Stormont committee set up to examine the impact of new EU laws in Northern Ireland has been rendered “impotent”

A Stormont committee set up to examine the impact of new EU laws in Northern Ireland has been rendered “impotent” after the UK Government was late in alerting it to two new regulations, MLAs have been told.

A meeting of Stormont’s Windsor Framework Democratic Scrutiny Committee heard that it could not now hold an inquiry into the new environmental regulations or use the Stormont brake mechanism to suspend their implementation.

The regulations relate to a restriction on the use of harmful gases in the manufacture of refrigeration systems and a ban on the production and sale of ozone-depleting substances.

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The committee was established to scrutinise forthcoming EU law changes as part of the Stormont brake oversight element of the Windsor Framework.

The Stormont brake mechanism allows a minimum of 30 MLAs to refer a proposed law change to the UK Government.

The Government would then make an assessment of the proposed changes on Northern Ireland and could ultimately veto its application in the region.

Committee chairman Philip McGuigan said the two EU Acts were published on February 20 and that a potential scrutiny period lasted for two months.

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He said: “Consequently the deadline for the committee to publish a report on the outcome of an inquiry it might have decided to undertake has already passed.

“Further, the deadline for 30 members to submit a written notification seeking to prevent the application of the EU Acts has also already passed.

“Given the late notifications from the Cabinet Office it is impossible for the committee to hold an inquiry.”

DUP member David Brooks recorded his party’s “strong dissatisfaction” over the issue.

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He said: “The late notification from the Cabinet Office has rendered the role of this committee impotent in this process.

“It undermines our role and as a result will, if repeated, undermine trust in the system and the role that we have within it.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken said: “The most significant problem with this is that this could potentially set a precedent.

“Bearing in mind we’re only a couple of months into this process, it seems to have fallen down at this stage.”

He added: “The mere fact that we can’t even use the instrument of the Stormont brake at this present moment in time I think is a significant and serious issue.”

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