Question Time: Environment Monday 14 October 2013

Statutory Transition Committees, Councils Chief Executive Posts and Shale Gas were the main talking points arising from Topical Questions for the Environment Minister.

Statutory Transition Committees
Mr Lunn asked the Minister for an update on the establishment of the STCs, the Minister responded with “my predecessor issued guidance on the formation and nominations to the new STCs at the start of July, and the recommendation was to select nominees through either d'Hondt, Sainte-Laguë or single transferable vote.  Importantly, that was to be based on the 2011 council election results and, therefore, reflect the democratic will of the communities that they were supposed to represent.  It was deemed that guidelines would be more appropriate than regulations at this stage as some of the voluntary transition committees went beyond the three methods that I outlined to accommodate power sharing and to encourage good practice and fair representation.  However, the guidelines have subsequently been ignored by a few councils.  The vast majority have complied, but the offending councils are Lisburn, Castlereagh, Ballymoney, Coleraine and Strabane, and they have also dismissed subsequent correspondence from me on the issue.

During Oral Questions to the Minister for Environment the Minister answered questions on symbols and emblems, hydraulic fracturing and the eco-schools programme.

Symbols and Emblems
Mr Fra McCann asked the Minister whether his department has the power to issue guidelines to district councils on achieving equality or neutrality in relation to symbols and emblems The Minister stated that “decisions on symbols and emblems are a matter for each council taking account of its duty under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and the council's own equality scheme.  My Department has no legislative power to issue guidance on the matter, as it does not have responsibility for the policy on equality of opportunity.  The major modernisation programme that will be implemented over the coming months to deliver our vision for strong, modern community-focused local government provides a significant opportunity for elected representatives to address the issue, respecting all sections of the community”. 

Hydraulic Fracturing
The Ministers reply to the Hydraulic Fracturing was “  It will have to satisfy me or, I presume, whoever is the Environment Minister that it is 100% safe, both to people and, extremely importantly, to the planet and any decision will require full scientific evidence.  In my opinion, that scientific evidence is not there now, and I cannot see it being there in the foreseeable future.  Therefore, I cannot see fracking happening on my watch. The Ministers enthusiasm for the Eco – Schools Programme to be promoted across all schools in Northern Ireland was clear to see as he encouraged all MLAs to look at uptake in their constituency and see whether they can help somehow and encourage schools to take part as he will certainly be to the fore in doing that, as, Foyle has the worst uptake so far.

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