Newcastle Law School

Environmental Governance in Northern Ireland


Recent scandals including the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) debacle and the discovery of illegal dumping on a massive scale have catapulted Northern Ireland’s environmental governance failures into the public eye.

The financial implications of these failures – which extend far beyond recent news headlines - are so epic in scale that they have played a key role in the destabilisation of Stormont’s political institutions and now threaten the economic viability of the state. To many the impending crisis is no surprise and the problematic nature of environmental governance in Northern Ireland has been well documented over the last thirty years.

This project, lead by Ciara Brennan, examines the reasons why environmental governance in Northern Ireland has been so problematic and the cost of government failure in this context for the people of Northern Ireland.

The research focuses on the environmental, economic and socio-political consequences of the epic failures of successive devolved administrations to take environmental governance seriously, to respond to critiques of the performance of the environmental regulator and to ensure the effective enforcement of environmental law.

Its overarching goal is to provide evidence-based research outputs which can contribute to the development of options for dealing with this ongoing problem in a turbulent political environment, where collapsing political institutions at Stormont and wider constitutional issues associated with the UK’s plans to leave the EU may continue to stymie reform or present a unique opportunity to reinvent environmental governance and begin the process of remedying the damage caused by years of neglect.


Peer Reviewed Articles:

Ciara Brennan, Ray Purdy and Peter Hjerp, ‘Political, Economic and Environmental Crisis in Northern Ireland: The True Cost of Environmental Governance Failures and Opportunities for Reform’ (2017) Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly 68(2) 123-157.

Ciara Brennan, ‘The Enforcement of Waste Regulation in Northern Ireland: Deterrence, Dumping and the Dynamics of Devolution’ (2016) Journal of Environmental Law (28)3, 471-496.

Policy Papers and Reports:

Ciara Brennan, Mary Dobbs, Viviane Gravey and Attracta Uí Bhroin, Policy Paper: The Future of Environmental Governance in Northern Ireland (July, 2018) 

Consultation Responses:

Serious and Organised Crime in Waste Sector (DEFRA) 

Environmental Principles and Governance after EU Exit (DEFRA) 

Blogs and Press

What is the future of environmental governance in Northern Ireland - Twitter

Environmental Governance Failure in Northern Ireland: High Time to Turn Over a New Leaf 

Illegal landfillers 'avoided £22m of tax' (TV interview for BBC Newsline on Wed 21st Feb and on featured on BBC Radio Ulster the same day)

Detailed Televised Interview about illegal dumping in NI

Detailed recorded interview


The Environmental Justice Network Ireland (EJNI) will create a community of practice matching interdisciplinary academic researchers, NGOs, regulatory staff, environmental lawyers, representatives from industry and politicians with community activists and the 'barefoot lawyers and planners' who have emerged over the last decade on the island of Ireland in response to serious environmental governance failures.

This is particularly timely given the collapse of the devolved government in Northern Ireland, the policy-making vacuum that has developed in its wake, increasing recognition of the cross-border nature of many environmental challenges faced in Ireland and the risk that Brexit creates for environmental protection across the island.

The network will launch in Belfast on Tuesday 25th June, the 21st anniversary of the Aarhus Convention, the UN Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. The launch event will act as a springboard for a long-term programme of activities delivered via a phased approach and designed to bring about an enhanced quality of environmental justice on the island of Ireland.

We anticipate the attendance of around 120 individuals representing a broad range of stakeholder groups. The project is transdisciplinary in nature and short questionnaires distributed at the event will help shape the design of the EJNI's activities going forward. The event will be filmed and uploaded on the project website which will go live after the launch. 

Last month we launched the Environmental Justice Network Ireland (EJNI). Check out our new film of the event by the excellent Simon Wood and our July Newsletter for latest updates!