Minister of the Environment, Mark Durkan, provided an update on the recent fish kill at Sixmilewater during today’s Question Time. Mr Durkan said that the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) is continuing to investigate the cause of the incident. It is anticipated that it will take several more weeks of interviews and biological testing before any conclusions can be reached. The Minister was reluctant to provide any more information on what is an ongoing investigation. Danny Kinahan asked if the Minister believed that the current penalties are enough if a deterrent if it does transpire that a particular body is responsible for polluting the river. Mr Durkan agreed that the punishments in Northern Ireland are not as severe as in neighbouring jurisdictions but that it was a matter for the courts. He did confirm that it is a matter that he will be raising with the Minister of Justice.
The Minister also discussed the ramifications of the draft Budget 2015-16 for local councils. Mr Durkan warned that, if the current proposals are confirmed, “there would be immediate and substantial reductions in key statutory grant payments to all councils, particularly to the less well-off councils dependent on additional rate support payments to guarantee basic levels of service at local level”. A number of grant programmes are also facing cuts and possible termination. The financial cuts could also see the loss of around 500 jobs in the department.
The Minister also discussed taxi driver tests, councillor appointments and community planning. During topical questions Mr Durkan also answered Members’ queries on solar photovoltaic (PV) farms, social housing and road fatalities.