During today’s Oral Questions to the Minister of the Environment, Mark Durkan, Phil Flanagan expressed his concern about the rise in road deaths in 2013, asking the Minister for his assessment. Mr Durkan acknowledged that this “is an issue of huge importance and interest in the Chamber”, saying that the rises in fatalities last year and at the start of this year are “saddening” but that “we must not get disillusioned”. The overall trend in recent years has been positive with the number of deaths in the last year being halved. The Minister will be working hard to ensure that this trend continues in the form of the Department’s road safety strategy which contains over 200 action measures to reduce road casualties.
Jim Wells was then keen to press the Minister on why the designation programme for areas of special scientific interest has not been completed despite the passage of enabling legislation 28 years ago. Mr Durkan assured the Member that the programme “remains one of my Department’s key priorities” and is reflected in the current Programme for Government targets. The reason that the process is taking so long is due to the resource intensive nature of declaring an area of special scientific interest (ASSI). Scientific surveyors, data-mapping specialists and administrative staff are required to determine an ASSI and, once declared, they require management and monitoring.
After the scheduled questions, there was a round of topical questions. Mr Durkan was asked for an update on the DVA job situation in Coleraine after the recent campaign to save the 300 jobs currently positioned there. While there is no further update on the situation the Minister revealed that he has met with Mr Robert Goodwill (the Minister responsible for making the decision) and is “hopeful of a positive outcome for all involved”. During topical questions the Minister also answered questions on illegally dumped tyres, rose energy and fuel laundering.