My Department is undertaking a number of actions to promote co-operation on North-South and east-west environmental issues.
A North-South market development steering group — comprising representatives of my Department, the Department of the Environment Northern Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, the UK based Waste Resources Action Programme, WRAP, Invest Northern Ireland, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Northern Ireland Waste Management Advisory Board — is working to identify options to encourage the expansion of waste recycling on an all-island basis and, in particular, to develop a joint approach to marketing and manufacturing development for secondary materials and recyclates. Phase 1 of a jointly funded study intended to determine the feasibility of establishing a paper mill on the island of Ireland was completed in 2005 and is currently undergoing a consultation exercise with the stakeholders and agencies concerned with a view to reaching consensus on taking forward the project.
A priority focus of the national enforcement network, established under the Office of Environmental Enforcement of the Environmental Protection Agency, is to deal with unauthorised waste activity in Ireland and, in particular, the issue of illegal cross-Border movements of waste. In this context, the environment and heritage service of the Department of Environment and the police authorities in Northern Ireland are represented on the national enforcement network.
A working group on water quality, established under the North-South Ministerial Council and comprising officials from my Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Environment Northern Ireland and the environment and heritage service of that Department is continuing its work on the co-ordinated implementation of the EU water framework directive. The group meets on a regular basis to consider, inter alia, implementation of the directive with regard to cross-Border waters.
Joint funding has been agreed through the working group for collaboration on co-funded research projects being overseen by a North-South technical advisory group. Of particular note is an ongoing project, costing an estimated €7.45 million and part-funded by the EU INTERREG programme, the objective of which is to strengthen inter-regional capacity for environmental monitoring and management, to improve public awareness and participation in water management issues and to develop a number of river basin management strategies for cross-Border waters based on best practice in river basin management planning. This project will be the main means of co-ordination and joint implementation of the water framework directive in shared cross-Border waters over the coming years.
We are also involved in co-operation with the UK technical advisory group on the implementation of the water framework directive with regard to marine and transitional-coastal waters. The directive identifies as a single eco-region — the Atlantic Ocean — the transitional and coastal waters off the west coast of Great Britain and the whole coast of the island of Ireland.
My Department together with the Department of Environment Northern Ireland is responsible for implementing the environmental protection and management measure of the EU INTERREG III A North-South Programme 2000-2006. Some 20 cross-Border projects, costing in excess of €20 million, have been approved for part-funding under the programme.
My Department's national parks and wildlife service is involved in co-operation with the environment and heritage service in Northern Ireland on the management of shared biodiversity resources and specifically on developing a common approach to both threatened species and invasive alien species. Four North-South species action plans were published in 2005, for the corncrake, the Irish hare, the pollan freshwater fish and the Irish lady's tresses orchid. Work on the implementation of these species actions plans has commenced and, during 2006, it is envisaged that work will continue on the production of further plans for the red squirrel, trichomanes or Killarney fern and a number of bat species. A project has been established for the propagation of the threatened freshwater pearl mussel in Ireland, with the assistance of expertise developed by pioneering research in Northern Ireland.
A jointly commissioned report on invasive alien species — one of the greatest threats to biodiversity — has been produced and we are now moving towards implementation of its recommendations. My Department and the environment and heritage service will jointly fund this action.
With regard to the east-west dimension, an informal structure has been in place for some years whereby officials of the national parks and wildlife service of my Department and representatives at both government department and agency level from the United Kingdom meet twice a year to discuss a wide biodiversity agenda, to share experiences and to agree on co-operative actions where warranted.
My Department and the Department for Regional Development in Northern Ireland have been exploring the practicalities involved in developing the potential for effective co-operation for mutual benefit on strategic issues such as infrastructure development and spatial planning. To this end, a study on a collaborative framework for joint action in implementing the cross-Border aspects of both the national spatial strategy and its equivalent in Northern Ireland, the regional development strategy, is ongoing and will be completed shortly. It is envisaged that the outputs from this study will inform both Governments in taking forward the issue of co-operation on spatial policy and infrastructure co-ordination in the year ahead.
There is regular contact between officials of my Department and the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland with their counterparts in Northern Ireland in regard to radiological protection issues, including matters relating to nuclear emergency planning. My Department is engaged in ongoing contact through correspondence and meetings at ministerial, official and expert level with the relevant UK Ministers and authorities regarding a range of issues relating to nuclear safety and radiological protection matters, including, in particular, the Sellafield nuclear plant. These contacts reflect an increasing recognition by the UK Government of the serious concerns held by the Irish Government in regard to Sellafield. Sellafield is also one of a number of topics on the agenda of the British-Irish Council environment sectoral group.
The British-Irish Council meetings, which I attend, provide a unique and useful forum where representatives of the member administrations meet regularly to address issues of mutual interest through enhanced co-operation and sharing of information and best practice. In addition to these specific actions, meetings are held informally as the need arises between officials of my Department at all levels and their counterparts in Northern Ireland and in the British-Irish Council administrations to share experiences and best practice and explore further possibilities for co-operation.