When will the Minister make a decision?
Following the legal challenge from Wild Justice and after a public consultation earlier this year for taking pest birds, DEARA took the decision, on the 9th September, to extend the interim General Licenses until 17th October 2022.
This decision to extend the current temporary General Licenses, CAI understands, is to allow time for the responses of the public consultation to be fully considered and allow for any additional information or legal advice to be sought before briefs are submitted to the Minister for consideration.
The General Licence has been an effective management tool for farmers, pest controllers and conservationists for decades to protect, for example, young lambs, red-listed birds and valuable crops. Therefore, any changes could have catastrophic implications.
CAI do understand this is a difficult issue, but the Minister should now be considering various options, including keeping the General Licenses as they once were, updating them by adding or removing species from the various Licenses or extending the temporary Licenses further. Any of these options could end up with another legal challenge.
While the current extension is only until the 17th of October the Minister may decide to extend this further. However, according to the MEPOC Act, the current caretaker Executive has to be dissolved on 28th October 2022, i.e. 24 weeks after the Assembly’s first abortive effort to convene post-election.
At that point, it’s Northern Ireland’s civil servants who will be in charge and will be responsible for overseeing the functioning of the departments until a new Executive is place, which can only come after another Northern Ireland Assembly election. These civil servants are unlikely to make decisions on the General Licenses, if the Minister doesn’t act within the current time frame.
At this point our opponents may launch another legal challenge due to the delays hoping for a knee jerk reaction from civil servants.
Once the caretaker Ministers go, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is obliged to call an election within 12 weeks. Allowing for practical and statutory constraints and conventions, this means an election would take place as early as Thursday 24 November 2022 and no later than Thursday 19 January 2023.
Are we heading for another debacle like in England? Who knows? CAI will be keeping a close eye and engaging with various stakeholders to prevent such a repeat.