Green groups said post-Brexit watchdog needed to safeguard north's environment
THE powers of any post-Brexit environmental watchdog in Britain need to be extended to Northern Ireland to prevent the region "falling off a cliff edge", a coalition of green groups has said.
Nature Matters NI, which represents RSPB, Friends of the Earth and other organisations, claimed the north is already "bottom of the environmental governance league" and in danger of falling further behind its continental counterparts after the UK leaves the EU.
Spokesman Daithí McKay said the region was "lagging dangerously far behind" Scotland and Wales in preparations for post-Brexit environmental governance, due in part to the absence of an executive.
He said there was currently little being done to ensure that laws are upheld and that government departments meet specified targets.
"In the absence of an assembly and a minister to provide policy direction to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) there is clearly an onus on the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the UK government to step up and prevent these critical long-standing environmental protections from falling off the edge of a cliff," he said.
"Without plugging this potential gap we leave ourselves open to the possibility of serious crime including the potential for our rivers to be polluted without recourse and new opportunities for cross-border waste crime."
In its response to Defra's consultation on post-Brexit environmental governance, Nature Matters NI says Northern Ireland should be included in the remit of a UK-wide watchdog "with teeth".
The groups also advocate an associated environment commissioner based in Northern Ireland who can liaise with and advise the region's politicians and civil servants.
"A hard Brexit is becoming a very real possibility," said Mr McKay, a former Sinn Féin assembly member.
"We need politicians and government to step up to ensure that the hard-fought governance we have in place that deters those that might cause serious damage to our waters, soil, air and our wildlife, is protected – not lost."
Meanwhile, Deara has launched a consultation on its post-Brexit plans for the north's farming sector.
The current system that sees the region's farmers receive around £300m every year under the EU's Common Argicultural Policy (Cap) will end next year.
Any new regional system to replace Cap is not expected to be put in place until a Stormont executive returns.
According the Daera, the new measures will support farm businesses while seeking to improve the environment.
The consultation is open until October 10.