Friends of the Earth has taken legal action against the Department of Environment over sand dredging in Lough Neagh.
And Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has said his power to issue a stop notice on Lough Neagh sand traders isn’t up for discussion because of a “judicial review”.
The move by Friends of the Earth means that there will now be a ‘judicial review’ into why the Environment Minister failed to issue a stop notice against companies it claims are ‘illegally’ extracting sand.
Campaigners have argued that decades of sand dredging has caused untold damage to the lough’s ecosystem. Others say shutting down the sand dredging business could end in the loss of many jobs.
Friends of the Earth NI is taking legal action against the DoE because of its failure to stop the removal of sand from Lough Neagh.
Although Mr Durkan has concerns about the impact sand dredging is having - “that’s why I issued an enforcement notice” - the Minister admitted his department “retained the power to issue a stop notice”.
But, when asked why he didn’t use it, he said he was unable to comment as “that’s now also subject to legal proceedings as we have received a pre-action protocol letter from Friends of the Earth”.
This means Friends of the Earth is calling for a judicial review of how the minister has dealt with the ongoing issue - a move the environmental campaigners admitted, but could not comment on further.
The group has previously called on the minister to issue an immediate stop notice on those sucking up sand from the bed of Lough Neagh - accusing him of being complicit in the operation.
Minister Durkan served an enforcement notice on the five companies involved in sand dredging in May - giving them until the end of June to stop work. Those involved appealed and now the case must be heard by Northern Ireland’s Planning Appeals Commission - which could take years.