Pollution is ‘unacceptable’

THOSE who pollute waterways should face “stiffer penalties”, according to an Upper Bann MLA.

The appeal from the DUP’s Stephen Moutray comes after it was revealed that the Closet River has suffered more than 30 pollution incidents over the past five years.

Only two of the cases in question have been passed to the Public Prosecution Service for consideration as to whether or not to press charges.

The cases have not yet been heard in court.

Environment Minister Alex Attwood made the information public after being questioned in the Assembly by Mr Moutray.

In his response, the SDLP Minister said: “The figures confirm a large number of discharges, few prosecutions, limited recovery of costs and limited evidence of consequential costs and impact.

“I am to meet officials to interrogate the evidence and consider how to move forward.”

It was reported that there were 11 incidents of “medium” severity and 20 of “low” severity surrounding the river.

There have been five incidents of pollution close to the Ballynacor Water Treatment Plant, three of which were described as of “medium severity”.

There have also been four incidents of “low severity” in the Silverwood area.

The Sugar Island Road appears three times in Mr Attwood’s response, with two of those incidents being described as “medium severity”.

Although there have been no fines to date, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency has “recovered costs” totalling more than £700.

Mr Attwood said: “Since April 2008, NIEA policy is that for high and medium severity pollution incidents, where the polluter can be identified, costs incurred by the NIEA are recovered from the polluter.”

The Minister added: “There have been no fines to date.

“In the two cases where prosecution is still pending, cost recovery will be completed upon a successful conviction.”

Mr Moutray described the lack of prosecutions being brought forward as “unacceptable”.

“The Assembly answer I have received from Environment Minister Alex Attwood indicates an unacceptable state of affairs in this regard,” he said.

“It is very clear from the Minister’s answer that he is unhappy with the situation as it pertains at present.

“It is clear from this that the Minister shares my frustration at the current situation.

“We clearly need a much more proactive pursuit of polluters and stiffer penalties.”

He added: “A situation where – as the Minister has confirmed – there are few prosecutions, limited recovery of costs and limited evidence of consequential costs and impact, is simply not acceptable.”