'Repeat offender' Northern Ireland Water pays out £80k on pollution fines in five years
Northern Ireland Water has paid out almost £80,000 in fines for pollution offences in the last five years, it has been revealed.
The utility company has been penalised 41 times since 2011.
The figures were revealed by Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard after an Assembly question from DUP MLA Sydney Anderson.
Campaigners argue the level of fines is not high enough, and provides little deterrent.
Earlier this month the publicly-funded company was fined £13,000 for polluting the Blackwater River near Balloo.
It makes up most of the £17,000 paid out by NI Water so far this year. The total is more than three times the £5,250 pay-out in the whole of 2015.
Since shelling out £22,500 in 2012, the cost of penalties has reduced, averaging around £7,000 a year between 2013 and 2015. But James Orr, director of Friends of the Earth, said the apparent downward trend was misleading.
"There are a number of issues associated with this that are quite complex. The figures are terribly misleading," he said.
Mr Orr believes a lack of enforcement and the absence of heavy fines offers little in the way of a deterrent.
He told the Belfast Telegraph: "It almost pays to pollute and NI Water knows that. Northern Ireland is the only part of these islands where there is no independent environmental protection agency.
"The fines issued here are only 10% of what they are in England. There is little deterrent."
The maximum fine for a pollution offence in Northern Ireland is £20,000, significantly smaller than fines issued in Great Britain.
Mr Orr added: "NI Water is a repeat offender. Normally if you were fined in court and persistently re-offended the fine would be increased and go up each time. This doesn't seem to apply to NI Water."
Earlier this month it emerged the company had successfully appealed several large penalties.
A Freedom of Information request revealed that five out of 65 fines have successfully been appealed since 2008.
In 2014 an incident at a sewage treatment plant at Tandragee caused pollution of the Cusher River, resulting in a £10,000 fine which was reduced to £5,000 upon appeal.
More recently a £7,500 fine relating to a discharge incident at a Saintfield facility was slashed to just £2,000.
Mr Orr said it is no longer acceptable and called on the company to examine its conscience.
A spokesperson for NI Water said: "Every year, we treat and return safely to the environment 1.3 billion litres of waste from over 1,000 waste water treatment works, so, while one incident is one too many, such instances are a very rare occurrence.
"As a responsible corporate citizen with a very strong commitment to the environment, we will endeavour to operate this extensive infrastructure as effectively as possible and will work to make sure that we deal with the effects of any of our discharges. In fact over the years, our work across the waste water network has done more to improve the quality of our watercourses than it has ever done to harm them."