McMurray Succeeds With Sustainability Motion To Council

Cllr Andrew Murray has successfully brought forward an important motion on climate change.

The Alliance Slieve Croob Councillor has introduced the cimate change motion to the Newry Mourne and Down District Council Environment and Sustainability Committee.

Following the debate he said: “I am glad that the motion passed with regard to Council setting targets by which to improve Sustainability and Environmental issues which fall within their remit. This is to be welcomed.

“That SF and the SDLP supported the motion is to be welcomed. Moving forward the Alliance Party will work with other parties and Council Officers to establish where and what targets can be set in order to ease the Council’s impact on the environment.

“It was disappointing that the DUP have continued to put their head in the sand when it comes to the Climate Emergency which affects all of us.

“As for the debate, Sinn Fein amended the motion so as to take out any reference to Stormont Reform.

“This was disappointing as we can see the detrimental impact upon our environment when Stormont has not been sitting.

“Also, were the Assembly to collapse again it will further slow up progress which needs to be made. Ultimately, this can still happen without reform of the political institutions.

“Climate breakdown and energy security will not slow down.

The Alliance Motion:

That this Council acknowledges the work done to date to help address the climate emergency; reaffirms previous motions regarding the degenerating global situation; and again, reiterates that the crisis is the biggest threat posed to our constituents, our district, and our planet.

Alliance Slieve Croob Councillor Andrew McMurray has brought forward a motion to the Council Sustainability and Environment Committee that received majority support from fellow councillors.

Further acknowledges, however, that recent data collated by Climate Emergency UK ranks NMDDC 8th out of the 11 Councils within NI; and thus, pledges to include ambitious targets in the forthcoming Sustainability and Climate Strategies and Action Plans to expedite implementation.

Considers that political instability hinders a transition to a greener economy and thus agrees to write to the Secretary of State for NI, the Shadow Secretary of State for NI, and the Irish Republic’s Minister of Foreign Affairs to press the urgent need to reform the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement and accept the recommendations contained within the report of the Westminster’s Northern Ireland Affairs Committee evaluating their effectiveness.

Speaking to the motion, Cllr McMurray said: “The Council Officer’s report is quite right to split this into three separate sections.

“I shall be brief on the first section regarding this Council and the Climate Emergency. It is the settled position of this Council that climate breakdown is real and we are in the midst of a Climate Emergency. Through a settled debate, it needs:

  • to be re-stated,
  • actions on this matter need to be ongoing and updated,
  • targets need to be set.

“It is concerning that our council ranks 8th out of the 11 NI Councils on Climate Action Scorecards as compiled by Climate Emergency UK.

Documented by these scorecards, this Council lags behind the NI Averages for the following headings and subsections.

  • Transport
  • Planning and Land Use
  • Governance and Finance (2 NI council’s have made a net Zero target as part of their Corporate Plan –  we should as well)
  • Biodiversity
  • Collaboration and Engagement

“The areas, in which we fall below average, are issues have been raised in the past. However, we still seem to be slower than other Council areas at affecting change within our district.

“Despite the above, it is not, I believe, all bad news, and I don’t want to be a naysayer to the positive work that Council is doing.

“This Council is above average on both Building & Heating and Waste Reduction & Food – kudos to this Department!

“Likewise, for the above-mentioned areas in which we are noted as being behind – I think in some matters we are possibly doing things that haven’t been noted, or are in the process of instigating measures which will address the shortcomings.

“Where Council has a responsibility for an area in which we can mitigate against Climate Change then we should have clear demonstrable examples of where there is action being taken, including targets by which to evidence progress, in said area.

“Where there is no direct responsibility for an area then Council should act as an enabler for external agencies and providers to explore what can be done.

“Nine points of sustainability considerations were included within the rates setting process. This is welcome but cannot be a tokenistic endeavour.

“Demonstrable targets need to now be placed on these so that progress and change on these matters can be documented.

“If I were to surmise the issues raised above into two bullet points, it would be these:

  • This Council needs set targets by which they can track progress.
  • These targets need to be easily understandable and accessible.

“The final point on review and reform of our political institutions admittedly goes beyond the remit of this Council. However, it is relevant on two matters.  

“Firstly, if Council is to implement some of the wider ranging and impactful mitigations against Climate Change then Stormont needs to be up, running and effective.

“Stormont should not, in a matter of such importance, be stymied by a party, any party, as the knock-on effect for our citizens is too huge.

“The restoration of Stormont and the Executive has seen an almost immediate desire to tackle some of the issues at hand. I welcome the Minister for the Economy, Conor Murphy, setting out his economic vision in which he cited as ‘critical’ the objective of reducing carbon emissions and the moral obligation to reach net zero by 2050.

“Similarly, the Minister for DAERA, Andrew Muir, can now process its Environment and Green Growth strategies.

“As good as this is, we must acknowledge that we are 2 years behind where we could have been. Indeed, any future collapse would risk undoing the work which so needs to be done.

“And secondly, it is relevant to the constituents which we represent.

“There is a demonstrable majority, from a majority of parties, that reform of the Stormont Institutions is desired. 63% of those polled wished to see reform of the institutions.

“Regardless of polls, I’m sure many in this chamber had the frustration of constituents as to the lack of an executive passed onto them.

Where review and reform is needed:

  • How the Executive is formed.
  • Changing the designation system.
  • Use of weighted majorities.
  • Voluntary approach to power sharing.

“Reform will only happen if leadership is shown by the UK and Irish Governments, as co-guarantors of the GFA, and a willingness of all parties to embrace and drive forward this process.

“However, for the matter of this motion, I am content that this Council simply communicates to the offices of those referenced in the motion that this Council is supportive that review and reform of the institutions of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is needed and that this is commenced.

“I am conscious that the genesis of this motion was in the somewhat darker month of December, in which it wasn’t so clear as to whether Stormont was to be re-booted. I am glad that it is.

“But if it is to be prevented from failing again, then the institutions need reformed. For the good of our governance and the good of our planet.

The recommendations in the Officer’s report merely asks for direction in how to progress matters raised in this motion. I would suggest the following:

  • That Council engages with the Climate Action Scorecards and Climate Action UK to ascertain if works have been undertaken but not noted.
  • Identifies opportunities for future improvements in areas of sustainability and the environment and places targets upon them.
  • Place targets on the 9 aspects of sustainability considerations as discussed during the rates setting process.
  • Write to the aforementioned in the motion expressing our support that a review and reform of the institutions of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement commence with the objective of stabilising devolved Government from Stormont.

“I appreciate that directions 1-3 may require being further delegated to working groups, such as the Sustainability and Climate Change Working Group.

“While it may not be a speedy process, it may provide an opportunity for specialist officers to also be in attendance in order to contribute.”