, but the


actions been taken by his department are delivering. --


shaking your head. Will the Minister ensure that a housing a


polity spends all it can on double glazing? -- that those in authority.


Double-glazing is a matter of public interest. It is important


too tense and important to the construction industry. It is


important we put down the message clearly. -- important to homeowners.


I do not anticipate and I will not accept any failure in this regard.


It is imperative that a housing executive makes sure at the �2


million already allocated has been spent and therefore we are able to


come back for the second amount of �2 million to make up the total of


�4 million. This was agreed with the finance minister. If there are


issues here that need to be addressed very quickly, the message


will be going clearly and I am due to meet the housing executive on


Thursday. At the top of that agenda will be ensuring that all �4


million is able to be used, and that it is all spent. Companies Act


they are looking for work in the construction industry and


homeowners are looking for double glazing. -- companies are looking


for work. Staying with our environmental theme, and a new


strategy has been revealed aimed at tackling environmental and heritage


crime. They will launch a crackdown on waste, wildlife and historic


buildings. The minister also revealed he is considering


strengthening the law on metal theft. We need to ensure those who


break the law will be robustly dealt with. That is what we are


doing today. We will at departments working together to ensure


criminals are prosecuted more vigorously. There is responsibility


on the judges and courts to impose more severe penalties on those


gangs responsible for at the most damage. The theft of metal is


becoming an increasing problem, that is recognised in London, where


they are bringing forth new legislation. I have instructed my


own officials to school boat whether we need new legislation. --


to look at whether. We will demonstrate that whatever the


history, we will pursue and prosecute individual criminals and


criminal gangs for damaging the environment. That is the measure of


what the Government should be doing in the future going forward. With


their putting words in the mouth of the minister, he seemed to be


saying Bilal was robust but the courts are not been robust enough.


-- the law was robust. Is that the case? Generally, yes. In terms of


the law itself, there are different environmental crimes and the


different penalties can be quite stringent. There can be large fines


and imprisonment, but those are not vigorously enforced by the courts.


Quite significant environmental offences have ended up with fairly


low penalties. That is changing over time, but there is a sense


that certain types of crimes are not recognised for the serious


nature of them. It also reflects on the enforcement procedures of the


Environment Agency. There has been a perception in the past the that


the Environment Agency is not going after particularly serious


criminals. That is things like waste disposal operations, and


there is a perception that within the legitimate waste at business,


they are being over-regulated. Interesting points. Two MLAs are


back in the chamber looking more clean-shaven. They grew moustache


is aware awareness -- to raise awareness of cancers affecting men.


I caught up with them and ask them why they got involved.


colleagues were involved last year, obviously the females could not


take part, but she inspired the male colleagues to get involved.


There is a need to raise discussion and debate around men's health


issues. We were very grateful to be involved in raising awareness and


funds. How much did you raise? raise around �800. Hopefully we


will get a few more work involved next year. Years was quite over the


top, did it take a lot of work? -- your moustache. It just grew itself


unfortunately. I did not do too much pruning. You had a few


comparisons. I had a few. I was compared to a character from a


sitcom. I was also compared to Charles Bronson. The convict, not


the actor. What about the women in your life, what did they think of


it? My girlfriend was pleased I took it off. Recent events at


Belfast City Hall reached the chamber today as we heard earlier,


with the exchange between Tom Elliott and Martin McGuinness. Our


political editor had more detail. It has been a big controversy but


it reached Stormont with Martin McGuinness making it clear that the


big mistake had been made. At the same time, Sinn Fein is looking for


Unionists to draw a line on this. What is this we're hearing about


two of our committees heading south? They time that wrong if they


want any bargains, because the Irish budget will make everything a


bit more of -- a bit more expensive. The Regional Development Agency are


having a meeting on the enterprise trained on the way down. They are


getting a briefing about the development of rail services. They


hope to end the meeting before their journey has finished. The


environment committee are also going down. They will have a joint


meeting with counterparts, and they will consider a different mode of


transport, they are getting a briefing from Tyre Manufacturers'


about environmentally friendly tyres. They will be burning rubber


metaphorically. Some interesting issues raised tonight about


fracking and environmental crime. Why do you think there has been


less of a punishment handed out by some of the courts? I think it is


because certain environmental crimes are seen as a victimless


crime. It is difficult to put a price on the cost of the impact on


the environment in the short term. What needs to be done? Do we need


an independent environmental protection agency? To a certain


extent, that would assist in so far as it is separate from any


influence from government. In terms of enforcement it is not that


important. What is more important is educating the courts and


magistrates as to the seriousness of these crimes. Educating the


A political programme focusing on the day's events at the Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive. Tara Mills is the guide through the corridors of power at Stormont, and is joined by key people from decision makers to opinion formers to make the experience enlightening and entertaining.

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