Heritage group's meeting scrapped
Environment Minister Arlene Foster was facing a new row today over the alleged suspension of the body set up to oversee the Giant's Causeway world heritage site.
The World Heritage Management Group includes representatives from Northern Ireland government departments and environmental organisations.
But its meeting scheduled for late last month was scrapped by Mrs Foster's department, in the wake of her announcement that she is "minded" to approve a privately developed Causeway visitor centre.
The cancellation decision - by the DoE's Environment and Heritage Service (EHS) - has been defended because of planned talks with "stakeholders" on the proposed centre development.
But David Erwin, chair of the Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust, one of the bodies on the management group, has voiced criticism.
"I am very disappointed that it is not meeting while this process is going on," he said.
"We have been informed that the group has effectively been put into suspension. We are unable to give advice as we are unable to meet."
The DoE is currently aiming to hold talks with a number of bodies on the proposed private sector Causeway scheme.
These include the company behind the proposal, Seaport, which is headed by developer Seymour Sweeney, as well as Moyle Council and the National Trust.
A DoE spokesman said the council and National Trust are on the world heritage management group.
He stated: "EHS has chaired the World Heritage Site Management Group since its inception.
"The Management Group meets approximately every two months. The last meeting was in June and the group was due to meet again on September 24.
"The Minister is seeking greater clarity on the Seaport Investments Ltd proposal and the Department is holding meetings with the developer and stakeholders.
"The Management Group includes some of the stakeholders who will be involved in these meetings with the Department.
"EHS therefore decided that this meeting should be postponed in the light of the stakeholder meetings requested by the Minister on the Seaport Investments Ltd planning application."
Sinn Fein MLA Daithí McKay said: "Given the very real concerns about the Causeway's world heritage status being put at risk, there is more need than ever for this group to meet."