Independent MLA Claire Sugden has expressed concern that water pollution discharges that exceed permitted limits are continuing to rise in Northern Ireland.

Sugden questioned the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots, about the number of times and locations where wastewater discharges and pollution incidents breached Water Order Consent rules.

In 2019 there were 603 incidents – the highest number of the past five years.

“I would expect – or at least hope – that these figures would be going in the right direction,” said Sugden.

“It appears, however, that they are not improving and are even becoming more frequent.

“We are all custodians of the natural environment in Northern Ireland and have an obligation to look after it as best we can.

"Pollution, whether it be from private sewage, industrial discharge, site drainage discharges or from NI Water, can have a huge effect on animals and plants living in our waterways, and pose health risks for people such as fishermen.

“The rules and limits are there for a reason – to protect public health and the wider environment.

"I hope the minister is pursuing these cases and that those responsible are held to account.

"Reduced testing in 2020 because of Covid-19 restrictions meant the figures for last year are likely to be artificially low.

"Even so, 276 exceedances were detected in those 12 months.

“Regular testing is necessary to understand the scale of the problem we are facing.

“But all of us – members of the public, farmers and businesses – need to do our bit to help prevent pollution incidents and look after our waterways," she concluded.