Northern Ireland news

Permanent secretary says sorry to Edwin Poots for reflecting the minister's view

Daera permanent secretary Denis McMahon apologised to Edwin Poots

THE MOST senior civil servant in the Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) has publicly apologised for briefing Edwin Poots using language about climate change that he believed reflected the minister's policy outlook.

The document was prepared for the DUP minister ahead of the assembly's July 21 debate on climate change legislation and included the phrase: "We should not be using language such as emergency or crisis".

It led Mr Poots to subsequently claim that use of the term 'crisis' in relation to climate change was "something my department do not accept".

The written apology to Mr Poots from Daera permanent secretary Denis McMahon came as Stormont's agriculture and environment committee quizzed senior department officials on whether or not they accept there is a climate crisis.

Mr McMahon told the committee that the contentious line in the briefing paper had been included "in error" but that he believed it was consistent with previous statements the minister had made.

"The briefing was comprehensive and clear but we had included a line which stated that we should not be using language such as emergency or crisis," he told MLAs.

"This line was included without any additional explanation or caveat and the minister assumed it was the position of officials."

He told the committee it is "normal and appropriate" practice for civil servants to frame statements in words that "reflect the minister's position".

"We did not make clear the line was included on that basis and therefore did not state that the line had not been meant to constitute official advice," he said.

He apologised to Mr Poots for "any embarrassment it had caused" before going on to tell the committee there was a "climate crisis that we have to deal with".

Mr McMahon told the committee Mr Poots has made it clear "we have to follow the scientific evidence" and that the minister supported working with other departments to reduce carbon emissions.

"While there is clearly political debate about language, none of us are in any doubt about the science, about what it tells us and the need for a response to that science that reflects the urgency required."

Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan said the minister's comments caused "great consternation" and accused Mr Poots of resisting scientific evidence and "ignoring the will" of the assembly to implement climate change legislation.

Green Party leader Clare Bailey said: "It’s incredible that we are discussing what passive language the environment minister prefers to use to deflect commitment to the climate emergency and crisis we face, instead of getting on with addressing our continued appalling record on the environment."

When quizzed yesterday morning by the BBC, Mr Poots conceded for the first time publicly that there was a "climate crisis".

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