Critics challenge DAERA over deterrent value of £1k NIEA fine for illegal dumping of 14,000 tonnes of controlled waste in south Armagh

The Department of Agriculture has been challenged as to whether tiny fines for illegal dumping are a serious deterrent in light of potentially huge profits to be made from the racket.

By Philip Bradfield
Tuesday, 17th May 2022, 4:02 pm
Updated Tuesday, 17th May 2022, 4:29 pm

The debate comes after Derek Johnston (50) of Carrickasticken Road, Forkhill this week pleaded guilty at Newry Magistrates’ Court to the unauthorised infilling of waste at Newry Road, Meigh in 2019.

Mr Johnston was fined a total of £1,000 and ordered to pay costs to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) of £2,119.

The conviction came after NIEA officers NIEA officers went to a site at Newry Road, Meigh in July 2019.

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The dumping of illegal waste can be hugely profitable for those engaged in it.

They observed an excavator operating in a field beside the main Newry Road and its driver identified himself as Derek Johnston. The officers noted controlled waste including stone, tiles, plastic, and tyres on the ground.

In August 2019 NIEA officers returned to the site and conducted a survey of the lands, identifying approximately 14,000 tonnes of controlled waste.

Then in October 2019, PSNI Officers observed a lorry tipping waste on the same site whilst Mr Johnston was present. He accepted that he had permitted waste to be deposited on his site.

The News Letter understands that the legitimate fees for disposing of controlled waste ranges from hundreds of pounds per tonne for basic hardcore to thousands of pounds per tonne for clinical waste from hospitals. The implication is that the potential profits from dumping 14,000 tonnes of controlled waste could be many times the fine handed down for the offence.

Former PSNI ACC Alan McQuillan said: “This is the sort of case for which the Proceeds of Crime Act was designed – where the money made from this type of crime could be recovered.

“It is a shame that almost all that [type of financial recovery] work seems to have been abandoned. I understand the Department also has powers to put right the land and recover the costs which in some cases might cost a farmer the farm – but its far from clear in this case what they are really doing.

“The fine is tiny compared to the damage or the money often to be made from this type of offence”.

Green Party Deputy Leader Mal O’Hara said this shows once again the “abject failure” of successive Northern Ireland Executive’s to address environmental issues.

“It seems that the Department is failing to use the powers at it’s disposal to address environmental crime,” he said of Mr McQuillan’s comments. “Those powers should act as a deterrent. The fine seems paltry compared to the environmental impact that 14,000 tonnes of infilling waste will cause. This is one of many examples of the necessity for the establishment of an Independent Environmental Protection Agency.

“Since Brexit, Northern Ireland has been left without the oversight of the European Commission.”

While the UK’s Office of Environmental Protection does not replace all the European Commission’s functions, it does have a key oversight role, although local oversight of NI’s environmental performance is long overdue, he added.

A DAERA spokesperson said; “NIEA progressed this case in accordance with the Departmental Enforcement Policy and in line with the legislative requirements under the 1997 Waste and Contaminated Land Order in relation to the specific material deposited. The penalties that are determined by the Court are a matter for judiciary. NIEA can provide reassurance that a thorough investigation was completed within the powers available to address environmental crime.”