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For Immediate Release
Press Release October 29th 2020: 

SDLP Minister Nichola Mallon still has conflict of interest questions to answer following unexplained removal of husband's name from Fracking Company Website 

- Proposed Removal by Minister Nichola Mallon of Permitted Development Rights (PDR) for gas exploration a  dangerous sleight of hand signalling to the Market that Northern Ireland is open for gas exploration through planning regulation of the petroleum and fracking industry before any gas exploration policy decision is made or any decision is taken on the current petroleum licensing applications by the Northern Ireland Executive. 

There is now growing unease that SDLP Minister Nichola Mallon has still not commented publicly on perceived conflict of interest concerns surrounding her husband working for EHA Exploration - one of the current applicants for a petroleum license that could lead to widespread fracking in Northern Ireland. 

Name of Minister's husband removed from EHA website
Yesterday,  October 28th 2020, EHA removed the name of Minister Mallon's husband - Brendan Scott - from its website, with no explanation,  in what is being perceived as a cynical move to hide all traces of  his links with the company instead of the Minister making a clear statement on the issue. Up to yesterday, EHA had Minister Mallon's husband Brendan Scott as the "dedicated Community Engagement Manager throughout the exploration process, who will be the first point of contact for anyone with queries".  However, EHA has kept the same address on its website where Mr. Scott works and Brendan Scott is equally the named "Liaison officer" on official documents submitted to the Department for the Economy.

Panel for Ministerial Standards
Minister Mallon is currently avoiding a formal complaint of a breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct in her capacity as Minister being processed due to the fact that the Panel for Ministerial Standards to deal with such complaints has still not been set up by the First and Deputy-First Ministers of Northern Ireland. This has wider consequences because it means that any Minister involved in Cronyism and Clientelism in Northern Ireland may avoid any investigation or oversight from the Standards Commissioner in the Northern Ireland Assembly which is unacceptable in this day and age. Transparency, good governance, public health, a good envrionment and transparent evidence-based decision making are the victims of  this loophole in code of conduct enforcement for Ministers.

The concern is that Minister Mallon's husband, Brendan Scott, is or was working for EHA Exploration Limited and that the Minister may not have declared a possible conflict of interest if this is the case. There is huge sensitivity surrounding the issue of petroleum licensing and the critical role that Minister Mallon and her Department have in maintaining, defending and enhancing the existing 2015 effective ban on fracking emanating from her Department on both health and environmental grounds. In the interest of public trust in the Minister,  it is imperative that there is no perceived conflict of interest on her part in any decisions or actions she takes as Minister.

Campaigners are asking if there was a possible undeclared conflict of interest by Minister Mallon in both her role as Minister and in her recent announcement  on her proposal to remove permitted development rights for petroleum exploration, both of which have direct impacts on the two current petroleum licence applicants -  Tamboran and EHA. They are asking:  if the Minister had an undeclared conflict of interest, then would it have influenced both her decisions to act and her decisions not to act on certain matters regarding petroleum licensing?

In the 'Guidance for Ministers' documentation published in March 2020, there is an obligation on Ministers to ensure there is no perceived conflict of interest in the carrying out of their public duties.

Ministers must ensure, under the Ministerial Code of Conduct, that no conflict arises, or could be perceived to arise, between a Minister’s public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise, and complying with rules concerning conflicts of interest; not use information gained in the course of their service for personal gain; nor seek to use the opportunity of public service to promote their private interests.

Furthermore, former Minister, Mark H. Durkan made some very disturbing comments on Minister Mallon's husband Brendan Scott on the EcoLeaks  Facebook  page on Sunday last, when he stated:

"Her husband works for a pr company who have been commissioned by another company who have been commissioned by a completely different Department."

EHA is a private company applying for a petroleum licence in Northern Ireland and we are now very concerned about the implications of what Mark H. Durkan wrote. If he is stating that Nichola Mallon's husband works for a "completely different Department",  we are concerned that this may be a different and as-yet-unknown government department.

Context of Conflict of Interest Issues

No Involvement in DfE Study removing Effective Ban on Fracking  - The Failure to Act
There are considerable grounds for concern that if the Minister had an undeclared conflict of interest with EHA would it have influenced both her decisions to act and her decisions not to act on certain matters regarding petroleum licensing?  Economy Minister, Diane Dodds, stated in the Northern Ireland  Assembly on October 13th, 2020, as a unanimous motion was being passed against an onshore oil and gas industry in Northern Ireland, that she was still pushing ahead with commissioning "within the coming days" the  GBP 75,000  so-called study which will undermine the effective ban on fracking in Northern Ireland.  That ban on fracking and unconventional hydrocarbon extraction is under the responsibility of the Infrastructure Department in the Strategic Planning Policy Statement. And yet, not one voice from Minister Mallon's  Infrastructure Department has spoken out against what campaigners have called a "scandalously-biased" report, or even demanded input into the terms of reference of what is clearly, at the very least, a cross-cutting decision directly impacting on the Infrastructure Department as well as the Department of the Economy.

