With an Alliance Agriculture Minister in post, the concept of a new independent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is back on the table, given it has been a long-standing commitment for the party.

To be fair to those advocating this approach, it is a model adopted elsewhere, with independent agencies in the Republic of Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. It was also included as a recommendation in the New Decade New Approach document which formed the basis of a return to Stormont in early 2021.

Back then an independent EPA was seen as a means of delivering targets within a new Climate Change Act. However, when that Act was put in place in 2022 it came with its own requirement to establish a new independent office of a NI Climate Commissioner to oversee progress against targets. The climate act also includes a requirement for a Just Transition Commission to support people on the journey to lower carbon emissions.

In addition to this we already have an Office of Environmental Protection. It was established by the UK government in 2021 to effectively take the role around environmental oversight previously done by the European Commission pre-Brexit. In 2022, MLAs at Stormont agreed that the powers of the OEP should extend to NI.

So do we really need another environmental body in the form of an independent EPA?

To answer that question it is worth reflecting on how it could look in practice. It is likely to encompass a chunk of what is currently the NI Environment Agency (NIEA), which is part of DAERA. A new EPA might be independent of government, but it will still need public money to function, will have to abide by government accounting rules and ultimately will still be answerable to Stormont Ministers.

Assuming it is sponsored by DAERA (similar to the LMC and AFBI) it will be up to the Department to appoint a board to manage the new organisation.

That means more money being handed out to an ever growing list of people who make their living sitting on boards.

The UFU are right to question the point to any of this.