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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 March 2006, 11:55 GMT
Department criticised over waste
Illegal dumping
Illegal dumping is worth 24m to crooks
The Department of the Environment has performed "poorly" over waste management in Northern Ireland, a House of Commons watchdog has said.

It is the fourth time in two years the DoE has been criticised on how it manages rubbish in Northern Ireland.

Senior civil servants were accused of a lack of leadership in Thursday's Public Accounts Committee report.

PAC chairman Edward Leigh said the DoE had been "woeful" in the past about transposing EU directives into law.

The department was criticised over the backlog - which peaked at 45 in 2002 - in transposing the directives.

Mr Leigh said now this was cleared, the legislative programme must be kept up to date to avoid EU infraction fines.

"Northern Ireland's waste management performance ranks poorly against other parts of the UK and Europe," he said.

"The department must raise its game if it is to meet the challenges of complying with EU targets.

'Catalogue of errors'

"The department's new waste management strategy, due this month, will have to bite a lot harder than its predecessor and needs to set more ambitious targets."

BBC Northern Ireland environment correspondent Mike McKimm said senior civil servants were accused of a lack of leadership, a failure to which they openly admitted when giving evidence.

"They were also accused of mismanaging the battle to stop illegal dumping allowing the crooks to make more than 24m while the Treasury lost more than 5m in unclaimed taxes and landfill fees," he said.

"One committee member told the DoE permanent secretary that every time he thought things could get no worse the DoE proved him wrong.

"It's an embarrassing catalogue of errors at a time when the department is about to launch another strategic plan to manage waste here."

The report said Northern Ireland was "heavily reliant on landfill" and has made "limited progress" in reducing the amount of waste produced or in developing recycling initiatives and facilities.

Mr Leigh praised recent prosecutions of illegal waste disposal operations.

"However, the enforcement effort must be matched with an ongoing commitment to preventative work, including providing waste producers with comprehensive and timely guidance on their responsibilities, and regular monitoring to ensure compliance," he said.

The SDLP's environment spokesman Tommy Gallagher said he was not confident that action would be taken to address the problems.

"The fundamental tool for action is a proper sustainable development strategy for waste management, and the department is several years behind its own timetable for producing one," he said.

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