The recent Spotlight programme into unauthorised quarrying and illegal dumping highlighted a serious problem that affects many parts of Northern Ireland. It focused on a site at Mobuoy, Co Londonderry that now has the potential to destroy the drinking water for the people of Derry city.
For several years I have been attempting to highlight the issue of unauthorised quarries in mid-Tyrone with limited success. The quarry at Drumnakilly has received most attention in my endeavours to hold the DoE to account for their actions. There are many other sites dotted around the Omagh District Council that have brought their own tales of woe for people living in close proximity to them.
The DoE knew about the problems with the unauthorised quarrying at Mobuoy. They did nothing to stop it. The same can be said about the quarry at Spring Road, Drumnakilly. For years the residents in that area pleaded for assistance from the DoE but were left with flooding and other negative consequences, although the developer was fined.
What the television programme demonstrated was that planning regulation in Northern Ireland is not working. Systemic failures in the system are creating time-bombs in many areas. Not only is the NIEA not fit for purpose in terms of protecting the environment, the Minerals Unit of the DoE has shown itself to be an abysmal failure.
In December 2013 Mark H Durkan granted planning permission for a goldmine in Gortin. Political parties locally supported the project even though serious misgivings were sounded by local people.
What was also queried but unanswered, was why the DoE had granted planning permission without an Environmental Impact Assessment, something required under EU and local laws? Why would the minister, supported by the Executive parties, permit something so controversial given that he was fully aware of what had taken place in Mobuoy?
The case for an Independent Environmental Protection Agency is now abundantly clear. All unauthorised quarries should be halted with immediate effect.