Campaigners claim that the oil and gas industry has so much money and power that it is undermining the democratic work of government.  Their concern is that if the oil and gas industry is putting money directly into the houses and on to the kitchen tables of the politicians who have to make decisions concerning that industry then those perceived conflicts have to be declared up front and dealt with head on. They say that people have no choice but to place their trust in politicians that any of the decisions impacting on them are made in the public interest. 

We need to understand why there has been no input into the commissioning of this cross-cutting report from any of the other impacted Northern Ireland Departments such as the Department of Health,  the Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs and especially from the Department of Infrastructure. This failure to act ultimately risks binging the petroleum decision-making process of the entire Northern Ireland Executive into disrepute.

To our knowledge, Minister Mallon did not engage at any stage on the terms of reference of the Department for Economy study on fracking policy, which risks undermining the effective fracking ban which is under the responsibility of her department in the Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS). Section 6.157 of the SPPS states:

We ask if the Minister has failed in her duty to ensure that any study which could affect the fracking ban was independent and cross cutting and would have to prove there was no adverse impact on public health and the environment? We ask if Minister Mallon has facilitated the Petroleum Branch, with differing objectives to her Department, by allowing it full control of the research?

The research should not be controlled inhouse by the petroleum branch of the Department for the Economy  (DfE). Research into Petroleum Licensing whose terms of reference are controlled uniquely by the Department cannot logically be considered independent. DfE has stated that its “policy objective is to maximise successful and expeditious exploration and exploitation of Northern Ireland’s oil and gas resources, and all decisions will be made with regard to that policy. DfE has no expertise on the health or Climate impacts of fracking. It is only focussing on the money to be made, while completely ignoring the people-focussed objectives of the 2019 Outcomes Delivery Plan agreed in the Programme for Government commitments.

We ask if the Minister’s actions and inactions have undermined the work of government?  The most worrying concern of all is that Minister Mallon needs to address the question of whether or not this was influenced by her husband's links with EHA.

The decision on the granting of petroleum licenses is a cross-cutting issue which is being brought to the Executive.  If Minister Mallon is unable to vote in the Executive on climate issues or petroleum licences because of her husband's work with one of the licence applicants, EHA then the SDLP will have lost its voice in the Executive on fracking in Northern Ireland and  Minister Mallon will not be able to protect the effective ban on fracking under her Department's responsibility.  That is an issue of grave concern to everyone on this island.

Removal of Permitted Development Rights (PDR) - The Sleight of Hand
On October 5th, 2020 Minister Mallon announced the removal of permitted development rights (PDR) for gas exploration in Northern Ireland. 

On the face of it, this announcement by Minister Mallon seemed to have been a move against EHA and Tamobran.

However, on closer analysis, removing PDR rights for EHA and Tamboran has the following strategic consequences:

  • By creating a regulatory planning process for gas exploration in Northern Ireland, the Minister is pre-empting a decision by the Executive on the current licence applications by Tamboran and EHA and a  gas exploration policy decision in Northern Ireland in general - decisions she will be unable to take part in if she is conflicted due to her husband’s links with EHA.
  • By announcing the removal of permitted development rights (PDR) for gas exploration, Minister Mallon is now actively involved in regulating the petroleum industry in Northern Ireland and is sending out a clear signal to the market that Northern Ireland is open for gas exploration.
  • By providing for a new planning process per gas well she is ignoring the cumulative adverse public health impacts of thousands of gas wells in Northern Ireland as each application is assessed individually.
  • Most seriously, by creating a planning process for gas exploration in Northern Ireland, Minster Mallon, with no supporting research, is either implying that it is possible to have a gas industry in Northern Ireland without Fracking - as asserted by Minister Dodds in the Assembly on October 13th, 2020  - or else she is undermining her Department’s own effective ban on Fracking. Either way, it  seems that Minister Mallon's  permitted development rights (PDR)  proposal is to the direct financial advantage of EHA, the company her husband represents. That raises huge governance issues and is an issue the Minister must address in the interest of transparency.
  • It must be highlighted that it is now very clear, from listening to the geologists, that hydrocarbons cannot be exploited in Northern Ireland at commerical levels without Fracking. Both the Departments for Economy and Infrastructure are taking one small part of the process and using that to obfuscate and misdirect the people. That is the real collusive corruption of the petroleum decision-making process that is currently taking place in Northern Ireland.

Minister Mallon must address these perceived conflict of interest questions in the public interest.

On the official Petroleum License application documents for EHA on the Department for Economy website on May 7th, 2019,  Annex C - Company Brief, explicity shows Brendan Scott as the EHA  "Liaison Officer" in the EHA Organisation Chart.

The EHA Organization Structure submitted on or before May 7th 2019 to the Department for Economy

Updated website removing name of Brendan Scott:

Before updating on Ocbober 28th, 2020:

After EHA updated website  on Ocbober 28th, 2020 to remove links to Brendan Scott, Minister Mallon's husband.:
Brendan Scott's Twitter Page showing he works for MW Advocate:

MW Advocate website with Same address as EHA at 72 University Street Belfast:

Brendan Scott Staff Profile at MW Advocate

John McElligott
Safety Before LNG